Gregory Lee Johnson was an idiot.
What’s worse, he was a loud idiot. In 1984 he arrived at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, and in protest of President Reagan’s policies burned the American flag while shouting: “America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you, you stand for plunder, you will go under."
The incident was not violent, yet some of those present were deeply offended by the burning of the flag, and Johnson was charged with vandalizing respected objects. The court convicted him, but asked the US Supreme Court to hear the appeal in the case.
In 1989, the US Supreme Court acquitted the idiot.
The majority opinion, written by William J. Brennan, is a rare political and constitutional masterpiece. Yet the most meaningful part of the decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who up until the last moment debated between conviction and acquittal.
Justice Kennedy wrote: “Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”
This week – exactly 20 years after that historic decision – the Israeli government’s ministerial committee approved a bill that aims to jail anyone who marks Nakba Day for three years.
Whoever approved this bill is a coward; yet not only a coward, but also anti-Zionist.
Jewish existence in Israel depends on us
The State of Israel was not established by anxiety, but rather, through pride. We knew, from the very beginning, that some people will not recognize our right for a state of our own and will view the Jewish State as a disaster (Nakba in Arabic); we knew there will be people who would wish to see us exterminated. The State of Israel was not established so that this hatred disappears, but rather, so we can tell our haters they can get lost. We are no longer dependent on them.
If someone doubts our right to exist – be it on the hills of Umm al-Fahem or in Munich’s beer halls, in Gaza’s crowded streets or in the thick woods of Babi Yar – it’s their problem. Proud states do not break into wails and crawl under the carpet when they discover someone doesn’t love them. Jewish existence in the Land of Israel depends only on the Jews, and on what the Jews think of themselves.
The weirdest and craziest thing is that this wave comes from the direction of people who claim to belong to the “national camp.” What’s national about entrusting your identity in the hands of others? What’s national about being preoccupied with complaining that others don’t think like us, instead of believing in ourselves and the righteousness of our way?
Rabbi Kook once wrote: “The pure righteous men do not complain about wickedness, but rather, add a measure of justice. They do not complain about heresy, but rather, add a measure of faith. They do not complain about ignorance, but rather, add a measure of wisdom.”
Since when do we need Arab approval?
If we are strong enough, no Palestinian flag hoisted in Taibeh will undermine us. If we are weak and scared, all the laws in the world won’t help. It is not national pride that gave rise to this twisted law, but rather, weakness – weakness of mind and the weakness of our democracy. Those who argue that Nakba Day undermines the pillars of the Israeli state apparently don’t believe that its pillars are strong enough.
Confident states do not indict those who protest against them. Such states know that laws are meant to protect precisely that which is infuriating and despicable. They are meant to protect the rabbis urging IDF troops to refuse orders, draft dodgers from Tel Aviv who travel to protest in Bil’in, Kahane and Mohammad Barakeh, Noam Federman and Ahmed Tibi, protestors and flag-burners, loud people and foolish people; the laws are meant to protect the beliefs we share, but mostly the beliefs we do not share.
A murky wave is sweeping through us. This week it was the Nakba Bill, next week it will be the Declaration of Allegiance Bill, and our prime minister demands that the Palestinians recognize us as a Jewish State. The Palestinians? Since when do we need Palestinian recognition? Is this why we returned from the Diaspora? In order to ask foreigners to approve our entitlement for our own national identity?
Those who refer to the State of Israel’s establishment as a “disaster” are talking about their own disaster. As to our own disasters, we bring them upon us ourselves.