Sunday, December 3, 2017

Recalling Begin

From ECONOMIC FABLES by Ariel Rubinstein

I had already encountered Begin’s rhetorical style when I was a child. My father took me to a soccer game only once, but many times to election rallies. At Menorah Square in Jerusalem and at the entrance to the Mea She’arim neighborhood, I heard Begin speak vehemently against the ruling Mapai semi-socialist party. My father would make fun of Begin, but still admired him enough to take me to shake his hand at a barmitzvah celebration where Begin was among the guests. When I was a child, I thought Begin’s rhetoric made him look as if he were playing the fool or clowning. Fifteen years later, in 1977, I was amazed to watch him enthrall the masses. I felt helpless and frustrated by the reactions of many of my friends, who extolled Begin for his rhetorical prowess and in the same breath criticized the rhetorical poverty of our own forces. I, who believed in the power of level-headed argument, did not regard Begin as a role model.

35Begin often explained his decisions in terms of carrying out duties and honoring rights: ”We must all make an effort to… We have to… But we are also obliged…” He would start by saying ”We must make sure that…” and ask ”What should we have done?” In a meeting with President Carter on 19 July 1977, Begin reached new heights of rhetoric:

Mr. President, in your country there are many cities with biblical names. You have eleven places with the name Hebron; five with the name Shiloh and seven with the name Bethlehem. Can you imagine a governor in one of these states prohibiting Jews from living in these cities? The Israeli government also cannot prohibit Jews from living in Hebron, Bethlehem or Beit El. It is our duty to…

36Begin’s arguments were generally based on ”our rights” and ”our duty.” One could think that there is room for discussion and disagreement regarding rights and duties. Did our forefathers command us to settle in Beit El in 1977? Why are we bound by the wishes of our forefathers? Are there other obligatory commands that contradict this ”duty”? However, in Begin’s rhetorical realm, there was no room to examine the limits of the possible and to identify the desirable. The preferred status of an action derived from its being considered part of our rights and our duties and not from its being the best action in light of the limitations of the possible, according to our worldview...

...As years went by, I realized that I think more like Begin than Rabin in regard to the occupation and the occupied territories. My unconditional opposition to ruling over another people did not derive from my formulation of the objectives that the State of Israel is supposed to achieve or from asking myself which possible policy would generate the best result in terms of these objectives. I simply feel an absolute duty not to be on the side of the occupier and oppressor, even if the occupation is economically beneficial and brings peace closer. Nonetheless, I do not have a shred of sympathy for Begin. Even his signing of the peace treaty with Egypt and the fact that he was subject to periodic bouts of depression did not soften my anger over his demagogic antics. Like the times when I was a child and wanted to use a book of logic to prepare myself for asserting irrefutable arguments against evil, I still find myself looking for ways to understand rhetoric and long to defeat demagoguery.

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