The High Court of Justice has authorized protests outside a politician’s home. Such rallies must be legal in democracies guaranteeing free speech.
These political home invasions, however, are immoral in democracies encouraging civility and should be avoided by protesters with a conscience.
As our politics become more polarized, growing hysteria and increasing hypocrisy function like two blades of a scissors, cutting the ties of civility healthy democracies require. We see it clearly in US President Donald Trump’s America – er, to be more accurate, in an America of Trump’s boorish leadership and an ends-justifies-the-means “resistance” that can be equally vicious. We should recognize the problem in Israel, too, and try fixing it.
Consider the case of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. I share the disgust with government corruption that motivates those protesting outside his home. I have already suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retire elegantly, with presidential pardons for him and his wife Sara. This proposal would spare Israel prolonged upheaval over petty financial shenanigans, while giving him the honorable retirement his service to the state has earned.
Wikipedia reports that Mandelblit is married with six children. Do those seven people deserve to be harassed by these aggressive protesters? Do hundreds of Mandelblit’s neighbors in Petah Tikva deserve the headaches and the traffic snarls? Finally, what about Mandelblit himself? Is it really necessary to bring his work home for him so literally, so aggressively, so brutally? Public service entails personal sacrifice – but this is ridiculous. If Mandelblit lived in government housing like the Prime Minister’s residence, the issue would be debatable. But politicians living in private homes deserve privacy. (Similarly, despite the passionate opposition I expressed last week to the “train of pain” proposed for Emek Refaim, I condemn all suggestions to protest outside Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s home too).
Protesters should also fear blowback. I once saw Jewish Voices for Peace fanatics protesting an appearance of Netanyahu in Washington, DC, before Jews and non-Jews. The protesters were so obnoxious, I wanted them to continue: with each anti-Israel antic, the crowd waiting to see the prime minister became more annoyed – and pro-Israel.
All of us running around this week celebrating Sukkot, whether we are religious or secular, should reflect on two ideas the holiday teaches.
First, building a flimsy, temporary structure outside our home-which-is-our fortress raises fascinating questions about fragility and security. As we contemplate the meaning of that important seesaw today, as we appreciate the heroism that sleeping or even eating in a sukka required in areas steeped in antisemitism, how dare some fellow Israelis violate the sanctity of the Mandelblit home; how dare they invade his neighbors’ sense of security.
Second, Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook asked, “Why pray for a sukka of peace?” Don’t we prefer a fortress of peace? Kook explained that Judaism so prizes peace, we should start with even the most fragile, most sukka-like, peace: it may sway in the wind, it may get drenched by rain, it may lack locks (or guarantees) but it’s a start. How dare some of us ruin the Mandelblit family’s fragile peace – especially when they are already forced to share their “abba” with the public constantly.
Alas, we live in this era of political hatred. We don’t just disagree with opponents, we loathe them, and seek to crush them. In this age of blurred boundaries and invaded privacy, of Facebook snooping and Twitter flaming, we personalize the hatred. Netanyahu-bashers delight in his wife Sara’s troubles. They happily pounce on his son Yair’s Facebook-postings. Is that necessary? Shouldn’t we grant politicians’ relatives “barronial privileges,” remembering that warring grownups should leave 11-year-old Barron Trump alone.
And let’s be honest, this is all unidirectional; modern political hatred is hypocritical. When we like a politician, we demand a hands-off policy regarding the family. Democrats were outraged when photographers posted pictures of a Democratic president’s daughter smoking marijuana, but quite enjoyed gossiping about a Republican president’s daughter partying. Similarly, Republicans resented the costs of protecting the Obamas when, for example, they flew to New York to attend a Broadway show. Now, of course, the Democrats detest the costs of keeping the Trumps secure.
My cousin Jill taught me the rules of the road for relatives meeting your future spouse: “You love her, we love her; you don’t love her, we don’t love her.”
I love that kind of family loyalty. But in a democracy, such reductionist oversimplifications and the resulting demonization are toxic.
This is Hillel 101 – love your neighbor as yourself – crossbred with your basic John Locke – the social contract requires sacrificing some of our extreme impulses and freedoms to function in society. A democracy requires some restraint and dollops of – my mother’s favorite word – menschlechkeit (ethics).
The High Court of Justice just helped Israeli democracy pass Natan Sharansky’s “town square test” yet again: “If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society.” But this Sukkot, let’s add a Rav Kook corollary: If politicians cannot come home and enjoy some precious peace with their family, then we are guilty of creating a flailing democracy, not a fair democracy.
We must be free to protest wherever we wish; but kind enough to avoid protesting where we don’t belong.