Thursday, March 23, 2006


Elections in Israel are about to take place and we sit by, thousands of miles away, and watch with amazement. The unthinkable is about to take place.

The Israeli people are proud of their image as high achievers, as people of superior intelligence, courage and determination. They take pride in their manifold accomplishments in science, technology and the military sphere.

They made the desert bloom and fought off so many advancing Arab armies. The country is an island of democracy in a sea of despotic regimes. Undeniably, these are remarkable achievements. Yet, at a juncture in history when Israel desperately needs intelligence and moral strength as never before, what we are witnessing is a colossal failure of both.

Next week, the country goes to the voting booth to select a government to rule and lead them politically. The outcome of this election is of critical importance. Israel is faced with mounting dangers and internal problems and the people who win office will have to steer the nation through some formidable crises up ahead.

Right now, it appears as if Ehud Olmert and the Kadima party will be swept into power - a prospect that should trigger consternation in any thinking person. Nobody has much of a grip on what the Kadima party stands for. Ariel Sharon founded it to disentangle himself from his Likud right-wing base; from former supporters who had become totally disillusioned with him.

Sharon didn’t want to be responsible to anyone anymore, so he broke ranks and formed a new party. With promises of power and glory to whoever would accompany him, he won the following of a disparate group of politicians from the left, right and everywhere in between.

Shimon Peres, the Labor champion for decades, left his political home, wooed by Sharon to join Kadima. Stalwart Laborites went along with him, thinking that Kadima was their ticket to a boost in their careers. Right-leaning Likudniks were also swept up by Sharon and traded in their Likud cards for membership in a party whose platform appears to consist of a single doctrine: ambition.

Amazingly, the gambit worked and since its formation, Kadima has controlled the media’s attention and seems to be a shoo-in for a landslide win. And everyone is buying into those polls. Even the people running against Olmert seem to be doing so lackadaisically, as if they are resigned to losing and are just going through the motions.

With so much at stake, how can thinking people take such a dangerous risk by electing a person who has no proven skill in the challenges of high office? With Hamas taking over the Palestinian Authority while maintaining an unwavering commitment to its charter to destroy Israel, how can Israelis elect untested individuals of questionable integrity?

People everywhere want to be associated with a winner. People want to be seen supporting a winning team. Thus, the polls have a way of propelling a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as Olmert emerges as a frontrunner in the polls, Israelis will be increasingly persuaded to vote for him - irrespective of his lack of merit. Sensing that his election is inevitable, people want to be sure they voted for the winning candidate.

In America, too, the media exposes its bias and promotes its favorite candidates in ways designed to elicit support for them. Often it works, though not always. Take a look at President Bush’s poll numbers which seem to slip farther south every passing day.

Bush went to war in Iraq three years ago to combat a brutal dictator who was bent on wreaking havoc on the United States, Israel and other nations. He unleashed a war on terror and tried to awaken the nations of the world to the dangers presented by terror-supporting states such as Iraq.

Now, three years later, after a steady drumbeat of negative reporting and news-spinning, the American people are purportedly fed up with the war. It doesn’t matter that the party that ran in the past election against the war went down to defeat, and it doesn’t matter that rallies declared to coincide with the anniversary of the war’s launch fizzled out with an embarrassingly weak showing.

The media’s coverage of these demonstrations is highly misleading. They misrepresent their true size. Citizens are fed a daily diet of news informing them that a majority of the country is up in arms about the war and this psychological tactic works. People begin questioning the purpose of the war and joining ranks with the opposition.

People lose their ability to think for themselves; they get caught up following the crowd. Everyone is doing it, everyone is saying it, and you don’t want to be the last guy on the block still wearing black plastic eyeglass frames.

Sometimes we need to be reminded to have faith in our convictions. We have to bear in mind that it is not always important to be popular. We must have the moral courage to stand up for what we believe, even if our side will not be winning elections any time soon.

A true winner is not swayed by the ideas of the times, nor does he bend his beliefs to conform to the prevalent zeitgeist, even if sticking to his guns makes him appear to be a loser. The real loser is the one who has no courage, who bends with the wind and has no core beliefs he is ready to sacrifice for.

We cannot fall victim to apathy. We cannot let the media dictate our beliefs. We have to muster the willpower to penetrate the smoke and mirrors that suck in the masses.

One is reminded of a poignant moment in Israeli public life when Sharon, suffering a life-threatening stroke, was being raced to the hospital. An Israeli newscaster reported that President Bush had “offered his prayers to the Israeli people that the One Above” would help their leader recover.

The newscaster then described how “flickering television lights could be seen in windows all across the nation throughout the night, as the Israeli people sat glued to the news. All eyes in Israel are now turned…”

There was a dramatic pause. One almost expected the words “…turned Heavenward…” Perhaps the Israeli people would finally get it?

“All eyes in Israel are turned… to the hospital where the foremost neurosurgeons in the country are in charge of the prime minister…,” the newscaster somberly intoned.

Let us strengthen ourselves in our knowledge that Hashem holds the reins of history in His hands and that to the extent that we place our trust in Him, we will merit salvation - even from what appears to be a near-hopeless situation.

Rather than fall prey to apathy, fatalism or self-serving causes, let us remain idealistic Bnei Torah dedicated to the ideals and values of Torah. Let us remember that at the end of the day, elections, political intrigues and world events are merely veils masking the working of Hashgacha.

May we merit to make the proper choices so that we are instrumental in bringing about the final geulah, may it come speedily in our days.


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