Sweet Emotion: The key to effective political discourse

As Israel enters its 2-month general election phase, the clash of political ideologies and personalities provides a platform for provocative discourse.

Will higher taxes strengthen or weaken the economy?  Will expanding our arsenal of weapons make us safer, or will the cost be so great that our nation will be weakened?  There is a certain fascination in watching competing factions propose (and passionately defend) diametrically opposed solutions to the most pressing problems of the day.

Across the political spectrum, all agree that our main objective is building a country in which we all feel safe and secure.  We are all interested in establishing a strong and stable society.  From where I sit, there is really only one way this can be achieved: We must all take to heart a profound sense of responsibility for our fellow man. This shared concern is most clearly expressed in the ancient adage “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh” – “All of Israel is responsible for one another.” This “golden rule” captures the essence of our dreams and aspirations and provides important guidance for the coming months.

Mutual caring is easy to understand within a family unit and among good friends. However, it becomes considerably more abstract as we extend it outward.  And yet, we occasionally encounter striking examples of such behavior.

On November 18, I was privileged to witness a beautiful demonstration of this extended sense of community at an event hosted by the Jerusalem College of Technology, a special ceremony to celebrate the 150 students who participated in Operation Protective Edge. At the ceremony, Psalms were recited in memory of the soldiers who were killed, along with prayers for the speedy recovery of those who were wounded, and certificates of appreciation and stipends of NIS 1,000 were awarded to each student, a token of sincere appreciation from the College to these young men for their selfless sacrifice on behalf of our country.

Among the event highlights were the remarks of one of the honorees, a high ranking officer who praised the dedication of his soldiers and talked about the sense of gratitude that the troops felt for the outpouring of support from the home front and from Jewish communities worldwide.  Clearly, the sense of appreciation was a two-way street and the brotherly love very much enriched and strengthened both sides.

The ceremony was particularly poignant in light of what had happened earlier that day, namely the horrific terror attack in a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem.  The pain that followed that morning’s attack stood in stark contrast to the hope and idealism that flickered in the eyes of our young honorees.  But it was those smiling and hopeful faces that helped the crowd gathered at the Jerusalem College of Technology regain the strength they needed to weather the painful storm that erupted that morning.  Remembering and acknowledging the mutual support that characterized the days of Operation Protective Edge provided at least a partial reprieve from the heartache.

With these powerful images laid out before us, I return to the topic of our national elections with a word of caution.

There are times when the passion of political debate – the concern for society as a whole that is at the root of the political process – deteriorates into rancorous name calling and accusations.  As such, it is worth emphasizing another aspect of the rabbinic dictum I mentioned earlier.

In “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh LaZeh,” the word “Areivim” is commonly translated as “responsible.”  However, it can also mean “sweet.”  Mutual concern is most effectively expressed if it is sweet.  No matter how deeply we differ or how aggressively we may advocate one political position or another, we have to do so in a way that radiates a sense of sweetness along with genuine concern and caring.

At its best, political activity is rooted in a sense of commitment to our collective welfare.  As such, let us hope and pray that even when political discourse is intense and impassioned, we will be able to find the strength to retain a sense of sweetness as we express genuine concern and support for all of Israel.

About the Author
Prof. Chaim Sukenik is the President of the Jerusalem College of Technology, one of Israel’s most unique and prestigious academic institutions of higher learning with a focus on science and technology. He was formerly the founding Director of the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University and the head of the Bar-Ilan Minerva Center for Microscale and Nanoscale Particles and Films as Tailored Biomaterial Interfaces.