The flame of hatred is consuming. Tisha Be'av is coming.

"Even if we think that the hatred is not baseless, we must – as we always have – ensure that it does not bring us closer, even by the tiniest step, to our downfall and destruction,” said Rivlin.

Israeli police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Prime Minister official residence in Jerusalem on July 14, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Prime Minister official residence in Jerusalem on July 14, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
There’s an ill wind blowing through the land, one stirring memories of the storms of February 1983 and October 1995.
Those were both dark months in the history of the state: The first was when Emil Greenzweig was killed by a grenade hurled at a Peace Now demonstration in Jerusalem, the second when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
The atmosphere in the days preceding those two events was super-charged: in 1983 it was over the Lebanon War; in 1995 it was over the Oslo accords and suicide bombings jolting the nation.
The atmosphere in the country today is no less charged, no less toxic – caused by a pandemic that has led to unprecedented economic distress, and by the passionate opposition of many to a prime minister making life and death decisions while standing trial on corruption charges.
We saw that toxicity on full display in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening, when thugs apparently affiliated with the far-right waded into a protest in Tel Aviv against Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, with fists flaring and broken bottles slashing.
We saw it on display when social activist Dina Dayan was spat upon by “Black Flag” protesters in Jerusalem last week for no apparent reason, other than that she was identifiable as a religious woman because of her head covering.
We’ve seen it in the rhetoric used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cohorts in trying to delegitimize the protesters by calling them leftists and anarchists, and saying they are spreading disease – and we’ve seen it at the demonstrations by protesters chanting “traitor, traitor” in reference to Netanyahu, and showing a picture of him with his hand outstretched, as if in a fascist salute.
The writing is on the wall: An act of unspeakable political violence is lurking around the corner, and the time has come for everyone – everyone – to get a grip, calm down and act responsibly.
Netanyahu must clearly and unequivocally denounce violence against these protesters, and reaffirm the democratic right to demonstrate. And leaders of the opposition must clearly and unequivocally denounce threats against Netanyahu and the use of language against him that they would condemn as incitement if it was used against a leader of their own camp.
One need not look beyond today’s date on the Hebrew calendar – Tisha Be’av – to understand the disastrous consequences that could befall this land if brother again raises his hand against brother in an act of political violence.
Ohana put it well on Twitter Wednesday: “For God’s sake, lower the flames. How much hatred is in the air. Tisha Be’av. It doesn’t matter who you are for or against: I call on everyone – the Right, Left, for/against the prime minister, for/against me – lower the flames. The police will deal strongly with any signs of violence. We are one people. It will be a disaster if the disagreements cause us to forget that.”
He’s right. But Ohana has to internalize his own message. Earlier this week he was taped encouraging police officers in a private meeting to use tougher measures against the protests. The job of the Police is not to suppress demonstrations, as Ohana intimated in that leaked conversation. Its job is complex: it must protect those who come to exercise their democratic right even as it must ensure public order at those demonstrations.
The current crisis, President Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday, is making Israelis “lonely and hard.”
“We have lost faith,” he said. “Behind the masks hiding our faces, we have become suspicious. We are suspicious of each other. We suspect the elected officials, the demonstrators in the streets, those offering help. Tell me which group you are part of, and I will tell you what you are guilty of. Tell me which side of the political map you belong to, and I will tell you what you are suspected of.
“Desperate times are times when hatred flourishes,” he continued. “And even if we think that the hatred is not baseless, we must – as we always have – ensure that it does not bring us closer, even by the tiniest step, to our downfall and destruction.”
Piercing words to ponder on this day marking 1,950 years from the destruction – which the sages attributed to baseless hatred – of that last, great exercise in Jewish self-rule.