Protest­ing out­side a politi­cian’s home isn’t il­le­gal – it’s just im­moral

The Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By GIL TROY (Reuters)

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.

The writer is the au­thor of The Age of Clin­ton: Amer­ica in the 1990s. His forth­com­ing book, The Zion­ist Ideas, which up­dates Arthur Hertzberg’s clas­sic work, will be pub­lished by The Jewish Pub­li­ca­tion So­ci­ety in Spring 2018. He is a dis­tin­guished scholar of North Amer­i­can His­tory at McGill Univer­sity. Fol­low on Twit­ter @GilTroy

PRO­TEST­ERS AT a rally in Tel Aviv. The au­thor ar­gues that protest­ing at politi­cians’ homes is un­eth­i­cal.

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