Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bigotry and the health care debate

The disgusting slurs hurled yesterday at Georgia Rep. John Lewis and other African-American members of Congress over the health care bill reminded me of something I once witnessed from the other side of the political spectrum.

In November 1997, when I was living in Israel, I went to a peace rally in Tel Aviv held in memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had been assassinated two years earlier.

About 200,000 people crowded into the square in front of City Hall, where Rabin had spoken moments before he was killed. At the time, as now, the right-wing Likud Party was in power.

It was a young, mostly secular, left-leaning crowd at what was supposed to be a nonpartisan event, although I did see a few posters opposing then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When the sole government representative in attendance began to speak, Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, some people started to boo him.

I couldn't believe it.

Booing Sharansky, the man who languished in a Soviet prison camp for the "crime" of wanting to immigrate to Israel? The man whose plight galvanized Jews around the world? Even if you dislike the policies of the government, how could you be so disrespectful?

Thankfully, Ehud Barak, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, walked over to Sharansky, held up his arm and called him an Israeli hero, silencing the crowd.

Well, John Lewis is an American hero, a man who was arrested and beaten as he marched and organized throughout the South in the 1960s to win African-Americans their civil rights, including the right to vote.

The invective hurled yesterday at black lawmakers, as well as at openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, is un-American and unacceptable.

House Republican leaders have denounced it but I'd like to see them leave the comfort of a CNN studio and directly confront their bigoted Tea Party supporters, some of whom seem to have a problem with the fact that we've elected a black man as president.

I have no patience with extremist behavior, whether it comes from the left or the right. Whatever your argument, it's impossible for me to take you seriously. Why anyone would think that I'd listen to the ravings of bigots is is beyond me.

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