Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Albert Einstein and Menachem Begin

Serious students of Zionism and Israel history are aware that during Menachem Begin's first trip to the United States in November-December 1948, he was greet with a rather vicious letter which appeared in the New York Times. One of the signatories was Albert Einstein.

Adam Kirsch, a contributing editor to Tablet Magazine and the author of Benjamin Disraeli, a biography in the Nextbook Press Jewish Encounters book series, reviewed a new book, "Einstein on Israel and Zionism". In his review, we found this:

...an account of Einstein’s 1952 meeting with an Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Heikal. Jerome interviewed Heikal in 2006, and he remembered his long-ago visit to Princeton to see Einstein. There the great man spoke with anguished sincerity about his desire to make peace between Jews and Arabs, and tried to use to Heikal to open up back-channel talks with Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s new ruler. Clearly hoping to find common ground with Heikal, Einstein said that “when it comes to people like Menachem Begin and his massacre of Arabs in the village of Deir Yassin … these people are Nazis in their thoughts and their deeds.”

And what was Heikal’s response? “Ben-Gurion is no less a Nazi than Menachem Begin.” Here we see the ugly reality behind Einstein’s dream of a binational state, and Jerome’s present-day anti-Zionism. There was, in 1948, no way to ensure the survival of Jewish Palestine without a Jewish state, which meant an army, a flag, borders, and all the insignia of sovereignty that Einstein detested. Likewise, there is no way to establish a true peace in Palestine today as long as so many Palestinians, elite and ordinary, are committed to Israel’s destruction. Still, Einstein has one advantage over his new editor: his reservations about Israel were voiced from the standpoint of his unquestionable commitment to Zionism. For that reason, he makes a less useful ally than Fred Jerome appears to think.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 39

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Bulletin Vol. 5, No. 39 | 23 July 2009


TOTAL NUMBER OF VISITORS SINCE OCTOBER 2004: 505,093


EVENING IN MEMORY OF ZE'EV JABOTINSKY

The special evening hosted by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in cooperation with the Public Council of the Prime Minister's Office to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the passing of Ze'ev Jabotinsky was conducted at the Center in an extremely successful and honorable manner. The theme of the evening was "Ze'ev Jabotinsky: The Poet and the Author". This kind of event for Jabotinsky is unique because it highlights the artistic side of Jabotinsky as a poet and writer and how these qualities informed his leadership.

More than 500 people crowded into three viewing areas – the Hecht Auditorium, the Lecture Hall and the Israel Asper Foyer (the latter two with closed-circuit viewing) – and were treated to a more than two-hour program that began with the singing of the Betar Anthem. Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, opened the ceremony and began his remarks with a quote from Menachem Begin who described Jabotinsky as "one of the few giants and geniuses in the world on par with Aristotle, da Vinci and Maimonides" because of the variety of talents demonstrated by Jabotinsky as an author, a poet, a translator, a great orator and a visionary. Makov went on to say that Jabotinsky was a herald of national liberalism in Jewish history. Roni Milo, chairman of the Public Council for the Commemoration of the Legacy and Achievements of Ze’ev Jabotinsky of the Prime Minister's Office, also gave opening remarks praising the Center for the event and for the insert in the Ma'ariv newspaper (mentioned in last week's bulletin). He went on to describe the importance of Jabotinsky's heritage today in all aspects of life. Izzy Mann of Kol Yisrael was the moderator for the evening.

Chanan Yovel sang several of his previous tunes set to poems of Jabotinsky and premiered a new melody to a Jabotinsky translation. The Bnei Binyamina Choral Group sang Betar favorites, including Shir Assirei Acco and "Two Banks Has the Jordan".

Prof. Yehuda Friedlander spoke on the topic a Jabotinsky as an author, writer, translator and a poet noting the tension Jabotinsky successfully contended with as a cosmopolitan and Jewish nationalist, trying to awaken the spirit of his people to a nationalist idea on one hand and on the other hand, the spirit of Jabotinsky the artist as a writer. Poet Miron Isakson said that Jabotinsky was a dreamer and a visionary and that through his poems and stories we can see his dreams and aspirations.

Rami Shtivi of the Begin Center produced two moving video clip compilations of Jabotinsky in sound and video which was much appreciated by the audience. Thespian Oded Tehomi read excerpts from Jabotinsky’s articles, poems and from the novel Samson.

Special guests included the Ze'ev Jabotinsky (the grandson) and Dr. Karni Jabotinsky and their families, former MK Geula Cohen, Freda Hurwitz, Basil Gamsu, Ariela Cotler, Matti Drobles, Israel Prize recipient and and lecturer/singer of the Begin Center's program on national songs, Nahum Heyman, the mayor of Binyamina, Motti Kirmeyer, officials of the Begin Center and Foundation.

For video clips from the evening, please click the link here.


PASSINGS THIS WEEK

Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS newsman, was the voice of the news for many years in the United States. Many people in older generations remember that it was his voice and image that informed them of the ordinary day's events, but also the events that marked world history. One such event was the history-changing three-way conversation on November 14, 1977, between Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin; President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat; and Walter Cronkite. This conversation led to Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem the following week. Variety has listed this as one of Cronkite's top ten moments. The link to the article is here. For a transcript of this conversation, readers may refer to this site.

In Israel this week, another death was recorded. Former Minister, Knesset Member and third Mossad Chief Meir Amit has passed away. Born in Tiberias in 1921, he spent the majority of his life serving Israel from gaining independence, serving in the army and intelligence, serving in the government and also using business to help build Israel. In 1977, he served as transportation minister and communications minister in Menachem Begin's government.


NATIONAL MOVIES AT THE BEGIN CENTER

On 23 July at 8:30pm the movie Hitna'ari will be shown as part of the National Movies series at the Begin Center, a series that is co-sponsored by the 12 Tribe Foundation and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. The movie is a documentary utilizing the personal point of view of the director about the expulsion of Jews from their homes and how it affects their attitudes about the State of Israel and Israeli society. Menorah Hazani, the director, will be on hand for the discussion afterwards.
The movie is in Hebrew with English subtitles and the discussion afterwards will be in Hebrew. The cost is 30NIS.


FIVE YEARS AND HALF A MILLION

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center is planning an event to celebrate 5 years since the building on Ketef Hinnom was opened to the public and having welcomed over half a million visitors. The event will be on August 27. Details will follow in later bulletins.


NEW AT THE BEGIN CENTER

The Begin Center has replaced its sign on the corner of David Remez Street and King David Street where it merges with Emek Refaim.

Also, the retractable pillars are complete and in use, both as a clear barrier in the evenings and as a safe and effective method of easing delivery truck entry.

See here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Video Clips from the Jabotinsky Memorial Evening

Chanan Yovel with Annabel-Li:


video



A first performance of a new melody to a Jabotinsky translation:


video



The Bnei Binyamina Choral Group singing Shir Betar:


video

Pictures of New Additions

The new retracting poles at the entrance of the Center:





The new direction sign at the corner of Nahon Street and Mendes-France Square next to St. Andrews Church:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 38

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Bulletin 38, v 5 | 16 July 2009


TOTAL NUMBER OF VISITORS SINCE OCTOBER 2004: 503,122


EVENING IN MEMORY OF ZE'EV JABOTINSKY

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center in cooperation with the Public Council of the Prime Minister's Office will host an evening commemorating Ze'ev Jabotinsky at 7:00pm on July 21, 69 years after his death. The theme of the evening will be "Ze'ev Jabotinsky: The Poet and the Author". Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, and Roni Milo, of the Public Council, will give opening remarks. Poet Miron Isakson and Prof. Yehuda Friedlander will give speeches. Hanan Yovel will premier a new song set to the words of a Jabotinsky poem. The Binyaminim will sing Betar songs and songs written by Jabotinsky. The event will be in Hebrew. Entrance is without cost, but reservations are required. A bus will leave Metzudat Ze'ev in Tel Aviv at 4:00pm and costs 10 NIS per person. Please make reservations for the evening and the bus at the Begin Center (02) 565-2020.

***For all our readers in Israel: A special informational insert about Jabotinsky will be published this weekend in the Ma'ariv newspaper. The insert contains an excerpt from Samson, a few poems and highlights from Jabotinsky's life.



1 ROSENBAUM – AN INSPIRATION

In the Ha'aretz newspaper this week, an article about Michal Aharoni Regev, author of the fantasy book The Journey to the Kingdom of Oridor, discusses the fact that this is the first book written originally in Hebrew in the fantasy genre. Regev, a religious woman with 11 grandchildren, talks about some of the literary influences throughout her life – one of which was spending time in the Begins' living room.

She says:

Every Saturday evening they [her family including her father Yaakov Aharoni, who had been in the Irgun] would visit friends from the Irgun in Tel Aviv, Aliza and Menachem Begin and sometimes poet Uri Zvi Greenberg. The Begin home was like a cultural and literary salon.

"I was an absolutely still audience when they read aloud, Greenberg's 'The Streets of the River,' with pathos," she says. "I was enchanted. Those meetings shaped me. Those people were imbued with a sense of mission."


To read the text of the whole article, click here.


NATIONAL MOVIES AT THE BEGIN CENTER

On 23 July at 8:30pm the movie Hitna'ari will be shown as part of the National Movies series at the Begin Center, a series that is co-sponsored by the 12 Tribes Foundation and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. The movie is a documentary utilizing the personal point of view of the director about the expulsion of Jews from their homes and how it affects their attitudes about the State of Israel and Israeli society. Menorah Hazani, the director, will be on hand for the discussion afterwards.

The movie is in Hebrew with English subtitles and the discussion afterwards will be in Hebrew. The cost is 30NIS.


NEW IN THE ARCHIVES; NEW IN THE LIBRARY

New acquisitions were received in both the archives and library this week. Dan Pattir, former press secretary to Menachem Begin, donated 59 audio tapes to the archives named in honor of Yechiel and Esther Kadishai. The contents of the tapes are Menachem Begin's speeches and interviews over the years. The audio tapes will be digitized for easier access for researchers and will be transcribed.

The Hasten Library received a newly published book, Memories: A Lawyer's Life, by Irwin Yitzhak Heimowitz. Yitzhak Heimowitz served as Menachem Begin's personal lawyer before and after Heimowitz's Aliyah to Israel in 1968. Heimowitz, formerly head of Betar USA and a Revisionist and Herut/Likud activist for several decades, reveals many interesting and riveting behind-the-scenes incidents involving Begin, including documentation as well as the history of Betar USA and, of course, his own family and professional life.


FROM THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT

The Junior Knesset has had quite a number of groups from South and Central America participating in the shortened workshop developed by the Education Department at the Begin Center. Groups have come from Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela. There are preparations being made for a group that may come from Brazil. The program is not yet in Portuguese, but many of the guides for the program speak Brazilian Portuguese.
The army workshops are continuing through the summer. The first Air Force group of high level officers in the engineering corps came to participate in a Judaism and Democracy workshop. This signifies that all the branches of the Israeli military have participated in the workshops in the Begin Center. More importantly, Major Ainav Kaduri wrote a letter of thanks to the Begin Center's Education Department which she sent copies of to her colleagues in the Air Force in the hope of encouraging them to come to these very valuable workshops.

For one special group of officers in the Reserves, Yoske Nachmias spoke about the struggle for independence and Begin's leadership in the Etzel. Nachmias runs Beit Gidi, a museum of the Irgun, and was a representative on many missions for the Irgun in both English-speaking and Arabic-speaking countries during the years of Irgun activity.


PARASHAT HASHAVUA

This week is the last lecture of the Parashat HaShavua for this year. The Parashat HaShavua lecture series will begin again after Sukkot in October. Tonight's lecturer is Rabbi Aviah HaCohen.


VISITORS

A special group of Republican Jewish Coalition Board members came to the Begin Center for a special luncheon that included a discussion with Yechiel Kadishai, former secretary to Menachem Begin. Kadishai also led them through the museum. One of the members of the group was especially enthusiastic about the recreation of 1 Rosenbaum, the Begins' living room, and discussed his memories of visiting there.

Amram Mitzna Recalls Begin

Letter to Begin 1982.

At the conclusion of the hostilities, while serving as chief of staff of the Syrian front, Mitzna criticized the defense minister, Ariel Sharon, whom he had admired since the Yom Kippur War, over the aims of the war in Lebanon. After sending a letter to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Mitzna was invited to the Prime Minister's Office. To his surprise, he says, he was not thrown out of the army.

What was Begin like in the meeting? Why weren't you thrown out of the army?

"Because there was apparently a hidden internal conflict between the chief of staff, Raful [Rafael Eitan], and Sharon, the defense minister; and Begin probably knew by then who he was messing with."

What was the conflict about? Did you feel alone?

"On the contrary, I felt that I was expressing a widespread opinion."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite is Dead




Menachem Begin, left, and Anwar Sadat being interviewed by Walter Cronkite during Sadat's trip to Jerusalem in November 1977.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 37

MENACHEM BEGIN HERITAGE CENTER, JERUSALEM VOLUME 5, ISSUE 37 | July 9, 2009


TOTAL NUMBER OF VISITORS SINCE OCTOBER 2004: 502,039


FIVE YEARS SINCE THE CENTER’S OPENING


On August 27, the Begin Center will be marking the fifth anniversary since its opening in 2004 and the remarkable achievement of over a half-million visitors since then. The museum will be open to entrance at no charge between 6 PM and 9:30 PM. At 7PM, Dr. Micha Goodman will be delivering a Parshat Shavua talk on “Philosophical Elements of the Biblical Leader”. At 8PM, Dr. Udi Lebel will address the subject of “The Right and the Israeli Memory”. At every hour that evening until 9 PM, a tour will leave the Center on the subject: “Two Explosions That Shook Jerusalem”. And on the Balcony, the Jerusalem Ensemble will play the “Dondorma March” at 9:30 PM.



THE BEGIN PRIZE


An advert has been published in various newspapers and other sources inviting submissions of candidates for the Begin Prize. The prize, an annual award, is given for “an outstanding contribution to the Jewish people and the state of Israel”. Individuals, organizations and institutions can submit nominations to the Prize Committee. This can be done to the offices, at email: offices@begincenter.org.il or to fax: 02-5652010. Nominations will be accepted until September 10, 2009.



UPCOMING EVENTS REMINDER


On Tuesday, July 21, the 29th of Tammuz, following the state-sponsored commemorative ceremony at Mount Herzl for Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his wife, Yohanna, the Begin Center will conduct a memorial ceremony at 7:30PM (reception at 7). Former Minister Roni Milo and Herzl Makov will deliver greetings and the poet Miron Issacson and Professor Yehuda Friedlander will address the topic of “Jabotinsky: Poet and Author”, Hanan Yovel will sing three songs, one especially composed for the event based of poems written by Jabotinsky, the Bnei Binyamin choir will also sing and Habimah actor, Oded Tehomi, will recite portions from Jabotinsky’s writings. A special supplement commemorating Jabotinsky will be inserted into the Friday/Weekend edition of the Maariv newspaper in cooperation with the Public Memorial Council for Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

The 26th Jerusalem Film Festival, once again, will be showing several of the films at the Reuben Hecht Auditorium of the Begin Center between July 10 -17.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Begin The Butt of Jokes

From Sarah Honig's Another Tack column:

In the footsteps of Sam Lewis's suck-ups

Sometime at the very start of 1982 I attended a function at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, which would have been entirely forgettable except that rarely was I since as nauseated as then. I came away revolted by the spectacle of my Israeli colleagues eagerly milling around ambassador Sam Lewis, seeking his attention and trying to outdo each other in heaping mockery and contempt on their own prime minister. Brutal jokes at Menachem Begin's expense came fast and furious. Lewis visibly appreciated them and laughed condescendingly.

It was one of the sorriest displays of Israeli self-debasement I had until then witnessed.

But in time I came to regard it as typical of the fawning eagerness to curry favor with foreign bigwigs. Kowtowing to the exceedingly well-connected and widely-courted Lewis wasn't merely ingratiating. It also served the local Left's visceral anti-Begin politics. Undisguised American displeasure with him seemed a serendipitous source of support.

It was after Begin had serially disobeyed Washington. First he dared destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Though America should have thanked Israel for the service, secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger (to my shame a distant relative of my father's) was livid. Hence previously contracted delivery of fighters was "suspended." Later the IAF bombed the PLO's Beirut headquarters and more aircraft deliveries were put on hold. Then the bill extending Israeli law to the Golan Heights was enacted. The US responded by reassessing its strategic cooperation agreement.

Begin decided not to take his lumps. He summoned Lewis and subjected him to the most undiplomatic dressing-down any US diplomat probably ever received from an ally. Begin bristled at the very notion of American diktats. "Are we a vassal state?" he demanded, and went on to stress that Israel is neither a banana republic nor a bunch of "14-year-old boys who have to have their knuckles slapped" for misbehavior.

Begin was on a roll. He told Lewis that Israel wouldn't be intimidated by threats of punishment and that they would fall on deaf ears. He vowed not to allow "the sword of Damocles to hang over Israel's head... Jews had survived without a strategic cooperation memorandum with America for 3,700 years, and can live without it for another 3,700 years."

The Golan legislation, Begin stressed, wouldn't be annulled.

This earful was immediately released verbatim by the Prime Minister's Office for publication, so the populace would know its government drew red lines and stood by them.

However, Israel's left-dominated media never lost an opportunity to lay bare its obsequiousness. It reacted with the shock of a stern cleric to outright unpardonable blasphemy. But more than it was genuinely upset, it exploited Begin's candid indignation as yet another pretext to pillory him. National pride was already then perceived as reactionary and uncool, especially when it clashed with post-Zionist dogma.

Begin's Home As A Cultural & Literary Salon

Michal Aharoni Regev is the author of new book, "The Journey to the Kingdom of Oridor" (published by Arieh Nir). It is a fantasy story and, as Regev recounts, Menachem Begin figured in her upbringing:

Regev says it took her nearly 30 years to complete the book. She wrote the first version when she was a young mother and abandoned the draft in a drawer upon completion. Years later she could not find the manuscript and sat down to write it again...

...Aharoni Regev grew up in a religious Zionist family in Ramat Gan. Her father, Yaakov Aharoni, was a member of the Irgun (the pre-state underground militia) and eventually a member of the Ramat Gan city council. He was also an amateur author who published a number of little-noticed novels. She remembers him sitting at his desk for hours on end and she says that sight provided her with the inspiration to write. Every Saturday evening they would visit friends from the Irgun in Tel Aviv, Aliza and Menachem Begin and sometimes poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

The Begin home was like a cultural and literary salon. "I was an absolutely still audience when they read aloud, Greenberg's 'The Streets of the River,' with pathos," she says. "I was enchanted. Those meetings shaped me. Those people were imbued with a sense of mission."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ben-Gurion's "Hitlerist" Canard

Why did Ben Gurion call Begin a 'Hitlerist type'?

By Tom Segev

Budding friendship

Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, knew how to hate; from time to time he would transfer his hatred from one person to another. On May 15, 1963, he wrote to poet Haim Gouri: "[Menachem] Begin is clearly a Hitlerist type: a racist, willing to destroy all the Arabs for the sake of Greater Israel; he justifies any means for the sacred end - absolute rule ..."

A few years later, Ben-Gurion "transferred" his hatred to Levi Eshkol, and wanted to reconcile with Begin. "My [wife] Paula has always been an admirer of yours, for some reason," he wrote to Begin in February 1969: "I was strongly opposed to several of your viewpoints and actions ... and I don't regret that, because in my opinion I was right (anyone is capable of making a mistake without realizing it), but on a personal level, I have never had anything against you and the more I have gotten to know you in recent years - the more I have appreciated you, and my Paula is pleased about that."

In 1981, then-prime minister Begin sent Gouri a copy of Ben-Gurion's letter, and this week Gouri spoke about this document at the annual conference of the Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, in Jerusalem.

Begin wrote to Gouri: "I have copied the late Mr. Ben-Gurion's letter for you not in order to 'brag.' But from the moment I received this letter I have always asked myself: Maybe we would really have been spared many tragic and even terrible things had the late Ben-Gurion and I been 'better' acquainted with one another."

Begin pointed out that Ben-Gurion's letter to him was written a few years after the letter to Gouri. "So which letter is valid? The earlier one or the later one? In law, it is common practice that if a person willed his property on a certain date and later changed both his mind and his will, the later document is binding, not the earlier one."

The prime minister did not ask Gouri to make his letter public. "I am writing to you out of a human urge, nothing more," he said then.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 36

MENACHEM BEGIN HERITAGE CENTER, JERUSALEM VOLUME 5, ISSUE 36 | JULY 2, 2009


TOTAL NUMBER OF VISITORS SINCE OCTOBER 2004: 500,565


HAPPENINGS

According to our count, the Begin Center has passed the significant mark of its 500,000 visitor having come to the Center. As noted in a previous bulletin, a full day’s activities program will be held on August 27 to celebrate this event along with marking the fifth year since the Center opened its door to the public.
On Thursday, July 21, following the state-sponsored commemorative ceremony at Mount Herzl for Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his wife, Yohanna, the Begin Center will conduct a memorial ceremony. The poet Miron Issacson and Professor Yehuda Friedlander will address the topic of “Jabotinsky: Poet and Author”, Hanan Yovel will sing three songs, one especially composed for the event based of poems written by Jabotinsky, the Bnei Binyamin choir will also sing and Habimah actor, Oded Tehomi, will recite portions from Jabotinsky’s writings.

The Cinema Club on Thursday evening, July 2, will be showing the film, “Qassam” and Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Center will give a talk.

The 26th Jerusalem Film Festival, once again, will be showing several of the films at the Reuben Hecht Auditorium of the Begin Center between July 10 -17.Among the films that will be seen at the Center are “Lightbulb”, The Last Krasucky”,”Vincere” and “Accidental Tourist” among others.


ARCHIVES

David Ivri, Israel Air Force Commander at the time of the bombing of Iraq’s reactor, was filmed this week for the program of the Kadishai Archives on receiving depositions, testimonies and other material from persons connected to the legacy and lifework of Menachem Begin. He provided documents as well as a long interview on aspects of the decision and operation.

In addition, the filmmaker preparing material for a drama treatment of The Revolt spent several days reviewing archival material and books in the Hasten Library as well as discussing aspects of the film and possible script development with senior staff.


EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES

The Educational Unit continues with its programs. This week, in addition to Hebrew-language Junior Knesset workshop, one was held in Spanish for a group visiting via the Jewish Agency. Several police units underwent leadership seminars and soldiers were challenged in workshops on Israel: A Jewish-Democratic State. Dozens of participants took part in these programs.


MISCELLANEOUS

Menachem Begin had been, and continues to be, an object of intense animosity directed to him by ideological and political rivals and critics. The Center has received over the years numerous requests for information about one particularly invidious statement, supposedly made by Mr. Begin.

Many Internet web sites carry the quotation which, in part, reads: “Our race is the Master Race. We Jews are divine gods on this planet. We are as different from the inferior races as they are from insects...Our destiny is to rule over the inferior races. Our earthly kingdom will be ruled by our leader with a rod of iron. The masses will lick our feet and serve us as our slaves." Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of Begin’s world-view will quickly realize that those words are an abominable lie and fabrication. The source for the quotation is given as “a speech to the Knesset quoted in “Begin and the Beasts," New Statesman, June 25, 1982.

The name of the author of the article in question is Amnon Kapeliouk. As we previously noted at the Begin Center Diary, the quotation is a disingenuous reworking of another misquotation which indeed was penned by Kapeliouk. We are referring to the “two-legged beasts” imagery Begin spoke of at the time of the First Lebanon War. Begin used the description in connection with terrorists, not Arabs. In actuality, on June 8, 1982, Begin addressed the Knesset in response to a no-confidence motion over Israel's invasion of Lebanon. He talked about defending the children of Israel, and according to a June 9, 1982 AP report, "his voice quaver[ed] with anger and sadness." According to the minutes of the session, Begin stated:

“The children of Israel will happily go to school and joyfully return home, just like the children in Washington, in Moscow, and in Peking, in Paris and in Rome, in Oslo, in Stockholm and in Copenhagen. The fate of... Jewish children has been different from all the children of the world throughout the generations. No more. We will defend our children. If the hand of any two-footed animal is raised against them, that hand will be cut off, and our children will grow up in joy in the homes of their parent.”

In any case, Kapeliouk died last week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Judy Montagu Recalls Begin

MENACHEM Begin was a realist too. He understood the Jewish reality. He saw the birth of the State of Israel as a country no less legitimate than any other, and maybe more legitimate than some. He personally witnessed something akin to the prophet Ezekiel's awe-inspiring vision (37:1-14) in which a valley of dry bones - post-Holocaust Jewry - became clothed with sinews, flesh and skin, had breath put in their lungs, stood up on their feet as "a multitude" and proceeded to build a bustling, modern state in their biblical homeland.

In June 1977, speaking to the press on his first day as prime minister of Israel, Begin smelled malice but was restrained in his answer to a British reporter's provocative question about Israel's right to exist:

"Traditionally, there are four major criteria of statehood under international law. One: effective and independent government. Two: effective and independent control of the population. Three: a defined territory. And four: the capacity to freely engage in foreign relations.

"Israel is in possession of all four and, hence, is a fully- fledged sovereign state and a fully accredited member of the United Nations" (From "Sniffing the foul air of prejudice" by Yehuda Avner, The Jerusalem Post, February 17, 2004).

But the exchange had rattled Begin considerably, and, as Avner recalled, that led him to make this addition to his prepared speech to the Knesset several hours later:

"The right to exist? Would it enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Hungarian or Bulgarian, Russian or American, to request for its people recognition of its right to exist? Their existence per se is their right to exist!"

The new premier went on to detail the Jews' "historic, eternal and inalienable right to Eretz Yisrael" in an oration that had MKs rising to their feet "in full-throated acclaim."

Begin subsequently refused to be drawn into any kind of debate over Israel's right to exist. There was simply nothing to discuss.

ONE can only conjecture how Begin - a proud Jew with "an all-encompassing grasp of Jewish history" whose "memory instinctively went back thousands of years and his vision forward thousands of years," as Avner wrote in another piece two years later - would have responded on learning that the question of Israel's right to exist has been publicly raised many thousands of times.

What can be said is that far too many Jews and Israelis today lack anything approaching Begin's "surfeit of both Jewish self-respect and Jewish memory." And that's tragic, because if you aren't familiar with your own legacy and as a consequence are wobbly on Jewish individual and national self-respect, how can you affirm the Jewish right to exist in this land?

When your own history is a blank to you, the vacuum is easily filled by someone else's rewriting of it; which has happened with too many Jews here and abroad, infected by an insidious and unrelenting propaganda assault that undermines their right to statehood in their own Jewish country.



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