Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stop Inciting, Start Reconnecting!

Before Rabin's assassination, 1995
In a late 1995 demonstration in the center of Jerusalem, with the leadership of the Likud overlooking a sea of people, signs showed then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a Nazi uniform and read “Death to the Oslo Traitors.” The vilification by the radical right and religious of the democratically elected leaders of Israel, who were negotiating peace with the Palestinians for the first time in history, reached the point of incitement. The extent of that incitement dawned on us Israelis, Jews and friends of Israel only on November 5, when a young Israeli, indoctrinated by his spiritual and political leaders, pulled a handgun and assassinated Prime Minister Rabin. The fighter for Jerusalem in 1948, the Chief of Staff of the Six Day War victory, became fair game because he was willing to make territorial compromises for the sake of peace. After the shock, along with the deep mourning that followed, lingered also the hope that we would have learned the lesson of the price of extremism, the cost of hatred, the curse of violence. For a short time it seemed to work, but soon enough polarization returned with renewed energy. Furthermore, the opponents of peace became increasingly radical and enlisted support in the Diaspora, especially among American Jews. Sixteen years after Rabin's assassination, the Jewish community in the United States is so polarized with regard to Israel that people are scared to discuss it, not wanting to find themselves on opposing sides. Polarization about Israel has now become an issue on the political turf in American politics. The depiction by some so-called friends of Israel of President Barak Obama as hostile to Israel is merging into the domestic rivalry between liberals and conservatives. The competition among Republican presidential candidates on the degree of their support for Israel, by which they mean support of the hard-line policies of Israel's government, borders on absurdity. The Republican US Representative in my district described President Barak Obama as the worst American president in the history of Israeli-American relations. Reality is quite different, but this is not the time or place to discuss it. This is a time of danger, and it is time to sound the alarm. Domestic hostility to the president by the ultra-conservatives and/or other uneducated Americans, combined with incitement by Israeli and Jewish hard-liners and the religious right, directs a stream of venom towards President Obama. Thank goodness no one pulled a handgun on him, but sooner or later someone was bound to go too far in interpreting the heinous message. It happened to be the owner and publisher of a Jewish community newspaper in Atlanta. Unable to distinguish between his zeal in what he believed to be support for Israel and the irresponsible misuse of his publication, he mentioned a presidential assassination as one of Israel’s options in the debacle over Iran. This is an appalling expression which deserves all the condemnations it has received. At the same time, however, it demonstrates the dangers of rampant polarization, within the United States in general, within the American Jewish community and within Israel. Instead of unity, it leads us all into a downward spiral of alienation. This is bad for Israel, it is bad for the Jewish community, and it is bad for America. It is the duty of our political and spiritual leaders to show responsibility in taming and reversing the rise of hostility toward anyone and anything who does not agree with "us," no matter what "us" means. It is time to keep Israel out of American politics. It is time to reunite the Jewish community and to recognize that there are different ways to support Jewish and Israeli causes. It is time to reconnect.

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