Civility and respect above all

Sadly, this tone is set by all sides of the political spectrum. It starts with the adults, and that in turn, trickles down to the youth. And it is such a shame.

Election ballots from the 2015 vote lie on a floor (photo credit: REUTERS)
Election ballots from the 2015 vote lie on a floor
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Elections have the capacity to bring out the worst in people – the name-calling, labeling, dismissing – the divisiveness.
Sadly, this tone is set by all sides of the political spectrum. It starts with the adults, and that in turn, trickles down to the youth. And it is such a shame.
I write these words while sitting in an airport in the United States. I look around and see thousands of people coming and going. They certainly appear nice. I am sure that they are good people. But I feel zero connection to them.
And then suddenly I hear Hebrew. Two Israelis are walking by.  They look nothing like me. Their background is in no way similar to mine. In fact, as someone who spent most of his life living in the US, I likely have far more in common with the thousands of Americans passing through this airport. And yet, when I see these Israelis, I feel more at ease.
I feel more at home. They are family. I don’t know if they are right-wing or left-wing politically. I don’t know if they agree with my opinions about religion and state, security issues, or the economy. But I feel like they are my brothers.
During my inaugural address to the Knesset in 2013, I talked about my grandmother who came from a hassidic family in Hungary and survived the Holocaust. I retold her describing the reality of Auschwitz, how backgrounds and different lifestyles or opinions didn’t matter. All they had was each other, and they needed to help one another.
I declared before the Knesset plenary that our unity and respect for one another cannot only occur during the worst of times. It can and must exist during the best of times.
Over the next week I will be speaking to North American youths and adults about the miracle that is the State of Israel. I will return to my lodging at night hoping that I inspired audiences to make Israel a central part of their lives, and perhaps even consider making Israel their home, as it is mine.
With all of the challenges facing our country, and the many important issues on the table in these elections, millions of Jews are blessed to live in Israel in what I call “the best of times,” which our ancestors would have seen as the fulfillment of their dreams.
And I view democratic elections in a Jewish State of Israel as an exemplary example of the best of times. For thousands of years, we lived at the whims of dictators. We were mere pawns left to be tortured and persecuted at the hands of evil kings and queens. 
But now, with God’s help, we have self-determination and are masters of our own fate. Yes, we must debate and do so vigorously. Yes, we must try to convince those around us to vote one way or another, and we must do so with passion.
However, vigorous debate does not have to mean disrespect.  Passionate discussion does not have to mean dislike. And just because the candidates are doing it, does not mean that the rest of the country has to follow suit.
We, the citizens of Israel, cannot let our “leaders” rip us apart. We have six more weeks of electioneering ahead of us. Let us demand – yes, demand – from all candidates that they remain civil and focused on the issues.  And if they won’t, at the very least we as voters should commit to doing so.
Because, after all, we only have each other.

The writer was a member of the 19th Knesset, and is the cofounder and CEO of the Better Future for Israel Foundation.