Published in The Jerusalem Post on August 2, 1998
It’s time to call our so-called leaders on the carpet for their sins of *sinat chinam* the propagation of baseless and unnecessary hatred. Here’s ten public figures that this Tisha BeAv could do with a dose of *teshuva* — repentance for their inflammatory, intemperate, seditious demagoguery:
Benjamin Netanyahu: Remember the prime minister’s tete-a-tete with the kabbalist Rabbi Kedourie? “The left has forgotten its Jewishness” Bibi whispered in the octogenarian rabbi’s ears. This whopper of a collective slander never truly has been retracted. Mr. Prime Minister, Israeli society and polity would have been better off without this particular broadside. No need to stoop to such smearing in order to get a leg up on the opposition.
Ehud Barak: “Bibi is a liar” may resonate well, and sound good to the campaign consultants, but it is a slogan that drags our political discourse further down into the gutter. Mr. Barak, do you really have to portray the prime minister as a profligate liar in order to get across your party’s message of hope and peace? The politics of defamation have been tried before in this country with disastrous and tragic results. Beware.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: A master of the snide political witticism, this Torah giant has bound his sharp tongue to the fortunes of Shas, and unfortunately descended to street-level mudslinging. There’s no way to justify his nasty remark that the acronym “Mafdal” (the NRP) stands for “fools who believe anything”. Or his aside about Netanyahu being “a blind sheep”. The dignity that comes from study and observance of Torah would mandate a little more restraint.
Yossi Sarid: An expert in political crudeness, Meretz leader Sarid leads the pack in the escalating character assassination of Netanyahu. Some recent beauties: Bibi is “mastool” — high on drugs or other stupefying substances; Bibi is a “trickster, swindler, dissembler, charlatan and cheat” (these words rhymed in Hebrew). And to think that Sarid purports to be the voice of “enlightened” leadership! In any other democracy he’d be run out of public life for such rabid treatment of a political opponent.
Ronni Milo: “The hareidim are coming to take over our homes, our shopping malls, our cafes, cinemas and beaches”, this political charlatan warns us, running a base scare campaign that smacks of pure opportunism. His platform reeks of raw anti-religious passion and exaggeration, without offering any realistic approaches to problem-solving which one might expect from a leader.
Assi Dayan: Jerusalem is a “screwed-up” city (the actual term was more vulgar), and Bibi should “go to hell”. This was Mr. Dayan’s educated, cultured contribution to a recent arts awards ceremony in Jerusalem. With arts figures of such sagacity and intellectual refinement, it’s no wonder our politicians sometimes sound like barbarians.
Gonen Ginat: The editor of *Hatzofe* recently decided to give the ultra-orthodox a taste of their own medicine, by lashing out vitriolically at hareidi society and asserting that “half of all the prostitutes in Tel Aviv are Beis Yaacov graduates”. It’s true that such wild viciousness is characteristic of the hareidi press on a daily basis, Mr. Ginat, but let’s not descend to their level.
Tzachi Hanegbi: “Ehud *barach*” — Barak ran away (from Tzeelim, without concern for IDF wounded) was a classic political assault, brilliant in its simplicity and power to wound. In a normal democracy this acrid aspersion would have been beyond the pale. It’s no wonder that there is no exact Hebrew translation for ‘civility’ and ‘subtlety’. We wouldn’t know what to make of the words or how to apply them.
Chaim Miller: Every watcher of the evening news is alienated by brazen, in-your-face bullies like Agudah Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Rabbi Chaim Miller or Labor MKs Dalia Itzik and Ofer Pines. These political pit-bulls, each in their own way, convey a sneering arrogance and brutish absolutism that is antithetical to decent government and parliamentary courtesy. The NRP’s Yigal Bibi doesn’t quite demerit mention in the same breath, but his unchecked attack on the courts sets a similarly bad example to the public.
Ori Orr: Here’s a guy who has trouble with more than half of the Israeli public, for whom Sephardi upbringing isn’t cultured or “Israeli” enough. Do you need a better example of *sinat chinam*?
Once upon a time we tended to chalk-up the rough talk to Israeli ‘character’ and shrug it off. But the disgraceful level to which our mainstream politicians have sunk over the past year is alarming. Moderation, nuance, restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country’s political landscape. The prevailing culture is *kasach* — unbridled, untamed confrontation.
On Tisha BeAv it’s worth remembering that a previous Jewish commonwealth disintegrated, our sages say, because everybody hated each other. And because leaders led the vulgarization of society, instead of preventing it.