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    Protesting the government – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Israeli reservists have recently organised protests against the government’s conduct of the war in Lebanon. From a religious perspective all our actions should be governed by halachah. Are such protests halachically legitimate?

    A. Protests against government policy are as old as Judaism. Moses and Aaron were early targets. In the days of the kings and prophets there were often prophetic protests against the rulers.

    The real question is why and how a protest should be organised. In a military situation orders are orders even if one disagrees with them. Troops may not refuse to obey their commanders’ orders while they are under military discipline. However, once they revert to being private citizens they have the same democratic right as anyone else to question a policy and to unseat a government at the next election.

    That principle aside, there is obviously a right way to protest – and a wrong way.

    Protests must be peaceful and reasonable, not attacking persons but questioning decisions and arguing for a different approach. Civil disobedience that might paralyse the country and create disorder and chaos must not be contemplated. We are fortunate that the privilege of living in a democratic country carries with it a whole range of peaceful, constructive methods of protest.

    Unfortunately, Israel’s non-democratic or at best semi-democratic neighbours do not understand this. Thus on many occasions when they see democratic Israelis at variance with their government they pat themselves on the back and boast, “You see? Even Israelis themselves think their government is wrong!”

    What they fail to recognise is that on the really important existential issues, Israelis are as one. How to bring that message across while still protesting within the limits of the democratic process is obviously a key challenge for our people.

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