For a very long time, treason was one of
the only crimes for which the federal government reserved the right to execute
the offender. It�s that serious. That�s why it�s so disconcerting, in one of
the most vile political campaigns run in recent history, to hear supports of
Sen. John McCain call Sen. Barack Obama a traitor at rallies.
It�s true that Senator McCain has, once or
twice, corrected various idiots at his rallies who have railed against Sen.
Obama with the insult of �traitor.� But he hasn�t gone far enough. In a
relatively recent political campaign in another country, an example was set by
a political candidate that Sen. McCain should seek to follow, because it�s not
as if, should Sen. Obama be elected on November 4, the charges of treason will
The country was Israel and the choice was
between incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak and, of all people, then Likud
leader Ariel Sharon. Barak had been elected in 1999 on promises not only to
conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but also to reform the state
itself, introducing a constitution for the country and guaranteeing equal
rights to all of Israel�s non-Jewish citizens. Having failed to keep any of
these promises, Barak�s government collapsed and elections were called.
Sharon had inherited the helm of the Likud
from Binyamin Netanyahu, who left the prime ministry in disgrace in 1999. In
her book about her grandfather, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Noa
Pelosoff wrote that she blamed Netanyahu more for her grandfather�s killing
than she did Yasir Arafat. Her reason was that it was common at Likud rallies
(and at the rallies of the far right wing) to call Rabin a traitor, despite his
outstanding military record and the fact that the very land that he was
negotiating to trade for peace under the Oslo Accords was land that he himself
had conquered in 1967.
So Sharon had a very fine line to walk when
he ran against Barak in late 2000 and early 2001. When shouts of �traitor�
would arise from the rabble at the Likud rallies that winter, Sharon would stop
his speeches and address the charge directly. Sure, Barak is wrong, Sharon
would say. But to call him a traitor is ridiculous. Sharon would remind his
audiences that Barak was (and still is) the most decorated soldier in Israel�s
history and that Sharon himself had promoted Barak to the rank of brigadier
general. So, Sharon would say, while Barak�s vision for Israel�s security may
be radically different from his own, Barak did have Israel�s best interests at
heart and to call him a traitor was both dangerous and idiotic.
We are lucky enough not to have seen an
assassination of a head of state in this country since 1963, but the indictment
of President Kennedy for treason in the Dallas
Morning News on the day of his assassination speaks volumes about what this
kind of talk can lead to. Ariel Sharon is hardly a model for how a politician
or soldier should conduct himself but the extraordinary case of Rabin made it
necessary for Sharon to make it clear to his supporters that the kind of
rhetoric he was hearing was inappropriate and wrong. This is one case where
Senator McCain should take a page from Sharon�s book.
E. Mathis is a medical editor, Holocaust historian, and adjunct professor of
English and humanities at Villanova University.