Avi Shamir
Avi Shamir

Where were you when

Questions that start with “Where were you when…” can either vindicate you or put you on the defensive, especially after a disaster that could have been prevented.

A sense of clear and present danger drives the provocative social protest movement, which contests the legitimacy of an autocratic ruler under indictment. In the event of a future shock, those who didn’t see the warning signs may be at a loss for words, and those who knew what was coming all along should have no trouble explaining: “Where were you when a prime minister charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust was leading the country to a public health disaster and economic ruin?”

Differing answers to this question can take in whereabouts and actions.

Here are some model examples:

“I was at Balfour singing ‘Bibi Ciao.’”

“I was at home watching Netflix.”

“I was demonstrating against government corruption on Gesher HaAri in Netanya.”

“I was throwing rocks at those anarchists on Gesher HaAri.”

Yes, such things really do happen. It has been documented by the occasionally responsible mainstream media. The sometimes protective, oftentimes vicious police force can attest to it, if they feel like it. Here are some of the responses they may come up with (or keep to themselves) when, someday soon, they too will face the dreaded “Where were you when” question:

“I was separating those anti-Bibi loudmouths from those “only Bibi” maniacs.”

“I was riding my horse into a crowd of protestors and knocked over a woman who got in my way and shouldn’t have even been there…”

“I was throwing my weight around manhandling demonstrators singing songs, waving flags and holding placards who didn’t see me coming, and arrested them by order of Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana.”

“I was making a bogus arrest in a street rally in Tel-Aviv urging people to vote. Bibi’s orders.”

“I turned on the water cannon, hit a guy in the chest and knocked him on his ass…Serves him right for coming to Balfour.”

It must be hard to be an Israeli cop nowadays. So many tough choices to make between right and wrong when the orders come straight from “leaders” who don’t know the difference.

In a healthy democratic society, most protest activity shouldn’t be a pretense for police brutality. There is nothing threatening about non-violent concerned citizens gathering to exercise their right to free speech and rouse public awareness.

At a time when social consciousness is being repressed by the powers that be, when even the right to vote is frowned upon by a cynical ruler who senses that Tel-Avivians flocking en-masse to the polls may cost him his fourth election bid in two years, we should all be asking some tough questions. And if we don’t do so in time, we may soon be hearing questions such as:

“Where were you when the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ was deteriorating into a dictatorship?”

“Where were you when our multi-cultural, liberal-minded Jewish state was turning into Iran?”

“Where were you when our rights were taken away?”

“Where were you when Hertzl’s dream was turning into a nightmare?”

“Where were you when one man fighting like a wounded animal to stay out of prison turned the whole country into a prison?”

From the mouths of certain misguided Israelis, the answers to those questions will be even more disheartening:

“I was singing ‘Bibi, King of Israel.’”

“I was giving those protestors the finger, spitting at them and cursing them.”

The less violent ones among the “moderate nationalist” crowd will of course act like they had genuine concerns. When asked “Where were you when corruption, lies and deceit became the norm in Israel?” they will probably come up with more conventional answers like:

“I was diturbed by all the black flags.”

“I was offended by the women who bared their breasts at the demonstrations.”

“I was concerned about all the noise coming out of Balfour, and all those poor homeowners in Rehavia.”

They can live with that seriously flawed rationale when the courts are taken over by the likes of Kahanist racist Itamar Ben Gvir and ex-con Aryeh Deri, the charges against “King Bibi” are dropped and what’s left of our freedom becomes a memory.

I have a better explanation for my actions in these polarized times, though I hope that I, and like-minded Israelis, will never have to say these words when it’s too late:

“I was making my voice heard when I still had a voice of my own.”

One last question we might be hearing, maybe the most important one of all: “Where were you on Election Day, 2021?

There is only one right answer. At the polls, of course, where we exercise our most basic democratic privilege.

And as long as I still have a voice, I’ll make one small request: Wake up, Tel-Aviv. Go out and vote this time. Get over your your apathy and apolitical standoffishness and let’s get this fraud out of our lives. On Election Day, of all days, the city that never sleeps has no business taking the day off.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.