Reading vs. Hearing

It has been so many, many years ago that I worked part-time at the Israeli consulate, then located in New York’s town-house at 11 East 70th street, at a saner time when no security was required to enter or to exit… a happier time, a safer time, I still remember something that Ambassador Esther Herlitz once remarked to me.

In 1956 I did not quite understand its purpose or meaning. But today, 64 years later, I am beginning to understand her wise words which I still remember.
“Al ta-amin l’kol ma she ata korai, elah ta-amin l’ma she ata shomaya”.

Do not believe everything you read, but believe what you hear.

Esther Herlitz was one of our most brilliant diplomats. From her post at the New York consulate she became Israel’s first female ambassador to Denmark. She did not have much of a sense of humor, rarely smiled, but every one of her words emanated from her brilliant mind.

Still today, as I approach age 88, I try to figure out what she meant. What is the big difference between reading and hearing?

And now, I begin to understand. Reading words is something that can be permanently erased whereas spoken (hearing) words remain forever and can never be erased or denied.

Reading over and over again the bitter words of an American president spoken from the White House yesterday, words which were reprinted by the famed American commentator Anderson Cooper, were almost unbelievable. But hearing Donald Trump speak those words broadcast on CNN, Fox News, BBC, and the French television network, upset me very much.

While politics is a dirty game, I had not thought that an American leader would follow in the path of his friend, the prime minister of our State of Israel, a man who is accustomed to accusing and defaming his critics and opponents almost every day.

Yet I do not recall Netanyahu challenging the Israeli approach to democracy and the right of free speech. (As long as the speech is not against him !!!)

Trump’s remarks condemned the rights of voters to vote freely and to express by their numbers the dislike, distrust and even hatred of those who oppose him. It is a nightmare never before heard publicly spoken by an American president.

But in memory of Esther Herlitz I must say that I do believe both what I read and everything I heard.

In the 1860s America was a divided nation, split by a drastic civil war. In 2016 America is a divided nation once again, split by an unorthodox president who spews his bitterness without shame.

With all of our political disputes in Jerusalem and differences between our Knesset members, we are thankfully not a divided nation. Separate in our political and ethical behavior but still a united Israel.

Israel has suffered from only one assassination of a leader of government. (Only one is one too many). America has suffered from four previous presidential assassinations. May God forbid a fifth.

The first American president to be assassinated while still in office was the beloved Abraham Lincoln on 14 April, 1865. His tragic assassination was repeated on 2 July, 1881 with the death of President James Garfield. The death train of assassinations continued on 6 September, 1901 with the killing of President William McKinley and the last, more commonly remembered, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November, 1963.

God forbid that there should be any more. But my fearful heart is not quiet when I think of a possible future assassination of President Donald John Trump by a deranged person with a finger on a trigger. May God forbid it.

All four of assassinated American presidents, like the assassination of our prime minister Yitzchak Rabin, were based solely on political disagreements and hatred.

Esther Herlitz, one of Israel’s most distinguished members of the Foreign Service, made up for her lack of smiles by the brilliance of her mind.

Her attitude towards reading and hearing pop into my memory from time to time. Hopefully still clear and not fading from old age !

Yesterday, as I heard and read President Trump’s painful words, Esther Herlitz kept re-popping up in my memory.

Lo ma she ata korai elah ma she ata shomaya.

Pay more attention not to what you read but rather to what you hear.

Whoever said that women are not smarter than men?

When one thinks of natural disasters, the mind recalls great floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tornados.

Who forgot, and why, to include one of the greatest and most fearful of all natural disasters… the one we know as politics?

Like millions of people around the world I follow the news while being glued to the television and computer in order to receive the latest information in at least 5 different languages.

When Trump spoke to the nation he spoke in anger and in condemnation. Of the betrayal of a majority of American voters who chose Biden over him.. He spoke in unkind words due to his despair.

When Biden spoke to the nation, he spoke of love, of unifying the nation, of respect, caring and compassion for one another regardless of political affiliation.

Trump spoke of Trump. Biden spoke of a united America.

One of Biden’s earlier remarks, although legally a correct one, stated that when he is victorious as president-elect, if Trump will refuse to concede defeat and will refuse to leave the White House, he will order the Capitol Police to enter the White House and remove president Trump (with or without handcuffs.My words.)

A happy sight for all Democrats. A sad sight for most Republicans. A sorry sight for all decent American citizens who treasure their history. And a smirking sight for all the rest of the world who cannot give a damn.

Legally Trump has the right to remain president until his term finally expires on 20 January 2021. In such a case, while he is no longer allowed to live in the White House he may move across the street into Blair House and remain there until the end of his January term.

But he will no longer be permitted to enter the White House under a Biden presidency.

As I write these lines, committed journalist that I am, I smile a broad smile picturing the scene if reversed from the White House to the house on Balfour street.

How would Bibi look and feel if he is defeated and refuses to vacate the official residence on the famous Jerusalem street?

Sara is accustomed to wearing bracelets but definitely not the kind that could be put on the wrists of her stubborn husband who may refuse his evacuation.

But writing quite honestly, I cannot picture such a scene in my mind. Netanyahu is too concerned with his public image. Handcuffs are not appealing to him until the day that he may be arrested and marched off to prison following all appeals on conviction that have been exhausted.

Trump can no longer be of help to Israel. He has out-lived his usefulness and the Palestinians will light bonfires to celebrate the fall of their hated enemy.

The man who Americans voted for in 2016 is the same man today. A man who has often changed colors. The pity is that the Americans saw it four years too late.

Who will write Donald Trump’s legacy? Who will write Netanyahu’s legacy?

Two birds of a feather who flocked together. One down and one to go !

P.S. Just as I finished writing, the breaking news reported that Biden has been elected to become America’s 46th president, having won Pennsylvania and having received 284 Electoral votes, (only 270 required), Trump stubbornly demands continuation of the re-count. A very unhappy loser. Hopefully Biden will be a staunch friend of Israel in spite of his opposition to the Israeli settlements at the expense of the Palestinians.

In 1865 the American civil war was the destructive battle for and against slavery. Happily, the “againsts” won the dreadful war. In 2020 the American battle has been for a re-election versus an election. The “election-ers” have won the war.

The streets of Washington DC are jammed with thousands of Biden supporters celebrating the great victory. Major newspapers in all American cities are heralding the Biden win as a miracle of the political era. The press in Paris, London, Berlin and Moscow are sending good wishes to the new American president. Iran remains silent. Netanyahu and Gantz have not yet congratulated President Joseph Biden. Moscow’s Argumenti i Fakti, Izvestia and the St. Petersburg Times commented favorably. It is a new and hopefully brighter world.

An American Jew who is a refugee from the Soviet Union, one who is obviously a lover of Trump, wrote to me and called the Democrats a “Nazi Hitler party”. It was a very shameful thing to write.

Meanwhile, Trump is outside playing golf. He did not concede defeat and probably never will. That is the nature of his stubbornness and dislike of those who oppose him. Was more expected of him?

Maybe peace, decency, and respectful thinking will be seen and heard again in Washington.

Maybe that is what Ambassador Herlitz meant in her remarks to me about reading and hearing. Ken yehi ratzon. May God will it !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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