Sunday, April 29, 2012

Recalling a 1976 interview

Extracted from a post by Mitchell Cohen who had co-edited Dissent Magazine and is a professor of political science

...On a chilly December day in 1976 I interviewed Menachem Begin, then leader of Israel's parliamentary opposition. His politics had been rejected time and again by Israeli voters; indeed, he had a perfect record since the birth of the Jewish state: eight defeats in eight national elections. Soon, however, everything would change and the ramifications would be profound: Begin would become the country's first right-wing prime minister.

It was evident from the beginning of our exchange that my sympathies were not his. I cited a claim by Begin's long-time (by then deceased) political foe, David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion's party (or an offspring) led the country in its founding decades, shaping it in its own ideological image. Mapai (later "Labor") was a social democratic party whose platform embraced Zionism, democracy and egalitarianism; its roots were in trade unions and kibbutzim. Its accomplishments won Israel friends around the world, particularly within the democratic left (there really was such a time).

The Ben-Gurion quote I presented to Begin dated to the 1930s, when Mapai fought fiercely with his mentor, Vladimir Jabotinsky, father of the Zionist right-wing. Jabotinsky was an apostle of "pure" nationalism; Zionism, he insisted, should not be distorted by mixing it with universalistic ideas like social democracy. Often swept up by his own rhetoric -- he frequently took it for reality -- his maximalism brooked no compromises, least of all when it came to the prospective borders of a Jewish state. There, the Bible was the mandate. Ben-Gurion, by contrast, declared that Zionism, like any national movement, could be good or bad, depending on the kind of society it created -- socialist, liberal, religious, authoritarian or even fascist. Ben-Gurion, who was no less attached to Jewish history than Jabotinsky, wanted to establish a democratic Jewish state; that led him to accept partition of what Jews call the land of Israel and what Arabs call Palestine. One reason why Ben-Gurion became Israel's first prime minister was that he knew when to bend and when not to bend so that the greater project would not break. He didn't equate politically intelligent compromise with betrayal.

Begin was gracious if firm in response to me: "Zionism is justified per se," he said. And he was implacable when it came to territorial concessions. There was no difference for him between religio-nationalist claims on territory and Israeli security; they always amounted to the same thing. He could hardly have known that he would eventually relinquish the Sinai and sign a peace treaty with Egypt, an historic move that ended decades of war and saved countless Israeli and Egyptian lives, a move endorsed by Israel's parliament only because the Labor party, then the parliamentary opposition to Begin, voted for it. The prime minister was unable to muster enough support in his own ruling Likud party for a majority. Its foes were his good pupils.

It is because Ben-Gurion was right -- and not Begin or his political descendant, Benjamin Netanyahu -- that I identify with Zionism. Or more specifically, with Labor Zionism, weak as it is these days (like, alas!, the idea of social democracy)...I reject the idea that all particular problems, including toxic ones, dissolve in universal history and thus only cosmopolitan prescriptions to them are of value. Hard though it may be, I think it is better to struggle constantly between particularism and universalism -- to struggle between the demands of actual, complex situations and circumstances and the horizons or principles that let us project better ones -- than to embrace imaginary, if comforting, designs that propose to solve all problems in the sweep of one idea.

Part of the left (not all of it) repeats what Begin said to me but from an opposed viewpoint. Anti-Zionism, it believes, is justified per se. "Per se" is, however, political and intellectual fudge. Its real meaning is that the existence of a Jewish state is illegitimate. This assertion is usually girded by slippery, often manipulative accounts of history combined with fancy but finally deceptive -- or self-deceptive -- theorizing (the latter often takes on "post-colonial" or "post-modern"). This part of the left seems to make hostility to a Jewish state central to its identity in an odd inversion of the Zionist belief that Israel ought to be central to Jews. And so I identify as a Zionist of the left in order to say "no" to this left-that-doesn't-learn, particularly from the experiences of the 20th century. Left-wing and right-wing clich├ęs reinforce each other...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our Rightful Right to the Land of Israel

A former member of the first Begin Government Coalition, Yehuda Ben-Meir of the NRP, reflected on Begin's approach to land issues in Judea, Samaria and Gaza:-

The Jewish people has been fighting for 100 years now for the right to have a nation state in the Land of Israel, and it has involved a long battle between the Jewish people and the Palestinian Arab people. Even many of those who, out of a strong desire to head off the prospect of Israel becoming a binational state, advocate a solution providing for two states for two peoples as part of a permanent settlement of the conflict, are convinced that the Jewish people have a national right to the Land of Israel. They also insist that the major Jewish settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria be included in any final agreement within Israel's sovereign territory.

This national struggle is a just one and as a result, we have a chance to win it. There is broad and deep support around the world for our national rights in this land - on the condition, however, that Israel respect the personal and civil rights of Palestinians residing and making their lives in these areas. Unqualified respect for these rights, the assurance of security for the millions of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria, and protection of their welfare and freedom to go about their lives are essential if we are to have the world's support for our national claims. The burden of proof will always be on Israel. And the day-to-day conduct of the Jews and the Israel Defense Forces with respect to the Palestinians is a decisive factor in the success of our national struggle.

This simple, fundamental fact has been clear over time to all of Israel's leaders, first and foremost to those who have taken the cause of the Land of Israel to heart. Such was the case with Menachem Begin and with the spiritual leader of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. And both of them were insistent that settlements not be built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Now, however, the leaders of the right wing live in another world. They compete with one another over who will be more extreme and who will be looked upon favorably by extremists among the settlers.

The late prime minister's son, Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin, was correct in describing a law that would provide retroactive approval for settlements built on privately-owned Palestinian land as "delusional and unconstitutional." Beyond that however, such legislation, if it passes, would cause immeasurable damage to the State of Israel and the Jewish people's just national battle.

There may be room for special arrangements here or there, where people acted in good faith, but the significance of a comprehensive law on the issue involves not only retroactive approval of what was done in the past. It would also signal to absolutely everyone that the State of Israel is not protecting the property rights of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
And Benny Begin, who needs no lessons from other Likud cabinet ministers or Knesset members on what love of the Land of Israel is, understands this. I am also convinced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands it, too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Irgun and Lechi War for Liberation - An Appraisal

...The Irgun and Stern groups, however, were committed to all-out "national liberation" wars. They did not believe that the British would give Palestine to the Jews and thus were determined to force them out. They tried to increase the human and political costs to Britain of remaining in Palestine by attacking British troops and police, military bases and police stations, oil refineries, trains, bridges, and banks. Between them, the three groups carried out 78 attacks in the nine months after October 1945. However, the united resistance dissolved after the Irgun blew up the British administration headquarters in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, killing 92 people. Following that disaster, which was a grave embarrassment to the moderate Zionists, the Haganah effectively withdrew from armed operations. Unrestrained by the need for a united front, the Irgun and the Stern Gang rapidly escalated the levels of violence nearly four-fold in this second phase, carrying out 286 attacks over the next twelve months. Casualties exceeded 1,000 over the whole two-year period.

 But numbers don"t tell the whole story. The insurgents confounded the British by conducting a "two-front war": a tactical paramilitary battle for control – the ability to rule; and a strategic, political, and psychological battle for legitimacy – the right to rule. On the tactical front, they used innovative terrorism techniques to reduce the country to chaos, thereby making Palestine ungovernable. At the strategic level they expanded the armed struggle to Europe and Britain, and conducted an imaginative propaganda war against Britain in the United States that frustrated British policy efforts. Together, these two fronts undermined the British will to remain in Palestine.<


Jewish Terrorism and the Modern Middle East, David A. Charters


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mike Wallace and Menachem Begin

Mike Wallace (the former Myron Walechinsky) died recently and he recalls having once interviewed Menachem Begin:-

I’ve worked the Middle East beat since the l950s, back in the days of Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Yasir Arafat, Mu‘ammar Gadhafi. My relations with all of them, with the sole exception of Begin, were cordial and straightforward. But when I questioned Begin in a fashion that I thought reasonable and he found belligerent [To Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who had once been a radical underground leader, Mike asked, "What is the difference between the Yasser Arafat of today and the Menachem Begin of 1946?"], our conversation was brought to an end by the intervention of Ezer Weizman, his defense minister, who shortly afterward took me for a friendly drink at a nearby bar. My eyes had first been opened to Israeli/Palestinian realities by two pioneering figures from that part of the world. Back in the ’50s, Reuven Dafne, a Romanian Israeli, and Fayez Sayegh*, a Palestinian Christian, two friends of mine, gave me a primer course on the complicated subject, for which I remain grateful.



Fayez Abdallah Sayegh (1922-1980) was for years the leading political consultant for the Palestinians at the United Nations. He was also the chief architect of the 1975 U.N. resolution on Zionism and racism. He was a member of the Palestine National Council. Dafni (in)famously received a $50,000 donation for the Hagana from Bugsy Siegel.