Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Begin, Iraq and Iran

From an op-ed by Yoram Ettinger in Israel Hayom:-

...In June 1981, just before the destruction of the nuclear reactor in Iraq, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin weighed the cost of a pre-emptive strike versus the cost of inaction. The heads of the Mossad and military intelligence, then Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, opposition leader Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, Israel's national security adviser and the head of the Atomic Energy Commission all opposed striking Iraq. They presented apocalyptic scenarios that would result from such action: an irreparable rift with the U.S., harsh sanctions, conflict with the Soviet Union and Western Europe, reconciliation between Muslim countries and a pan-Islamic attack, threats to the peace treaty with Egypt and other doomsday events. They underestimated the success of a pre-emptive attack and glorified Iraq's military capabilities. Some claimed there was a greater chance of seeing Israeli pilots being dragged through the streets of Baghdad than being welcomed back to their bases.

But Begin decided in favor of a pre-emptive strike, ultimately determining that the cost of restraint could be greater than that of a pre-emptive strike; that a nuclear threat would enslave Israel both politically and militarily; that a nuclear attack could not be ruled out considering the violent, unexpected nature of regimes in the region, and that the ratio of Israeli territory to that of surrounding Arab states (0.2%) did not allow for a nuclear threat balance. Begin understood that the window of opportunity for a strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor was about to close. The destruction of the reactor drew a wave of virulent criticism even from avowed Israel supporters, but it was later followed by a sea of admiration and long-term collaboration.

In 2012, after a decade of failed attempts at dialogue and sanctions, and in light of the help (in terms of development and acquisition) Iran has received from Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and China for its nuclear program, Israel must decide between launching a pre-emptive attack to eliminate that threat or withstanding it. Opponents of an attack warn that it could potentially result in a harsh response from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, international anger directed at Israel over higher oil prices, or a wave of terror and conflict in the Persian Gulf. Yet these pale in comparison to the deadly cost of a nuclear threat, which include a withdrawal of Israeli and foreign investment in the country, a greater number of Israelis leaving and fewer immigrants coming to Israel, dwindling tourism, greater military-political-economic dependence on the U.S. and a more powerful and influential Iranian regime that takes control of the Persian Gulf. Israel's position as a strategic asset would be reversed without even one nuclear warhead needing to be launched.

The cost of a pre-emptive attack against Iran would be non-lethal and short-term, and would boost Israel's long-term strategic image. It would also provide a tailwind for the forces opposing the ayatollahs' regime. Will Israel adopt the legacy of Ben-Gurion and Begin, or that of their opponents?


Friday, January 27, 2012

Begin's NKVD File to Yad Vashem

Reported in Israel Hayom:-

Introducing Menachem Begin, prisoner of Stalin's secret police

Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum and memorial, has a new artifact in its collection: the KGB file of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Begin was arrested in September 1940 by the Soviet Union's secret police, who were then known as the NKVD. He was 27 and serving as the head of Betar Poland, the country's largest Zionist movement, at the time.

The NKVD compiled a thick file, no fewer than 150 pages, about the future Israeli prime minister. It includes a photo of the young Begin in a suit and tie, his home address and many other private pieces of information regarding his personal life.

The file also mentions Begin's law studies at Warsaw University, his law apprenticeship, that his father was a civil servant and that his mother was a homemaker. It also mentions Begin's membership in a Revisionist Zionist movement, which he had been active in from 1930 to 1939.

The new edition of White Nights also contains most of these particulars.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bolstering the Peace Process With Israel by Egypt

From a newspaper report:

Mubarak's defense lawyer: My client didn't violate the law in Israel gas deal

Egypt Independent Sat, 21/01/2012

Former president Hosni Mubarak didn’t do anything illegal in the deal to export natural gas to Israel, Mubarak’s lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, argued on Saturday, before Cairo Criminal Court adjourned the trial to Sunday. On Saturday, it heard Mubarak’s defense team, led by Deeb.

The prosecution had accused Mubarak of exporting gas to Israel at sub-standard rates and of allocating responsibility for the deal to businessman Hussein Salem, thereby squandering public money.

Deeb added that the Supreme State Security Court completed investigations into the case and referred former Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy, Salem and
five others for trial. The investigations did not mention any accusations against Mubarak, he said.

Still, the prosecution later added Mubarak to the case.

He said that former vice president Omar Suleiman said in his testimony that then Mubarak learned of the low price of the gas, he asked him to meet with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to renegotiate the contract or cancel the deal.

According to Deeb, Suleiman said that Israel agreed to amend the contract such that the new price of one million thermal units would be US$ 3.5 instead of US$ 1.5.

He added that it was agreed that the price would be reviewed every three years instead of every 15 years. According to Deeb, Suleiman said that it was Mubarak who asked for amending the contract when he learned of the prices. Mubarak also threatened to halt exports if prices weren’t raised, Deeb said.

The lawyer said that Suleiman, former head of Egyptian intelligence, said that the intelligence apparatus led negotiations over the gas deal and
sought to create common interests with Israel, bolster the peace process and improve Egypt's chances of influencing Israel. He also said the deal
involved other components related to national security.

Deeb added that Egypt 's gas provided Israel with 40 percent of its electricity needs, which he said proves that the deal was intended to create leverage over Israel.

Deeb also said that the Supreme Administrative Court said in its ruling on the gas deal that the decision to export gas to Israel was a sovereign decision, and that Mubarak’s only role was to approve the deal.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Odessa, Jabotinsky and Begin

From an academic article on Odessa:

Odessity: in Search of Transnational Odessa (or “Odessa the best city in the world: All about Odessa and a great many jokes”) by Joachim Schlör which

presents a research into, and a very personal approach to, the “Odessa myth.” It races the emergence and development of an idea – that Odessa is different from all other cities. One main element of this mythical or legendary representation is the multi-cultural and transnational character of the city: Not only does Odessa have a Greek, an Armenian, a Jewish, a French and an Italian history, in addition to the more obvious Russian, Ukrainian, Soviet, and post-Soviet narratives, it also finds itself in more than just one place – wherever “Odessity” as a state of mind, a memory, a literary image is being celebrated and constructed.

Here are relevant excerpts:

...One columnist complained that Odessa’s civil society was dominated by the “middle class meshchanstvo,” aspirants to what Jeffrey Brooks has called the “new” intelligentsia, people with “cultural pretensions” who “wanted their tastes to be recognized as legitimate […], wanted to be included in the cultural life largely dominated by the old intelligentsia.” Noting the growing ‘prosperity’ of a new middle class, these journalists felt that they had a pedagogic duty to foster the necessary ‘spiritual development’ to go with it. This was an honourable aim and it is, as I have said, well documented by Sylvester, with a wealth of examples. But here, inspired by no less an authority than Theodor Herzl and his defence of the petty bourgeoisie as the “yeast” of the city,24 I would like to speak up for “cultural pretensions.” The operative word is “wanted”: “people who wanted their tastes to be recognised.” To me this suggests intention, energy, ambition. What was about to be pedagogically taken in hand and improved was a kind of raw state, something unfinished, still in the making, expectant. Pretension there was, certainly, but also a kind of innocence.25 That civilising mission (which incidentally, with a strange parallelism, has reappeared today among those who seek to protect their image of Odessa from its current immigrants and their ignorance of the city’s past) aimed to overcome that innocence, and it cannot be criticised for that. But I would like to argue that that sense of innocence, of expectancy, of hope, has survived as an ‘Odessa feeling’ among those who emigrated.

The accusation of false pretension, an attitude of mind which according to Ahad Ha’am, for instance, was characteristic of the city’s Jews, was not unjustified. But perhaps such criticism failed to recognise what energy, what potential lies in this apparent ‘falseness.’ Jewish Palestine, born in Odessa, was animated by similar notions of perfectibility, ideas about the ‘new man’ and the ‘new Jew’ who would build up a perfect society of farmers and warriors and forget about life in the Diaspora. But History cunningly ensured that the experiences of impatience, of starting afresh, of pretension, of life in the Diaspora, came in with the immigrants and turned Israel into the multi-faceted society it is today.

Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky celebrated this heritage. Politically correct persons cringe when they hear the name. Jabotinsky? Isn’t he the spiritual father of Begin, Sharon and the Etzel – terrorists, dreamers of a Greater Israel? But political correctness, I am sorry to say, has no place in Odessa. For my guides in Odessa, Anja and Lena, and maybe for the entire city, he is the most important journalist and writer of the 20th century. His book Patero, [The Five] – originally published in Russian in 1936 – was only recently translated into English by Michael Katz, with the assistance of Anja Misjuk. Writing about the “springtime” of his life and of his city, “our carefree Black Sea capital with acacias growing along its steep banks”, Jabotinsky chronicles the lives of five children in the Milgrom family and their different orientations, choices, and fates. In the background, Odessa gleams. Their stories are intimately related to the city of their birth and experience. All this is set before the background of a beloved city:

“To the present day, if I squint, I can recall, albeit through a mist that obscures the details, that large square, a monument to the noble architecture of foreign masters of the first third of the nineteenth century, and witness to the serene elegance of the old-fashioned taste of the first builders of our town – Richelieu, de Ribas, Vorontsov, and the entire pioneering generation of merchants and smugglers with their Italian and Greek surnames. Ahead of me – the front staircase to the municipal library and, on the left, against the background of a broad, almost boundless bay, is the peristyle of the Duma: neither would disgrace Corinth or Pisa. To the right, I see the first houses on Italian Street, in my time known as Pushkin Street, since it was there the poet wrote Onegin; turning around, there is the English Club, and farther off in the distance, the left façade of the municipal theatre: these were built at different times but all with one and the same love of the foreign spirit of the city (Roman and Hellenistic) with its incomprehensible name, as if borrowed from the legend of a kingdom ‘to the east of the sun and west of the moon.’”26

In the next citation Jabotinsky describes a meeting with the other members of the literary circle in Odessa, and he notes something very important for our question:

“Looking back at all this some thirty years later, I think that the most curious thing about it was the good-natured fraternization of nationalities. All eight or ten tribes of old Odessa met in that club, and in fact it never occurred to anyone, even in silence, to note who was who. All this changed a few years later, but at the dawn of the last century we genuinely got along.”27

It is not really important whether or not this account is true. This is the image he had in mind – of a city (and a youth, an innocence) lost. The “foreign spirit” of the city made it a possible home for everyone who was foreign. In 1897 – one year before Jabotinsky left Odessa for the first time – one counted circa 17 babies and 123 children between the ages of one and nine years for every one hundred Jewish mothers, 13 and 96 for the Russian mothers, 12 and 75 for Ukrainians, 10 and 55 for the Poles, 8 and 62 for the Germans. Let’s return to our bus and see what happened in other parts of the city...

...we have to hurry to meet Vladimir Jabotinsky once more.

“I’ll probably never get to see Odessa again. It’s a pity because I love the place. I was indifferent to Russia even in my youth: I recall that I always got pleasantly agitated when leaving for Europe and would return only reluctantly. But Odessa – that’s another matter: arriving at the Razdelnaya Station, I would always begin to be joyfully excited. If I arrived today, my hands would probably tremble. I’m not indifferent only to Russia; in general I’m not really ‘attached’ to any country; at one time I was in love with Rome, and it lasted a long time, but even that passed. Odessa’s a different matter: it hasn’t ever passed and it won’t.

If it were possible, I’d like to arrive not at the Razdelnaya Station but on a steamship, in summer, of course, and early in the morning. I’d rise before dawn, while the lighthouse on Bolshoi Fontan was still shining, and I’d stand all alone on deck and look at the shore.”36...

.... Jabotinsky reminisces about Odessa, the Fontan, Langeron, Arkadija, the black column of Alexander II – “well, they’ve probably removed it by now, but I’m talking about old Odessa” –, the Quarantine Harbor, the piers, the “buildings high on the hill,” the palaces, the grand staircase, the statue of Duke de Richelieu. In this way, he returns to the topic of the diversity of cultures and ethnicities within Odessa, “just remember how many different peoples had gathered here from all corners of Europe to build this one city.” What then follows is something only someone from Odessa could have written:

“They say that people regard even the name Odessa as something of an amusing joke. To tell the truth, I’m not offended, it isn’t really worth revealing one’s own sorrows, but I don’t take offense for a risible relationship to my homeland. Perhaps it really was an amusing city; perhaps it was so because it laughed so readily. Ten tribes converged, each and every one so fascinating, one more interesting than the next: it all began when these tribes started laughing at one another, then they learned to laugh at themselves, and then at everything on earth, even at what hurt and at what they loved. Gradually their customs rubbed up against each other and they ceased regarding their own sacred altars in such a serious manner; they gradually discovered a very important secret in this world: that what you hold sacred your neighbour thinks is rubbish, and that your neighbour isn’t a thief or a vagrant; perhaps he’s right, perhaps not, but it’s not worth grieving over.”38...


Monday, January 16, 2012

Amr Moussa: Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty is in place

In a long interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, former Arab League Secretary-General and Egyptian presidential hopeful Amr Moussa spoke on a number of topics, including the political situation.

In summary:

Amr Moussa: Do not think Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty will be cancelled under any circumstances, must decide if selling gas to Israel [note: the supply of gas is the result of a signed contract - YM]

Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty is in place, and I do not think there are any circumstances that will lead to its cancellation. I do not think this will happen, and I do not think it would be wise for this treaty to be cancelled. The treaty will continue so long as each party respects it…as for the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula and the presence of Egyptian forces there, I believe that the security articles of the treaty should be reviewed in this regard. This is something that can be discussed within a political framework.


Let me tell you that the Middle East region needs a new
system. The Arab world and the Middle East are in the process of change, and so the previous way of doings things is no longer good enough. Firstly, we must put forward a new political, economic, and security system in the region. Secondly, and with regards to Egypt, the Arab – Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian Cause, Egypt must and will continue to be part of the Arab Initiative [for peace]. Egypt’s policy on the Arab – Israeli conflict, and its resolution, must be based on the Arab Initiative. As for Egyptian – Israeli relations, the Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty is in place, and I do not think there are any circumstances that will lead to its cancellation. I do not think this will happen, and I do not think it would be wise for this treaty to be cancelled. The treaty will continue so long as each party respects it…as for the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula and the presence of Egyptian forces there, I believe that the security articles of the treaty should be reviewed in this regard. This is something that can be discussed within a political framework. As for the Palestinian Cause, Egypt must not turn its back on this, for this is part of Egypt’s national security. As Egyptians, we are the largest neighbor to Palestine and Israel, and so we must work to control the situation in this region. This is via three points: solving the Arab – Israeli conflict in a just and respectable manner, solving the Palestinian Cause through the establishment of a genuine Palestinian state, and by establishment an atmosphere where everybody feels
safe, most prominently through nuclear non-proliferation

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of Egypt’s sale of natural gas to Israel? Will this deal remain unchanged?

[Moussa] There are two issues that must be decided. Firstly, whether we will sell natural gas to Israel or not, and secondly, how such sales will take place. There is a lot of corruption in the gas deals that occurred in the past. This corruption must be immediately addressed. As for the issue of
whether we will continue such sales, the [Egyptian] political apparatus must look into this and consider how it will manage Egypt’s gas and oil policies, environmental policies, etc.

(Hat tip: IMRA)


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Crude Propaganda

Arabs and their supporters have employed crude propaganda tricks or even basic errors to besmirch Menachem Begin.

For example, here:

Nor has the Zionist terror machine hesitated to kill its own. In 1940, Menachem Begin's Irgun Zwei Leumi terrorist gang bombed the ship Patria in Haifa harbor, killing 240 Jewish refugees, (while blaming the British)...

In the first instance, Begin was still in Lithuania at the time and arrived in Mandate Palestine in April 1942, becoming Irgun commander in December 1943.

But, by that as it may, that operation was done by the Hagana and first revealed in English in Munya Mardor's book in 1964!


Academic Paper on Begin and Herut

Found here (the full Hebrew text is here):-

Yechiam Weitz, "The Change in Ben-Gurion’s Attitude toward the Herut Movement during the 1960s"

In July 1965, a few months before the elections to the 6th Knesset, David Ben-Gurion left his original political party, Mapai (Labor Party), and established a new party, Rafi (Israel Workers List). This move was largely the result of the bitter disagreement between Ben-Gurion and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol over the “Lavon Affair.”

Although Rafi’s attitude toward the main right-wing party Gahal (Herut-Liberals Bloc) was not defined during the election campaign, it subsequently became clearer when contacts emerged between the leadership of both parties concerning a future coalition in several cities. Considering Ben-Gurion’s previous attitude toward Menachem Begin and his famous saying, when prime minister, “without Herut and without Maki [the Communist Party]),” this cooperation was surprising.

The most signifcant coalition between Rafi and Gahal was in the Jerusalem municipality where Teddy Kollek from Rafi became mayor and one of his deputies was a member of Gahal. The new coalition and cooperation between these two opposition parties in the new Knesset broke Ben-Gurion’s old taboo.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Another Carter Reminisce

The following is excerpted from "Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President." (and published here):

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
--Matthew 5:9

During 13 difficult days, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and I worked at Camp David to negotiate a historic peace agreement. When we returned to Washington, I was invited to address a special session of the U.S. Congress.

I had no time to develop a lengthy speech, but I decided on the way to the Capitol to quote Matthew 5:9. I wanted to say, “Blessed are the peace-makers,” but I couldn’t remember what came next. So I called for a Bible to be waiting for me when I got out of the limousine. Upon my arrival, a staff member slipped me a piece of paper that said, “for they will be called children of God.” I repeated it as I asked Sadat and Begin to stand.

Peacemakers are very special ­people. They have to understand and sympathize with others who have differing points of view. Begin and Sadat’s countries had been at war four times during the previous 25 years. They hated each other. I kept the two men apart for their last 10 days at Camp David because they couldn’t sit in the same room without all the old animosities coming out.

Peacemakers have to empathize with both sides, even though both sides can’t be completely right. Through common trust, understanding and flexibility, they must find a way to get both sides to come together. They must make sure that every time one side gives up something, they can expect to get something more important at the end. And finally, both sides must win. If one side loses and the other wins, the peace will not last.

Every Chris­tian faces altercations or arguments that can degenerate into animosity or misunderstanding. But if we choose to be peacemakers -- if we choose to act as children of God -- then we can make a positive difference for good, as did the Prince of Peace.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Get Ready for the Begin Run

Carter Recalls Camp David

In a recent interview on the occasion of his new book, "Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President" which includes "fascinating glimpses into behind-the-scenes activity at the White House", we read:

Was there a role for faith when you were brokering peace with Egypt and Israel?

There was. When I was elected President nobody asked me to negotiate between Israel and Egypt. It was not even a question raised in my campaign. But I felt that one of the reasons that I was elected President was to try to bring peace to the Holy Land. And I was blessed with two other deeply religious persons, in fact Menachem Begin was the first religious Prime Minister of Israel. The rest of them were quite secular in their attitudes, particularly Golda Meier, who laughed when I brought that up when I met with her when I was governor.

Anyway, Anwar Sadat was a deeply religious Muslim and Begin was a religious Jew and the first thing we did was to provide a common prayer to the world that we would have peace there. And Sadat brought it up quite often and wanted to build a shrine on Mount Sinai that would be used by all three faiths. We would have done that, but he was assassinated soon after I left office, and the idea was dropped. But we talked about our common worship of God quite frequently while we were negotiating the peace agreement.

Did you actually pray together?

No, we didn't have a chapel at Camp David but we used a little room and the Muslims used it on Friday, the Jews on Saturday and the Christians on Sunday. We were very assiduous in our worship.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Thatcher, Begin and Lankin

In a Jewish Chronicle story:

...This did not mean that the Thatcher-era marked a golden era of UK-Israel relations. As the JC revealed in 2010, secret papers released by the National Archives showed that she thought Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the "most difficult" man she had to deal with, a man whose policy on West Bank settlements was "absurd".

In June 1981, she unleashed the full force of her fury at Israel after the bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. In 1983, she made plain her opposition to former Irgun fighter Eliahu Lankin becoming Israel's ambassador to the UK, as she viewed him as a terrorist. He later withdrew...


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Moshe Arens on Begin's Gamble

Moshe Arens' op-ed in Haaretz: Begin's gamble

Could Begin have insisted on a better deal, on a compromise in Sinai, without giving up everything?

In 1867 the United States bought Alaska from Russia. Over 1.5 million square kilometers, an area the size of Texas, for $7.2 million. Czar Alexander II sold and U.S. President Andrew Johnson's Secretary of State William Seward bought. For a number of years this purchase was referred to as "Seward's folly." But it was no folly - it was the best real estate deal ever.

A little over 33 years ago another real estate deal was concluded: Israel agreed to surrender the Sinai peninsula, 60,000 square kilometers, an area three times the size of the State of Israel, to Egypt in return for a peace treaty. Menachem Begin, after 12 days of secret negotiations with Anwar Sadat at Camp David in the presence of Jimmy Carter, had signed the deal. It was the biggest real-estate deal of the 20th century. It was Begin's gamble. Was it a good deal? This is a good time to look back and attempt to dispassionately answer that question.

Two questions surrounding the Israel-Egypt peace treaty signed in 1979 were raised at the time, and are still relevant to this day. Was it a good deal, or should Begin have held out for better conditions? And was the peace treaty, paid for so dearly, going to be no more than a temporary arrangement signed with a dictator who would eventually be replaced, and if so, was the temporary arrangement worth the price?

The price Israel paid was unprecedented in the annals of international relations. Never before had an aggressor who had been defeated been compensated for all he had lost. Egypt had committed aggression against Israel four times - in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Its army had been beaten each time. Now all the territory it had lost was going to be returned. There was no precedent in history for such a reward for aggression. And what kind of a precedent was this going to set for aggressors in years to come?

And what did this mean regarding future negotiations between Israel and its other neighbors? Israel was giving up great strategic depth sorely missed these days, military bases, its naval presence in the Red Sea and areas that were to become major tourist attractions, in addition to the evacuation of the Israeli settlements that had been established in the Sinai.

Could Begin have insisted on a better deal, on a compromise in Sinai, without giving up everything? Or was it going to be another war with Egypt unless he gave Sadat all that Sadat demanded? Although not likely after Egypt's total defeat in 1973, we will never know the answer to this question. Begin decided not to hold out for better terms. Sadat received everything that he asked for and Begin received the peace treaty and an Israeli ambassador in Cairo.

There was never going to be the normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt that Begin had hoped for, but peace came to Israel's southern border.

There is a myth that Begin also wanted to throw in the Gaza Strip and that Sadat refused to accept it. This is untrue. We know that the reason Begin was able to overcome his reservations about conceding all of Sinai was that he did not consider the Sinai to be part of the Land of Israel. On the other hand, as far as he was concerned the Gaza Strip was an integral part of the Land of Israel and he was not prepared to concede an inch there.

As for Sadat's insistence that all of Sinai was rightfully Egyptian, that is historically questionable. It was only in 1906 that Britain, the ruler of Egypt at the time, forced the Turks to withdraw eastward to the line that now delineates the Israel-Egypt border.

Was it going to be a permanent arrangement? Part of the answer we already have - the peace treaty has held up with minor perturbations, like temporary withdrawals of the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv, for the past 32 years. Did Begin consider the fact that he was signing a treaty with a dictator and that the permanence of the treaty was therefore in doubt? Who knows? He decided to gamble. It outlasted the assassination of Sadat in 1981. Will it outlast the present turmoil in Egypt?

As Zhou Enlai, Mao's foreign minister, is supposed to have said when asked about the significance of the French Revolution - "it is too early to say."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Evelyn Gordon Again on Begin's Lessons for the Left

Begin’s lessons for the left

Begin didn’t jump ship because he couldn’t get his way; he worked to effect change.

In last week’s column, I discussed the lessons Israel’s far right ought to learn from Menachem Begin. But the left is no less in need of Begin’s wisdom today – and once again, the Altalena incident shows why...After 2,000 years of exile, Begin understood that any Jewish state was better than none, and that civil war would be its death knell – a lesson, as I noted last week, amply proven by Jewish history, but that right-wing hooligans clearly haven’t learned: Their irresponsible attacks on Israel Defense Forces soldiers could easily spark an escalating cycle of fratricidal violence.

Yet it seems leftists haven’t learned it either, judging by how easily they advocate civil war – something you almost never hear rightists doing. For the more people talk of civil war as a reasonable option, the more likely it is to someday come to pass.

It’s bad enough coming from the radical leftists of Haaretz, who have been urging civil war against the settlers for years now. But it’s truly frightening when it spreads to the mainstream, moderate left – like former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), who last month said, unblushingly, that IDF soldiers should have opened fire on stone-throwing right-wing extremists. Or Jerusalem Post contributor Daniel Gordis, who equally unblushingly urged the government last month to deal with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox extremists the way Ben-Gurion dealt with the Altalena – in other words, to shoot them.

...Indeed, most leftists would be appalled at the suggestion that soldiers shoot Palestinians engaged in non-life-threatening hooliganism; they would correctly insist on sticking to routine law enforcement techniques. Yet they unabashedly advocate the use of live fire to suppress Jewish hooliganism, even though most of the vandalism, arson and rioting to date, while outrageous, hasn’t been life-threatening. Are Jewish lives worth less to them than Palestinian lives? Has it not occurred to them that opening fire in such circumstances could easily drive the extremists to retaliate with far worse violence, since these hooligans don’t have a Begin to restrain them? Or have they simply not grasped Begin’s key insight: that civil war is always the worst option?

But that isn’t the only lesson the left needs to learn from Begin. Equally instructive was his behavior after the Altalena bloodbath: Instead of saying “if this is the kind of Jewish state we’re going to have, I want no part of it,” he sent Irgun troops into the thick of the fighting in the War of Independence and then spent three decades serving as the government’s loyal opposition, patiently using the tools of democratic politics to try to bring Israelis around to his views. This effort finally paid off only in 1977, with his election as prime minister.

But too many on the left aren’t willing to work patiently to get their views accepted. They present their fellow Israelis with an ultimatum: Accept our dictates as to how the Jewish state should look, or we’re all going to jump ship.

Gordis made this threat implicitly when he said that many Israelis prefer to “live in America because what’s unfolding in Israel is so thoroughly unappealing to them.” Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, another moderate leftist, has repeatedly made it explicitly. In June, for instance, he declared that the left’s willingness to fight in Israel’s defense depended on the government’s willingness to accept its policies on the peace process. In November, he went even farther, declaring that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t kill various bills opposed by the left, then left-wing scientists, intellectuals and entrepreneurs would all emigrate: “That elite will simply not be here. It will hand over the keys to the Putinists, the Shas party and the settlers, and leave them to enjoy one another's company.”

This brings us back to Begin’s insight that any Jewish state is better than none. First, this is because, even if Israel were as “illiberal,” “medieval” and “undemocratic” as its leftist critics claim (which I don’t for a moment accept), it would still fulfill functions that moderate leftists like Gordis and Shavit deem important. For instance, Israel still offers sanctuary should any Jewish community worldwide ever need it – a role no other state, even friendly America, can be counted on to play (if you doubt it, just look at how America closed its doors to Iraqis who helped it during the Iraq War).

Secondly, however, no country is immune to going through bad patches; look at the current woes in “enlightened” America and Europe. The question is how its citizens respond: by saying “my way or the highway,” or by engaging in long-term political efforts to make things better. The latter option is obviously preferable for any country, but it’s particularly vital for the Jewish state.

Because as long as the state exists, so does the possibility of reforming it, assuming opponents of its current policies are willing to invest the time and effort that Begin did. But if we abandon this Jewish state out of disgust with its flaws, we may well have to wait another 2,000 years to try again.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Menachem Begin Employed in Context of "Palestinains' Yearnings"

In an op-ed, mostly negative about Newt Gingrich's opinion on the "invented" Palestinian people, A Man of the Past, HDS Greenway writes:

Every four years we hear presidential candidates say that the first thing they would do in the Oval Office is move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet when any of these Zionists of opportunity actually reaches the White House, they stick with the old formula that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated among the parties.

But when presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich recently said that the Palestinians were “an invented people,” the former speaker of the House broke new ground. Going beyond any official position held by the government of Israel, Gingrich was implying that the Palestinians are not worthy of a country of their own. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who has thrown up endless obstacles in order to forestall a Palestinian state, is on the record as favoring one.

...Gingrich is right that there has never been a state called Palestine. The term “Palestine” in Ottoman times loosely included what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as a bit of Lebanon. Britain’s “Palestine Mandate” included what is now Jordan, too, until the British drew a line on the Jordan River and called their territory to the east Transjordan — today’s Jordan.

Whereas the 1917 Balfour Declaration, named after Britain’s foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities,” no one consulted the Arabs of Palestine. Prime Minister Lloyd George ran it by the Arab leaders who were fighting alongside Britain. But he said he couldn’t get in touch with the Palestinian Arabs, as they were fighting against Britain — presumably as conscripts in the Ottoman Army at that time, or residing in Ottoman controlled territory.

Later, Palestinian Jews who fought in the British Army in World War II had “Palestine” sewn onto their uniforms.

...after Israel took the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 there were Israelis who said that the West Bank never legally belonged to Jordan, having been captured in defiance of the U.N. resolutions on how Palestine should be divided between Arab and Jew. Thus, the occupied territories belonged as much to Israel as to anyone else. I remember Golda Meir telling me that Palestinians were just Palestinian Arabs, not a separate people with rights. And there were others who thought the Palestinian Arabs should wander off to other Arab countries, as Gingrich says. Followers of Ariel Sharon used to say Jordan is Palestine.

But times change, and attitudes, too — although, apparently, not for Newt Gingrich. I have always been impressed how Palestinian nationalism grew up as a mirror image of Israeli nationalism. The Palestinians yearn, as Menachem Begin once wrote about the Jews, to be “a free people ... in our own country.”

The Palestinians have made themselves an historical people, and I believe most Israelis today accept that, and would be happy with a two–state solution if their security could be guaranteed.

Gingrich may qualify as a man for the past. But for the future? Or even the present?


New Reform Head Recalls Advice on Begin


Expanding on how the Reform movement can relate to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and government policies that are sometimes at adds with the movement’s professed values, [Rabbi Richard]Jacobs [incoming president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)] recalled that when the Likud Party’s Menachem Begin became prime minister, Rabbi Schindler—then URJ’s president—said “We relate to the Prime Minister of Israel because we relate to Israel.” In turn, the Reform movement should “express our moral commitments here and in Israel” and “bring them to the conversation,” Jacobs said.


Begin's Senses


The United States had no warning of the attack on the Osirak reactor ordered by Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, in June 1981 amid fears that Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Files released by the National Archives show that Britain's ambassador to Washington, Sir Nicholas Henderson, was with US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger as the news came in.

"Weinberger says that he thinks Begin must have taken leave of his senses. He is much disturbed by the Israeli reaction and possible consequences," Sir Nicholas cabled London.

Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, Sir Stephen Egerton, disclosed that the Iraqis had been just as surprised when the Israeli F15 fighters appeared in their skies.

"The diplomatic corps had a ringside view of the belated ack-ack and missile reactions to the raid when we were gathered for the Italian national day reception on the Bund [waterside]," he wrote.

And a second report:

When news broke that Israeli fighters, flying at dusk from a Negev airbase and crossing Jordanian and Saudi air space, had destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor, the perceived nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein appeared to have been lifted.

But confidential documents, just released by the National Archive, show that the attack, in June 1981, brought an angry response not just from Saddam but from many of Israel's firmest friends - including the Americans.

US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger reportedly said: "[Menachem] Begin must have lost control of his senses."

This less-than-diplomatic outburst was overheard by a British embassy official who passed it on to the Foreign Office, where a similar view was taking hold.

The Israeli raid, by F15 and F16 jets, on Iraq's French-supplied nuclear facility, followed intelligence reports that the reactor was on the point of producing weapons-grade nuclear material - despite Iraqi protests that it was developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

"I will not be the man in whose time there will be a second Holocaust," Prime Minister Begin had told his military chiefs.

An eye-witness report on the raid came from the UK's ambassador in Baghdad, Sir Stephen Egerton.

In a "secret" cable to Whitehall he described how "at 18.34 local time, enemy aircraft, later shown to be Israeli, bombed the Osirak reactor.

"They flew in low at dusk from the Western Desert, and to avoid the enormous earthworks surrounding the reactor, they climbed sharply and then precision-bombed their target." World reaction to the operation - codenamed Operation Opera - was a mix of shock and dismay, the documents revealed. Despite some comments that displayed thinly-veiled respect for the audacity of the Israeli pilots, even Israel's traditional friends were furious.

After much debate, the US voted in favour of a UN Security Council motion condemning Israel's actions and it also delayed the delivery of a consignment of jet fighters to the IAF. This followed successful diplomatic efforts by the West to persuade the Iraqis and their Arab allies not to push ahead with a resolution demanding tough economic sanctions against Israel.

"Clearly, it would be right to avoid sanctions," said a Foreign Office official in a report to Britain's prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

This was essential, he added, if America was to support the resolution - something that would have "real impact on Israel".

One staffer at the British UN mission, in a message to Downing Street, said that America's UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was under particularly heavy pressure "from the Zionist lobby". The official added: "I know this for a fact. She has bared her soul to me."

Known for her sterling support of Israel, Mrs Thatcher was also urged by lobbyists to understand Israel's actions. She dismissed their arguments as "unsupported".