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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘PARK’

Turkey: A House Divided

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Originally published at Gatestone Institute

There is no doubt that the Gezi Park demonstrations in May and June, which spread to most of Turkey, represent a seismic change in Turkish society and have opened up fault lines which earlier may not have been apparent. What began as a demonstration against the “development” of a small park in the center of Istanbul ended as a widespread protest against the AKP government — and particularly Prime Minister Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule.

The European Commission in its latest progress report on Turkey has recognized this change when it writes of “the emergence of vibrant, active citizenry;” and according to Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül, who in the report is praised for his conciliatory role, this development is “a new manifestation of our democratic maturity.” The Turkish government, however, has chosen to see these demonstrations as a challenge to its authority and has reacted accordingly.

The report mentions various repressive measures taken by the government, including the excessive use of force by the police, columnists and journalists being fired or forced to resign after criticizing the government, television stations being fined for transmitting live coverage of the protests and the round-up by the police of those suspected of taking part in the demonstrations.

However, there is, in the EU report, no mention of the campaign of vilification led by the Prime Minister against the protesters, or reprisals against public employees who supported or took part in the protests; also, measures taken to prevent the recurrence of mass protests, such as tightened security on university campuses, no education loans for students who take part in demonstrations and a ban on chanting political slogans at football matches.

Not only the demonstrators themselves have been targeted but also the international media, which Prime Minister Erdoğan has accused of being part of an international conspiracy to destabilize Turkey. The “interest rate lobby” and “the Jewish diaspora” have also been blamed. As the Commission notes, the Turkish Capital Markets Board has launched an investigation into foreign transactions to account for the 20% drop on the Istanbul Stock Exchange between May 20 and June 19, which had more to do with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s tapering than the Gezi Park protests.

In August, however, a report on the Gezi Park protests by the Eurasia Global Research Center (AGAM), and chaired by an AKP deputy, called the government’s handling of the situation “a strategic mistake” and pointed out that democracy-valuing societies require polls and dialogue between people and the local authorities.

Polarization

The Commission is correct, therefore, when it concludes that a divisive political climate prevails, including a polarizing tone towards citizens, civil society organizations and businesses. This conclusion is reinforced by the observation that work on political reform is hampered by a persistent lack of dialogue and spirit of compromise among political parties. Furthermore, the report emphasizes the need for systematic consultation in law-making with civil society and other stakeholders.

This division was underlined by Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek in June, when, at a conference, he deplored the lack of a spirit of compromise in intellectual or political circles. This lack is not only illustrated by the occasional fistfight between parliamentary deputies, but also when the AKP government in July voted against its own proposal in the mistaken belief that it had been submitted by the opposition. Or when the opposition two days later passed its own bill while the government majority had gone off to prayers.

President Gül, in a message of unity to mark the start of Eid al-Fitr (in August, at the end of Ramadan), had called on Turkey to leave polarization behind and unite for the European Union membership bid. But to create a united Turkey will be difficult, given the attitude of the present government. Even the democratization package presented by Prime Minister Erdoğan at the end of September does not indicate any substantive change in the government’s majoritarian approach to democracy.

Irrespective of the Prime Minister’s reference to international human rights and the EU acquis [legislation], both lifting the headscarf ban for most public employees and a number of concessions to the Kurdish minority can be seen as a move to boost Erdoğan’s popularity ahead of the local elections in March.

Let’s Connect…Diversely

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Living in 2012 means being ‘connected.’ We are ‘connected’ to our cell-phones, our emails, our Facebook ‘Friends’ , and various email lists of interest.

In a world of so many ‘connections’, it’s hard to believe that connecting to our own family- our fellow Jews, would be such an elevated challenge. Indeed, on one such email list, the following story was posted on a few days ago:

” ….my grandchildren, who look quite obviously Haredi, came to visit me in my town, which is overwhelmingly of a National Religious character. My 13 year-old son took them to the park and immediately, the resident children at play, began to shout epithets at my grandchildren, ‘Stinky dirty Haredim,’ they cried. ‘Go play in your own parks.’…grandchildren who immediately left the park and returned to my home to spend the rest of their visit indoors and safe from the hatred extended toward them during what should have been a pleasant visit to Grandma.”

While kids will be kids (and yes, kids can be cruel even if their parents are far from it), and while the same has happened in (so-called) Haredi communities to those not complying with their local fashion of dress, and while these may just be isolated incidents in a park that usually portrays unity and friendliness, I am still profoundly appalled and disturbed to read of such an event.

“Why bad things happen to good people” is the cardinal question to which even Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t get a clear answer (according to one opinion in Tractate Berachot 7a). Thus, I am not about to say that the above incident is a ‘heavenly sign’ of sorts. However, when bad things occur, all will agree (ibid, 5a) that it’s a good time for a wake-up call – to ask if our actions, deeds, educational system, and general behavior is where is should be.

While I feel remain deeply privileged to be part of such a special community, “perfection” is a word that only exists in the dictionary. As we head deeper into these Three Weeks of mourning, a time still upon us due to the “Sinat Chinam” – senseless hatred – that dominated the eve of the 2nd Temple destruction (Tractate Yoma 9b), allow me to bring up three issues that I humbly believe should be reiterated, and refurbished in our actions, when such an event can transpire during such a sensitive time of the year:

Tolerance to some - Jews have usually been tolerant to groups that stand far from their own vantage point and lifestyle. Thus, I can naturally see the very same kids in the park acting cordially to secular Jews, and even to non-Jews as well. Ironically, the “challenge” of tolerance begins when we meet a group of people who share 85% of our own lifestyle; they daven thrice daily, they keep kosher homes, they devote time to learning Torah, they adhere to a standard of modesty and of course, they are Shomer Shabbat. It’s here that, for some reason, we don’t have the same “tolerance” that we bestow upon those that seem far our own lifestyle! Is it a sense of danger, lack of self-confidence or something else, that naturally allows us to be “tolerant” towards groups far from where we stand, and yet so judgmental and intolerant towards ones that are so similar? If we are to be tolerant, then it should be directed to all sides of the spectrum, especially those that are within the realm of Shemirat Torah Umitzvot. Yes, the 15% of dressing differently, our relationship towards the State of Israel, secular endeavors, joining the army and more, will still be “dividers” between our respective communities, and strong debates will yet go on. But will our level of tolerance towards groups who have passed the 15% mark be extended to those closer to it?  If we believe in Tolerance, it can and should run the entire gamut.

Diversity is not a dirty word - Beyond the need for tolerance towards those closer to us, I believe a deeper challenge lies before our communities, one that is not being spoken about enough in the “heat of the debate” in Israel of late; diversity is not a “b’diavad” - it’s not an Ex Post Facto of “three Jews, five opinions,” or the hardships of our long exile! Rather, it’s my view that, after accepting and fulfilling the “Yoke of Heaven,” - the dictates of Jewish Law -that God never intended for all of us to be the same:

A Tale Of Two Movements

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Like many other families this past Sukkos, my husband and I took the kids to the park over Chol Hamoed. But we left our mitts and bats in the car when we arrived. This was a trip to Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.

We were curious to see the much publicized protestors of Occupy Wall Street, and I wanted our kids to get a taste of “history” in the making. And, rest assured, this is a piece of history my kids will remember.

The first thing that greeted us as we parked our car several blocks away and got closer to the police barricades surrounding the park was the odor. It was a terrible stench that crept up on us and, both physically and figuratively, never left us until we moved out of the Wall Street area the protesters now claim as their own.

I repeatedly warned my kids not to touch anything as we navigated our way through clusters of sprawling protesters on grounds littered with empty food plates, grimy tarps propped up by poles to cover sleeping bags, and a distinctly strong smell of marijuana. It was dark when we arrived at the park and a large group of protesters were loudly and almost absurdly communicating via their “mic-check” system.

These Occupy Wall Street protesters were predominantly young and white. Most of them looked like college students from universities like the New School or residents of the Village. They did not exactly impress me as being “disenfranchised.” Indeed, the only truly poor people I was able to make out were a couple of homeless men eating donated food from a makeshift open kitchen, surely blessing their luck and hoping the supply won’t run out anytime soon.

I stopped some protesters and asked them what they hoped to achieve. I was dumbfounded. Apparently the caricature of brain-dead college kids hanging out in the park is not an exaggeration. The first several protesters gave answers in an inane and almost adolescent tone: “We want a better world.” “We want equality.” “We’re here for a better planet.”

Though we finally did strike up a conversation with one hardcore opponent of the capitalist order – a young psychology teacher with no real working knowledge of finance – most of the protesters simply struck me as Woodstock wannabes.

I was relieved when we left the park. Relieved to end a conversation with one of the protesters, a teacher who told us how proud he was to be part of “the 99%” – the protesters’ phrase for the percentage of Americans supposedly united against the one percent of our country’s top earners. It wasn’t “fair,” he claimed, for so few people to have so much wealth – never mind that many of them worked hard to earn it – and it was only “fair” to demand the government tax them further to ensure that everyone shares in that wealth.

What a difference from the last protest I took my daughter to – a Tea Party rally in midtown Manhattan. Besides the common bond of a shared philosophical affinity, there’s something comforting in taking your child to a gathering where you see a patriotic man dressed up as a founding father rather than a man holding a sign proclaiming “Queers love the 99%.”
The Tea Party rally was a G-rated event to which you could bring the whole family. It promoted family values over vulgarity, work ethics over entitlements, and independence rather than dependence for 100 percent of Americans.

As an Orthodox Jew I not only felt welcome but validated. Tea Party goers waved Israeli flags along with American ones, while Occupy Wall Street protests are laced with signs that read “Hitler’s Bankers,” “Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street.” and “Congress Should Print the Money, Not the Zionist Jews.”

The difference between Occupy Wall Street protesters and Tea Party rally-goers is greater than just one group wanting more government intervention and one wanting less. It’s more than a difference between one group contesting American capitalism and one wanting to restore that capitalism to its earlier glory. It is an intrinsic conflict between two peoples and two social ideologies, between protesters with no real message who want to continue on the downward moral spiral that began in the 1960s and rally-goers yearning for the bygone era of “Leave it to Beaver.”

One cannot separate fiscal and moral values. They are intrinsically intertwined. Work ethics and work go hand in hand. Internalized values that restrict misbehavior and encourage good behavior cut across the spectrum of our daily lives. And caps set in place to govern social conduct and prevent misconduct are similar to caps erected to govern monetary behavior and prevent financial liability. Those bent on an agenda of accepting monetary entitlements and forcing others to grant them look for entitlements in other areas of life as well.

I didn’t just sense the difference between the rally at Zuccotti Park and the Tea Party. I felt it. And I resent the Wall Street protesters co-opting percentages of fellow citizens in their quest to collapse our existing capitalist and social structure. No – alas – I am not one of the “millionaires and billionaires.” But don’t lump me together with the anarchists in “the 99%.”

Sara Lehmann is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-tale-of-two-movements-2/2011/11/02/

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