Has Rosa Parks Reincarnated Into a Jewish Settler?

In a recent op-ed in Haaretz, Karni Eldad, settler daughter of MK Aryeh Eldad, argues that those who are resisting the settlement freeze in the West Bank are akin to African Americans struggling against racial segregation during the Jim Crow era. She writes:

Once upon a time there was a black woman; her name was Rosa Parks. There were racially discriminating laws in the United States, but she continued to sit on the bus even when she was told to vacate her seat for a white person. She was arrested, which set off a process whose end saw the abolishment of racial segregation on American buses. How is it possible that one little black woman, a dressmaker by profession, could change history simply because she remained sitting? Her protest was stronger than any demonstration, op-ed piece or Knesset vote. She opted for the natural choice; that is why she was triumphant.

People get married and have children. The children need space. The children grow up and get married. The children need a house. That is known as life. No one has ever managed to stop it. But every time another evil person arises who plans to destroy us, he does not succeed. And he does not succeed in destroying life itself.

(Notice the reference to the passage in the Haggadah, “In every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us.” While in the passover story it is God who is the redeemer, Eldad here is calling for individuals to help miracles happen.)

The freeze is an edict that the public cannot tolerate. It is not democratic, nor is it humane. It hits hard at the pockets of law-abiding citizens and embitters their lives. But at its foundation, either intentionally or by accident, is pure and basic apartheid – it is forbidden for Jews to live in certain places. It is forbidden to build. It is forbidden to develop. And it doesn’t matter what the reasons are.

She concludes:

Despite the fury and the insult, let’s not turn to violence. There is a simple, natural solution that is full of life – continuing to build. That will perhaps embarrass the prime minister in front of U.S. President Barack Obama, but that’s precisely the point. A person with a manual cement mixer in Samaria can change history. Sometimes the man in the field can be a lot stronger than the great leaders. Just like Rosa Parks.

A few observations: In general, from top to bottom, women are playing an increasingly prominent role in the settler’s (semi) civil-disobedience campaign against the Israeli government. The reason for this is that it is much harder for an Israeli soldier to take aggressive action against a defiant religious woman than her male counterpart. More importantly, it looks really bad on television.

Establishing a non-violent movement of disobedience is probably the smartest strategy that the settlers can employ at this stage. Physically attacking the agents of the state (army & police) will not only precipitate a fight the settlers cannot win, but will also alienate and harden the hearts of Jews living inside Israel proper. However, to principally and non-violently stand against the orders of the state, to appear as a victim of an unjust and immoral policy, will go a long way in engendering support from the average Israeli and make it extremely difficult for Netanyahu (or any other leader) to make the necessary concessions for a viable Palestinian state.

Of course there is a world of difference between a civil rights movement whose goal was liberty, equality and justice for all, and efforts by settlers to colonize and build on Palestinian land. King, it needs to be recalled, had argued that unjust laws ought to be disobeyed precisely because they corrupt and degrade the soul of those who are subject to them. In his Letter From Birmingham Jail he wrote:

“All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.”

Perhaps if Eldad would have argued for a one state solution, as a recent right wing Israeli politician has done, her analogy would have had more force. But as Andrew Sullivan correctly points out, for the likes of Eldad, the Palestinians are conveniently expunged from the scene. You can’t give human rights to people who are not recognized in the first place.

A final point. Eldad’s op-ed should not surprise us. In a world in which Israel is erroneously compared to Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa, it was only a matter of time before someone reached into the garbage bag of terrible historical analogies and pulled this one out.

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