“I was in Israel interviewing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated in 1995. We had a beer in his office. He needed one. I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.
And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, “God will be on your side” — and so he did.
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.
What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, “Should Obama be killed?” The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.” The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin…
…And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.
Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble.”
As I talk with conservative Evangelical Christians in my church and in my community, more often than not they quote Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh when issuing their criticisms of Barak Obama. They are in a heated fever of hatred toward our president, fueled by the vitriolic rhetoric of these pundits in the Right Wing media.
As a devoted follower of Jesus, I have to wonder how we have allowed ourselves to be co-opted by the media’s far-right fringe. I wonder where in Jesus’ teaching we are supposed to hate those we disagree with.
As an American, I wonder what is going to happen to our great nation if we do not hold fast to our respectful dialogue in the public square. If we go about seeking to delegitimize the president, how can we possibly deal with the important issues of our day?
What we need is civility – the kind of civility that witnesses to the love of Christ for those we oppose in very real ways. Os Guinness has written a book on it, The Case for Civility: And Why America's Future Depends On It.
In a recent interview, Guinness talks about how William Wilberforce demonstrated civility.
“There are scores of lessons we can learn from Wilberforce, but take just one: his civility. As a follower of the way of Jesus, he loved his enemies and always refused to demonize them. At one time he was the most vilified man in the world, but while he never minced words in speaking about the evils of slavery, he was always gracious, generous, modest, funny, witty, and genuinely loving toward his enemies. When one of his worst enemies died, he at once saw to it anonymously that his widow was cared for adequately. Compare this with the religious right's demonizing of its foes. The latter is not so much uncivil as unChristian.”
We must not participate in the unChristian demonizing of President Obama. If this goes on, how will we not be culpable if some nut-case takes our words and puts them into action and attempts to hurt him?