I’ve got a newspaper clipping (on real paper, no less) that I’ve been carrying around with me for close to thirty years. The clipping was carefully excised from The Jerusalem Post in September of 1993 when I was busy living in Israel enjoying all the hedonistic pleasures that 20-soemthing year old travellers experienced volunteering on a Kibbutz.

The clipping in question shows Bill Clinton, arms outstretched to welcome Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, and Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The setting was Oslo, Norway and the event was the Oslo Accord at which Israel and the PLO buried the long-held hatchet and agreed to a peace plan which include territory withdrawals, the setting up of a Palestinian governance structure and the cessation of violence on both sides.

I’m not going to comment on the behaviour of either Israel or the Palestinians since that time – that is a subject that garners heated emotions and, frankly, there are missteps and bad faith on both sides.

What I do want to talk about is the reaction in Israeli society after that momentous occasion. The fact that Rabin – a former soldier who fought tooth and nail against both the Arab states and the various Palestinian terrorist groups, would shake hands with Arafat, the leader of a terrorist organization (albeit one which had arguably reformed a touch) was something that many people thought they would never see.

Most of us who witnessed that day, were jubilant in the hope of a new future. I remember drawing a poster in large letters with the picture in the centre and the Hebrew words for “We Have Peace” surrounding it. That youthful exuberance indicated just how hopeful we were that we would finally see lasting peace in the Middle East.

There were also a small number of people, however, who witnessed that day who were incensed and decided that, rather than a bringer of peace, Rabin was a traitor to Israel and, rather than being celebrated, should be punished for his actions. What was seen as a tiny fringe element drew picture of him with a noose around his neck, compared him to Hitler and called for his execution.

Fast forward only a couple of years and the world watched in incredulity as a lone gunman assassinated Rabin at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. With his assassination, Israel lost whatever naïve innocence it might have had. As well as losing its innocence, Rabin’s assassination led to  thirty years of increasingly hawkish behaviour from successive Israel governments – actions that put the peace process back decades.

I’ve been thinking about that single, crazed murderer of late in a very different context – that of the anti-vax, anti-mandate, anti-Government and anti-Jacinda protesters who are, as I write this, firmly ensconced in Wellington. I’m also thinking about the reaction of the Government and other parties to their increasingly hostile way of protesting. The thinking seems to be that if we ignore them, they’ll get wet, cold and bored and scurry off back home. We’ve heard from many who rightly point out that New Zealand has a proud history of protest – the Springbok tour, Dame Whina Cooper, Bastion Point etc – and that the right to protest is something we should protect and cherish.

I have to say that, while I firmly respect our long tradition of protest, I disagree with this approach of moderation. That option, in my view, went out the window as soon as protestors, albeit a small minority, started painting signs saying “hang ’em high,” started talking about executing parliamentarians and the media, and started displaying Trump-like militarization.

I’ve personally seen the danger of appeasing a seemingly fringe minority – it emboldens the minority and plays into the hands of one deranged individual deciding to act. It’s short term expedience and avoidance of escalation, at the cost of far worse longer-term outcomes. It normalizes behaviour that, over time, can be amplified greatly.

Now I’m neither the Commissioner of Police nor the Prime Minister and I despair even thinking about the various things they are no doubt weighing up right at this moment. I do know that the more outspoken protestors are a tiny minority of New Zealanders and that these outliers don’t stand for the beliefs of most of the protestors, let alone mainstream New Zealand. But at the same time I’m increasingly worried about the unintended consequences of the current strategy of moderation.

A generation of individuals who dreamed of a better future for the Middle East had those dreams shattered by a single bullet one evening in Tel Aviv. It would be a tragedy beyond compare if, by attempting to starve our own protestors of attention, that we created a similar situation for our own society.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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