“Why don’t I usually go to protests in Israel?”

by Yiftah Leket

Don’t get me wrong, every now and then I do join a rally about issues I care about. The latest ones were demonstrations for the awareness about climate change, as well as a major protest against the policy of dealing with the refugees in Israel.

But, although I believe protesting is important in raising awareness to create change on issues that otherwise would be neglected, I have found it more difficult to find my voice at protests. Not because I do not relate to the issues that are brought up in those protests, but mainly because of the way they are run. It appears that protests have become more and more violent, a place for people to express not only their pain and beliefs, but also their aggression. Even the most worthy of causes such as the handicap protest, which is calling for government stipends for the disabled and elderly to be increased to NIS 5,300 ($1,500) so that it matches the monthly minimum wage, or the  Ethiopian Protest demonstrations that took place in 2019 over the killing of an unarmed Ethiopian Israeli teen or The Black Flag movement,  a movement made up of Israelis across the political spectrum against the erosion of state institutions, emphasizing the  harm to the system of rule and law, have all had their share of violence.

Ironically, promoting the notion of peace is, for example, brought up to the stage, by some, in a violent way. I am not aiming to be judgmental, as maybe there is a place for violence in certain cases and maybe sometimes it is the only way. I don’t know. What I do know is that over the years, important as they were, violence and hatred has become an integral part of any protest.

Even if the legitimacy of violence in civil action is debatable, there is no doubt about one thing — in the last couple of years we have seen violence levels rising in every aspect, where violence has been raging in the discourse created by politicians and between political groups from different sides of the political map. This is also evident in the discourse of the general public over social media as well as in demonstrations between rivalry groups, protestors and the police. By taking part or even just reading about almost any protest in Israel, one cannot avoid facing the fact that violence plays a central role.

During one of the most politically fragmented eras known in Israel’s history and approaching the fourth election in two years, Israelis from across the political spectrum ask themselves if a riot like the one that took place on January 6 at the US Capitol could happen in Israel in the near future. I am not sure the right question is whether a crowd of people might actually  break into the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), but rather if the level of violence in Israel is going to cross the red line in these tense days of instability.

Back to my world…a person who has deeply affected me as a humanist educator, is the late Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). From Birmingham’s jail, MLK wrote a letter which in many ways has molded the way that I view civil action.  I find two excerpts most meaningful and relevant: “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” In other words, winning a political battle, with violence, cannot create a strong united society that is able to overcome future challenges and winning with violence weakens everybody, even the winners themselves.

MLK not only saw that to love your political enemy was a base level for discussion, but he saw it as the most powerful political tool to create change. In his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech he said:  “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

For me, celebrating MLK day enhances my choice to have become an educator.  It is in “my bones” to create change with love. It’s not easy and it’s a constant inner struggle, as it takes time, patience, and the will to love people that sometimes hate you. Or, as Erich Fromm described it in his book, The Art of Love: “If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life.”

The highest expression of love is not by doing so for one person, but being able to do so for any person (even those giving me a hard time…).

I decided that for me, education is the primary way of creating an authentic and sustainable change, with love, day by day.

When we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is a reminder for both Israelis and Americans alike to advocate for our beliefs. We should judge the violence that slowly became a major part of our discourse and civil action as something that threatens the idea of being a democratic nation.