Residents of a normally tranquil cul-de-sac in the Gush Etzion town of Efrat were rudely awakened at 6:30 AM on Thursday by an anarchist protest unfolding outside the residence of Professor Moshe Koppel. Koppel is the founder of the Kohelet Policy Forum and one of the architects spearheading Israel’s much-needed judicial reform.
The morning prayers at the nearby synagogue merged with the cacophony of drums, horns, and megaphones, as the protesters sought to make their grievances known. However, even among the approximately 75 protesters, unanimity regarding the precise purpose of their demonstration was noticeably lacking.
תמונת מצב הבוקר באפרת:
אין מצוקת חניה ויש מפגינים מול הבית של פרופ’ @משה קופל. pic.twitter.com/OlVaNfZSvD
— Oded Revivi עודד רביבי (@odedrevivi) June 1, 2023
While one irate neighbor, displeased by the unexpectedly early morning awakening, resorted to spraying the protesters with a garden hose (which the protesters promptly tied in a knot), the majority of Koppel’s neighbors came down to the street and opted for conversation and interaction with the demonstrators – Bnei Brak style, albeit without the Cholent.
Yishai Fleisher, the spokesperson for Hebron, and his wife Malkah engaged in discussions with many of the protesters. Their aim was to comprehend the source of their ire, which had prompted the protesters to rouse the entire street so early. (To clarify, many neighbors were already awake, preparing their children for school or heading out to morning prayers.)
Some protesters expressed their anger with religious Jews, while others railed against Judea, Samaria, and the “Occupation”. One protester was busy claiming all Christians are actually Jews, but even the other protesters weren’t accepting that one. References to democracy were made, and some even claimed to be protesting against judicial reform.
There were open debates among the protesters in response to their interactions with the Efratians, about whether or not we’re all one family.
In response to Yishai’s inquiry about the very divergent reasons behind this protest, one protester referred to their group of protesters as an “Erev Rav” (a mixed multitude) of ideas! Their words, not ours.
By 8:00 AM, the majority of the protesters had dispersed, returning to their respective origins. However, a few stragglers chose to continue conversing with the amiable residents of Efrat.
One of Koppel’s neighbors, a lawyer trained in the United States, recounted attempting to engage the protesters in discussions on democracy and constitutional law. To his dismay, he discovered their limited understanding of these fundamental concepts, with some even unaware of the number of justices required in Israel to overturn a Knesset law.
Other neighbors reported discussing Judaism with the protesters and similarly observed a lack of basic knowledge among the protesters about their own religion. Other pointed out that some of the protesters just seemed genuinely off-the-wall. More than one protester was surprised to see how beautiful the town of Efrat is, apparently having expected it to be a bunch of caravans on a desolate hilltop.
Following a post-protest analysis, the residents of Efrat categorized the protesters they interacted with into two main groups.
The first category was comprised of Progressives and professional protesters, motivated by rage, their anarchist agendas and an inherent urge to protest. Some Efratians speculated that some of those protesters may have been financially incentivized to participate.
The second group consisted of individuals with various societal grievances, some of which the Efrat residents actually agreed with. Many of this second category of protesters, they observed, were Zionists and pro-Israel, just woefully ignorant.
A noteworthy commonality among both categories of protesters, as noted by many Efrat residents, was the protesters’ deeply ingrained preconceptions and stereotypes about settlers and religious people. Regrettably, the protesters possessed a profound lack of familiarity with both groups. Those Efrat residents who engaged in discussions with the protesters remarked that at least some from the second category of protesters left with many of their stereotypes dispelled.
During the post-protest analysis, one Efrat resident expressed his conviction that the second group of protesters were being manipulated by professional community organizers. Their susceptibility to manipulation, he speculated, stemmed from their overwhelming reliance on stereotypes from the media and a whole lot of ignorance. The organizers’ purposeful strategy of no clear message unifying the protesters is what allowed so many disparate individuals to protest together.
The conversations with a last group of stragglers after the protest concluded with a discussion about the Dee family. The protesters were surprised to learn that the Dee family resided in Efrat. The protesters conveyed their horror at the recent terror attack and unanimously expressed deep respect for Rabbi Dee, considering him a remarkable individual.
If any conclusions can be drawn from this morning’s excitement in Efrat, it is that while using garden hoses may seem like a more satisfying solution at 6:30 AM, engaging in conversation and education holds a much better chance for a long-term victory against these protests and the professionals who are organizing them.