Netanyahu Is Sowing Fear and We Are Harvesting Hatred

Instead of warning of the dangers of continuing the conflict, Netanyahu chooses to exploit the primitive fear of the other.

How frightening! Masses of Sudanese refugees are threatening to erode our achievements and corrode our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. How frightening!

Iran is threatening to destroy us, and the world is once again standing by. How frightening! If we get out of "Judea and Samaria," the Palestinians will fire anti-aircraft missiles at Ben-Gurion International Airport. How frightening!

The Palestinians are refusing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, so as to flood the State of Israel with Arab refugees and rip out parts of the Galilee and the Negev. And those who wish to destroy Israel have begun a deligitimization campaign against the Jewish state within the 1948 borders. How frightening!

This is a collection of the nightmare scenarios of the Benjamin Netanyahu school of thought. One day Netanyahu - the scariest prime minister in the history of Israel - is complaining about the Palestinians refusing to speak with him about Nablus and Hebron, and the next day he's scaring the populace with statements about the Palestinians plot to take over Carmiel and Be'er Sheva.

In the morning Netanyahu gets his picture taken with Turkish pilots who came to fight the Carmel fire; in the evening, he's instilling fear with his implication that the world is once again standing by as the Jews are facing annihilation.

The common denominator of all the prime minister's frightening messages is that what the Jews do isn't important; what's important is that the goyim hate us. Even if we give the Arabs the Tel Aviv coast, they won't rest until they throw us into the sea.

In 1996 the fear campaign against Palestinian terrorism and the danger that Shimon Peres would divide Jerusalem brought Netanyahu to power. In the absence of suicide bombers, and while Peres is dozing in the President's Residence, Netanyahu is finding, and inventing, new fears.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook wrote more than a century ago that exaggerated fear is the source of all weakness - physical, ethical and intellectual. Kook wrote that such fear will be so threatening that those subjected to it wouldn't even lift a finger to save themselves. A new book called "Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, provides a well-researched stamp of approval for this analysis of the spiritual shepherd of religious Zionism. In the book, Nimrod Rosler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Management and Resolution writes that fear has become a force that maintains and intensifies conflict, and prevents conflict from being resolved, because it leads to perceptual bias toward the conflict and toward the other side, creates a cognitive freeze and a tendency to avoid risk, and leads to justification of existing policy.

There is no doubt that from a cognitive perspective, the prime minister is aware of the heavy toll that Israel's current policies currently exact and will exact in the future. But he is overcome by the fear of tough decisions that entail necessary risks. For Netanyahu, the fear that freezing settlement construction will lead to a coalition crisis is greater than the fear that freezing negotiations will lead to a crisis over Israel's international standing.

Fear has proven itself as a uniquely effective political tool. The late Asher Arian - a professor of political science who spearheaded the Israel Democracy Institute's annual Democracy Index, which provides data on the quality and functioning of democracy and the way it is perceived by the public - found that the stronger the Israeli perception that the Arabs are posing a threat, the lower the Israeli willingness to negotiate with them or give up territory. Arian, who died in July, also found a close link between hawkish views and high levels of fear. These findings were manifested in the results of the last general election, as well as in public opinion polls.

Fear is a legitimate human emotion, and it can even be a useful one. The Israeli left is trying, without much success, to frighten the public with the idea that the alternative to making peace is an increased risk of war and the loss of the country's Jewish and democratic identity. If Netanyahu were to present a brave and realistic peace plan, he would be able to take advantage of the extensive experience he has accumulated in peddling fear.

But instead of warning of the dangers inherent in the continuation of the conflict, Netanyahu has chosen to exploit the primitive fear of the other. Instead of warning of Israel's increasing isolation, he is increasing the public's fear of the unknown. Those who are feared are hated and those who are hated are killed, Nelson Mandela has said.

Netanyahu is sowing fear, we are harvesting hatred, and our children are killing and being killed.