Two countries, two elections, same tactic, two outcomes

I have already blogged about the use of fear by the governing Conservatives in the most recent Canadian federal election.  Voters were showered with warnings that the Islamic State was everywhere (and may be coming to a bedroom near you) and that only by returning Mr, Harper and his crew would Canadians truly be safe.

So much for that strategy.  Note that I am NOT saying that the failure to scare the bejeezus out of Canadians was the predominant factor in the Liberal victory, or even a major factor, but we can nonetheless conclude with certainty that the warning that IS hordes were gathering on the border and that one party and one party alone stood between us and dhimmitude was not heeded.

It is interesting to compare this use of fear with a similar incidence in another election and another country: Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu bucked all the trends and overcame a substantial gap to win a plurality of seats in the Knesset yet again in March of this year.  And he did it in part by appealing to the angst and terror of Israeli voters.  Here’s what Netanyahu said towards the end of the campaign: Iran’s nuclear threat was existential, Palestine would never get an independent state and Israeli Jews should turn out to the polls in droves to prevent Israeli Arabs from having a meaningful impact on the election results.

None of this is surprising.  Netanyahu has overexaggerated the Iranian nuclear threat for years (even hauling out a Wile E. Coyote bomb drawing at the UN), never was in favour of a separate Palestine, and has done little to advance the rights of Israeli Arabs, who make up 20% of Israel’s population.  But why did fear work (assuming it had an impact in the minds of Israeli voters) there but not here?

Undoubtedly the fact that Israel has been subject to terrorist acts for decades and lives in an unstable neighbourhood played on the concerns of average citizens.  It would not take much to tip the balance towards voting for a government that promises more security in a country where insecurity is a daily event.  Contrast that with Canada where, with the exception of the two attacks last October, terrorism remains a very infrequent act.  Canadians did not seem too obsessed with the line that security trumps all else.

It is interesting to note that despite Netanyahu’s re-election, Israel is no safer as a country: on the contrary, many feel that the nation is on the brink of a third Intifada.  The promise of increased security and a return to the destruction of the houses of terrorists, a tactic proven not to work (see article here), has made little difference to the safety of Israelis.  What Netanyahu and his ilk fail to understand is that the neverending Israel-Palestinian conflict will not end through violence.

But getting back to fear: people who appeal to it are using a very low standard of campaigning indeed.  And yet sometimes it works.  And as long as it does on occasion, more politicians will take advantage of it.

It’s up to us to reject the use of unjustified fear to sway our choice of government.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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