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Steven Bayar

This isn’t “civil” disobedience, it’s chaos

I’m no stranger to civil disobedience. Lobbying for Soviet Jewry, I demonstrated and was detained, arrested, zip-tied, tried, convicted and jailed in a federal penitentiary for my actions. So, it is with a sense of bewilderment that I’ve been watching the drama playing out at colleges across the United States.

The key word in civil disobedience is “civil.” In a democracy, progress is seldom (dare I say never) accomplished by hurling bottles and throwing punches. In our demonstrations, we never hurled anything but slogans and always broke the law with respect for those sworn to uphold it.

And, we never lost sight of our goals. We were briefed and cautioned that violence in any form would detract from what we were trying to accomplish. We kept our attention focused on those we were trying to influence (the government) and how we were being portrayed in the media.

To be clear, I am not in sympathy with pro-Hamas demonstrations. I am not trying to give them pointers on their strategy, for they represent some of the worst elements of our society.

They seem to be made up of three distinct groups: professional agitators, hard-core antisemites and naïve adolescents.

Each has a different goal. The disruptors want to disunite us. The antisemites target Jews and Jewish causes. The naïve want to support Palestinians in Gaza, which is the one goal they cannot accomplish.

Why? Because each time they block a bridge or occupy a college building, they create resentment for their cause and damage their futures. The chaos created is exactly what the disruptors and antisemites want, and they manipulate the naïve to accept the violence as necessary.

But perhaps their greatest mistake is their misunderstanding of the importance of the concept of “civil.” The foundation of which is recognition that the law is being broken and a willingness to accept the consequences of their disobedience. Laws exist for a reason. The power in civil disobedience is in showing a willingness to be civil and show respect for the rule of law and acknowledging the legal consequences of actions.

I am undecided as to whether I should condemn or pity the college students. Social media has identified most, if not all of them. Employers and graduate programs will “Google” them – and think more than twice before accepting them. Will these college students think this is “fair?” Will they acknowledge the validity of these consequences?

For they have committed what may be the ultimate crime: stupidity.

It is useless telling them that the causes they believe in — women’s equality and safety, LGBTQ and transgender rights, democracy — would get them jailed or murdered by Hamas. They have not read the Hamas manifesto that masquerades as a “constitution.”  And they will pay for their naivety.

And yes, I am somewhat nervous about the rabid antisemitism displayed, for it has entered the mainstream. The parallels to 1930’s Germany are there. But, I have faith in our country, our systems, and our people.

Gone are the days of the deprecating humor where two Jews are followed by one antisemite and one Jew says to the other, “Oy, he’s following us and we’re alone.”

We are not alone.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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