You’ll have to forgive Ali Baher, chair of the Arab student body at the Hebrew University, for thinking he lived in a democracy. After all, one of its hallmarks is the right both to say what you think and also to refuse to do something you find objectionable–like shaking President Shimon Peres’ hand:
The chairman of Hebrew University’s Arab student body was apprehended by university security personnel on Sunday after he refused to shake the hand of visiting President Shimon Peres’ hand.
Ali Baher was detained for three hours after calling Peres’ hand a “murderer of children.” His student ID card was confiscated until a disciplinary committee convenes to review his conduct.
“I have a right to not shake hands with those I do not want to shake hand with,” Baher told Haaretz on Sunday.
But either Israel is not the democracy is touts itself to be or the Hebrew University follows different rules than the nation of which it is a part. Baher was roughed up by University security personnel, apparently with nothing better to do than harass Arab students for partaking of their democratic right to be left alone, even when patriotism calls in the form of the nation’s president:
A note of background: when I studied at the Hebrew University in the 1970s, it was known as a bastion of right-wing student activism. After all, Tzachi Hanegbi (who told me personally during that time that he favored the rebuilding of the (Third) Temple) and Avigdor Lieberman were stalwarts of the thuggish student political group, Kastel during that period. Apparently, little has changed. The school still barely tolerates its Arab students, viewing them with the same suspicion as much of the rest of the country’s Jewish citizens.
Do I think Shimon Peres is a murderer of children? No. But then again I’m not an Israeli Arab and if I were I wouldn’t be terribly eager to pall around with Peres myself. Even as a Jew and progressive Zionist, Peres leaves me cold for the overall mediocrity of his political achievement during his career. So why shouldn’t Ali Baher have the same right as any citizen of any reasonable democracy–to refuse to do something he finds politically odious?
What is especially sensitive for Israeli Jews is their view that Arab citizens reject the notion of a Jewish state. When in truth, Arabs are psychologically more integrated into the state than anyone has a right to expect given how inferior their status is. For Baher to refuse the president’s hand only serves to reinforce the notion that Jews have that Arabs are an ungrateful third column in their midst.