Sunday 8th of November. 2020. 13:45. Tel Aviv.
As it so happened, the announcement that Biden won the presidency came about half an hour before the ceremony commemorating 25 years since the murder of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. I actually learned about the Biden victory while standing on Rabin square, in the moments just before the ceremony was to start. Part of the ceremony was the screening of the film 'terrible days', which all who were present watched sitting on the square. Some on folding chairs, some on the floor. The film is a reconstruction of the last couple of months in the life of the murderer, leading up to his crime.
Highly disturbing and indeed frightening as the story is, excellently portrayed by director Yaron Zilberman, it is very much a close-up of a very short amount of time in the assassin's life.
We see his doubts, his inner conflicts, his emotions, and his consultations with people in his surrounding. The seeds of a worldview that led him to commit this heinous murder however, must have been sowed much earlier in his life.
What was kindergarten like for this person? What stories did he hear there? What images were on the wall when he attended his first day at school?
Whenever such atrocities are committed, we must remember that even though there may have been a single person pulling the trigger that has killed the chances for peace for millions for a quarter of a century now, this single person did not act in a vacuum.
And in this particular case, we must also bear in mind how young this person was. Which means that in our attempts to understand the factors that led him to become a murderer of peace and democracy, we must very critically examine the education system he went through.
And as the outburst of joy in the streets of Philadelphia, New York, Washington and so many other cities across the US coincided with the silent solemnity on Rabin square in Tel Aviv, and also with reports of Trump supporters taking to the streets in some of these same American cities, in disbelief of defeat, some of them armed... I couldn't help but see a parallel between the American and the Israeli story that evening.
The darkness that fell over the Israeli political landscape and society on the 4th of November 1995, bears similarities to the type of darkness cast over the American political landscape and society over the past four years. A darkness in which leaders consistently deepen divisions, incite some groups against others, demonize entire portions of their own populations; have a very loose relationship with facts at best, reminding only a very selective part of them, and only when it suits their interest. Placing one divisive myth on top of another, until citizens are ready to pull their lethal weapons from their drawers, take to the street, and threaten everyone who doesn't fit their particular take on the world with death. All the while thinking they are doing their country a great and noble service while acting like complete thugs.
As much as I am grateful and indeed joyful to see a new wind blowing in the US capital, this in itself will not be enough to spell the end of tribalism, animosity, incitement, or violence. Most of the work of rooting out these evils, has to happen at the root level. And the root level means the level of education. It means education for peace, and education for democracy.
For if there is one lesson we can draw from the past 25 years of Israeli history, and the last four years of American history, as well current developments from the UK to Hong Kong, it is that democracy is frail and vulnerable. It is mortal. It can die, if overwhelmed by opposing forces, as the present state of affairs in Hong Kong is worryingly illustrating.
Democracy's most conspicuous Achilles heel however, is that it can be killed not only from the outside, but also from the inside. It was a native German speaker who declared the death of German democracy in 1933. It was a native Hebrew speaker who killed the chance for peace for an entire generation of Israelis in 1995.
And it is an American English speaker who, at the time of writing, is still refusing to concede power to his cleanly and clearly elected successor in the oldest and most powerful democracy in the world.
It is fairly easy to incite people against possible threats from beyond our borders. About as easy as it is to forget that the greatest threats to democracy, often come from within.
What does internal threat prevention look like? Education. Education for peace. For freedom of speech. For not only respecting, but cherishing and celebrating diversity. Education for a fact based world view. With awareness of the rich variety of myths humans have spun over the centuries and millennia. But with the ability to clearly distinguish between myth and fact.
Tomorrow's voting citizens, are sitting in a school classroom today. What stories have they heard their teachers tell them this morning? What images do they see when they look around, every moment of every day of their student lives?What do these stories and images tell them about Who they Are, Who the 'Other' is, and what kind of place the World is?
For it is these Self-Images, Images of the Other, and World Images, that are today, and every single day, drawing the pencil outlines of what our societies and realities will look like tomorrow.
The symbolic red pencil with which the name of a candidate is marked by every voter on election day every four or so years, is just the end dot to the countless images and stories drawn and written by each of us since the age of four. If we want future leaders who behave like adults, we need to never stop asking how to educate children to do a better job at co-inhabiting this planet than we have.