Trump's Downfall May Prove: Hatred Is Unsustainable

History shows that politics based on incitement flares up fast – 
but it is also likely to fade away fast

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Trump's back. His red tie hangs over the back of his dark jacket.
Trump.Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Ofri Ilany
Ofri Ilany

Shmaryahu Gorelick was one of the most productive writers working for Haaretz during the 1930s. An aesthete and an educated book lover, he was turned off by many of the phenomena that were prevalent in Zionist society in the Yishuv – the Jewish community of pre-1948 Palestine – and in fact remain widespread today. In an era in which most Hebrew-language opinion writers dealt in their articles with questions relating to Jewish labor and the White Paper issued by the British (about its policy in Palestine), Gorelick addressed issues of a different sort. He was critical of the slovenly way people dressed for Tel Aviv funerals, the dirty public toilets, the habit of taking children to cafés, even the ugly design of books being published in Zion.

In the mobilized and optimistic Yishuv society, Gorelick was a European-type individualist and pessimist. Even though he had been a socialist in the past, a member of the Bund in Vilna, where he came of age, he had gradually adopted a pessimistic attitude toward human nature. Accordingly, he could not believe in social utopias of any kind, maintaining that they were unsustainable.

Nevertheless, in February 1934, Gorelick published a prophecy of comfort in Haaretz titled “Hatred is a False Dream, Too.” It came after a full year in which the Nazis had tightened their grip in Germany, deepened the discrimination against Jews and started to reach into Austria. “With our eyes we see the hatred spreading like a forest fire, from country to country, a kind of hate spree. We see that the virus of hatred is infectious and that its impact is swift,” he wrote.

Gorelick emphasized that many people tend to see hatred as an element that spreads with extraordinary facility, but also as something solid, stable and persistent – in contrast to love, which is viewed as a breeze that blows for the twinkling of an eye and disappears rapidly. But that’s a mistaken view, he observed.

“The truth is that that’s not the way it is,” he wrote. “In reality, hatred, too, is a utopia no less than love… The truth is that, ultimately, hatred is also a big bother, hatred also starts to bore its cultivators. Suddenly the malignant force is removed from the virus of hatred and it no longer inflects others. Hatred loses its prowess, its fire dies out… The newspapers, the pamphlets, the books whose foundation is hatred no longer have readers. Hatred simply becomes boring.”

Gorelick found the proof for this conception of history in the history of the Jews in the Diaspora. True, ruinous flare-ups of hatred occurred time and again, but they did not persist over time and in every place. While hatred against Jews burst out in Spain, Holland was bored by hatred. In Germany, too, eruptions of hatred generally did not last long. Gorelick predicted that the grandchildren of the Nazis would read and write moving books in praise of the Jewish people.

Which is in fact what happened. Gorelick himself died in 1942, without seeing Hitler’s defeat. Nor was he aware of the scale of atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime. At the same time, his words are relevant for other periods as well, including that in which we are living. During the past decade, repellent and even terrifying political phenomena sprang up globally, from the Islamic State to Donald Trump. Some anticipate that we are receding into a new dark era of hatred and ignorance, from which humanity will not easily extricate itself. In fact, however, the events of the past decade can also be seen as proof of the provisional nature of hatred.

In the middle of the previous decade, ISIS was seen as an unprecedented threat to the peace of the Middle East and Europe. Nightly newscasts showed a black stain spreading across those regions. Commentators maintained that establishment of a new caliphate would mark the end of the Arab nation-states that were created at the end of World War I, and would signal the advent of a new religious war. Yet, just a few years later, no one is talking about the Islamic State. In contrast to many forecasts, branches of ISIS did not sprout up across the Muslim world. In retrospect, the mark left on history by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is lesser than that, for example, of Simon Petlura, the Ukrainian pogromist who headed a short-lived republic after World War I.

Perishable resource

It’s still too soon to say what the fate of Trumpism will be, and equally that of the rightist wave it is fomenting worldwide. But it’s very possible that the end of Trump’s term of office also marks the perishing of that movement, which was nourished in large measure by hatred of foreigners and minorities. Right-wing political waves will rise and fall, but the Trumpist phenomenon was ultimately based on the charismatic figure of Trump himself, and its fate depends on his fate.

And finally, an indication that hatred is a perishable resource can also be found in Israel, in Benjamin Netanyahu’s current election campaign overtures to Israel’s Arab population. Perhaps it is true that even the prime minister, who incited repeatedly against the Arabs in recent years, is bored with hatred. Of course, his recent moves can be seen as cynical and transparent, and there are signs that Netanyahu will cut the Arab public loose at the first opportunity. But the prime minister knows his electorate well, and perhaps he knows that they too are fed up with the hatred.

“Hatred has ruled in the world many times, and people have overcome it,” Gorelick summed up. “Of itself, with its contradictions, with the eternal law of transformations, it has buckled and fallen. Hatred is no less a utopia than love, only its existence is slightly more prolonged.”

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