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.
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