Swords of Iron

This is how the hostages’ plight has been politicized

How is it conceivable that the lives of these individuals have become an issue over which there is no consensus and no outcry? How is there more than one side to the “hostage question”?

Hostages – innocent people who were violently kidnapped and are being held captive, deprived of their freedom by a terrorist organization. Do the hostages deserve to be politicized? Is this even a matter of controversy? Does it make sense for both the Left and the Right to regard the return of the hostages as a political issue for which there are different positions? Astonishingly, yes. This is exactly what has happened.

How is it conceivable that the lives of these individuals have become an issue over which there is no consensus and no outcry? How is there more than one side to the “hostage question”?

Something in me refuses to absorb and understand this. How is it that Israelis are not on the same page? How can we be angry with one another over this? Attacking each other, and even worse, attacking those whose loved ones are stuck in the hell Hamas built for them? Are we completely lost? Have we no red lines?

Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, in one of his public lectures, talks about the interplay between politicization and power. He claims that politicization is a tool elected leaders use to gain power. Politicizing an issue means seeking out what inflames people, and then tapping into this energy to satisfy one interest – amassing power.

Many of Israel’s complex problems could have been resolved much more easily if not for their politicization. But when these problems are turned into a tug-of-war between ideological camps, it is almost impossible for people to step back from their entrenched positions.

Imagine someone observing our ideological tug-of-war from above. What they would see is two unruly crowds connected by a thin line – moving a few inches in one direction and then a few inches in the opposite direction, over and over again.

The photos of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch/TPS

Every debate, every controversy, provides an opportunistic power boost to those who generated it. They manufacture the drama and decide how it will be resolved. Power intoxicates. Henry Kissinger called it the “ultimate aphrodisiac.”

P.J. O’Rourke, the American journalist and satirist, has a line worth quoting: “Politics is the attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit.”

The most pressing concern is that the politicization of problems shifts the focus away from actually solving them. We no longer see a problem as requiring solutions, but as control-generating events – cynical theater. Look no further than the Knesset, or the current US Congress for that matter, to see this play out.

Some might dismiss this as the “way of the world.” Yes, but not when the lives of hostages and IDF soldiers are on the line. We must strive for some kind of unspoken agreement, a moral and ethical norm, that in times of great crisis we lower our guard and put politics aside. This is the price of human empathy.

To paraphrase president Franklin Roosevelt, when your neighbor’s house is on fire it is not the time to think about how to exploit the moment for personal advantage. You lend them your hose.

At this moment in our history, in Israel’s harsh reality, it seems that no issue can escape the clutches of politicization, from the pandemic, to the judicial system, to the hostages.

Many things can be said about the IDF’s heroic rescue of two hostages two weeks ago, but it was one of the brightest moments in this war, and there are so few. The IDF, which for years has been struggling to escape the vise grip of politicization, reminded us what it means to remain professional and actually get the urgent stuff done. It held up a mirror to those busy politicizing and showed them that on the question of the hostages, there can be no place for it.

Published by Jerusalem Post