The big hug

Radio personality Beni Bashan jokingly asked a few Knesset members if they would participate in a group initiative; before he knew it, most had agreed.

Knesset group hug 521 (photo credit: Courtesy: Tal Manor)
Knesset group hug 521
(photo credit: Courtesy: Tal Manor)
Eighty Knesset members – a full two-thirds of the parliament – agreed to participate in a group hug that took place in the Knesset building this past Monday, October 31, a half hour before the Knesset’s winter session convened.
This unlikely event was the brainchild of radio personality Beni Bashan, who hosts a one-hour show four days a week on Army Radio. His show comprises such wacky segments as “Hush Hanihush,” in which he sings a song silently in his head and people call in to guess what it was. He interviews guests about what kind of showers they take, and every day at precisely 2:22 and 22 seconds, he counts down from 10 to one and then screams, “Happy 2:22 and 22 seconds to all of us!” Bashan reports that the idea of “The Big Hug,” as he calls it, “began almost as a joke.” He decided as part of his show to speak with Knesset members on the air and ask them if they would theoretically participate in such a hug. After several affirmative answers the idea gained momentum, and Bashan began taking the project more seriously.
After recruiting MKs Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) and Ze’ev Bielski (Kadima), things really took off.
The two agreed to serve as “ambassadors” of the Big Hug, recruiting politicians in the hallways of the Knesset.
Some people have criticized Bashan’s project as “naive” and “foolish.” To them he responded, “For me, naive is a compliment.”
He challenged his listeners, asking, “Can you accomplish the most naive thing in the most cynical place?” Radio personality Beni Bashan jokingly asked a few Knesset members if they would participate in a group initiative and before he knew it, most had agreed. On Monday they all gathered for this first-time ever eventWhen Ariel Attias of Shas agreed to participate in the hug and was told that he had brought the number of participants to 61 (out of 120 Knesset members), he declared “We have a coalition!” Amir Peretz (Labor), No. 62, praised Bashan for his efforts, adding that getting a majority in the Knesset is no simple feat.
All 13 parties of the Knesset were represented on the list of those who agreed to participate. Fifteen out of 27 Likud members agreed to join, as did 24 out of 27 of Tzipi Livni’s opposition party, Kadima.
Ten out of 11 members of Shas planned to join the hug, including party leader Eli Yishai. Nine out of 15 members of Israel Beiteinu said they would be there, excluding Lieberman himself.
Seven out of 14 Arab MKs and 15 of 24 female MKs committed to attend.
There were many challenges along the way. Some hawks refused to participate with doves and vice versa. Some religious men said they must decline as they are forbidden to hug women, and there were Jews and Arabs who did not want to show solidarity with each other.
Some told Bashan on his show that they would participate only if certain other MKs would not be there. Bashan rejected this agreement on principle, declaring that it would undermine the concept.
Alas, the greatest challenge to the project seems to have been logistical. At 3:30, when the hug was scheduled to begin, only 29 members of Knesset were in attendance. Those who were there hugged, journalists took pictures and the circle began to disperse.
In the meantime, Knesset members who had agreed to participate continued to trickle in. It turns out that many had been tied up in party events, including 34 members of Likud, Shas and Israel Beiteinu who had planned to be there but were involved in a heated meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu until 3:55. A number of MKs who had agreed to hug, including Yishai, expressed their disappointment at having missed the big event. Many of those in attendance, including several journalists, expressed gratitude to Bashan for the good vibes and festive atmosphere he created that day.
During the broadcast leading up to the event, Bashan spoke with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, Sheikh Abdullah Nimar Darwish, founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and Father David Neuhaus of the country’s Hebrew-speaking Catholic community, all of whom gave their blessings. Bashan often asks guests on his show to talk about their memories, and on Monday he asked each of the spiritual leaders to recall a favorite hug they had experienced in their lives. Sheikh Darwish told of a recent time when he was in the hospital’s intensive care unit and awoke surprised to see the face of Rabbi Michael Melchior, who had come to wish him a speedy recovery. Darwish declared that he shared that day “a true hug of love and unity.”
Bashan said afterwards that hearing that story alone made the whole project a success.