Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On the Gordis Begin Biography in Commentary


Daniel Gordis has established himself as one of today’s most vibrant thinkers on the Jewish people with his books Saving Israel and The Promise of Israel. What sets him apart from so many other observers is his facility for exploring large and important ideas in a way that the general reader can understand. The achievement of Menachem Begin is twofold: The illumination of a complex but pivotal figure in Jewish history and, in its execution, the guiding of the Jewish people towards a better understanding of themselves.

...While Gordis perhaps overeggs the pudding in suggesting that for Begin “Zionism was but the Jewish expression of a universal yearning,” it is true that Begin the Zionist and Begin the humanitarian, though sometimes in conflict, were never that far apart. He navigated the age-old Jewish tension between tribalism and liberalism by recognizing that the noblest tenets of universalism—human dignity, liberty, the rule of law—were secular descendants of the mitzvot, and that faith and observance could lead one towards rather than away from them.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Begin on 'Legitimate Rights'

Gen. ( res. ) Shlomo Gazit attended the Cabinet meeting that was held when PM Menachem Begin returned from Camp David.

At the meetings, Minister of Transport Haim Landau asked PM Begin how he agreed that Israel would sign a document in which Israel recognized "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

In his column this week, Gazit shared PM Begin's reply:

"We had with us at Camp David an expert of international law, one of the best and finest in the world [AL: Barak]....And what did this great expert in international law tell me?

He said: Mr. Prime Minister, yourself are an attorney. Would it be conceivable to you not to recognize the "legitimate" rights? What is the meaning of the word "legitimate"? Yes, simply "legal" rights. And is it conceivable not to recognize legal rights? The dispute between us and the Palestinians is on their demand for rights that at not legitimate.'"

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Haaretz's Review of the New Gordis Begin Biography (As Expected)

From:

Daniel Gordis' Begin biography teaches liberals and leftists can't be trusted
In portraying a saint-like Begin, Gordis is attempting to silence contemporary critics of today's Likud-led government.

Climbing out of the mouth of hell, Dante and Virgil, the poet heroes of the “Divine Comedy,” stand facing Mount Purgatory, home of souls punished for sins of love perverted...I don’t know if Menachem Begin deserves to be among these sinners (in any case, as Jews, both he and I would have been sent to hell by Dante), but Daniel Gordis’ new biography of him, “Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul” certainly does. The book is a paragon of overweening pride: smug, self-satisfied, convinced of its own conclusions, and disdainful of its presumed critics...Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister and one of the most charismatic, complex and polarizing political figures in the country’s history, is portrayed one-dimensionally as a Jewish saint, motivated, from the very beginning of his political career to its end, exclusively by his “unabashed, utter devotion to the Jewish people.” At the book’s end, the reader has no more insight into Begin’s character and drives than he or she did at the beginning, and would do well to turn to the many other more rounded accounts of Begin and his political career.

...though the biography’s ostensible subject is Begin’s life, its real object is, quite transparently, to convince American Jews of the rightness of Gordis’ own particular pro-Israel position. Gordis uses Begin’s life as a parable to defend and justify many of the controversial positions of Israel’s current Likud-led government: on the Iranian nuclear issue, settlement construction, negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, disloyal Israeli leftists, American Jewish liberals, and Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

A combination of support from Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, and public outrage at the debacle of Israel’s near-loss in the 1973 Yom Kippur War swept Begin into power in 1977. [no mention of the Labour party scandals? - YM]...Gordis’ narrative of Menachem Begin’s life does not stray far from the standard biographies. The difference, which makes possible the allegory to contemporary politics, lies in how he tells the story.

The book’s most glaring example of using Begin’s life to take a stand in support of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies is the chapter devoted to the Israel Air Force’s 1981 strike that destroyed Iraq’s uncompleted Osirak nuclear reactor. Though he does not say so explicitly, Gordis’ effusive and dramatic telling of this successful mission serves as a model and a justification for a threatened similar attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Gordis praises Begin’s resolve in preventing “Saddam’s developing genocidal capability” and his unwillingness to bow to American opposition and international censure, and, moreover, provides proof that Begin was right all along. Gordis quotes a message written by then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1991 just after the first Gulf War, thanking the commander of the Israeli air force for destroying the reactor, “which made our job much easier in Desert Storm!” The lesson here is clear: Whatever it might say now, if Israel takes out Iran’s nukes, the United States will thank us later.

Similarly, the book’s derision of Begin’s opponents on the left has direct implications for Israeli politics today. While Begin is portrayed as an ideal type – faithful, resolute and uncompromisingly devoted to the Jewish people – David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, is depicted as deceitful, mendacious and paranoid. In a final chapter that compares Begin to the founding fathers of the American Revolution, Gordis states that, while Ben-Gurion was certainly a great Jewish leader, he was also a British “Loyalist,” who needed reminding from Begin’s Irgun that “it wasn’t enough to want a Jewish state; one had to actually do something in order to achieve it.”

...Gordis’ black-and-white picture of the two is a caricature that does not do justice to either figure. But, again, the point here is not to paint a complex portrait of characters and motives. As with his disdain for American Jewish liberals like Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein, who signed a public letter protesting Begin’s first visit to the United States in 1948 on account of his association with the Deir Yassin massacre – the lesson of Gordis' portraits is that liberals and leftists, in Israel and America, are naive and not to be trusted...Gordis’ defense of Begin is meant to silence contemporary critics.

...Gordis’ discussion of the Camp David negotiations is unintentionally illuminating regarding his own perspective on today’s talks. He presents Sadat and Carter as willfully obtuse, misunderstanding the political challenges Begin might face at home, and “tacking on” the Palestinian issue and the fate of the West Bank and Gaza to negotiations – an issue which for the Egyptian and American leaders was quite germane – and claims that, “intentionally or not, both Sadat and Carter were creating the impression that what animated them was simply hostility to Israel.”

Begin, on the other hand, is pictured as resolute, steadfast and heroically uncompromising, unwilling to violate his core conviction that Israel must maintain total control over and retain all the settlements in the biblical territories captured in the Six-Day War.

Gordis’ praise of Begin’s negotiating strategy, coupled with his enthusiasm for Begin’s commitment to Jewish dignity above all else, translates pretty straightforwardly into support for the current government’s negotiating strategy. Netanyahu has demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for the negotiations. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and others have quite reasonably questioned what that designation might mean for Israel’s many non-Jewish citizens, especially the Arabs who make up some 20 percent of the population. The dubious lesson of Gordis’ portrayal, never explicitly acknowledged but obvious to any knowledgeable reader, seems to be: Hunker down, sacrifice nothing, and eventually the goyim will give in. 


Samuel Thrope is a Martin Buber Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hebrew University or Jerusalem. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Tablet and other publications, and is the translator of Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s “The Israeli Republic.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Camp David Theater Soon-to-be-Seen

I've learned that the first preproduction photos of the soon-to-be world premiere of Camp David have been released.  The play will run from March 21-May 4.

Camp David centers on the 1978 peace summit between President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.



(© Tony Powell)


The cast features Emmy Award winner Richard Thomas (The Waltons) as Carter, Tony winner Ron Rifkin (Cabaret) as Begin, Tony nominee Hallie Foote (Dividing the Estate) as Rosalynn Carter, and Egyptian actor and activist Khaled Nabawy (Kingdom of Heaven) as Sadat in his U.S. stage debut.

For tickets and more information, click here.


"Activist"?

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Halkin on Gordis' New Begin Biography

From a book review of 'Menachem Begin' by Daniel Gordis by HILLEL HALKIN


In his thoughtful and well-written new biography of Begin, the American-born Daniel Gordis, who moved to Israel in 1998 and has become one of its most articulate explainers and defenders to English-speaking audiences, addresses the question of what, at its deepest level, this change [between 1967 and 1977] was about...


What interests Mr. Gordis most, however, is Begin's Jewishness...his restoration to Israeli public life of a fundamental sense of Jewish purpose that was missing from it during the long years of Labor hegemony...


...Gordis is right that Begin "was different." One of the features of the Labor Zionism that dominated Israel politics before 1977 was its revolt against, and often hostility to, Jewish religious tradition...Begin shared none of this. Neither Revisionism, Betar nor the Irgun had ever been anti-religious, and Begin related to Zionism as a historical movement that was in harmony with the religious past rather than at odds with it. He had, as Mr. Gordis puts it, "a finely honed appreciation for the rhythms and priorities of Jewish life and tradition, which had never yet been represented in the prime minister's office." What was more, he was intent on expressing it, whether this took the form of a quasi-religious devotion to the land of Israel (which, ironically, enabled him psychologically to surrender all of Sinai, a territory that was not, for Judaism, sacred)...



Begin's love and respect for Jewish tradition were a significant factor in the love and respect that much of Israel felt for him...If secular Zionism was a revolution in Jewish life, perhaps the greatest ever, Begin belonged to the counterrevolution that all revolutions produce in their wake—one that saw the old secular elite lose much of its cultural and political power and a more stridently nationalistic society, more dominated by religious discourse, emerge. How much Begin propelled this development, and how much it propelled him, is debatable;...If there is one assertion of Mr. Gordis's that I find it difficult to agree with, therefore, it is his characterization of Begin as an ideal balance between the two halves of the "Jewish soul," a man who harbored in equal proportions "both deeply humanist convictions and a passionate allegiance to [his] own people."



That Begin was a decent and humanly sensitive man there can be no doubt, but his allegiance to his people, it seems to me, was far stronger than any humanist convictions he may have had...Menachem Begin had an exacting conscience, far more than did most other political leaders of the age, Israel's included.



— Mr. Halkin's life of Vladimir Jabotinsky will be published in May.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Former President Carter Is Playing


President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, plan to join the premiere of the new play "Camp David" by Lawrence Wright...a fundraising event scheduled for April 3 to support programs at the theater.
"Camp David" follows the pursuit of peace in the Middle East for 13 days during Carter's presidency, when he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. It will feature Tony Award winner Ron Rifkin


as Begin and actor Richard Thomas as Carter.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Begin: Judaism is both national and universal

M. Begin: Judaism is both national and universal by nature....That is why the vision of the end of days speaks of all the nations streaming to the mountain of the Lord. That is why the philosopher and historian, Professor Klausner, spoke of Judaism and humanism. We cannot remain on the sideline; nothing human is alien to us.


Session 442 of the Ninth Knesset
11 May 1981


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I thank all those who shouted out interjections. They have helped me overcome my tiredness....



Session 206 of the Ninth Knesset
20 March 1979

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