Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yehuda Avner on the Egypt-Israel Peace Process

Essay: With undue credit

Mar. 19, 2009

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. It was a protracted and teetering process, beginning with the staggering visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat who was bidden forth by the deft diplomacy of prime minister Menachem Begin.

Never had Ben-Gurion Airport been more embossed and festooned as on that Saturday night of his arrival - a sea of light and of color, hung with a hundred flapping flags, Israeli and Egyptian. Deep rows of parading troops, their regimental ensigns aloft, framed the tarmac, and at one end was arraigned a military band, its brass instruments flashing in the floodlights.

Sadat's schedule was hectic. It lasted 36 hours, capped by an address to the Knesset. And as his plane faded into the sky back to Cairo an exuberant prime minister beckoned me over to say, "I want to send off a cable to president Jimmy Carter straight away to tell him how it went," and on the spot he began to dictate while striding to his car.

As anyone who has ever tried it knows, writing while walking is no easy feat, and my resultant scribble was so illegible I had tremendous difficulty deciphering it. Once I did, it came out like this: "Dear Mr. President - Yesterday night president Sadat and I sat till after midnight. We are going to avert another war in the Middle East, and we made practical arrangements to achieve that quest. I will give you the details in a written report. The exchanges were very confidential, very far-reaching from his point of view. I am very tired. I work 20 hours a day. There are differences of opinion. We are going to discuss them. I have a request. You will plan another trip to various parts of the world. Please visit both Egypt and Israel during that trip. Sadat was very moved by the reception of our people. You will come to Israel and we will give you a wonderful time. So will Egypt. Give two days to Jerusalem and Cairo. Please take this into consideration."

THAT SAME NIGHT the prime minister, exhausted though he was, received a four-man delegation of United Jewish Appeal philanthropists (now the United Jewish Communities) who had flown in from the US especially to witness the historic event. Among them was an old acquaintance from Columbus, Ohio - Gordon Zacks, commonly known as Gordie.

Gordie was a close-thatched, vigorous, enterprising, big-hearted, idealistic sort who not only gave generously but also thought innovatively. In 1975 he'd embarked on a peacemaking mission of his own by flying to Egypt to identify a hundred projects in the fields of medicine, agriculture, irrigation, industry and social welfare, which he envisioned as possible joint Egyptian-Israeli enterprises to serve as stepping stones to peace. He carried his proposal to Israel and asked me to arrange a meeting with the then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

As Rabin flicked through the bulky project folder, Gordie leaned across and said to him with enormous zest, "Yitzhak, listen to me, this is a no-lose deal."

"Meaning what, exactly?" asked Rabin, slamming the folder shut without even pretending to examine a single one of its projects.

"Meaning, here is a way of testing Sadat's true intentions toward peace."

"Gordie, in what world are you living?" scorned Rabin with pitiless sarcasm, pushing the folder away as if its author was one of the babes in the wood.

"I'm telling you this is a solid proposal," countered Gordie indignantly. "Israel could offer to become a part of any or of all these projects. It could lay the foundations for confidence-building measures, the beginnings of a dialogue."

"And if the Egyptians say we don't want you, as I'm sure they will?"

"Then what you do is to publicly offer them two projects a week for 50 weeks. You will come out smelling like roses as the peacemaker, while Sadat will seem to be the intransigent one."

"Crazy, naive American," scoffed Rabin, rising and extending a hand of farewell. "Gordie, old friend, this is just another public relations gimmick. Go back home to America and do what you do best: raise money for the United Jewish Appeal."

And off Gordie went, dejected.

TWO YEARS LATER, when Menachem Begin assumed the premiership, he asked to see all materials to do with Israel's past peacemaking efforts with Egypt, and among the documents was Gordie's proposal. It aroused enough curiosity for the premier to ask me who the man was, and when I told him, he said, "His ideas are a fantasy, but they show daring and imagination. I'd like to meet him one day." I phoned this through to Gordie and within a week he was having lunch with the prime minister in the Olive Room at the King David Hotel.

"Mr. Zacks, have you ever been in jail?" asked Begin while the first course was being served.

"No, Mr. Prime Minister," answered Gordie testily, wondering what Begin was getting at. "I've never been in jail."

"That's a pity," said Begin enigmatically, nibbling on his chicken. "You see, I have been in three different jails."

Gordie Zacks sat back, stunned: "Three - how come?"

"The first time the communists arrested me was in Vilna. I was in the middle of a game of chess. When the Soviet agents dragged me off, I remember calling out to my colleague, 'I concede the game. You win.' The Soviets locked me up in one of their prisons. I was held there for six weeks, and all I could think of was getting out and going back home, free. The second prison was a forced labor camp in Siberia. By the sixth week, I dreamed of being back in that first prison cell. The third time the Soviets put me in solitary confinement, and I dreamed of being back in that Siberian labor camp. So, you see, Mr. Zacks, my job as prime minister of Israel is to make sure that Jewish children dream the dreams of a free people, and never about prisons, or labor camps or solitary confinement. I want to bring them peace, but in our region peace can be won only through strength."

"So, how can I help?" asked Gordie, with his characteristic wholeheartedness."

"By telling me about your trip to Egypt, and the nature of the projects we might do together with the Egyptians once we have peace."

IT WAS NO WONDER, therefore, that Gordie Zacks displayed such excitement that night at the end of Sadat's visit when Begin told him and his colleagues, "Friends, you will be pleased to hear that president Sadat and I have come to an understanding. We still have our differences as you heard in his Knesset speech and my response to him, but we agreed there will be no more war. I already wrote as much to president Carter. Yehuda" - this to me - "did you sent off my cable?"

"Of course, as soon as I got back to Jerusalem from Ben-Gurion."

"Then, let's call the president now - hear his reaction."

"Do you have his number?" I asked.

Begin shook his head with an air of innocent ignorance.

"So, I'd better rush over to the office. I have it in the classified phone file," I said.

"Why not call the international exchange and ask for the White House switchboard," suggested Gordie helpfully. "I'm pretty sure they have a general number."

"I'll try," said I, and soon enough I got through to 001 202 456 1414. I was speaking in the hallway to a woman at the White House switchboard who thought I was a crank.

"I'm sorry, mister," she said in a steely voice, "but you can't speak to the president of the United States."

"It's not me, it's the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Menachem Begin," I said haughtily.

To which she responded dubiously, "Menakem who?"


"Hold the line."

"Hello, how can I help you?" - this from a lady in a more mellifluous voice.
I explained the matter and she said reasonably, "Please give me the prime minister's number and we'll get back to you."

I checked the phone to see the number. There was none. How could there be? This was the prime minister's residence, and his number was not for public display for prying eyes to see. So I called out to the prime minister sitting in the lounge, "Mr. Begin, what's your number?"

"I've no idea. I never phone myself," he said.

And then, moving into the hallway he shouted up the stairwell, "Alla [that's how he called his wife, Aliza], what's our phone number?" "664763," she shouted back.

I scribbled it down and repeated it to Washington.

"Thank you," said the voice, "we'll get back to you presently."

And, sure enough, within minutes, the phone rang, and the voice said, "Please put the prime minister on the line. I'm putting the president through now."

I handed over the receiver, and stood aside to take notes. With no extension close to hand I could only record what Begin was saying.

"I HOPE YOU received my message, Mr. President," he said beamingly.

Long pause: "Of course, tomorrow I shall send you a full account, through our ambassador."

Another long pause: "Oh yes, indeed," said Begin with an enthusiastic shake of the head. "There are immediate concrete results from the visit. President Sadat and I agreed to continue our dialogue on two levels, the political and the military. Such meetings will take place hopefully between our representatives soon. We made a solemn pledge at our joint press conference in Jerusalem that there will be no more wars between us. This is a great moral victory. And we agreed that there be no future mobilizations or troop movements on either side, so that our mutual commitment of 'no more war' may be given a practical expression on the ground."

And then, shoulders back, head rising, forehead frowning: "No, no, Mr. President, I assure you - yes, yes - we still want to go to a Geneva peace conference if you still think that will be useful. It is all a matter of the proper timing. President Sadat and I discussed this, but we did not talk about an actual date. We exchanged ideas on the most substantial issues, and knowing we have differences of opinion we promised each other to discuss them further in the future. What is important is that the atmosphere throughout all our talks was friendly, frank and cordial."

Then finally, face all a-grin and voice bubbling: "Mr. President, without you it could never have happened. So allow me to express my deepest gratitude for your magnificent contribution. Peace-loving people the world over - and the Jewish people for generations to come - will be forever in your debt for the role you played in helping to bring this historic visit about. We shall need your understanding and help in the future. God bless you, Mr. President. Good-by," and he hung up.

Privy to every word, his guests in the lounge fervently congratulated him on what was, assuredly, an affable conversation - all of them, that is, but Gordie Zacks who asked dumbfounded, "Why, Mr. Prime Minister? Why? Why give Jimmy Carter so much credit? Sadat came here because of what you did, and despite what Carter did with his idea of a Geneva international peace conference."

"What does it cost?" answered Begin with a pixyish expression. "I'm still going to need America, aren't I? So giving him a bit of credit now might help us a little bit in the future. The important thing is that Sadat and I are agreed on making peace with or without Geneva."

And, indeed, they did. No Geneva conference was ever convened. Had it done so it would have simply added gratuitous knots to what was just the same a knotty endeavor.
President Obama, please note.

The writer was on the personal staff of five prime ministers. His book The Premiers (Toby Press) will appear at the end of the year.

Newly Declassified Documents

Carter administration wanted Egypt liason role in Gaza

Mar. 25, 2009
Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST

The US sought to include a provision for self-government in Gaza and an Egyptian liaison role in the coastal strip as part of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord, newly declassified US documents show.

The cache of documents, which were declassified last year, were attained from the Carter Library by a researcher from the Begin Center in Jerusalem as Israel and Egypt mark 30 years since the peace treaty between the two nations was signed.

The documents, which include drafts and notes to the president, reveal that the US administration sought to include movement toward a resolution on the volatile coastal territory, which was run by Egypt between 1948-1967, in the pending agreement between Israel and Egypt.

"A provision for the implementation of self-government in Gaza first is clearly important for Sadat. In our view, this is reasonable in purely practical terms," was written under a "checklist" for Carter's meeting with Begin.

The documents note that Sadat attached "major importance" to an Egyptian liaison role in Gaza, but was prepared to make clear that this was only "for the purposes of facilitating the negotiations for establishing the self-governing authority."

Begin was opposed to any Egyptian liaison role in Gaza, which he believed as part of Israel, and the "dramatic crisis" issue nearly held up the agreement until the Egyptians backed down, said Begin Center Deputy Director Moshe Fuksman.

A draft letter dated March 10, 1979 states that within a month of the peace treaty being signed, negotiations would commence in accordance with the "Framework for Peace in the Middle East."

"The Delegations of Egypt and Jordan may include Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip or other Palestinians as mutually agreed. In the event Jordan decides not to take part in the negotiations, Egypt and Israel will, prior to the elections, agree on the modalities for establishing the self-governing authority, define its powers and responsibilities, and agree upon other related issues," the letter says.

"The two governments agree to negotiate continuously and in good faith to conclude these negotiations as expeditiously as possible. They also agree that the objective of the negotiations is the establishment of the self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza in order to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants."

However, no such negotiations ever took place after the signing of the March 26, 1979 peace treaty.

A second newly declassified document, dated March 3, 1979 and written by Zbigniew Brzezinski to the president, offers two basic scenarios on reaching an agreement - one positive and one negative - for his upcoming trip to Israel and Egypt.

The document, repeatedly labelled "top secret," concludes with two columns, one marked "positive" and one marked "negative," which referred to the upcoming schedule following the weekend talks with Begin. In the event of an accord, a trip to Egypt was to be announced Monday for the following weekend, followed by a visit to Jerusalem and a trilateral summit. In the event the talks failed, the Egyptian foreign minister was to be summoned to Washington with a trip to the Middle East put off until "a week later or so."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Begin Center Bulletin

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 22 | 19 March 2009



Four events will take place over the next ten days to commemorate the historic occasion of the signing of the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt and the courage of two leaders, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat, to change the political dynamic in the Middle East.

First, the Truman Institute in cooperation with Hebrew University, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israel's Government, are hosting a conference on 25 March. The event will be opened with remarks from the US Ambassador to Israel, Mr. James Cunningham. The first panel will be chaired by Prof. Menachem Milson of Hebrew University and the panel participants will be Dan Pattir, who was on the negotiating team and was a media advisor to Begin, and Dr. Meir Rosenne, who was a legal advisor to Israel's foreign ministry and was subsequently Ambassador to the US and France. The second panel will be chaired by Moshe Arad, former Ambassador to the US, and the panel participants will be Egypt's Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Yasser Reda, and Israel's Ambassador to Egypt, Mr. Shalom Cohen. The third panel will be chaired by Prof. Steven Kaplan and panel participants will be Prof. Eli Podeh and Prof. Ya'acov Bar-Siman-Tov, all of whom are of the Hebrew University. This event is open to the public, is in ENGLISH and reservations can be made by phone at 02-588-2329 or via email at

On March 26, the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University will hold a conference on "Israel's Peace Treaty with Egypt: Thirty Years Later." Among the guest speakers: Justice Elyakim Rubinstein; Mr. Oded Granot; former US Ambassador to Israel Dr. Dan Kurtzer; and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilad. The conference (in HEBREW) will be held from 9:00-16:30. Please refer to their internet site for more information:

The Begin Center is joining together with Israel's government for two special occasions.

The Begin Center will join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an event for the Diplomatic Corps and other people who were at the signing of the Peace Treaty in 1979. In addition to the ceremony, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested to set up the "Making Peace" exhibition that had been at the Begin Center. This event is by invitation only and is closed to the public.

The Knesset confirmed the date March 30 for their commemoration—a special session where the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the parties will all speak. After the session, Members of Knesset and other VIPs will attend a reception in the hall where the Making Peace Exhibition will be situated. The Speaker of the Knesset will speak. It is also by invitation and closed to the public.


In addition to commemorative events, the Begin Center is committed to teaching future generations about the life, words and accomplishments of Menachem Begin. After some discussions with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry will send a special memo to all the schools in Israel inviting them to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center's website to download and view the text of some of the historic documents in Hebrew for use by teachers across Israel. On the website are: Menachem Begin's speech at the signing of the Peace Treaty, his speech at the Nobel Prize ceremony, his speech before the Knesset when Sadat visited, the text of the Treaty itself, Anwar Sadat's speech at the Knesset and Sadat's speech at the signing of the Peace Treaty.

We have also added the movie "Making Peace" which was part of the exhibition at the Center. While it is not entirely in English, the footage is extremely moving and can be enjoyed by everyone. Please visit our site at


On Sunday, an unusual press conference was held at the Begin Center regarding a kidnapping and murder that took place in 1947. On May 6 1947, Alexander Rubovitz of the Lehi was snatched off a Jerusalem street by one Roy Farran, a member of the British security forces, seconded to the Palestine Police Force. Farran was eventually brought before a court martial but was acquitted. Farran went on to be one of the most decorated British servicemen of the Second World War, recipient of the DSO and three Military Crosses and eventually moved to Calgary, Canada where he became Solicitor-General and died in 2006.

The press conference, held by Steve Rambam of Pallorium detective agency, brought to light evidence of foul play, missing memos and personal testimony by Yael Ben Dov who was Rubovitz's commander in the Lehi and was present at the press conference. The goal of the investigation is to try to find the remains of Rubovitz, to definitively show that certain secret Q squads in the British Police during the Mandate Period used excessive force and committed crimes and to get some sort of closure for the Rubowitz family for whom Alexander is still listed as Missing In Action.


Yedidiyah Segal, columnist for the Makor Rishon newspaper has just published a book on the murder in Haifa of his uncle, Yedidya Segal, entitled "Rak Lo Milhemet Ahim" ("Just Not Civil War"). Historians know that Menachem Begin did everything possible to avert even the possibility of civil war during the Altalena tragedy and during the Saison when Haganah members turned Irgun and Lehi members into the British Police Forces. Here again in this story, Menachem Begin's influence is felt. "This was thanks to the general guidance of Begin," Segal said, "and thanks to the forceful position adopted by my grandfather and grandmother who ruled out revenge and did not raise their voices saying 'we will not forget and not forgive.' My grandfather, Yosef Segal, who is the hero of this story in my eyes, was a person who did not take sides and was fond of everyone. He greatly admired [David] Ben-Gurion, the commander in chief of the Haganah, and considered him almost a messiah; he corresponded with him (and this correspondence is published in the book). He and my grandmother prevented a civil war. They convinced my uncle, Benayahu Segal, to relinquish his plan to avenge his brother's blood."


On April 1, 2009, there will be an event commemorating Rabbi Aryeh Levine at 7:00pm at the Begin Center. This event is in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and the Etzel Veterans Association. This event is in HEBREW. Please call 02-565-2020 for reservations.


It was announced this week that Nahum Heyman, the well-known composer and, additionally, star of the Begin Center's series called "Chapters in the History of Israeli Poetry" that include sing-alongs and multimedia presentations about a poet in the history of Israel, will receive the Israel Prize on Israel's Independence Day in honor of his lifetime of work in the music field.

We wish him all the very best on this great honor.

The next program in the series is on March 24 in which Nahum Heyman will feature the poetry of David Zahavi and Matityahu Shalem. This event will be in HEBREW. Tickets are 40 NIS and reservations can be made at 02-565-2020.


We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of William Davidson of Detroit, Michigan. Mr. Davidson was a businessman, owner of the Detroit Pistons, a community leader and a great philanthropist who gave significant contributions to many foundations all over Israel, including the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. He leaves behind his wife, Karen, his children, Ethan and Marla, three step-daughters and numerous grandchildren.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Letter to Editor

Begin kept the faith

Sir, - In "Netanyahu as prime minister - deja vu?" (March 11) Daniel Pipes analyzed what he alleges were broken promises by previous Likud leaders. He stated that "Menachem Begin was elected... on a nationalist platform that included annexing parts of the West Bank" but "instead removed all troops and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula."

I would have credited Mr. Pipes with the intelligence to differentiate between the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula.

Prime minister Begin never considered giving up any claim of the Jewish people to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). His discussions at Camp David dealt with some form of administrative autonomous self-government for the Arab residents of those areas regarding their internal affairs, but not the ceding of sovereignty.

On the other hand, the Jewish people have never had a historical or legal claim to the Sinai desert. In return for a peace treaty with Israel's largest Arab foe in all wars until that time, Begin returned the Sinai to Egypt, giving up valuable strategic depth, some low-quality oil fields at Abu Rodeis, and agricultural settlements on the Mediterranean shore at Yamit.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Begin Averted A Civil War Yet A Third Time

Many are aware that in two instances, Menachem, Begin, as Commander of the Irgun Tzavi Leumi, prevented internecine violence in the pre-state Yishuv on two occasions: the 'Saison' period and during the Altalena crisis.

We now know there was a thrid incident.

Yedidiyah Segal, columnist for the Makor Rishon newspaper has just published a book on the murder in Haifa of his uncle, Yedidya Segal, entitled "Rak Lo Milhemet Ahim" ("Just Not Civil War").

As Haaretz reports:

The murderer was never brought to trial but the affair led to a libel case, debates in the Knesset, and numerous investigative reports by journalists....Over the years, many people believed that Yedidya Segal was killed by members of the Haganah Underground, the Jewish pre-independence army, but had no proof. Segal did not find any conclusive evidence, but he did manage to cast a shadow on the Haganah's version of the event.

Following a series of kidnappings between the Hagana and Irgun, the

Haganah leadership decided to kidnap one of the senior Etzel members in Haifa, Moshe Levy. The Etzel retaliated by abducting a top Haganah member, Gedalya Kaminsky-Even (the father of future MK Prof. Uzi Even). Because the decision to kidnap Kaminsky was made quickly, the Etzel had not prepared a hideout to stash him.

After wandering around, they took him for a short while to the hut of a guard at a building site in the Hadar quarter of Haifa. The guard was an Etzel member, 21-year-old Yedidya Segal. Segal had been a student at the city's Reali School where some of his famous classmates included Eliahu Hakim (afterwards executed in Cairo), (ambassador) Uri Lubrani and Aharon Yadlin (later education minister).

Segal had no idea what had happened and who the abducted man was, and begged the kidnappers to leave the site, which they did. However, word had reached the Haganah that Kaminsky was being held in the hut and they sent a special force to the site to capture Segal and bring him in for questioning.

Segal was taken to the Haganah's interrogation facility in the Carmelia neighborhood. There they pressed him to reveal where Kaminsky was being held, but he refused to tell. Meanwhile an exchange of "prisoners" was worked out between the two organizations.

Etzel's Levy was set free, they freed Kaminsky, and only Yedidya Segal did not return home. His body was found close to the village of Tira (the area that is today Tirat Hacarmel)...Segal is convinced that his uncle was tortured by the Haganah but he did not find conclusive evidence that they had murdered him...

...Nevertheless, Segal managed to uncover two clues which he believes cast a dark shadow over the Haganah's version of events...Segal believes that the Haganah did not plan in advance to murder his uncle but rather that he was so badly tortured during the interrogation that he collapsed while fleeing and died in the area where his body was found.

Despite this terrible tragedy,

Former prime minister Menachem Begin wrote in his book, "The Revolt," that it was only the Segal family's strong stand against a civil war that prevented the kind of terrible bloodbath that had taken place during the Second Temple period.

"This was thanks to the general guidance of Begin," Segal said, "and thanks to the forceful position adopted by my grandfather and grandmother who ruled out revenge and did not raise their voices saying 'we will not forget and not forgive.' My grandfather, Yosef Segal, who is the hero of this story in my eyes, was a person who did not take sides and was fond of everyone. He greatly admired [David] Ben-Gurion, the commander in chief of the Haganah, and considered him almost a messiah; he corresponded with him (and this correspondence is published in the book). He and my grandmother prevented a civil war. They convinced my uncle, Benayahu Segal, to relinquish his plan to avenge his brother's blood."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 21

Menachem begin Heritage Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 21 | 12 March 2009



A very special event was held this past Thursday in honor of International Women's Day in the Reuben Hecht Auditorium. Major-General Ido Nechushtan, the main speaker of the evening, spoke about his mother, Dvorah, who was a combat fighter and squad leader in the Irgun Zvai Leumi. Maj.-Gen. Nechushtan, Air Force Chief and former head of Operational Planning in the IDF High Command, said that he was always proud to relate the story about how his mother took part in the attack on Lod airport, which was at the time British, and helped to destroy 26 airplanes. This was an extremely important mission because those planes were used to spot clandestine immigration ships. Without these eyes in the sky, more ships would be able to get through. He joked that he is the only air force commander in the world whose mother attacked an airport.

Later, when Dvorah was arrested and tried, she gave a statement to the court, which Nechushtan read during his speech. In it she refers to her sentence of 15 years in prison, saying "I will be here in 15 years, but you [the Court and the British] will not."

Rivkah Miriam read selected poems. Gil Shochat, a pianist and composer, played the piano and Gila Bashari sang. The evening was organized by MK Geula Cohen in cooperation with the Uri Tzvi Greenberg House.


March 26th marks 30 years since the signing of the historic Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. The Begin Center is joining together with Israel's government for two special occasions.

The Begin Center will join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an event for the Diplomatic Corps and other people who were at the signing of the Peace Treaty in 1979. In addition to the ceremony, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested to set up the "Making Peace" exhibition that had been at the Begin Center. This event is by invitation only and is closed to the public.

The Knesset will hold a special session where the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the parties will all speak. After the session, Members of Knesset and other VIPs will attend a reception in the hall where the Making Peace Exhibition will be situated. The Speaker of the Knesset will speak. The date of this event is not yet confirmed, but it is also by invitation and closed to the public.


This week Menachem Begin was mentioned twice in the press.

Gideon Levy of Ha'aretz paid Begin a backhanded compliment saying that leaders at the beginning of the State built up the country—paving, irrigating and settling. "Even when Menachem Begin was elected, he took power imbued with the joy of creation: building housing projects, making peace with Egypt, and, as futile as his philosophy was, establishing "many Elon Morehs," that settlement in the West Bank."
The LA Times published a review of a memoir in which the author of the memoir states that Begin deserted the Polish Army in Palestine. Yisrael Medad, Director of Information Services, wrote a letter to correct the facts and his letter was published. Begin, in fact, was given a leave of absence after which he went underground to lead the Irgun Zvai Leumi. By the time the British police and army pressured the Polish Army to rescind the leave of absence, World War II was nearly over.

Links to these articles can be found on our blog website


Aharon Barak, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, will visit the Center this week to give an interview to the archives for the Oral History Project.

Seventy education officers of different units in the IDF came to the Begin Center for the day to participate in leadership workshops and visit the museum.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Back-handed Compliment

Gideon Levy of Haaretz, seeking to criticise Benjamin Netanyahu, awards a back-handed compliment to Menachem Begin:

During the state's infancy, when all was immeasurably more fragile and dangerous, governments knew how to instill hope and encourage action. They built and paved, settled and irrigated. Even when Menachem Begin was elected, he took power imbued with the joy of creation: building housing projects, making peace with Egypt, and, as futile as his philosophy was, establishing "many Elon Morehs," that settlement in the West Bank.

Defending Begin

In the LA Times:

Checking Begin's military record

Ella Taylor, in her review of Witold Rybczynski's "My Two Polish Grandfathers" ["A Reluctant Memoir, by Design," March 1], has the author stating that "Menachem Begin, 'like a number of Polish Jews,' deserted a Polish battalion" once in Mandate Palestine.

The full truth, as our archival documentation demonstrates, is that Mr. Begin refused to desert and in autumn 1943 negotiations were conducted with the Polish Army Headquarters, with the participation of Aryeh Ben-Eliezer, who traveled from the United States, and Marek Kahan, among others, on the matter of releasing him through an official procedure. He did obtain a leave of absence and went underground in December 1943 as commander of the Irgun. A year later, however, the British police and army pressed the Polish army to rescind that official leave, which they eventually did, the war all but over in Europe.

The anti-Semitism that many Jews suffered while serving in Anders' Army of Free Poles should not be forgotten, either.

Yisrael Medad


Medad is director, information and educational resources, Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 20

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Bulletin | 5 March 2009



With Israel in the midst of forming a government in this post-election period, we wish to draw your attention to the following translated extract from an article about the role of the Opposition by Menachem Begin published in Hebrew in "HaUmmah" (The Nation) in 1963:

As far as I know, an opposition in a free democratic country is founded on three things: 1) generally on the expression of difference; 2) sometimes on the proof of unity; 3) on constant aspiration for change and replacement. I will dedicate words on each one of these three roles, but firstly I will try to clarify the mission of an opposition in the government we generally call a democracy.

I will not hesitate to say that there was great folk wisdom in the founding of this institution. … If there is a force that opposes the government, then this force ensures that it won't be the citizen who is afraid but the government will be apprehensive. This is because when the citizen fears, that is termed slavery and when the government is apprehensive – that is liberty.

Let us appreciate therefore, as fitting, the fact that there is an opposition in our country. Even though there are those who don't agree, as is their wish, to its existence and hope for its strength and well-being, to the point that a day should come that it will cease being an opposition. And when that day should come the opposition itself must desire, as a condition, that there will stand opposite it a strong opposition, recognized by the nation … Perhaps I may be permitted to say that the Herut movement fulfilled in this area a decisive and pioneering role when it announced from the start – in opposition to all the other factions in the Knesset – that insofar as the nation gave it in 1949 only a certain measure of trust, insufficient to compose a government, that it would serve the nation in opposition, and this service will be to its distinction. From then until today this institution called opposition has been a legitimate and recognized institution.

The three roles placed upon the opposition are: first, the obligation of the opposition to express difference…to block to the extent of its ability the path of bad laws. A second way to express difference is a resolution of no confidence…one of the clear roles of every parliament is to turn to public opinion. It is not correct that the nation judges its rulers in one day, namely election day, as Montesquieu once wrote. The nation needs to judge every day, and mainly every day in which parliament is in session. Every day the nation needs to judge both sides: the government proposes, the opposition agrees or the opposite. Civil liberty exists through argument. The nation hears and reads and judges. Its judgment is a process of many days, until the day arrives in which it deposits the ballot and produces its ruling.

The second role of the opposition is, as stated, to prove the unity of the nation. This does not mean forced unity…but unity out of the free will of those being unified. Unity of a free people is a tremendous force. When there is danger, everyone is uniform; they toss away differences, disagreements, and stand shoulder to shoulder against the enemy until he is overcome.

The third role of opposition is, as stated, constant aspiration for change and replacement. An opposition worthy of its name is not sheltered in the shadow of the governing party, but aspires to take its place according to the decision of the nation, and may the time of realizing this aspiration be as long as it may be…it is incumbent on the opposition to continue aspiring for change and replacement and not to sit squinting at the government of today's table. Without this aspiration an opposition is nothing but a sort of a simple division of roles – essentially artificial.


Braving the rain that had been pouring off and on since the previous Friday, a crowd of people honored Menachem Begin on Sunday at the Mount of Olives at his gravesite including outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister Designate Binyamin Netanyahu and MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Ruby Rivlin, Danny Danon, Dan Meridor, Tzipi Hotevli, Ayub Kara among others, as well as the family and close friends and associates from the Irgun, Herut and Betar.

Later in the evening, the Reuben Hecht Auditorium was filled to capacity with overflow seating in the large seminar room for a beautiful evening of songs from the Underground and Menachem Begin's personal favorite songs and rare film footage, including Ze'ev Jabotinsky speaking in Yiddish and Hebrew, Betar before the state of Israel was established and Menachem Begin speaking.


On Tuesday night, a conference Thinking after the Holocaust: Voices from Poland and Israel was held at the Begin Center which was co-sponsored by the Begin Center and the World Jewish Congress Research Institute. Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, opened the conference about Jewish life after the Holocaust, and introduced Dr. Sebastian Rejak, Bureau for Polish–Jewish Relations, Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Rabbi Sam Kassin, Dean Shenbar Sephardic Center, Jerusalem; and Prof. Daniel Grinberg, Prof. of History, University of Bialystok.


Nine classes from the Leo Beck High School in Haifa made their traditional trip to the Begin Center. In addition to visiting the museum, they also heard stories of the underground from the Hasten Library librarian, Bruria Ben-Senior-Romanoff, who remembers those days from her childhood.

Police personnel and groups of soldiers also came this week to participate in the new leadership workshops.