A young colleague of ours recently went for a walk in central Oxford, England – almost literally in the town square. She was not, initially, intending to apply Sharansky's town square test but that's how it turned out. Whether Britain passed or not is still in doubt. Judge for yourselves. Here is her account, which she has adapted from three posts on her personal blog:
First Post, July 21st:
I was in town today and bought an Israeli flag — about five feet long. While I was walking to the bus, I decided to wear it as a cape (mostly to show my support, partly to see if I'd get any reactions). My head was a good couple of inches higher than usual, and whenever I noticed it in a reflection on a window, I smiled broadly.
There was a shout by someone a while behind me. “Yisrael! Yisrael!” I turned around and saw a woman. She shouted to me — presumably in Hebrew — and stuck her thumb up. I grinned and stuck my thumb up high, before continuing on my way.
A few of my friends said it might be dangerous to wear it in public. So naturally, I decided that I must go back into town some time wearing it. This is England, after all. A free country. Who's going to attack a 17-year-old girl for wearing a flag?
Second post, July 29th:
I went to town yesterday to pick up a friend from the train station. I wore my Israeli flag as a cape again. At one point, two girls stopped me and asked if I was from Israel. I replied “No, and I'm not Jewish either, but I do support Israel.” They said they were from Israel. I asked them why they were here, and they said because of the war. They seemed to be happy about the flag. I walked away smiling, glad to make them feel welcome in England.
Later on that day, someone I passed called out “Shalom!” I turned around and started talking to this guy. As far as I could gather, he used to be a medic in Israel for the army. He shook my hand, said something in Hebrew, and I think he prayed or something like that. So far I had had only good reactions, which was rather cool.
Today, however, was something different. I was at the train station to pick up another friend, when some guy approached us and asked why I was wearing the flag. I said that I support Israel. He said something to the effect that I had “better take it off”. I shrugged this off and we went on our way.
About five minutes later, he approached us again and said “What did I tell you?” I looked a bit confused. “Take it off,” he demanded. He kept looking at me, so I took it off so he'd stop (he was rather intimidating). When my other friend arrived and we left the station, I put the flag back on and we went back into the centre of town.
After stopping for some food, we went to our bus stop. By this time, it was around 7:10pm, but still broad daylight (being summer). I was alarmed to find the same guy approaching me again. He stopped in front of me and said “What did I tell you? Take it off. If I see you again with it I'll hurt you.”
Now that wasn't pleasant. I wasn't all that scared at the time, though it was annoying that I had to take the cape off. But now I'm a bit scared of going into town while wearing it, in case he might be there.
Third post, August 10th:
I went into town again today with my sister, my friend, and my Israeli flag-cape. We were walking down a busy street when I saw the same guy from before. “Shit,” I thought, and we quickly walked past. He shouted behind us “Take it off! Take it off!” Somewhat worried, I discreetly took off my flag (replacing it by an American flag).
We kept walking and I put the Israeli flag back on. The guy saw me again and shouted “Take it off! I'm coming for you!” Another guy was with him this time. We kept walking, turned a corner and ducked into a cafe, where my friend phoned the police. We kept looking out round the cafe door. Both guys were waiting on the other side of the street, watching for us to come out. At some point while we were talking to the police, they left.
We decided to go home. Shortly afterwards we were phoned by the police. They're coming later today to get a statement.
People have warned me that I shouldn't wear my flag in public. People don't understand why I still wear it, if I've been threatened, and have a fair chance of being threatened in the future.
Natan Sharansky, a Russian Jew, spent 10 years in prison and in labour camps in the Soviet Union for campaigning for human rights. They claimed it was because he was a spy, and they wanted him to ‘confess’ that he and his friends were American spies. If he ‘confessed’, they would let him go. But he didn't. He never did. He spent 10 long years in these hellish conditions for what he believed in.
Sharansky was a scientist, and while he was imprisoned, he thought of Galileo. Galileo was imprisoned and threatened with torture for saying that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo gave in and finally said that he was wrong and the world was at rest. “If Galileo gave in, why shouldn't I?” Sharansky thought.
No. It was precisely because of Galileo that Sharansky did not give in. Because of Galileo, the world stayed in the state of having bad science for a lot longer than needed. Because of Galileo, people in similar situations ever since have thought “If he gave in, why shouldn't I?” Sharansky did not want people to think the same thing with him. In the end, after his years of imprisonment and mistreatment, Sharansky was freed. He had not once given in.
I don't want to be like Galileo. I want people to think, “If Lulie stood up for what she believes in, so should I!”, just as Sharansky did.
In Natan Sharansky's book, A Case For Democracy, he proposed a test called the Town Square test. He wrote:
”If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a ‘fear society’ has finally won their freedom.”
Right now, Britain is failing the Town Square test. I don't want my country to be like this. I don't want to be scared into not showing my support for a cause that I feel strongly about. This is supposed to be a free country, dammit. I refuse to let anyone scare me into submission.
Am Yisrael Chai!----------------------------
Update 1: Berkeley…?.
Update 2: Alan is inspired to do the same.
Update 3: What the police have done so far. Very creditable.