Comment: Playing with fire

As we obsess over power, we lose more and more of our potential.

February 5, 2009 22:44
3 minute read.
Comment: Playing with fire

Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])


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"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." In order to avoid any unpleasantness with copyright lawyers, I should make clear that these stirring words are not mine. And however germane they may appear to be to these times and this region, their origin (as many of my readers will have identified) is different. It was with these words that Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted the office of president of the United States of America almost 76 years ago. FDR's words are as applicable as ever, but his pellucid oratory is certainly out of place in the current Israeli climate of political debate. The words employed by the candidates range between blunt and crude, and some manage to bring the best of both of these epithets to bear. We are living in violent times, and the violence is seeping into every aspect of our lives. Add to the mix the subtle tones of Reality TV, and the result is inevitable: an undignified scramble for power, with the cut-and-thrust of political debate replaced by character assassination. Roosevelt's message is an inspiration, but it is not strictly true. We do have things to fear beyond fear itself. Iran has not been developing its ballistic capacity in order to send us messages of hope and reconciliation. There are palpable risks and dangers out there in the world, just as there were in the year of the first Roosevelt inauguration. Beyond the geopolitical sphere, there are formidable risks facing us economically, culturally and spiritually. But on another level, FDR's message is profound and significant, and it has been echoed in recent weeks by the new occupant of the Oval Office. Fear Itself is playing an insidious role: it has been one of the key factors in the strong showing of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party in the polls. Hundreds of thousands of non-Orthodox votes which have moved from one party to another in recent years (both Shinui and the Pensioners have benefited in the past) will strengthen Israel Beiteinu. They have run an insidious campaign, preying on Fear Itself. They suggest that most Israeli-Arabs are disloyal to the State, and therefore they should have citizenship rights revoked. They call for an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state - anyone who refuses to take it has forfeited their rights. Their claim has the air of plausibility, but it's bogus. By raising the specter of a Fifth Column (comprising a fifth of the population), Lieberman is deliberately playing with fire. He is speaking to the lowest common denominator: fear itself. If the only kind of Israeli-Arab who will be tolerated here is one who speaks Yiddish and eats gefilte fish; if the values of the Inquisition come to dominate the values of the Enlightenment; if the politics of hate overtake the politics of hope - then we lose any claim to be a Jewish state in the best sense. Many of the folks I mix with (you know the type: liberal self-haters and treasonous defeatists) are grappling with another kind of fear as elections approach. Along with the fear of Teheran and of Terror, we are afraid that the fear of fear itself will drive Israel farther away from what it might be. I am afraid that as we obsess (understandably but regrettably) over Power, we lose more and more of our Potential. Suggesting that Israeli-Arabs have to come out as Zionists in order to be a full part of the state is either disingenuous or inane. Israelis of integrity should state this loudly and clearly. Terror that paralyzes efforts for change has to be overcome. Rabbi Marmur is dean of the Jerusalem school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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