Fear matters

There are boundaries of civility that must not be crossed, even in a hard-fought election campaign.

An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With fewer than 30 days until the election, there is still time to step back from the brink of an ever dirtier campaign that is increasingly based on feeding the irrational fears of the electorate instead of focusing on the important issues of the day.
This election year marks the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. It is a time to reflect on the political atmosphere of the time, another period of incitement that saw the prime minister of Israel portrayed in right-wing posters wearing a Nazi uniform.
One result of such fear mongering was a murder that tore apart the nation. Are we to expect a campaign ad featuring Isaac Herzog in an SS uniform, too? The anything- goes spirit of a campaign that panders to the lowest common denominator – fear – is more of a threat to our democracy than the potential dangers such a campaign ostensibly seeks to warn us about. In fact, it is a cynical ploy to frighten voters to choose the “right” path.
We justifiably refer to Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. That may be a somewhat hollow boast when comparing ourselves to Islamist dictatorships and kingdoms whose unevolved social mores are still stuck in the Middle Ages. What about looking to the premier league of democracy? That other great democracy whom we emulate in so many ways, the United States, manages to hold presidential elections every four years, not two, and does so in a more or less dignified manner. For one thing, the issues are debated on prime-time television, where a strict moderator allows a free exchange of views to be presented to the public.
If our candidates eventually agree to a televised debate, it is not hard to imagine such an exchange taking place in the traditional Israeli television format of people shouting at one another in an effort to be heard.
Probably the greatest existential issue facing Israel today – and the rest of the world later – is a nuclear armed Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged conspiracy with Republican House Speaker John Boehner to embarrass President Barack Obama by the timing of his upcoming speech to Congress is a political sideshow compared to the dire warning he plans to deliver in an effort to stop a bad international deal with Iran.
Sideshow aside, this weekend witnessed the debut of campaign ads that expressed a new low in Israeli electioneering.
In one Likud ad, actors portraying Islamic State terrorists are seen driving a pickup truck adorned with a jihadist flag and an “Anyone but Bibi” bumper sticker. They stop and ask directions to Jerusalem from another motorist, who disingenuously tells them to “turn Left.”
In a second and arguably more perverse example, a new grassroots settler group called the “Samaria Citizens Committee” posted a crude cartoon video that portrays Europeans as Nazis and Israeli leftists and human rights organizations as collaborators carrying out their genocidal tasks for money.
The left-wing Israeli is shown as having a hooked nose and acting against his country for gold until he is finally seen hanging from a tree after committing suicide. The extremist stereotyping and incitement contained in the video are horrific, especially to people who have had a history of being targeted with anti-Semitic violence, the most extreme example of which was the Holocaust.
A Zionist political party has no business threatening our electorate with the message that Islamic State supports those who would rather not vote for the Likud. This is not only morally offensive, but an insult to the intelligence of the Israeli voter. So is the cynical manipulation of Holocaust imagery literally to scare up more votes for a cause.
Since November, police have supposedly been probing probe a Facebook page that featured Israeli politicians in SS uniforms, including President Reuven Rivlin and candidates Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid.
In a campaign that threatens to go over the top once again, are we to expect a political endorsement from an Ayatollah Khamenei look-alike actor in a turban? Is the next tasteless ad in the series to feature actors in death camp uniforms warning of a future second Holocaust? There are boundaries of civility that must not be crossed, even in a hard-fought election campaign. US president Franklin Roosevelt once famously said regarding the Great Depression that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” His was a warning against letting fear grow to such an extent that it paralyzes action. We are warned against letting fear mongers paralyze our thinking.