The age of emotionalism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always been the target of vicious and personal attacks from the Israeli left. Within the political left, he will always be viewed as the man who incited against Yitzhak Rabin and thus contributed to his assassination. However, all of his perceived wrongdoings and political positions were forgotten for a brief moment following the release of Gilad Shalit.
Even the usual antagonism directed at Netanyahu on the pages of Israel’s largely left-leaning media ceased for a few days as the prime minister was portrayed as a courageous leader.
As much as these editorials and op-eds might seemed like a welcomed break from the usual venomous hatred spewed at the prime minister, they merely served as reminders that Israel’s political left is as emotional as it is reactionary.
The rare and joyous moment of seeing one of Israel’s soldiers return home alive was moving. However, Hamas’ stance has not changed, but in some circles of the Israeli society, pragmatism is occasionally mistaken for moderation.
Often, at the expense of long-term policy suggestions, newspapers and self-appointed social leaders focus on making grandiose and emotionally charged statements about a given topic, whether about Netanyahu, Hamas or the country’s economic policies.
Instead of allowing the emotional segments of society to influence its decision making process, the government needs a long term policy based on serious assessments of its future threats.
The relative calm of the past few months has turned into the usual barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel’s southern cities. Suggestions that the time is ripe for a new approach towards Hamas were as futile as they were misleading.
Israeli solidarity for its soldiers is a wonderful thing, but only to the extent of the private sphere. Unbridled public emotionalism and collective solidarity for the sake of one man is arguably a destructive pursuit. If a country’s morale is subject to the freedom of one soldier, how can Israel afford to deal with future Shalits when the country will once again be held hostage by a grieving family and a cynical press willing to use their grief as a weapon against the incumbent prime minister?
No one can criticize Shalit’s parents for doing everything in their power to free their son, but one should criticize the media for subjecting Israel’s security to the fate of one man and forcing Netanyahu to accept the emotional blackmail that followed.
In Israel, like in many Western countries where the citizenry channels the media, the willingness to fight wars is wavering. The sight of body bags will always lead to significant changes in public opinion. As soon as Americans started coming home in body bags from Vietnam and Iraq, the public started to voice criticism. A war in a distant land thousands of miles away is seldom existential. However, all of Israel’s major wars have been existential and the country’s past victories lie in its willingness to fight wars that produce casualties.
This willingness stems from a belief that the enemy is real and near. Regardless of Israel’s military supremacy, the facts of yesterday are still facts today; Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab populations that today are free to express this hostility in ways which we are yet to witness.
It almost seems that the years of activism preceding the release of Gilad Shalit took place in an alternate universe; in a universe where the country was elevated to a place where its enemies did not exist. In this universe, some Israelis drew comparisons between Hosni Mubarak’s regime and the government of Netanyahu – creating perceptions of Israel unsubstantiated by reality.
The Israeli public opinion seems to have become more malleable and emotional and it’s increasingly clear that Israel’s many enemies have understood this very well. The emotional rollercoaster that heralded a serious foreign policy issue, namely the freeing of murderers and criminals in exchange for one soldier, should not have been deliberated under a barrage of emotional blackmail.

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