Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review June 27, 2000 /24 Iyar, 5760

Single issue fanatics

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- BERNARD LEVIN writes a column of commentary on life and events for The Times of London. His columns are invariably witty, iconoclastic, acerbic and usually controversial. I recently read a collection of his columns and was particularly struck by one of them. In that article he skewered those he identified as "single issue fanatics." His particular victim in that article were the "Greens" - those extreme environmentalists who are prepared to return civilization to earlier technological times in order to safeguard the natural world as they imagine it should exist.

This past week, members of Greenpeace, perhaps the ultimate organization of single issue fanatics, illegally blocked waste pipes from factories in the Haifa area that sent waste into the Kishon River and from there into the Mediterranean. Even though the environmental activists were arrested for breaking the law, most of the media treated them as heroes. Media objectivity, in the main in Israel, depends almost solely on whose ox is being gored. Thus, the right of free speech, for example, is mainly limited to one side of the discussion while the other side is always in danger of "incitement." But, I digress.

Our society abounds in single issue fanaticism. There are columnists who write about one issue continuously, almost obsessively. Eventually, not only are their opinions and words predictable, they become almost irrelevant to the issue under discussion. There are political figures whose sole purpose seems to continually raise only one matter or to demonize one group or to push forward one pet project. There are religious leaders who concentrate only on one aspect of faith or law, as though that one aspect or law alone represents the totality of the religious message and experience. By so doing, all of the above lose any sense of perspective as to the bedrock issues that challenge our society and eventually seem to deal with a world solely of their own making. Such narrowness of vision is harmful to the well being of our society generally and to the very cause that they so assiduously espouse.

What our country needs is a revolution of attitude and spirit. It needs leaders who represent us all and not just one faction or group. It needs a breadth of vision and a commitment to civility and inclusion in the Israeli society. As long as there are those whose sole purpose seems to demonize and exclude sections of Israeli society - Haredi, settlers, new immigrants, different ethnic groups, etc. - we are in danger from these views and their spokesmen. What we should demand from our political, social and religious leaders is a view that asks "what is good for Israel as a whole?" and not just "what is good for me, or my party or my point of view?" Only by overcoming single issue fanaticism can the country begin to heal itself from its self-inflicted domestic wounds.

No one is in favor of pollution of the Kishon River or the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, there are thousands of people in Israel who are economically dependant on those factories accused of polluting the environment. The task of leadership is to reconcile these conflicting points of view. Many times, this poses a problem of Solomonic dimension. Yet, the problem will never be solved by loyalty to only one side of the issue.

Israel should be a Jewish state. Its Declaration of Independence stated that it would be such. Israel is also a democracy, though without the presence of a constitution and a system of governmental, legislative and judicial checks and balances, this is a very loose and undefined term. We should address the problem of how to accomplish the realization of a modern state that is both Jewish and democratic. How can we have a public Sabbath without overly restricting the freedom of the individual? How can we have an effective and efficient economy without having the current enormous disparity of wealth and income between the few and the many? How to learn to live together, instead of constantly fragmenting into exclusive and exclusionary groups? If we continue to give priority only to single, narrow issues, important as they may actually be, or worse, subscribing to only one side of the issue, thereby abandoning the public good as a whole, we are in for a very rough go of it in the immediate future.

Peace is also a single issue. A bad peace is more dangerous than no peace. A peace that does not realistically consider the needs of both sides and address them somehow, is doomed to eventually collapse. Needs are oftentime not only physical but emotional as well. Slogans that demand peace instantaneously no matter what the concessions, but do not take into account the costs of a bad peace are not beneficial to the achievement of a lasting peace. Life is very complicated and there are many issues that continually require our attention. To focus our entire attention on only one of those issues is very shortsighted. A broader view of things dedicated to the common good will guarantee solutions to the single issues that trouble us as well.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein