Q: What’s worse than a Sukkot-in-Seger, with Sukkah huts lacking guests?
A: A Sukkot-in-Chaos-and-Cowardice, with leaders lacking the guts to stop political violence.
The bloody clashes during this lovely if too-quiet Sukkot for most demand a bold response from our leaders — especially the man who claims to be in charge (when it suits him) — Benjamin Netanyahu. But this challenge requires the credibility, consistency and integrity Netanyahu lacks. We need zero-tolerance for street violence – be it from ultra-Orthodox mask-resisters, anti-Bibi protesters or pro-Bibi anti-protesters. Democratic citizens who resort to violence assault all their fellow citizens, not just the person at the end of their fists and boots.
Partisanship is a political steroid. It artificially puffs up the small-minded and distorts their vision, blinding them to their own faults while exaggerating their enemies’. It hatches delusions claiming “our” side has “mostly peaceful protests” – when peace, like pregnancy, is all-or-nothing.
The easiest violence for Netanyahu to condemn and control is hardest for him – the unconscionable, thuggery of his supporters and allies, the pro-Bibi “anti-protesters” and some ultra-Orthodox. In Pardes Hanna, a dozen of these strutting, spitting, kicking, cursing, threats-to-democracy, beat Guy Lev, a 48-year-old protester who bravely intervened when they harassed a woman-protester. The mini-mob turned on him, breaking his hand. In Mea Shearim, even young kids were unleashed to break the law and target our police-heroes.
Such hooliganism now erupts with increasing frequency – sometimes fueled by Mr. Indictment’s despicable incitement. His obsession with quashing the protests against him, his own dog-whistling, shouted-out by Likud demagogues, eggs on these criminals. It must stop before Likudnik thugs murder protesters. And it must stop before those ultra-Orthodox who defy science and personal responsibility overwhelm Israel’s medical facilities.
Netanyahu should learn from Likud’s founder, Menachem Begin. In 1948, when David Ben-Gurion double-crossed Begin and had the Irgun ship Altalena attacked, Begin insisted: “ there shall never be a Civil War.” While mourning sixteen comrades needlessly killed, Begin resisted the sinat chinam , senseless fraternal hatred, that destroyed the Second Temple. Netanyahu – and his lackeys — must offer similar non-partisan moral leadership. If he can’t do that – he should resign, because he clearly is unfit for office.
Similarly, if Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi cannot fulfill Blue-and-White’s mission by denouncing the violence eloquently and effectively, they too should go home. Gantz tweeted that violence is “unacceptable.” But his formulaic responses pale when compared to the memorable Facebook post of a coalition partner, MK Michal Cotler-Wunsch. She described “watching my sisters and brothers battling in the streets” and “Sitting in my Succah in tears.” That’s memorable. That transcends clichés, challenging us all to think.
A more complicated problem requiring diplomacy, creativity and moral clarity concerns the anti-Bibi protesters and our police-heroes, who risk infection daily to protect us. It’s hard balancing pandemic, protest, and public safety. The democratic right to assemble peaceably is sacred; but if everyone’s limited to one square kilometer from our homes, protesters and synagogue-goers should be too, while allowing some protests near Netanyahu’s residence – with masks, social distancing and reasonable numerical limits. Our leaders must reframe the conversation to maximize respect for peaceful protest and police safety too.
Unfortunately, the moral vacuum at the top echoes throughout the country. These complicated balancing acts don’t work with a morally-compromised prime minister who wink-winks at the- violence-that-works-for-him, while running rings around his politically-maladroit coalition partners. Blue-and-White is to national unity governing what Chris Wallace is to debate moderating: proof that good intentions cannot avoid bad results when amoral monsters lurk.
I wish I could propose America’s president – or his more decent opponent – as role models. That shrill chaotic first presidential debate demonstrated how bullies demean everyone, especially themselves. Donald Trump’s treasonous refusal to defend the democracy he heads by promising to respect the electoral outcome now means that voting for him sanctions his greatest crime – questioning America’s legitimacy. That shameful failure alone makes him unworthy of re-election.
Also inexcusable was Trump’s resistance to wholeheartedly repudiating white supremacists and far-right militias. True, he said “sure” he would. True, he spoke clearly days later. But onstage, facing the American people, his hesitation spoke volumes, as he stammered: “give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn?” Moreover, he summarized our hyper-partisan myopia, by admitting: “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing.”
Given an equally clear opportunity, spontaneously, to assert moral leadership, Joe Biden’s response was pathetic too. True, Biden has repeatedly condemned right and left violence, including Antifa rioting. But, onstage, facing the American people, his hesitation spoke volumes, as he muttered: “His own FBI Director said unlike white supremacist, Antifa is an idea not an organization.”
The Democratic nominee needed to shame Trump by authoritatively denouncing all violence. Instead, voters endured Biden’s often-barely-comprehensible, Beltway-speak. The FBI director did conclude that Antifa is an “ideology” not an organized network like far-right militias, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t Antifa-spawned violence. Biden sounded like the Czar saying “Don’t worry, Communism is just an idea.” Ideas and shadow networks are insidious, often harder to defeat.
Sukkahs, like democracies, represent powerful ideas that have outlasted dictators over centuries. But even minimal violence can destroy our flimsy huts and our fragile, ultimately voluntary, political systems. If the sniveling partisans who purport to lead today cannot deliver the eternal vigilance democracies require, we the people must provide it, in the US, Israel, world-wide.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.