When we were little, there was always some annoying kid in school who would wave his hand in our eyes and said: "I'm not touching you. The air's free." Theoretically, he was right. In practice, he'd get a sock in the mouth.
Here in Israel a rabbi calls for the murder of Sharon and is not brought to trial on the grounds that it's not a crime to wish the prime minister was dead. In our school, it would end with a sock in the mouth. In a civilized country, it would end in jail.
Because playing innocent has a way of ending badly. First of all, this rabbi is not alone. As the people who want to see Sharon dead multiply, a plot to bump off another Israeli prime minister takes shape before our eyes.
Secondly, the purpose of this incitement against Sharon is to wreck the disengagement plan, which is supported by a majority of the public.
Thirdly, we are looking at a real-life putsch against Israel's elected government, backed by people inside and outside the administration who are waging a smear campaign against the one prime minister capable of getting on the road the historic process of demarcating Israel's permanent borders.
Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated a decade ago in the wake of the agitation and rowdy protests of Likudniks and settlers who opposed the Oslo Accords. The difference between then and today is that the prime minister they are inveighing against is one of their own.
Remember when Netanyahu went to a Likud convention, and asked, "Is everyone here a Likudnik?" And when they shouted "yes," he heaved a sigh and slipped off his bulletproof vest. Well, not only wouldn't Sharon take off his vest today, but his bodyguards would insist that he put on an extra one. Because the camp that rose to power by a landslide thanks to Sharon has now turned him into a target.
Who ever heard of Mapai, even in the worst of times, not letting its party leader speak? When the Likud convention opened this week at Mann Auditorium, delegates heckled Sharon and tried to shut him up. Dozens of security guards took up positions around the room and created a human barrier between the audience and the podium, where Sharon was speaking. Wherever he went, he was surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards. Sharpshooters were hidden in strategic corners. Hovering above him outside were surveillance balloons equipped with cameras.
There is no question that opponents of withdrawal want to scare him, to keep him from carrying out the government's decision by all possible means. At the same time, these people are trying to intimidate the law enforcement agencies, warning that soldiers and policemen who participate in the evacuation will find themselves up against physical resistance.
Sharon is no chicken. But it is definitely possible that all this isolation forced on him for security reasons and the fact that his party colleagues have left him in the lurch could end up twisting his arm. In listening to his recent speeches, it was hard not to notice that the fiery bluster seems to have descended a notch. The danger of him backpedaling on disengagement at the very last minute is not that inconceivable.
What we are seeing here is a radical minority employing democratic means to impose its will on the majority. But the worst thing of all is that this majority sits around in the living room, slouched in an armchair, muttering about the situation and doing nothing.
Labor is playing games, giving out portfolios it doesn't have. The party that had 40-50 seats in the Knesset for 40 years seems to have resigned itself to slowly disappearing from the map. Big shot intellectuals and businessmen see the downward spiral and warn of the impending catastrophe, but none will dip their delicate feet into the chilly waters of politics to stop a gang of fanatics from taking over the Israeli street.
This country has produced a number of protest movements that changed the course of history. Motti Ashkenazi, who stationed himself in front of the Prime Minister's Residence after the Yom Kippur War, sparked a massive outcry that toppled the government of Golda Meir and paved the way for the political upheaval of 1977. During the Lebanon War, there were a series of mass demonstrations, the most famous being the "rally of the 400,000" that filled Kikar Malchei Yisrael.
Since the Oslo Accords, the Likud and the extremists have been pulling the strings. They are threatening us with civil war. Sharon cannot speak at his own party conventions without being booed. He is the most locked-up prime minister there is, imprisoned by malice.
Now is the time for the silent majority to wake up and take to the streets, staging mass rallies to show how much support there is for rescuing the disengagement plan. Now is the time to get out of your armchair.
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