Most of us are all too familiar with the dirtiness of politics which, in recent years, has become hyperbolic – to the point of real character assassination, but Israeli politics, sadly, seems to have also sunk to a new low when it comes to denigrating those with whom they don’t agree.
Case in point, many were extremely angered by a promise Prime Minister Netanyahu made, once he returned to power, to subsidize Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) educational institutions, regardless of their decision not to teach core curriculum studies, such as English, math, science, etc. Knowing that such a move would seriously hamper this segment of youth, who, one day, would need to seek employment, the decision was, nonetheless, taken to fund without conditions.
Now, former Finance Minister, Avigdor Liberman of the Yisrael Beytenu party has expressed his fury by stating, “I agreed to give a lot of money [as finance minister] in exchange for core curriculum studies. What Netanyahu did, he deserves to suffer in hell every day. He took those people and said: ‘I will give you the same funds without the need to study core studies. I want you to remain in poverty, without education, and you will suffer.’”
While it’s likely that most of us agree with his justified anger, due to the ramifications of these kids’ future, by allowing funding to be given without assurances of an adequate education, who among us would wish for the prime minister to burn in hell?
This kind of inflamed curse crosses a line of all decency and humanity – no matter what the issue involves. But, much to the regret of us all, super-charged rage and indignation are being heard more and more by both politicians and others whose go-to is the weaponization of words in order to defame and smear.
Take, for example, the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, who labeled hundreds of thousands of citizens, as terrorists, simply because their protesting had inconvenienced his mother, for several hours, as she was unable to leave a Tel Aviv hair salon while demonstrations were taking place at the same time. Consequently, he chose to compare Tel Aviv to Ramallah, saying that “the protesters had become ‘twins with their Palestinian barbarian brothers.’” Yair went on to say, “They aren’t protesters. They aren’t anarchists either. They are terrorists. A violent underground has arisen here (financed by criminals and evil billionaires). This is domestic terrorism. Even if it takes time, eventually, they will be prosecuted for all their crimes.”
Essentially, Yair Netanyahu was framing a significant number of his own countrymen, as those who are criminals, deserving to rot in a jail cell for the crime of exercising their democratic rights to protect the freedoms they have always enjoyed in their homeland.
In another, equally distasteful incident, television presenter, Galit Gutman had stated the following, on a live morning program, about the religious, while discussing the very controversial budget which has lavishly funded their institutions, “How much of a burden can be placed on a third of this country to keep all these ultra-Orthodox people who suck our blood?” Forced to walk back those vilifying comments, Gutman was forced to apologize to the ultra-Orthodox community on Friday, stating that she was sorry if she had offended an entire sector of people.
In each one of these incidents, those who flagrantly used these malicious and vitriolic terms, saw no need to use a filter or to find a more acceptable avenue to express their dissent in a way that would still get the message across, while preserving their own dignity and decorum. For them, it was the need to emit their anger in the most contemptuous and insulting way with scorn, disrespect and lack of anything resembling culture or good manners.
Maybe none of this comes as a surprise, but it should disturb us to the core, because as those who were meant to be a light to the nations, such behavior is a personal indictment on our society and a serious charge of how far we have strayed from being that beacon of illumination who was chosen to be the guardians and disseminators of truth, justice and holiness.
Each one of these individuals, as well as any others who are spewing hatred and venomous sentiment against their fellow citizens, needs a refresher course on the teachings of their revered prophet Isaiah who said, “The law will go out from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2: 3,4)
Yes, we have arrived at a volatile place in Israel – where the intersection of religion and politics has converged, causing two diverse sides to feel that the well-being of their country is dependent upon laws which uphold their way of thinking.
But what has really changed? Almost nothing! Israel has been composed of the very religious and the very secular for decades. Despite those massive differences, we have, for the most part, gotten along, lived in peace and made lifestyle decisions independent of one another.
In fact, whole neighborhoods, which housed both segments of the population, managed to live in harmony for a very long time, making us all proud of the diversity which was able to peacefully coexist with one another. It wasn’t until a few extremists hijacked the present government, attempting to change basic laws by force and the use of their newfound power, that the very stormy waters began to rock the boat and cause much upheaval. Absent those few, who were responsible for instigating great unrest and uncertainty, in a pluralistic country which worked fairly well for so many years, things would still be quiet and relatively normal.
It is, indeed, a pity that a handful of politicians, whose intolerance is unable to absorb the free choices of each citizen, have been able to ruin it for everyone. It is said that no one can control them or bring them to a place of reasonable compromise. Israelis simply want to feel as if life in their country is secure from within and open-minded enough to make peace with the obvious fact that Jews come in all stripes, opinions and beliefs.
If we could just see the value of loving one another, as we are, rather than smacking each other in the face with a hateful label, perhaps, others, from the nations, would look upon us as those whose message is one which emanates from the light of the Lord, whose calling is still one of holiness before their God!
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.