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Thou Shalt Not Hate! Threats to the Israeli Commonwealth

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Tisha B’Av.
Prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Tisha B’Av.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Every year, during the three weeks leading up to the Tisha B’Av fast, the ritual of reviewing the lessons of the past recurs. Even today, more than 2,000 years later, we are obliged to learn the lessons of the hatred that caused the civil wars, the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish Commonwealth, and the exile.

To many, this examination seems self-righteous and forced – a rote, reflexive habit. But that is not the case. Even though the subject matter repeats itself, given the hatreds among us, it is essential that we examine it.

None of those who dismiss as superfluous this engagement with destruction – and especially the factors that led to it – would argue, for example, that they have had enough of the ongoing campaign against smoking, that they’re sick and tired of the crusade to end traffic fatalities and are bored to tears by the struggle for the rights of women, minorities and LGBTQ people. Surely it’s the same for hatred; as history teaches us, it results in destruction.

Opinion polls from the past few years show clearly that most Israelis are more concerned by divisions between various components of society than they are about an Iranian nuclear bomb, the endless battles with the Palestinians or the high cost of living. And now, in the midst of political campaigns, there’s a fear that election ads will deteriorate into hatred. It’s happened before.

On Thursday, the Pnima movement, a nonprofit whose stated goals include “promoting a cohesive society based on shared values,” published the results of a poll, “The hate index on the eve of Tisha B’Av 2022.” Its findings do not bode well. They include the following: 40 percent of Israelis say they lean toward hating Arabs, 20 percent toward hating Haredim, 17 percent toward hating settlers and 13 percent toward hating the LGBTQ people. Among secular Jews (22 percent of whom vote for left-wing parties), 23 percent hate Haredim. In contrast, just 5 percent of Haredi respondents reported hating secular Jews. (I am not at all surprised by this “surprising” result).

Respondents were given three options to describe their feelings – hate, lean toward hating or don’t hate. Consequently, the findings (such as 52 percent lean toward hating leftist voters and 43 percent lean toward hating rightist voters) prove that the rift in Israeli solidarity is deep and entrenched. After all, voting for one bloc shouldn’t require hating the other bloc.

Israelis pretty clearly hate lawmakers (51 percent of respondents said they do). According to Pnima, that’s “more than any other reference group.” In addition, 34 percent hate judges – the same proportion of respondents that reported hating journalists – and 62 percent agreed with the statement that “The media contributes the most to hatred and polarization” (compared to 24 percent who view the justice and law enforcement systems as the ones “that contribute most to deepening the rifts and hatred”). There’s more data, but the aforementioned suffice to add wrinkles to the brows of the worried, who are many. Toward the end of the poll – “comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,” to quote the prophet Isaiah – is one encouraging finding. For the sake of unity, 81 percent of respondents would be willing to have the Knesset members of the party for which they voted compromise on some of their principles.

The greatest of all duties, for our generation and the generations to come, is to avoid the destruction of this Jewish commonwealth, the third. One of the main reasons this Jewish collective hasn’t collapsed under the weight of our divisions is the constant reminder in our rituals of what fraternal hatred is capable of causing.

Even though worshippers have been repeating the prayer “because of our sins we were exiled from our country and banished far from our land” for centuries, nobody argues that it “repeats itself” and certainly no one intends to remove it from the liturgy. On the contrary, the results of Pnima’s poll merely prove the importance of this constant reminder of the “self-evident.” What a pity that those who do not pray regularly lack a similarly effective reminder.

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