Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mitt Romney Mentions Menachem Begin

From Mitt Romney's speech in Jerusalem today:

...It’s remarkable to consider how much adversity, over so great a span of time, is recalled by just one day on the calendar.  This is a day of remembrance and mourning, but like other such occasions, it also calls forth clarity and resolve.

At this time, we also remember the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were massacred at the Munich Olympics forty years ago. Ten years ago this week, 9 Israeli and American students were murdered in the terrorist attack at Hebrew University. And tragedies like these are not reserved to the past. They are a constant reminder of the reality of hate, and the will with which it is executed upon the innocent.

It was Menachem Begin who said this about the Ninth of the month of Av:  “We remember that day,” he said, “and now have the responsibility to make sure that never again will our independence be destroyed and never again will the Jew become homeless or defenseless.” “This,” Prime Minister Begin added, “is the crux of the problems facing us in the future.”

So it is today, as Israel faces enemies who deny past crimes against the Jewish people and seek to commit new ones.

When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the na├»ve – or worse – will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric.  Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses.  They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way.

My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country. As Prime Minister Begin put it, in vivid and haunting words, “if an enemy of [the Jewish] people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.”

We have seen the horrors of history.  We will not stand by.  We will not watch them play out again. It would be foolish not to take Iran’s leaders at their word. They are, after all, the product of a radical theocracy...


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Recalling a 30-Year Old Attack on Begin's Government

From David Gerstman:-

Nearly 30 years ago, Anthony Lewis wrote a column for the New York Times about a study performed by former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti. The title of the column, taken from Benvensti, was Five Minutes to Midnight.
The Begin Government aims to have 100,000 settlers in the West Bank as soon as possible. That figure would be, it says, a ''critical mass'' - so large a number that no Israeli government thereafter could agree to withdraw from the territory.
That is why the facts brought out by the study are so urgent. For the United States, they point to the early end of what has long been the premise of American diplomacy there: an exchange of territory for true peace. For Israel, they point toward an annexation that will change the very nature of the Jewish state, incorporating within it a large, subservient and resentful Arab population.
But it is the Arab leaders who need most of all to understand the meaning of the Benvenisti study. They have maneuvered for years, avoiding negotiation. But unless they move now - unless they accept the fact of Israel and talk about ways to secure the rights of Palestinians in accommodation with that fact - there will be nothing left to negotiate.
In late 1995 the Los Angeles Times reported:
In the last seven weeks Israel has handed over six West Bank towns and more than 400 villages to the Palestinian Authority. The authority now controls about 90% of the West Bank's more than 1 million Arabs, and about one-third of the land in the Delaware-size territory.
Despite Israelis living in Judea and Samaria apparently reaching "critical mass," Israel ceded enough territory to give the Palestinians the opportunity to govern themselves nearly twenty years ago. Did Lewis foresee that Israel would end up complying with what he claimed was necessary and still not have peace or the acceptance of the Arab world?

If 1982, was five minutes to midnight, what time is it now? In today's editorial, Israel's embattled democracy, the editors of the New York Times charge:
Mr. Netanyahu’s past dependence on hard-line parties has manifested itself in aggressive settlement building and resistance to serious peace talks with the Palestinians — who themselves have not shown enough commitment to a solution. Without Kadima’s moderating force, these trends will continue.
It's as if the years from 1993 to 2000 never existed. "Aggressive settlement building?" Even when Netanyahu stopped building two years ago Abbas didn't come to the table! And the Palestinians have shown NO commitment to a solution. A few weeks ago, Abbas refused to negotiate without Netanyahu because Netanyahu wouldn't release enough terrorists from jail! The editors of the New York Times couldn't have gotten this much wrong in their editorial unless they were trying. They are not ignorant. They hate Israel.

This blind hatred of Israel manifest by lamenting Israel's declining democracy and insufficient commitment to peace despite all the evidence to the contrary is par for the course at the New York Times. I'd write more but Israel Matzav has ably refuted the editorial point by point.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Books on Menachem Begin Reviewed

Avi Shlaim's book review from a few years back on books that deal, in part, with Menachem Begin, The Fighting Family

• Israel, Likud and the Zionist Dream: Power, Politics and Ideology from Begin to Netanyahu by Colin Shindler, Tauris, 324 pp, £25.00, August 1995,
• Summing Up: An Autobiography by Yitzhak Shamir, Weidenfeld, 276 pp, £19.99, April 1994,
• Broken Covenant: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis between the US and Israel by Moshe Arens, Simon and Schuster, 320 pp, $25.00, February 1995,
• A Zionist Stand by Ze’ev Begin, Cass, 173 pp, £15.00, January 1993,
• Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism by Benjamin Netanyahu, Farrar, Straus, 152 pp, $17.00, October 1995

Menachem Begin and his Likud union of nationalist and liberal parties won their first electoral victory on 17 May 1977, bringing to an end three decades of Labour rule. The Likud was to dominate Israeli politics for the next 15 years. Colin Shindler’s book provides the first comprehensive survey of the Party’s origins, rise and decline, while paying particular attention to the role played by its successive leaders.

The 1977 election marked not only a change of government but the triumph of Revisionist Zionism after a half-century of struggle against mainstream Labour Zionism. The two movements were animated by different aims, different values and different symbols. In his acceptance speech in May 1977, Begin referred to ‘the titanic struggle of ideas stretching back to 1931’, a reference to the 17th Zionist Congress, at which Ze’ev Jabotinsky launched a direct attack on Chaim Weizmann and forced him to tender his resignation as president of the World Zionist Organisation. Weizmann typified the Zionist establishment’s piecemeal approach of acquiring land, building settlements and working in co-operation with the British mandatory authorities towards the final goal of statehood. For Jabotinsky Zionism was primarily a political movement rather than an agency for economic development. Land settlement was not among his chief concerns. He denounced Weizmann’s ‘Fabian tactics’ and insisted on a forthright declaration that the aim of the movement was a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan. Weizmann, in turn, was appalled by Jabotinsky and his followers’ lack of realism, their melodramatic way of looking at things, and the myopic militancy of their policies. The battle lines were thus firmly drawn between territorial minimalism and territorial maximalism, between a gradualist approach to statehood and militant declarations calling for an instantaneous solution. In 1935 the Revisionists seceded from the World Zionist Organisation in protest against its continuing refusal to declare a Jewish state its immediate aim and formed their own New Zionist Organisation, which elected Jabotinsky as its president.

Jabotinsky viewed Arab opposition to Zionism as inevitable and believed that efforts to achieve a reconciliation were doomed to failure, arguing that the Palestine Arabs would never voluntarily consent to the transformation of Palestine from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish majority. Nor would he settle for a partition of Palestine. His version of the Zionist dream demanded a Jewish state over the whole of Eretz Yisrael. Britain had already committed the original sin by establishing the Emirate of Transjordan on the eastern part of the Palestine mandate in me early Twenties. A partition of the western part would be unacceptable not only to the Revisionist Zionists but also to the Arabs because both sides claimed the whole country for themselves. Only superior military power, Jabotinsky concluded, could eventually compel the Arabs to accept the reality of a Jewish state. And only an ‘iron wall’ of Jewish military power could protect the Jewish state against continuing Arab hostility. Disdain for diplomacy was a defining characteristic of Revisionist Zionism from the beginning.
The Revisionist movement had its own paramilitary force, the Irgun (National Military Organisation), which was commanded by Jabotinsky until his death in 1940 and by Begin from 1943 until its dissolution in June 1948. In 1939 the Irgun called off its campaign against the British mandatory authorities for the duration of the Second World War. But some of the more militant members of the organisation, led by Avraham Stern, broke away to form a small underground movement calling itself Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, but known as the Stern Gang. Stern saw Zionism as a national liberation movement, advocated armed struggle, and because he saw the British as foreign conquerors, was unwilling to wait until the war against Nazi Germany was over before initiating a military revolt against the occupation of Palestine. Indeed, he made approaches to Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy in the belief that ‘the enemy of our British enemy must be our friend.’ Stern’s successors, a triumvirate consisting of Israel Eldad, Natan Yellin-Mor and Yitzhak Shamir, kept up the terrorist attacks and political assassinations in their campaign to drive the British out of Palestine. But after the end of the Second World War they turned to the Soviet Union in their search for allies against Britain.

Both organisations were dissolved after the declaration of independence in May 1948, and many of their members enlisted in the Israel Defence Forces. Begin formed the Herut or Freedom Party, which adopted the Irgun emblem – a hand holding a rifle on a map of Palestine which stretched over both banks of the River Jordan. Veterans of the Irgun continued to call themselves the Fighting Family. The Stern Gang also turned itself into a political party, the Fighter’s List, which won one seat in the Knesset in the 1949 elections.

Begin remained the undisputed leader of Herut until his sudden withdrawal from political life in the aftermath of the ill-fated war in Lebanon. Herut was returned with 14 scats in the first Knesset. The official Revisionist Party was routed, failing to win a single seat. A year later, the two parties merged. Begin did not abandon the Revisionist dream of a Jewish state over the whole Land of Israel, including the West Bank, captured by King Abdullah of Jordan in 1948 and annexed to his kingdom two years later. But, while preserving his doctrinal purity, Begin proved adept at forming alliances with liberal, nationalist and ultra-nationalist groups as well as break-away groups from the Labour Zionist movement. Thus Herut became Gahal in 1965 as a result of a merger with the Liberal Party, and Gahal became the Likud in 1973 as a result of another merger with three small nationalist splinter groups.

By 1955 Herut had emerged as the second largest party and the principal opposition to the Labour-led Government. But until 1967 it remained outside all the coalition governments, ostracised thanks by and large to David Ben-Gurion, whose governing slogan was ‘Without Herut or Maki’ (the Israeli Communist Party). Gahal joined the Government for the first time during the crisis of May 1967, when Levi Eshkol was prime minister. Begin had the title of Minister without Portfolio. In July 1970 Begin and his colleagues left Golda Meir’s National Unity Government in protest against the Rogers Peace Plan which, they claimed, involved a new partition of the Land of Israel and a betrayal of the historic rights of the Jewish people. But their three years in government had gained them a large measure of political legitimacy and helped to prepare the ground for the Likud’s rise to power in 1977.

Begin was 63 when he became prime minister. No other Israeli prime minister has been so divorced from the political realities of his day. He was an emotional man, deeply traumatised by the Holocaust and haunted by fears of its recurrence, who saw his enemies, among them Britain, the Arab states and the PLO, as reincarnated Nazis. Haunted by demons from the past, he was unable to make realistic assessments of the balance of power between Israel and her enemies which were essential to the conduct of a sound foreign policy. His critics called him ‘the High Priest of Fear’ because of his compulsion to play on the anxieties of the population, but these were always anxieties which he himself shared and they made him an ardent believer in Jabotinsky’s concept of an ‘iron wall’ of military power to protect the Jewish people from its many adversaries. Although his behaviour could be erratic, he never wavered in his ideological commitment to the Land of Israel. In a speech to the first Knesset he condemned Ben-Gurion for acquiescing in Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank. Restoration of the Jewish state could not begin, he proclaimed, until ‘our country is completely cleansed of invading armies. That is the prime task of our foreign policy.’ On 3 May 1950, he referred to the ‘vassal-state that exists on our homeland’, and to King Abdullah as ‘the Amonite slave’.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Before the Levy Report There Was Begin

From Haaretz: Resurrecting Begin's Jewish vision for the West Bank
Ruling by Edmond Levy committee, that Jews buying land there aren't occupiers, isn't a new idea
by Chaim Levinson
The Levy committee has brought back to life the legendary prime minister's ideas about allowing Jews to buy land in the West Bank.
In his new report on the outposts, former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy reached back all the way to the Balfour Declaration to conclude that Jews have the right to settle in the Land of Israel, and that this doesn't constitute an occupation. Levy didn't invent this claim; the right wing has been asserting it for years, though without much success abroad.

The man who waged a major diplomatic battle over the legality of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was Menachem Begin. In May 1979, when Levy, as Likud's representative in Ramle, worked under Begin, the prime minister arrived at 10 Downing Street for a historic meeting with his newly elected counterpart, Margaret Thatcher. The topic was the Middle East.

Secret documents published in London, including the minutes of the Begin-Thatcher conversation and letters from the ambassador, show that the meeting quickly turned into a historical debate, a la Benjamin Netanyahu nowadays. The Israeli claim to the land was supplemental to the missile threat to the coastal plain if the Palestinians gained control of the hills. And it was strengthened by the Jewish people's suffering during the Holocaust. After all, back before World War II, Britain claimed that it was possible to achieve stability by insisting on peace.
Begin arrived at the meeting only two months after signing the peace treaty with Egypt. In those days, he was greeted with awe in world capitals, whereas Thatcher was only three weeks into her first term as prime minister. Begin was one of the first guests at her official residence.

In addition to the peace treaty, this was also when the settlement movement was becoming an issue. Begin was bound by two promises. As part of the treaty with Egypt, he promised to promote Palestinian autonomy, but he also made a promise at home. After being elected prime minister, he hurried to visit the occupied territories and pledged that there would be "many more Elon Morehs," referring to an early settlement. But leaders abroad were starting to ask questions. A lot of questions.

Begin was accompanied to the London meeting by advisers Yehuda Avner and Dan Patir, as well as Israel's ambassador to Britain, Avraham Kidron. Thatcher was joined by Foreign Secretary Peter Carington. First they discussed the crisis in Lebanon and Syria's involvement there, but soon the settlements became the focus.
The need for higher standards
Carington didn't waste any time and said the construction of settlements in the West Bank was worrying Britain and represented a problem in negotiations with the Egyptians. Begin maintained that the settlements were legal, citing international law and Israel's need for security. He also handed Thatcher a copy of a Supreme Court ruling on Elon Moreh, translated into English, and read a few paragraphs out loud.

Israel and Britain are both small nations, which for various reasons are expected to behave by higher standards, said Thatcher. The minutes show that Thatcher thought comprehensive peace would be reached - something that was in the interest of both Israel and the West. She implored Begin to defend a way of life that Soviet ideology was endangering. As part of her argument to avoid war, she even said she was worried that many Jews from her district in north London would have to come to Israel to fight should the need arise.

But Begin ignored her and said his government would obey the Supreme Court. The transcript shows that this was not only a matter of law, but of geography. Begin said that if the PLO took control of the hills on the West Bank, Israel's densely populated coastal area would be threatened by artillery and missiles. To demonstrate the danger, Begin told Thatcher about a terrorist attack that had taken place in Petah Tikva that morning, killing a woman and her daughter. He said that if the PLO got the chance, bloodshed would become routine.
But Begin also presented an action plan: The Palestinians would get full autonomy and vote for local representatives, with security remaining with Israel. He stressed that Israel would never agree to a Palestinian state because it would be a Soviet base; after all, the PLO was made up of Soviet agents.

This is why U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Jordan's King Hussein both opposed a Palestinian state, he noted. According to Begin, the Arabs had the right to self-determination in 22 Arab countries. Why should the Jewish state be put in danger by the establishment of the 23rd Arab state? The next argument came from history: Britain's prime minister at the time of the Balfour Declaration, David Lloyd George, had assured that the land belonged to the Jewish people.
From the transcript, it's hard to be sure about the tone, but one can guess at the hosts' dismay. Carington told Begin he should forget about questions of legality: Continuing the settlement project in the West Bank would reduce the chances of reaching an agreement. Begin stuck to his stance; he said he knew that some people maintained that the settlements were illegal, but he was going to obey the Supreme Court rather than Ian Gilmour - a liberal Conservative who served for two years under Thatcher as lord privy seal.

Bringing up the Holocaust

Begin then started talking about the Holocaust and reminded his interlocutors of the Jews' suffering - and no one had acted to save them. We have to understand Israel's security perspective in this light, he said.

But Carington replied that one side's security could threaten another's. Thatcher tried to be conciliatory; she said she didn't know of any situation in which political autonomy was separate from territory. What would happen if Arab MKs gained a majority in the Knesset? Begin's answer was immigration. He said a stream of Jews was coming from the Soviet Union, Canada, the United States and Latin America.
Carington reminded Begin that Britain had experience with questions of independence, and that autonomy of the kind suggested by Begin would never work. Thatcher repeated her concerns about a Soviet hold on the Middle East, whereupon Begin pulled out the winning argument: The West had failed by not bombing the railway to Auschwitz during World War II. Israel had an army that would prevent the Holocaust from happening again.

Carington wasn't mollified. While he understood the emotions stemming from the past, he felt there was more than one way to reach the desired result. And it was possible to get there without hostility.

The meeting laid the foundation for the dislike Thatcher developed for Begin, even though Patir insists that the meeting was a good one. About a month later, Hosni Mubarak - Anwar Sadat's vice president - visited London. The minutes of that meeting show that Thatcher didn't hide her dislike of Begin.

When King Hussein came to 10 Downing Street, Thatcher told him that Begin had a special method. He would walk around with the Egyptian peace treaty in his pocket. That document defended him against a full attack by the Arab states, while he would do nothing in other channels. The Jordanians noted they had been saying this for years.
British documents show that at the beginning of her first term, Thatcher took a great deal of interest in the Jewish settlements and the Palestinians. The 230 pages in the Middle East file for May-September 1979 are stuffed with memos with the tiny handwritten note "For the Prime Minister."

One time, she solicited an opinion from the Foreign Office about the nature of the Palestinian people and the validity of their claim for a state. Carington answered that this was a political issue, not a legal one. In light of the growing international recognition of this right, it was pointless for Britain to take a position contrary to the one taken by Europe and the United Nations.

The British Embassy would send detailed reports to London about clashes with the hard-core Elon Moreh supporters, conversations with Moshe Dayan on the issue, and analyses of the balance of power in the government. In September 1979, it wrote a long memo about the Begin government's intention to allow Jews to buy land in the West Bank - the Jordanian law, still applicable there, forbids foreigners from buying land directly.

The embassy issued warnings about such a move, saying the government was taking steps to show that the country couldn't be cowed by external pressure. It also wanted to show the Gush Emunim settlement movement that the government's heart was still in the right place; this would make it easier for settlers to buy land.

In the end, the Begin government buried the initiative. Thirty-three years later, the Levy committee has brought it back to life. Among its recommendations: Abolish the Jordanian law and allow Jews to buy land in the West Bank.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tom Segev Responds to Yisrael Medad

‘Mad dictator’

Two weeks ago I commented here that David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin used to compare one another to Hitler. It is interesting that Hitler entered public discourse in pre-state Israel in the form of a political insult.

Yisrael Medad, who publishes a blog on the website of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, claimed in a letter to Haaretz that Begin only called Ben-Gurion a “hooligan,” but did not compare him to Hitler. Medad need not go far: A new book published by the same Menachem Begin Heritage Center ‏(“From Altalena to Today;” in Hebrew, “Me’altelena ad hena,” edited by Avraham Diskin‏) quotes on page 23 an Order of the Day signed by “the commander” ‏(i.e., Begin‏) that was distributed the day after the attack on the Altalena and in which Ben-Gurion is described as “a mad dictator.” The quotation as it appears in the book is partial.

The document, from June 23, 1948, can be read on the website of the Jabotinsky Archive. Among other things, it says that Ben-Gurion’s “regime of tyranny” will set up “concentration camps.” Anyone who talked, three years after the end of World War II, about a mad dictator who will set up concentration camps − was speaking of Hitler, even if he did not mention him by name.

It was not the first time this happened: In March 1948 a warning article appeared in the newspaper Herut: “The emissaries of the Ben-Gurionite fascism will not shut us up ... A regime of bloody tyranny, of Gestapo torture − shall not arise in Israel.” Begin also spoke of Israeli “concentration camps” in his January 1952 speech in the Knesset denouncing the reparations agreement with Germany. In May 1963, Begin accused Ben-Gurion of collaborating with Hitler and Himmler, and compared him also to Vidkun Quisling, who served as Norway’s prime minister under the German occupation government. This was acceptable rhetoric as far back as the early 1930s.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, whom Ben-Gurion called “Vladimir Hitler,” published an article against “the left’s takeover” of the Land of Israel that was headlined “The red swastika.” An unsigned piece in a 1942 issue of Herut bore the title “In the cellars of the leftist Gestapo.”

Begin created in the British Mandate era a rhetorical “triangle” described in a master’s thesis by Amir Peleg: The British helped the Germans annihilate the Jews, and Ben-Gurion helped the British, just as the leaders of the Judenrate, or Jewish councils, that the Nazis set up, helped them. Thus was paved the road to the crematoria of Majdanek, Begin wrote.

Altalena Report at Knesset

Lahav Harkov reports: ‘Altalena’ soon to be lifted from Mediterranean

The Altalena has been located and will be lifted from the floor of the Mediterranean in a matter of months, Herzl Makov, CEO of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, told the Knesset House Committee on Monday.

Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser recounted that a year ago, divers contacted the Prime Minister’s Office with information on the Altalena’s location, launching the Begin Center’s search, which has been funded by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This is a constitutive event in Israeli history,” Hauser said. “There is historical and public interest in this matter.

The prime minister sees [finding the Altalena] as important and is waiting patiently for progress.”

After an investigation of the divers’ original findings on the Altalena, Begin Center researchers determined that the information was incorrect, but now believe they have found the precise location of the wreck.

Researchers located a metal object that appears to be a ship...Local fishermen have testified that the fish near the site are of species that live near metal.  “We know everything; we just haven’t [physically] gotten to the ship,” Makov explained...

When the project began last summer, researchers thought the Altalena sank to a depth of 65 meters off the Tel Aviv coast. However, Makov said, there is sudden increase in depth not far from the shore, from about 70 m. to 300 m., and the ship apparently sank in deeper waters, requiring different equipment to reach the vessel, photograph and lift it...Makov also mentioned a film project in cooperation with former Channel 2 anchor Gadi Sukenik on the story of the Altalena and the “engineering of national memory,” as well as lifting the ship from the sea bottom.
House Committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) said...“The lifting of the Altalena cannot be a private initiative. It must come from the State of Israel,” Levin asserted.

Hauser and Makov assured Levin that the Begin Center is an arm of the government and mostly funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, as is the Yitzhak Rabin Heritage Center.

Levin also called for the research to be completed as soon as possible...It is of great importance that we close this circle while those people can see the ship brought up from underwater.”

Hauser promised Levin that the current government considers the lifting of the Altalena, as well as all national heritage matters, a priority. Makov responded that the project’s completion would take a matter of months, not years, and did not think it would be problematic to redirect sea traffic for a day in order to lift the ship.