Thursday, December 29, 2011

Begin's Legacy for Today's Hilltop Youth

Evelyn Gordon writes:

We need Begin, not Ben-Gurion

Both left and right need to relearn Begin’s lesson: Any Jewish state is better than none. The Altalena seems to be on many commentators’ minds these days, mine included, but most of those who cite this incident misidentify its hero. The man Israel needs today isn’t the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, he’s former prime minister Menachem Begin.

The Altalena was an arms ship belonging to the Irgun, Begin’s pre-state underground. The ship reached Israel in June 1948, a month after statehood was declared, and Ben-Gurion ordered the arms transferred to the provisional government unconditionally (Begin had agreed to the transfer in principle, but wanted input into where the arms were sent). When Begin refused, Ben-Gurion – in a move subsequently credited with establishing the principle of the government’s monopoly over armed force – ordered the ship shelled. Survivors reported being shot at, even after they fled the burning ship and were helpless in the water. Sixteen were killed, and Irgunists begged Begin to authorize revenge attacks.

Begin refused to retaliate. However viciously Ben-Gurion’s government had acted, or might act in the future if this slaughter elicited no response, nothing, as he later wrote in his memoir, The Revolt, could be as bad as a “fratricidal war” that would “destroy the Jewish state before it was properly born.” For any Jewish state was better than none at all.

This is a message both left and right in Israel desperately need to relearn. But, for lack of space, I’ll defer the left until next week and focus on the right...As I wrote last week, their disdain for democracy and the law is understandable, but their disdain for the state itself is another matter – because, by every parameter they themselves claim to value, our imperfect Jewish state is infinitely better than no state at all.

Jewish settlement? Yes, the 2005 disengagement uprooted some 9,000 settlers; outpost evictions have uprooted additional dozens, maybe even hundreds, and more may well follow. But, under the Jewish state’s protection, the number of Jews inhabiting the Land of Israel has risen from 650,000 in 1948 to 5.9 million today, including hundreds of thousands in the Biblical heartland of Jerusalem and the West Bank...

Access to holy places? Thanks to the Jewish state, Jews can pray freely at the Western Wall, Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs and other sites from which successive foreign governments barred them for 2,000 years. That Jewish worship remains forbidden at some sites, like the Temple Mount, is indeed shameful. But, without the Jewish state, the list would be far longer.

Saving Jewish lives? Yes, the state is sometimes delinquent in protecting its citizens; its ongoing tolerance of rocket fire from Gaza, for instance, is disgraceful. But the approximately 14,500 Israelis killed in all wars and terror attacks combined since 1948 pales beside, say, the six million Jews murdered from 1939-45...

Observance of Jewish precepts? True, Israel isn’t a halachic state. But it’s the only state in the world where government offices serve, and major supermarket chains sell, only kosher food; where the army is forbidden to make soldiers do nonessential work on Shabbat; where the government subsidizes yeshiva studies; where Shabbat and many Jewish holidays are mandatory days off...

Yet all these achievements are endangered by right-wing extremism...the worst danger of all is civil war. Certainly, that isn’t the extremists’ goal. But, if they keep attacking soldiers, some soldier will eventually feel threatened enough to open fire...

...Jewish history is one long lesson in the catastrophes that occur when Jews raise their hand against other Jews. Begin understood that, and taught it to his followers. We desperately need someone who can do the same today.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Margaret Thatcherand Menachem Begin

From this article in The Tablet, Thatcher and the Jews by CC Johnson:-

...She also condemned Israel’s bombing of Osirak, Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, in 1981. “[The Osirak attack] represents a grave breach of international law,” she said in an interview with London’s Jewish Chronicle in 1981. Israel’s bombing of another country could lead to “international anarchy.”

In fairness, Thatcher wasn’t alone in this position. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to United Nations at the time, compared Israel’s bombing of the nuclear reactor to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the raid. “Just because a country is trying to manufacture energy from nuclear sources, it must not be believe that she is doing something totally wrong,” Thatcher said in the House of Commons. Iraq’s facility, she noted, had just been inspected and so it was particularly unhelpful for Israel to have attacked. Reagan agreed—at least, officially. “Technically,” Reagan wrote years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge … but I sympathized with [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

That Thatcher did not give Israel the benefit of the doubt is disconcerting, though she made good by later calling for the liberation of Kuwait and eventually the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But in this Thatcher ought not to have let the mandarins in the Foreign Office get the better of her judgment: She should have trusted her philo-Semitic instincts.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A View From the Ramparts

The Begin Center as viewed from the roof of David's Tower:


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Daniel Gordis Misrepresents the Altalena Affair

Daniel Gordis presents a mischaracterized version of the Altalena affair:

At moments like this, it’s hard not to think about the Altalena affair. Tragic though it was, it was the defining moment at which Ben-Gurion made it clear to all that there would be one central authority in the Jewish state. Those who sought to subvert it would be treated in accordance with what they were – threats to the state’s very existence. One prays that some progress can be made here without the use of force. But if it cannot, it’s worth remembering that we once had a prime minister who knew what had to be done.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Israel Must Be Handled With Great Caution"

IMRA has provided the link to this story:

We must re-examine peace treaty with Israel - Egyptian Judge

Alexandria, Asharq Al-Awsat – Judge Mahmoud al-Khudairi is the former vice president of the Egyptian Cassation Court. He is also a newly-elected member of the People’s Assembly, having won the seat of the Sidi Gabir district, Alexandria, in the latest round of the Egyptian parliamentary elections.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, conducted from the city of Alexandria, al-Khudairi spoke

...[Asharq al-Awsat] How do you envision relations with Israel in the post-revolution phase?

[Al-Khudairi] Let’s talk frankly in this regard. Israel must be handled with great caution, and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty must be re-examined, especially in relation to the reconstruction of Sinai, which is yet to be completed in full. The agreement cannot prevent any state from freely
carrying out reconstruction projects on its own territory. However, this does not mean that the current treaty recognizes this, for there is much ambiguity regarding the terms of the treaty and its specific appendices. Thus, we must raise the question of the treaty in its entirety, and present it before parliament to re-examine and re-define its terms.

[Asharq al-Awsat] What is the first question or request for information that you plan to submit in the forthcoming parliament, and to whom?

[Al-Khudairi] There are two requests I intend to submit to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. The first is to disclose the agreement under which gas is exported to Israel, which I deem to be illegal or unconstitutional, because it is squandering the country’s natural resources, which are the right of the Egyptian people. As for my second briefing request, this will refer to the continued blockade of Gaza, and Egypt’s international role in lifting this blockade, as the situation in Gaza can be considered an extension of
Egyptian national security...


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Begin Mentioned at the Politico Blog

Making Bibi look like a pussycat


I wrote yesterday about how Ronald Reagan directed the sort of open criticism and threats at Israel that today's Republican Party views as beyond the pale; a reader notes that Reagan's Israeli counterpart, Menachem Begin, gave as good as he got at a moment when Israel's security felt far more fragile than it is today.

The reader sends on a couple of passages from Yehuda Avner's "The Prime Ministers."

At one point, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Samuel Lewis, informed Begin that Reagan had decided to impose a peace plan on Israel without consulting the Israeli government, to which Begin replied:

Please inform the president that I have read his letter and am most unhappy both with its contents and its implications. I have also listened very carefully to your oral message and am extremely upset by its contents. You may tell the president and the Secretary of State that I am astonished that your government did not see fit to indicate that such an initiative was in the making, or to consult with the government of Israel at any stage of its elaboration. This is entirely unacceptable. The whole initiative is utterly contrary to all our understandings with your country. It is not in accordance with the Camp David agreements; in fact it is a violation of those agreements. Of course, I will consult with my cabinet, and then give you a response. We being a democracy - unlike those others with whom your government has seen fit to consult - necessitates my being given time before giving a formal response.

And here's Begin's response to Reagan's decision to impose a peace plan on Israel on national television before allowing Begin's cabinet to convene (to Ambassador Lewis):

Is this the way to treat a friend? Is this the way to treat an ally? Your government consorts with our despotic enemies and yet you choose to ignore us on a matter of vital import to our future? What kind of a discourse is this between democratic peoples who purport to cherish common values? Is this the way to make peace? We do not deserve this kind of treatment...Mr. Ambassador, please convey to the president exactly what I've just said. Tell him I am hurt to the core. And tell him that our cabinet will convene tomorrow as planned, and then we shall provide your government with our official response. Good night!

And the conclusion of Begin's September 2, 1982 letter to Reagan:

Mr. President, you and I chose for the last two years to call our countries 'friends and allies.' Such being the case, a friend does not weaken his friend, and an ally does not put his ally in jeopardy. This would be the inevitable consequence were the 'positions' transmitted to me on August 31, 1982, to become reality. I believe they won't. 'L'ma'an Zion lo echeshe, u'l'ma'an Yerushalayim lo eshkot' - For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest.

Reagan, per Richard Reeves' biography, quipped privately after the 1981 Israeli decision to annex the Golan Heights, "'Boy, that guy Begin makes it hard for you to be his friend.'"

The tensions then, like now, were very public: When the Reagan administration sought to sell the AWACS radar system to Saudi Arabia in 1981, American friends of Israel lobbied to kill the sale while Reagan worked Congress (successfully) to get the deal done.

The New York Daily News cover: "Ron to Israel: Butt Out - Raps Jewish anti-AWACS Lobby."


Prime Minister's Bible Class Revived

As reported in the Jerusalem Post:-

Netanyahu re-establishes PM Bible class

Taking a page out of David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin’s playbook, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will begin hosting a regular Bible study group in his official residence for researchers, public officials and invited guests.

Netanyahu announced the establishment of the study circle on Friday at a ceremony marking 30 days since the passing of his father-in-law, Shmuel Ben-Artzi. The study group will be named after Ben-Artzi, a noted poet and Bible teacher.

Both Ben-Gurion and Begin, when they each served as prime minister, hosted regular Bible study groups.

Netanyahu said he was establishing the class to perpetuate love of the Bible.

Last Sunday, at a ceremony in Sde Boker marking the 38th anniversary of Ben-Gurion’s death, Netanyahu recalled the first premier’s Bible study class, saying that his father-in-law used to attend.

“Ben-Gurion understood that the Book of Books is our mandate for our country, as he said in that same unforgettable statement before the Peel Commission in 1936,” Netanyahu said. “He viewed the Bible as the wondrous story of the Jewish people, the unique spiritual, cultural and historic heritage of our people, and also as one of the cornerstones of all of human culture.”


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Update From Egypt

Senior Member: Ikhwan Al-Muslimun to Review Camp David Accord

A senior member of the Egyptian Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun (Muslim
Brotherhood) party underlined the necessity for revising Camp David Accord between Cairo and Tel Aviv, describing the pact as "cruel".

"It is natural that after the victory of the revolution many things and issues should be studied and dealt with," Kamal al-Halbawi told FNA on Tuesday.

"Hence, the issue of revising the Camp David Accord will also be in the list of the top priorities of (Egypt's new) officials to be studied in its appropriate time," he added.

He reiterated that the Camp David Accord has damaged Egypt's honor and dignity, and called on all Egyptian people and politicians to stand against the shameful pact which was signed at hard time in Egypt.

Earlier, Former Egyptian Ambassador to the Palestinian territories Gamal Mazloum had also told FNA that Egypt should take action to boost its forces in the Sinai Desert and make a formal request to correct and modify the Camp
David Accord.

Since the Zionist regime has several times breached the Camp David Accord, Egypt should use its power and increase its military presence in the Sinai Desert if the Israeli regime rejects a willing modification of Camp David, he said in October.

Earlier, a leading Egyptian political activist had underlined the necessity of revisions in the Camp David Accord between Cairo and Tel Aviv, stressing that the deal is no more valid.

"Camp David has been annulled and has no more credit and value," member of Egypt's National Association for Change George Ishaq told FNA in Cairo in September.

"Since the Zionist regime attaches no respect to the accord and in order to reclaim Egypt's sovereignty over the Sinai region…the agreement should be reviewed and revised," underlined Ishaq, a former coordinator of Kefaya Movement, a political movement opposing Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Yet, the position of the Egyptian people is much stronger than their politicians as they urge an immediate cut of all ties with the Israeli regime and their country's full sovereignty over the Sinai desert.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Retrospect on The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty


Into the Fray: Begin – in retrospect

Israel cannot afford the same miscalculations made in the peace treaty with Egypt on its fronts with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions – Aphorism attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

We cannot conclude from the good intentions of a statesman that his foreign policies will be either morally praiseworthy or politically successful....How often have statesmen been motivated by the desire to improve the world, and ended by making it worse? And how often have they sought one goal, and ended by achieving something they neither expected nor desired? – Hans Morgenthau (1904-1980), on political realism

The sweeping victory of the Islamist parties in the election in Egypt is – somewhat belatedly – beginning to concentrate minds. Israel is being forced to confront the stark possibility that in the foreseeable future, it may be left with no peace, no Sinai... and eventually, no demilitarization.

Inevitably, this unpalatable prospect will force a national reassessment of the process – and the personalities – that brought this ominous situation about, of the prudence of the decisions taken at the time and of the beforethe- fact predictability of its potentially perilous outcome.

Inevitably, too, this will focus attention on Menachem Begin and his role in precipitating Israel’s evacuation of the strategic expanses of the Sinai Peninsula in return for a peace treaty with Egypt, then Israel’s principle adversary.

A brief history
The deal, brokered by US president Jimmy Carter, was concluded in 1979 after two years of intense negotiation following Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic 1977 address to the Knesset. It was greeted with great international acclaim – except in the Arab world where it was long regarded as an act of treachery – and the award of Nobel peace prizes to the Egyptian and Israeli leaders.

The intended strategic substance of pact was mutual recognition of each state by the other, and the cessation of the state of war that had existed since the 1948 War of Independence.

Israel undertook a complete withdrawal from Sinai, held by it since the 1967 Six Day War, while Egypt agreed to the demilitarization of the peninsula. The agreement also provided for the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal, recognition of the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba as international waterways, and massive US economic and military to Egypt, whose military has since received almost $40 billion from Washington, allowing it to to modernize and revamp its aging Soviet equipment.

Stark asymmetry
Whichever way you slice it, the treaty was afflicted by a stark structural asymmetry in the undertakings of the contracting parties: On the one hand, Israel was called on to relinquish vast physical assets of great strategic and economic value, which could only be retrieved – if at all – by a massive outlay of blood and treasure.

In return for the receipt of these assets – plus generous US financial support – all that was demanded of Egypt was paper promises, which could be violated whenever it deemed it expedient or the profit worth the pain.

This asymmetry was perhaps most aptly articulated by Sadat himself, when in a 1980 interview with The New York Times, he remarked bluntly, “Poor Menachem... I got back... the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper.”

From the outset then, the durability of the peace agreement hinged not only on Cairo’s continuing willingness to honor its commitments, but also its continuing ability to do – despite domestic opposition. This clearly applies – and applied then – not only to the Sadat regime, but to any successors who might accede to power – be it by the bullet or by the ballot.

Predictable perils
There is – and was – no need for the benefit of hindsight to grasp this pivotal feature of the agreement. It was distinctly discernible as an inherent element of the treaty from the get-go. It was always a precarious arrangement — its abrogation, whether sudden or in stages, always a plausible possibility.

Indeed, it would seem that Sadat himself was keenly conscious of the fragility of the treaty and how future Egyptian regimes may well feel unbound by its terms. In a 1975 interview he openly stated: “The effort of our generation is to return to the 1967 borders.

Afterward the next generation will carry the responsibility.”

Yet within the Israeli public discourse, any suggestion that the potential long-term strategic dangers might outweigh the undeniable short/intermediate-term benefits, were dismissed as the demented raving of extremist warmongers. Anyone who dared caution that the situation now emerging in Egypt and along our southern border, might in fact emerge, was scorned either as a deranged scaremonger or a uniformed ignoramus.

Consequently, there was no serious public discussion of how to respond to an intentional violation of the agreement, or an unintentional collapse of Cairo’s ability to uphold it. And in the absence of a clear and credible comprehension of what penalties such violations would incur, only a giant leap of faith in Arab altruism could induce the belief that these scenarios were implausible.

However, beyond the mindless malice and myopia of political debate in Israel, questions must be raised as to the judgment and foresight of the Israeli leadership that consented to forgo the tangible fruits of military victory for the ephemeral promise of political peace.

As Begin was the overwhelmingly dominant figure involved in Israel’s acquiescence to the treaty terms, it is likely such a reevaluation would, as an unintended side effect, damage his standing in the national pantheon.

‘The road to hell...’
The objective would be to enhance awareness of the non-static nature of Israel’s political environment, and to develop deeper understanding of how the nation should manage long-term risk in the dynamic instabilities of the Middle East. But more specifically – and more important – it is imperative to avoid creating similar situations of strategic danger through similar strategic misunderstandings of the dynamics in play on Israel’s other fronts with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Jordanians.

There can, of course, be no doubt as to the totality of Begin’s commitment to Israel and to its security, or as to fever of his devotion to Zionism and its ideals. Indeed for many, he was the epitome of the leader whose absolute dedication to his country and his people was never subordinated to, or sidetracked by, the pursuit of partisan interest, private gain or personal prestige.

However, pure motives and noble intentions are no guarantee of effective statesmanship or strategic acumen.

Indeed, as Hans Morgenthau, one of the most influential figures in the study of modern international politics, remarked: “Chamberlain’s politics of appeasement were, as far as we can judge, inspired by good motives; he was probably less motivated by considerations of personal power than were many other British prime ministers, and he sought to preserve peace and to assure the happiness of all concerned. Yet his policies helped to make the Second World War inevitable, and to bring untold miseries to millions.”

While any comparison between the two men is wildly inappropriate, the bloodcurdling frenzy of the lynch mob that stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in September may prove that Begin’s declaration of “No more war, no more bloodshed, peace forever” was no less premature and na├»ve than Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time.”...


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Op-ed on Alan Dershowitz's Reception of the Begin Prize

Yaakov Ahimeir's op-ed on last night's special program, awarding the Honorary Begin Prize to Professor Alan Dershowitz:

The case for Dershowitz

Renowned law professor Alan Dershowitz has long used his rhetorical strength and intellectual talents to tackle controversial subjects. He recently was awarded the Menachem Begin Prize at an event marking the publication of "The Goldstone Report 'Reconsidered': A Critical Analysis" -- an important book by the Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor -- which refutes the Goldstone report on the 2008-9 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, on legal grounds. Our number one defense attorney, even when Israel is isolated in the international arena, more than hinted that Israel must heed what is said about it around the world. His remarks were aimed at officials who objected to recent criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about dwindling women's rights in Israel. Her detractors claimed that she should not interfere in the country's domestic affairs. Dershowitz warned that there is no such thing as "internal affairs" in Israel. Anything discussed in Israeli public discourse is no longer internal, he said.

Dershowitz defined himself as "center-Left", as a lawyer who cares about human rights, gay rights and feminism, yet he garnered applause even from the many traditional Jews in the audience. This very same public might not approve of the character of the Supreme Court, but Dershowitz vigorously defended the institution currently engulfed in controversy, saying unequivocally: "Israel's best weapon, single best weapon in the international community, is Israel's judiciary, Israel's independent Supreme Court."

In other words, you can love the Supreme Court or detest its rulings, but when it comes to the international community it is one of Israel's most essential, prestigious institutions. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch's husband, attorney Yehezkel Beinisch, was present in the auditorium. He presumably could have told her later that the institution she presides over has a first-rate defense lawyer. And what a lawyer: Professor Dershowitz, who personally knows all the U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Dershowitz went on to "interfere" in another internal Israeli dispute: the subject of free speech. He was particularly resolute when defining the greatest enemies of freedom of expression. The greatest censor of freedom of speech is the Stalinist radical Left, he said. He told the audience how he was banned from speaking at any university in enlightened Norway because he is considered to such a great extent a defender of Israel. He also was not allowed to speak in Cape Town, South Africa.

In principle, Dershowitz said, he opposes restrictions on freedom of the press, but added that there was no point in responding to the anti-NGOs bill or the amendment to the libel law with cries about "the end of democracy." He called for restrained discourse, in which the Left defends the Right's freedom of speech and vice versa. He also had an encouraging promise for senior Israeli officials who fear arrest in foreign countries such as Britain. Don't be afraid, go abroad, he said, adding that he would personally defend any such official in court.

Finally, Dershowitz said that he learned a great deal about defending human rights from someone he only knew as a "terrorist" before they met: Menachem Begin.

And that's all I have to say about Dershowitz's lack of involvement in Israel's public affairs.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Alan Dershowitz Receives Honorary Begin Prize

A joint/multiple program sponosored by NGO-Monitor and the Begin Center had Alan Dershowitz speaking on human rights and on defending Israel as well as receiving an Honorary Begin Prize which he was supposed to receive last year.