Monday, January 26, 2009

Peace Now denied entry into Knesset נאסר על לובש חולצת "שלום עכשיו" מלהיכנס למשכן הכנסת

Last week, my daughter’s 10th grade class was hosted at the Knesset to receive their ID cards. Her classmate was refused entry because he was wearing a שלום עכשיו Peace Now t-shirt. This scares me on two fronts: Firstly, is there an actual policy prohibiting these? If so, should it not ban all clothing bearing any message, including symbols i.e., solid colors only ? Secondly, if there is no official visitor dress code, is the guard at the entrance deciding whom to admit or refuse based on his own sentiments? If so, that’s scary.

Then we move to the issue of what the specific problem is with Peace Now: Did the guard have a problem with that particular political message? Or would any message have been refused entry? How about העם עם הגולן ha’ám im haGolán [“we’re with you, Golan”]? How about political party t-shirts? Would an NRP shirt be OK, but not Bal’ad? Where do they draw the line? After all, the Knesset is where the parties meet to make laws. What message were our new citizen-10th graders getting? Is the irony here not simply stunning?

And what about politically subversive messages? For instance, “I [heart] Tali Fahima / Mordechai Vaanunu”? Would “I [heart] Jonathan Pollard” be OK? How about “I [heart] Meir Kahane”? Supposing it were written in Arabic? Swedish? Japanese? Does the guard know every language? If not, how can he tell that my shirt doesn’t say “I [heart] Bin Laden”? Suppose the guard is too young to even know who Mordechai Vaanunu is. Or that he immigrated here last year from Uzbekistan, and never even heard the name Vaanunu? Suppose the guard only graduated sixth grade and is illiterate?

In fact, at least one Knesset guard’s credentials are indeed questionable. A friend told me that he visited the Knesset accompanied by someone carrying a tote bag bearing a sticker with the message די לייבוש dai lYibüsh, a rhyming play on the anti-occupation message די לכיבוש dai lKibüsh, the former actual being an environmental protest of the drying-up of the Dead Sea. In this case, too, the guard refused the tote bag-toter entry. It took the visitor several tense minutes to explain to convince the guard that the sticker didn’t say what the guard thought it said. And what, indeed, would have been wrong with what he’d thought it said? Out of curiosity, I did some research. I searched for:

Capitol visitor dress code

White House visitor dress code

This one’s a must-read that touches on many issues and mentions the House and Senate.

An analogous case: Cindy Sheehan being escorted out of the House [of Representatives] for wearing a t-shirt bearing the anti-war message: “2,245 dead. How many more?”

In addition, I searched for כללי לבוש מבקרים במשכן הכנסת and found the Knesset dress code.

In short, I hear one word screaming like a siren: Arbitrary. That word should frighten anyone who was under the impression that we live in a democracy. I’ve been told by a couple of European friends that Americans are “obsessed with rights”. It was suggested to me by a non-Orthodox friend who resides in Jerusalem that my views of the Orthodox control of that city are rooted in a male, confrontationalist worldview.

While I appreciate these viewpoints, after living here for 27 years, I’ve come to realize something: I can’t―and don’t want to―erase my American upbringing. I grew up in Kansas, a staunchly Republican stronghold. Yet certain things were taken for granted by both liberals and conservatives. Among these are that one’s national or ethnic group will never appear on an official identifying document, nor will one’s personal status; that retail commerce is governed by demand, not by the majority faith’s day of rest; that the streets and roadways are paid for by the taxpayers, and therefore must be freely traversable regardless of the sentiments of any residents thereon. And by God, it worked. We all respected due process and the rule of law, regardless of individual political sentiments. Arbitrariness was not tolerated. The actions of law enforcement officials were based on rules and policies that applied to all; the public servants’ jobs were to enforce those policies. We trusted the public servants. We felt protected, and that the system was fair.

Based on the above cases, I conclude that there is cause for concern. Anyone who has any information on the existence of Knesset visitor dress codes and their enforcement (who? How much leeway / authority does the enforcer have?) is welcome to get in touch.

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