Last week several hundred people attended a performance of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" at the Tel Aviv Opera House - escaping into 19th century Russian romanticism for an evening away from news of terrorism, unemployment and Saddam Hussein. The audience should also have ignored the program - inside were greetings from that famous opera connoisseur Ariel Sharon.
On the other hand, the opera-goers could probably identify with the characters on stage, who were also fleeing from reality. "I am trapped in a delusion," sang Tatiana, in one of her first arias. These days, alas, so are many - maybe most - Israelis.
People will vote for Sharon although surveys indicate he is leading Israel into one of the worst periods of its history, he has no action plan to lead it toward better days. They will do so because they have lost the ability to act rationally. People no longer vote from the head, but from the gut. That's what terrorism has achieved.
A few months before the last elections, before we knew that Ehud Barak had missed his chance to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, it seemed that Israel was moving in the direction of a multi-cultural democracy. We even saw the budding of a post-Zionist era. Palestinian terrorism has halted all that.
In a similar fashion, terrorism has struck at the foundations of rational democracy in other countries, including the United States. In Israel the damage has been especially grave because so many Israelis have now begun to think of themselves as individuals. They have stopped living for the sake of Zionist history and started to live for themselves, thinking more about "me" than "us." They know that terror does not threaten the existence of the state. It threatens the individual. In the natural scheme of things, they take terror personally.
Surveys conducted over the past few months reflect confusion, frustration, fear and hatred. These are days of terror - days of crazed settlers snatching a body from undertakers; days of terrible oppression in the territories, almost without public protest.
Ariel Sharon is the clenched fist that will wreak revenge on terrorists, Palestinians and Arabs in general. For that reason not only the failures of the last two years have been forgiven, including the collapsing economy, and even his sons' wheelings and dealings. The intense preoccupation with political corruption, totally blown out of proportion, also reflects an escape from real problems.
The election campaign has been accompanied by peculiar outbursts from Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin. Michael Eitan, MK, has challenged the chairman of the Central Elections Committee to an "ideological duel" - reminiscent of Act II of "Eugene Onegin."
Sharon contributed to the delusional atmosphere with a rather moonstruck chat with outer space in which he congratulated astronaut Ilan Ramon for being a proud Jew. Emotions, rather than logical thinking, are behind the popular support for Shinui. Emotions, not a clearheaded assessment of the situation, also explain why Amram Mitzna is in trouble.
Mitzna kicked off his election campaign by presenting clear alternatives to the current government policy, including dismantling settlements, renewing talks with the Palestinians and rehabilitating the economy. He comes across as a rational man - all head, no gut. His public appearances are free of grand passions.
If Mitzna was the right man with the right word, he must have said it at the wrong time and in the wrong place. As the election campaign draws to a close, he reminds us again of Tatiana - "Happiness was near, it was possible," she laments in one of her last arias. Perhaps it was an illusion, or a delusion. Anyway, in her opera, there is no happy ending.
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