The Power of Words

By Noga Shavit
Minneapolis Community Shlicha

 

A month ago, our community gathered to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin. It was truly heartwarming to see so many people come together to make sure that the day which marked such a dark chapter in the history of Israel and of the Jewish people, didn’t go unnoticed.

 

14 years after Israel’s Prime Minister was assassinated by a fellow Jew, a distinct line has to be drawn between zealous political debates and harmful inciting. In his last speech in the city square, soon to be named after him, Rabin specifically addressed this issue, which he perceived as posing an immanent danger to Israel’s democratic nature. He addressed the crowd by saying, “In coming here today, you demonstrate, together with many others who did not come, that the people truly desire peace and oppose violence. Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel.” Little did he know that an unthinkable act of violence would be executed by a Jew only minutes later, costing Rabin his life.

 

Rabin’s words came after a long period of unprecedented personal campaign against him, with hateful protestors constantly outside Rabin’s home, calling the IDF Chief of Staff during the 6-Day War a “traitor” and demonstrators in Jerusalem holding up photo-montage posters with Rabin dressed up as a Nazi officer. Many years later, similar, yet less extreme scenes occurred with opponents to the Disengagement plan publicly wishing harm for then Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon and later on, explicitly celebrating his serious illness.

 

Like most Israelis, I tend to be very passionate about our politics. We are anything but indifferent. Still, I sometimes find myself envious of the way political discussions are conducted in America. In Israel, a country where politics is the national sport, news is broadcast over the loudspeakers on buses, and people listen to news updates every half hour. Friday night “salon” gatherings are almost exclusively dedicated to current events and "small talk" consists of loud, angry debates over politics. Israelis, perhaps a little short-tempered or hot-blooded by nature, are notoriously known for having an opinion on anything and everything, even sports and the ownership of Hummus becomes a political issue.

 

It seems almost inevitable that political discussions will be blunt, heated and overly-passionate. On talk-shows, participants constantly interrupt each other, in a rude manner, showing very little respect for other people’s opinions – or their right to present them without disturbance. It is not uncommon for public figures to refer to their colleagues in a derogatory fashion. Recently, a political scandal was stirred up in America when an over-zealous congressman called out  to president Obama “you lie” during a health care reform debate. In Israel, such an incident would have been perceived with much less condemnation. We sometimes mix rudeness and impatience with spontaneity and straightforwardness. But there is no excuse for turning our political rhetoric into a war zone. Words are a very powerful tool, as we all learned on the night of November 4th, 14 years ago.

 

I remember watching someone on TV, right after the assassination, explaining that the violent act was a result of the disparity of some sectors of the Israeli society who felt they had to seek extreme measures to have their voices heard. Such stands must not be accepted. To quote another remark made by Rabin in his last speech, “In a democracy there can be differences, but the final decision will be taken in democratic elections” (and other democratic mechanisms, one may add). By commemorating Rabin and remembering these words we say “Never Again.”

 

 

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