17 November 2010
A Sea of Blue T-Shirts
On the same day a couple of weeks ago, NIF supporters in Washington, DC and Tel Aviv participated in two enormous rallies. On the one hand, the two events were very different: In Washington, hundreds of thousands gathered for satirist Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” In Tel Aviv, the occasion was far more sombre: the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. At their core, though, both rallies were animated by a growing concern over the rising rhetoric of political extremism that increasingly characterizes the public conversation in both the US and Israel. Here, it’s the Tea Party; there, it’s the Loyalty Oath and the Conversion Bill. In both cases, extremism threatens the liberal democratic values we hold dear.
I missed both rallies. I was in the air, flying from DC to Tel Aviv, on the big day. When I arrived in our Jerusalem office on Sunday, staffers showed me photos from the rally, and told me of the enormous NIF presence in Tel Aviv the day before. Somebody handed me a blue t-shirt with the Hebrew phrase “Lo Nistom et ha Peh” on it, the kind of shirt NIF supporters wore to the memorial. Translated (somewhat loosely) as, “We will not be silenced,” Lo Nistom has become the rallying cry for an NIF-organized response to the challenges to Israeli civil society over the past year. It has been embraced by Israelis who refuse to be silent in the face of a raft of anti-democratic bills in the Knesset, the attempts to brand as “anti-Israel” Israeli human and civil rights organizations that simply do their jobs, and the hostility of the state-sponored religious authorities to Jewish pluralism and freedom of religion.
I wore my “Lo Nistom” t-shirt when I went to visit my family on kibbutz a few days later. My cousin’s seventeen year old daughter,who is doing a year of community service work before her army service begins, had been onstage with her service cohort during the Rabin memorial. When she saw my t-shirt, she told me she’d seen a sea of them in the crowd in Rabin Square. That’s Israel in November, 2010: lots to worry about, lots of reasons for hope, and a sea of blue t-shirts speaking out and standing up for democracy in Israel.