INJUSTICE IN JERUSALEM From the Jewish Advocate, Boston, April 2, 2010
As the son of an Israeli father and a Hebrew-speaking American mother, I grew up in New York with a deep emotional affinity for Israel. Whether at birthday parties, holiday gatherings or weekend get-togethers, when the topic of conversation among the mostly Israeli adults turned to matters concerning Israel, the discourse would inevitably heat up. From opinions on the far left to the far right, all were entitled to contribute to the vibrant marketplace of ideas provided that they did so respectfully.
And so it was profoundly upsetting when, as an international legal intern at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel this January, I learned that my boss, Hagai El-Ad, had been arrested by the Jerusalem police during a peaceful rally opposing the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes and their replacement with Jewish families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Hagai was eventually released on the order of a Jerusalem magistrate’s judge who concluded that the police’s actions constituted false arrest.
Two days later, a palpable sense of anger pervaded the office, but few other than me were surprised by what had transpired. Since Netanyahu’s right-leaning coalition came to power, it had become clear to my colleagues that the police had turned to arrests as a tactic to punish and deter left-wing protesters. Also in January, the executive director of Women of the Wall was arrested for the first time in the organization’s 20 years of holding prayer services at the Western Wall. The situation has deteriorated to such a degree that the Jerusalem police were openly rebuked by the Israel Supreme Court (whose authority has been publicly threatened by members of Netanyahu’s coalition) for failing to accommodate protesters in Sheikh Jarrah.
As a young American Jew with strong family ties to Israel and a deep commitment to the future of the American Jewish community, I am a natural ally of Israel. However, my allegiance to uncompromised democratic rule of law is equally steadfast. Indeed, rights to free speech and assembly must transcend politics. Sadly, I fear that Israel’s democratic trajectory is pointed in the wrong direction. The Israeli government’s recent actions only make it more difficult for me and others like me to stand up as proud supporters of a country that has seemingly abandoned its charge to be a light unto the nations. If the state of Israel intends to count on the future support of the large progressive, young American Jewish demographic, the government ought to take a serious look in the mirror.
If you are, as I am, committed to a more just, democratic and peaceful Israel, write letters to your elected officials. Tell them that you are sincerely committed to championing a state of Israel that respects fundamental civil liberties and that you are deeply concerned by recent developments. It would indeed be hypocritical of us to tout Israel’s credentials as the only democracy in the Middle East while remaining tight-lipped as the police abuses continue.
As American Jews, we cannot afford to sit idly by as Israel tramples upon the rights of its own citizens. Israelis are a passionately opinionated people. It is sometimes said that for every three Israelis, there are four opinions. Let us help to ensure that none is silenced.
Mike Rozensher is a second year student at Harvard Law School.
He deeply thanks Meretz USA for its generous support of his internship in the framework of Meretz USA’s Intern in Israel Initiative.
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