They're A-f-r-a-i-d

The small fry among the threatened politicians look like they pushed their way to the front of the line so they can be numbered among the headliners who received letters and threats.

Right after the intifada broke out in October 2000, one of the more experienced politicians said that it was a good time for entrepreneurs to go into the bodyguard business, because there would be a lot of demand. When the targeted killings began and the terrorist organizations threatened to retaliate by attacking Israeli officials, the politician, who by then was a minister, found himself under the protection of one of the new companies that, just as he had predicted, were now flourishing.

Since he is a smart fellow, he did not make a much of a fuss about the threats to his life and the lives of his family, but obeyed the Shin Bet's instructions and carried on with his routines.

Unlike him, the country's current leadership is responding with an exaggerated anxiety to threatening letters, mostly sent by lunatics, thereby creating a hysterical atmosphere in the public discourse.

In recent days it seems that the ministers and their families are competing with each other at frightening themselves and imposing fear on the nation. The small fry among the threatened politicians look like they pushed their way to the front of the line so they can be numbered among the headliners who received letters and threats.

The big sharks also don't keep to themselves the offensive messages that they receive in the mail; they share the frightening impression made by the letters with the entire public. Here's a short list: The prime minister announces he needs private guards to protect his estate, particularly his wife's grave; the defense minister first leaks and then says publicly that he received a letter threatening him with a pulsa denura, the crypto-kabbalist ceremony that is supposed to strike the subject dead; the former defense minister reads out to the entire cabinet a long letter full of curses and slander that he received at home and then runs to the press to remind them that before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, he predicted it would happen. The finance minister, who met a Haredi punk who shouted insults at him at a private wedding party, later warned the public of the danger to the very stability of the country. The transportation minister opened the door to his home to help his wife to shed the terror that gripped her when she read the crazed letter they had received.

It's a nearly surrealistic piece of theater, with comic elements: These frightened people, the very apex of the country's security establishment, sometimes make life and death decisions. They send soldiers to risk their lives, they conduct policies that expose the citizens of the state to existential danger, they are more protected than anyone else - and still they are gripped by panic after reading a missive from some marginal lunatic. Instead of exuding self-confidence and a cool head in this sensitive time, the leadership of the country has been gripped by hysteria and responds like someone who has lost his self-control.

They should know that threats are part and parcel of the dubious pleasure derived from having the power they so much desire and that the proper attitude toward letters from bastards like these is to ignore them. Mofaz, Sheetrit and their ilk should consult some veteran politicians - Yossi Sarid is a good address for the purpose - who have often been the targets of such hate mail and threats; if they're interested, they will learn that the enormous publicity they have given to the threats only inspires the letter writers to step up their pace.

It's not necessary to point out that threats will hang over all of the state's leaders in the coming days, especially the prime minister, and that the threats cannot be taken lightly. But the way to deal with them is through the considered application of the law and not by positioning the country's leadership as a pile of leaves shaking with every rude passing breeze. And if someone thinks that a demonstration of shock and fear by the prime minister and other cabinet members will increase sympathy for them and turn public opinion against those who harass them, they should take into account that this is not the way to deter those who wish to harm them.