Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Daily Telegraph Redoes the Dov Gruner Tale

Following a new reminder in the Daily Telegraph that Israel had sold weapons to Argentina at the time of the Falklands War, and the repetition of the claim that Menachem Begin had done so to revenge the hanging of Dov Gruner by the British Mandatory regime in Palestine in 1947 (see below), this letter appeared:

The Falklands secret

SIR – However important the supply of Israeli weapons may have been to the Galtieri junta in the Falklands War, it was nothing to the boost Argentine capabilities would have been given, had another vendor – Britain – succeeded in concluding a massive arms sale just over a decade earlier.

The deal that Denis Healey as defence secretary pushed so hard to achieve (beyond the limits of legality), would have rendered victory for the Falklands Task Force impossible.

The package, put together in the mid-Sixties, would have supplied two Sea Dart frigates, nine Canberra bombers, two Oberon-class attack submarines, a nuclear reactor and, most significantly, given subsequent events, a dozen Harrier GR1 V/STOL fighter-bombers.

Had the Argentine navy possessed the latter aircraft, neither the Royal Navy nor the RAF could have closed Stanley airport to fast jet operations. Confronted with air strikes from two directions, the Task Force’s position would have been tactically untenable.

The deal was thwarted by pure chance. In 1967 a foot-and-mouth epidemic was triggered by a batch of Argentine lamb that infected livestock near Oswestry. Buenos Aires retaliated against the Ministry of Agriculture’s ban on Argentine meat imports by cancelling the arms contract.

Despite Healey’s efforts to strong-arm the Cabinet into breaking British and international health legislation, Harold Wilson was persuaded (by Fred Peart, the agriculture minister, and Sir Solly Zuckerman, the Cabinet scientific adviser) to uphold the ban.

As a result, although the sale of the Canberras went through and two Type 42 destroyers were eventually substituted for the frigates, the Task Force did not have to face aircraft as capable as its own, operating at close range rather than from the mainland.

An Argentine pilot, shot down by a Sea Harrier, later lamented that things would have been different had his own air force had an aircraft like that, little realising that the big secret of the Falklands War was that they very nearly did.

Hadrian Jeffs

The Telegraph story by David Blair, Chief Foreign Correspondent reads, in part:

Israel sold weapons to Argentina at the height of the Falklands War in 1982, according to newly declassified Foreign Office files.

British diplomats cited evidence that Israel had supplied the Argentine military junta with arms that were used against the Task Force during the campaign to liberate the islands.Israeli military exports before the war included the Skyhawk jets that would later be used to bomb British warships, killing dozens of soldiers, sailors and marines. Four British warships were sunk by bombs dropped from Skyhawks, including RFA Sir Galahad, a troop carrier that was set ablaze while anchored in Bluff Cove, killing 48 sailors and soldiers. Simon Weston, the badly burned veteran, was among the survivors. Another four ships were damaged by Skyhawks.

A memorandum from C.W. Long, then head of the Near East and North Africa Department at the Foreign Office, states: “Israel was one of the few countries to supply Argentina with arms during the Falklands conflict and has continued to do so.”

The document is filed alongside a copy of an article from a specialist journal stating that Israel had sold Skyhawk jets to Argentina’s air force before the Falklands War.
In his book, Operation Israel, the Argentine journalist Hernan Dobry writes that Israel provided the spare parts and long range fuel tanks needed to keep these aircraft in action against the Task Force. When British diplomats confronted their Israeli counterparts with evidence of arms sales, they were met with blanket denials. 
The official history of the Falklands War, written by Lawrence Freedman, states: “British troops entering Port Stanley at the end of the war came across Israeli equipment.” 

Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime minister, had begun his career as commander of the Irgun, the Jewish underground which fought the British in Palestine in the 1940s.

A fellow Irgun fighter, Dov Gruner, was hanged by the British in 1947. In Operation Israel, Mr Dobry suggests Begin saw arming Galtieri as a way of exacting revenge against Britain. After authorising the sale of weapons during the Falklands War, Begin reportedly said: “Dov up there is going to be happy with the decision.”

In response, the following letter was sent but seems not to have been published:


 Your story on declassified Foreign Office files relating to Israel having sold weapons to Argentina at height of Falklands War (Aug. 24) also includes an unsubstantiated ("reportedly said") reference to Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin supposedly seeking to exact revenge for the hanging by British Mandatory authorities in 1947 of an Irgun fighter.
Israel, like France, an ally of England, indeed sold weapons to Argentina, and had done so for some time prior to the Falklands hostilities, a policy initiated by a previous Israel government, one not affiliated to the Irgun three decades earlier. Incidentally, many would think France's Exocet did much more damage to British forces. Some think Israel did sell arms at the suggestion of the United States so as to avoid Argentina turning to Russia. Britain, it should be taken into the historical perspective, had for many years sold weapons to Israel's enemies among Arab states and also provided them with training.
Prime Minister Begin's response to this incident was that Israel had signed contracts and would not renounce its obligations. In an interview on May 10, 1982, Israel's Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir replied to a question on the Falkland crisis and said, "Ever since the crisis broke out, therefore, we have not gone through with any new arms sales to Argentina. As you know, Israel…has sold weapons to Argentina. Now we have no interest in getting involved in that crisis."
  Yisrael MedadDirector, Information & Educational ResourcesMenachem Begin Heritage Center6, Nahon StreetJerusalem 94110ISRAEL


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Israel's 1977 Elections CIA Intelligence Memo

A collection of more than 250 previously classified CIA documents, totaling over 1,400 pages, including some 150 that are being released for the first time, were uploaded recently.  

These documents cover the period from January 1977 through March 1979 and were produced by the CIA to support the Carter administration’s diplomatic efforts leading up to President Carter’s negotiations with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in September 1978. The declassified documents detail diplomatic developments from the Arab peace offensive and President Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem through the regionwide aftermath of Camp David.

From a file  dated February 1977:

In this CIA documents, an early February 1977 Intelligence Memorandum analyses the upcoming election in Israel. Most of the document's details are devoted to the Labor Alignment and the "key judgments" include "a victory by the ruling Labor Alignment is by no means ensured…the Labour Party will, at best, lose some seats". 

Most interestingly, "a growing possibility" is a Labor and right-wing Likud bloc "national unity government".  Due to Yigal Yadin's Democratic Movement for Change, the report identifies "serious inroads into Labor's traditional strength". The result of this is that the Labor Alignment "is at present running not better that even with, and may be trailing" the Likud. As such, the final election "scenario" is a "government of the right led by Likud with Begin as prime minister".  

If this occurs, the report sees that "at a minimum, strong and sustained US pressure would be needed to extract concessions from a Begin government."


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On the King David's 70th Anniversary: Was There A Warning?

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on the offices of the Mandate for Palestine secretariat and the command post of the British Army in the country located in the southern wing of the King David Hotel, the five floors having been already requisitioned some seven years earlier.

Going through papers, I found this letter, published in the early 1980s, attesting to the fact that, indeed, the hotel staff had been warned of the impending explosion:

A previous treatment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who Is Blurring the Lines?

But were those orders not the result of B-G misleading his ministers and misrepresenting what had transpired the previous few months?

One of Yaari’s main concerns was that the sinking of the Altalena, when the Israel Defense Forces downed a ship belonging to the pre-state Irgun militia, was described alongside the murder of Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of a Jewish extremist as an example of political violence. According to The Jerusalem Post , Yaari contended that the comparison blurred “the lines between murder for political-ideological reasons and orders given by a government head.”

Read more.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Books on Begin and Likud

From a book review dealing with Menachem Begin and Likud politics:

The Fighting Family
Review of Israel, Likud and the Zionist Dream: Power, Politics and Ideology from Begin to Netanyahu, by Colin Shindler. 324 pp., Tauris, 1995.
And Summing up: An Autobiography, by Yitzhak Shamir. 276 pp., Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1994.
And Broken Covenant: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis between the U.S. and Israel, by Moshe Arens. 320 pp., Simon and Schuster, 1995.
And A Zionist Stand, by Ze’ev B. Begin. 173 pp., Frank Cass, 1993.
And Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism, by by Benjamin Netanyahu. 152 pp., Farrar Straus Giroux, 1995.
Avi Shlaim
London Review of Books, 9 May 1996.

On 17 May 1977 Menachem Begin and his Likud union of nationalist and liberal parties won their first electoral victory.  This election represented a major landmark in Israel’s history.  It  brought to an end three decades of Labour rule and ushered in a new era, which was to last fifteen years, during which the right-wing Likud dominated Israeli politics.  When Likud came to power, the literature on it was very sparse; by the time it fell from power, in June 1992, this literature had expanded considerably.

Colin Shindler’s book Israel, Likud and the Zionist Dream represents a valuable addition to this literature on a number of counts.  First, whereas most of the existing books deal with specific issues such as the peace with Egypt or the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, or the war in Lebanon, Shindler tries to explain the Likud phenomenon as a whole.  Second, in order to explain what makes the Likud tick, Shindler explores in some depth its historical and ideological background and particularly the legacy of the founder of the Revisionist Zionist movement, Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky.  Shindler also traces the influence of Pilsudski’s Poland, Mussolini’s Italy and the Irish struggle against Britain in moulding the outlook of Menachem Begin and his successor, Yitzhak Shamir.  Third, while the subject matter of this book lends itself all too easily to partisanship and polemics, Shindler remains remarkably balanced and fair-minded throughout.  He picks his way carefully through the tangled history of this fiercely ideological and rumbustious movement and manages to avoid the twin pitfalls of hagiography and blind hostility.

The 1977 election signified much more than a change of government.  It represented the triumph of Revisionist Zionism after half a century of bitter 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, Menachem Begin referred to ‘the titanic struggle of ideas stretching back to 1931’, a reference which must have puzzled most of his listeners.

In 1931, at the 17th Zionist Congress, Ze’ev Jabotinsky launched a frontal attack on Chaim Weizmann and forced him to tender his resignation as president of the World Zionist Organization.  Weizmann typified the Zionist establishment’s piecemeal approach of acquiring land, building settlements and working in cooperation with the British mandatory authorities towards the final goal of statehood.  For Jabotinsky Zionism’s was primarily  a political movement, not an agency for economic development and settlement on the land.  He denounced Weizmann’s `Fabian tactics’ and insisted on a forthright statement that the aim of the movement was a Jewish state on both sides of the river Jordan.  Weizmann was appalled by the utter lack of realism, by the romantic melodrama, and by the myopic militancy of Jabotinsky and his followers. The battle lines were thus firmly drawn between territorial minimalism and territorial maximalism, between practical Zionism and political Zionism, between a gradualist approach to statehood and militant declarations calling for instantaneous solutions.  In 1935 the Revisionists seceded from the World Zionist Organization in protest against its continuing refusal to declare a Jewish state as its immediate aim and formed their own New Zionist Organization which elected Jabotinsky as its president.

Jabotinsky regarded Arab opposition to Zionism as inevitable and he believed that efforts aimed at reconciliation were doomed to failure from the start.  It was utterly impossible, he argued, to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestine Arabs for converting Palestine from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish majority.  Nor would he settle for the partition of Palestine into two states.  His version of the Zionism dream demanded a Jewish state over the whole of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.  Britain had  established the Emirate of Transjordan on the eastern part of the Palestine mandate in the early 1920s.  Jabotinsky bitterly denounced this original sin and remained uncompromisingly opposed to the partition of the Western part of the Land of Israel.  Partition, he observed,  was unacceptable not only from the point of view of the Revisionist Zionists but also from the Arab point of view because both sides claimed the whole country for themselves.  Only superior military power, he 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 and reliance on military power in dealing with the Palestine Arabs thus characterized Revisionist Zionism from the very beginning.

The Revisionist movement had its own para-military force, the National Military Organization, the Irgun, which was commanded by Jabotinsky until his death in 1940 and by Menachem 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.  Some of the more militant members of the Irgun, led by Avraham Stern, broke away to form a small underground movement known as ‘The Fighters for the Freedom of Israel’, better known as  the Stern Gang.  Stern saw Zionism as a national liberation movement and he advocated an armed struggle as a means of independence.  He saw the British as foreign conquerors and he was unwilling to wait until the war against Nazi Germany was over before initiating the military revolt against the British occupation of Palestine.  On the contrary, 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, continued to resort to 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 the search for allies against Britain.

Immediately following the declaration of independence in May 1948, both of these dissident organizations where dissolved and many of their members joined the ranks of the Israel Defence Forces.  Menachem 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.  The veterans of the Irgun continued to call themselves ‘the fighting family’.  The Stern Gang also turned itself into a political party, ‘the fighters list’ which won one seat in the Knesset in the elections of 1949.

Menachem Begin remained the undisputed leader of Herut until his sudden withdrawal from political life in 1983, in the aftermath of the ill-fated war in Lebanon.  Herut was returned with 14 seats in the first Knesset. The official Revisionist  Party was routed, failing to gain even  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 of the river Jordan which was 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.  The political climate in Israel in the first two decades of independence tended to de-legitimize Herut.  David Ben-Gurion pursued a deliberate and effective policy of isolating and ostracising Herut.  His famous principle for forming coalition governments was ‘without Herut or Maki’, Maki being the acronym of the Israeli Communist Party.  Gahal joined the government for the first time during the crisis of May 1967 and Menachem Begin became minister without  portfolio in the government headed by Levi Eshkol.  In July 1970 Begin and his colleagues left the National Unity Government headed by Golda Meir 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 thus helped to prepare the ground for the Likud’s rise to power in 1977.

Menachem Begin was 63 when he became prime minister and he continued to live in the past.  No other Israeli prime minister before or since has been so divorced from the political realities of his day.  He was an emotional man who was deeply traumatized by the Holocaust and haunted  by  fears of its recurrence.  He understood contemporary events primarily through the filter of his own terrible experiences during the Holocaust.  Many of his enemies, including Britain, the Arab states and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, featured in his picture of the world 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.  Shulamit Hareven dubbed him `the High Priest of Fear’ because of his psychological compulsion to uncover and play on the innermost anxieties of the population.  But it was precisely these anxieties that also made Begin such 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, Begin never wavered in his ideological commitment to the Land of Israel and he was nothing if not an ideologue.  It was an article of faith which stayed with him all his life that the Jewish people had a historic right to the whole of its Biblical homeland.  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’.  In another speech to the Knesset, on 3 May 1950, Begin referred to the ‘vassal-state that exists on our homeland’ and in a Biblical analogy labelled King Abdullah ‘the Amonite slave’.

After Israel’s victory in June 1967, Begin became an outspoken opponent of relinquishing the West Bank.  He objected to UN resolution 242 because it meant the redivision of the Land of Israel.  The Likud’s manifesto for the 1977 elections was categorical on this point:
The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is eternal, and is an integral part of its right to security and peace.  Judea and Samaria shall therefore not be relinquished to foreign rule; between the sea and Jordan river there will be Jewish sovereignty alone.

Begin did not recognize the concept of a Palestinian people because to do so would have implied their right to national sovereignty in the areas where they lived.  For him, as for the old guard of Mapai, ‘Palestinians’ meant Palestinian Jews as understood in the pre-state days.  He never spoke of a Palestinian nation.  His definition of the Palestinians was quintessentially Jabotinskyian in that it focussed on their status as a national minority.  They were part of a wider Arab nation that had already realized its right to national self-determination in some twenty countries.  Within the Land of Israel they were a minority entitled only to civil and religious rights.

The PLO was perceived by Begin not as a national liberation movement but as a terrorist organization pure and simple.  He made no distinction between the policies of its different factions, between radicals and moderates.  They were all latter-day Nazis, while the PLO’s covenant was the equivalent of Adolf Hitler’s   Mein Kampf.  This attitude, too, was unambiguously stated in the Likud’s 1977 election manifesto:

The so-called Palestinian Liberation Organization is not a national liberation movement but a murder organization which serves as a political tool and military arm of the Arab States and as an instrument of Soviet imperialism.  The Likud government will take action to exterminate this organization.

When Begin came to power he had the option of giving concrete expression to his life-long convictions by annexing the West Bank.  He did not exercise this option because he also wanted to achieve peace with Egypt.  Asked by a reporter whether he intended to annex the West Bank, he replied ‘you annex foreign land, not your own country’.  Begin was prepared, however reluctantly, to give back the whole of Sinai, and even dismantle Jewish settlements there, in return for peace with Egypt because Sinai was not part of the Biblical Land of Israel. For Begin, however, the withdrawal from Sinai was not a prelude or precedent for further withdrawals but a means of ensuring permanent Israeli control over the West Bank.

Begin passionately believed that the historic right of the Jews to the Land of Israel overrode all other claims.  He was unable to distinguish clearly, however, between historic right and a political claim to sovereignty.  The ‘Framework for Peace in the Middle East’ which he signed at Camp David used language that was distinctly foreign for the Revisionists and consequently lost him their support.  The Framework recognized ‘the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements’.  Begin, however, insisted that the Hebrew version referred to ‘the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael’ rather than to ‘the Palestinians’.

Similar sophistry was applied by Begin to the UN resolutions that were said to be the basis of negotiations.  UN resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from territories ‘occupied in the recent conflict’ in return for peace.  In Begin’s view the Six Day War had been a defensive war during which the West Bank had been purged of ‘foreign aggressors’.  Accordingly, while  applying to Sinai, resolution 242 did not apply to the West Bank.  All that Begin would offer the residents of the West Bank was an autonomy plan which they rejected out of hand as derisory.

In June 1982, taking advantage of Egypt’s disengagement from the conflict, Begin, aided and abetted by defence minister Ariel Sharon, launched Israel on the road to war in Lebanon.  Shindler devotes four chapters to the war in Lebanon, brazenly misnamed ‘Operation Peace for the Galilee’, but the real logic behind this war eludes him.  This war was about securing the Land of Israel and it was directed primarily against the Palestinians, not against Lebanon or Syria.  In its 1977 manifesto the Likud had vowed to ‘exterminate’ the PLO and this was the immediate aim behind the invasion of Lebanon.  The PLO was both the symbol and the spearhead of Palestinian nationalism which had been gaining momentum ever since 1967.  If the PLO were crushed, Sharon persuaded Begin, the Palestinians on the West Bank would become demoralized and their will to resist the imposition of Israeli rule would effectively come to an end.  The war achieved its immediate aim by destroying the PLO’s military infrastructure in southern Lebanon and forcing it to move its headquarters to Tunis.  But it utterly failed in its broader aim of defeating Palestinian nationalism.

What Shindler does bring out very vividly is the impact of Begin’s Holocaust trauma on his conduct of the war in Lebanon.  He gives many examples of Begin’s tendency to compare Arabs with Nazis.  Following an attack on women and children in Kiryat Shemona by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Begin told the Knesset that ‘two legged beasts, Arab Nazis perpetrated this abomination’.  But the most bizarre manifestation of Begin’s use of analogies from the Nazi period was a telegram he sent to President Ronald Reagan in early August 1982, when the Israeli army was bombarding Beirut:

Now may I tell you, dear Mr President, how I feel these days when I turn to the creator of my soul in deep gratitude.  I feel as a Prime Minister empowered to instruct a valiant army facing ‘Berlin’ where amongst innocent civilians, Hitler and his henchmen hide in a bunker deep beneath the surface.  My   generation, dear Ron, swore on the altar of God that whoever proclaims his intent to destroy the     Jewish state or the Jewish people, or both, seals his fate, so that what happened from Berlin - with or   without inverted commas - will never happen again.

These comments outraged many Israelis.  Despite their sensitivity to the  Holocaust, they saw that their leader had lost touch with reality and was merely chasing the ghosts of the past.  Chaika Grossmann, a Mapam member of the Knesset who had actually fought in the Warsaw Ghetto, made a direct appeal to Begin: ‘Return to reality.  We are not in the Warsaw Ghetto, we are in the State of Israel’.  The writer Amos Oz, who saw the invasion of Lebanon as ‘a typical Jabotinskyian fantasy’ appealed to Begin to resist the urge to resurrect Hitler from the dead each day so as to kill him once more:

The urge to revive Hitler, only to kill him again and again is the result of pain that poets can permit themselves to use, but not statesmen... even at great emotional cost personally, you must remind yourself and the public that elected you its leader that Hitler is dead and burned to ashes.

Anchored in delusions and fed by paranoia, Israel’s war in Lebanon went from bad to worse.  The horrendous massacre perpetrated by Israel’s Christian Lebanese allies in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila in August 1982 dramatically stepped up both domestic and foreign opposition to the war.  Begin’s instinctive response was to turn his back on his foreign critics.  He appealed to the Cabinet to close ranks in an act of solidarity against a hostile world.  ‘Goyim are killing goyim’, he  exclaimed, ‘and the whole world is trying to hang Jews for the crime’.

But criticism of the war did not die down.  Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, one of the few Jewish American leaders to openly oppose the war, doubted that Begin could remain in office since he had squandered Israel’s fundamental asset - its respect for itself and the respect of the world.  A year later, in September 1983, Begin did resign.  ‘I cannot go on any longer’ was all he could say by way of explanation.  It was an odd remark which said nothing or everything.  His Zionist dream shattered, Begin was a broken man and he remained a recluse until his dying day.  As Shindler observes, ‘The emotional and often fanatical dedication which coloured his way of life, with all its deep depressions and high emotions, had finally overcome him’.

Yitzhak Shamir was elected by the Likud to succeed Menachem Begin.  The contrast of temperament, personality and style could have hardly been greater.  One was volatile and mercurial, the other solid and reliable.  One was charismatic and domineering, the other dull and dour.  One was a spell-binding orator, the other could hardly string two sentences together...

...The Likud, despite its various permutations since the 1920s, has always remained an ideological party.  The principal difference between Netanyahu and his predecessors is that they were true believers.  They were  faithful, not to say fanatical defenders of the Land of Israel regardless of the electoral consequences of this stand whereas he is a pragmatic politician in the American mould who is prepared to dilute his party’s ideology for the sake of attaining power.  In his book, Netanyahu denounced the Oslo accord as capitulation by the Labour government to `the PLO’s Phased Plan’ of bringing about a gradual Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders.  But he never came up with a coherent alternative to the policy limited, gradual, and controlled withdrawal from the occupied territories.  And since the majority of Israelis still support the Oslo accord, Netanyahu began to change his tune in the lead up to the 31 May elections.  `The Oslo accord endangers Israel’, he said, `but one cannot ignore reality’.  This reality spells the beginning of the end of the Revisionist Zionist dream of Jewish sovereignty over the whole of the Land of Israel. Jabotinsky and Begin turn in their graves.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Smokie Simon, 97

From Greer Fay Cashman's column:

■ SOUTH AFRICANS in Israel rejoiced this week with Smoky Simon and his family as the former Mahalnik celebrated his 97th birthday.

Machal is a Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz le’aretz (Volunteers from Abroad).

The Mahalniks were mostly ex-service personnel who had fought with the Allied Forces against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II, and later 4,800 of them, including 832 from South Africa, took it upon themselves to fight with and for the nascent State of Israel in the War of Independence.

In January 1941, Simon, whose first name is actually Harold, volunteered to join the South African Air Force and fight the Nazis.

He was trained as a navigator bombardier and served in both the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force in different theaters of war for a total of five years. In May 1948, together with his wife Myra, he volunteered to fight here in the War of Independence. Myra Simon was trained and flew as a meteorologist in the South African Air Force in World War II, and during the War of Independence served in the Israel Air Force as an instructor in meteorology.

The couple was blessed with two sons and two daughters. Their sons Saul and Dan each served as fighter pilots in the IAF. In June 1948, Smoky Simon was appointed the IAF’s Chief of Air Operations. In 1968, Simon was elected chairman of World Mahal, and a couple of years back, he launched Mahal’s final operation, which was to help expand and increase the facilities of the Michael Levin Center for Lone Soldiers in Tel Aviv, so that Mahalniks who went back to their home countries can have a place to relax and reminisce when they visit Israel, in addition to meeting the soldiers of today.

After he completed his service in the Israel Air Force, Simon and his wife returned to South Africa, but not for long. In 1962 they came on aliya with their four children, and Simon and a partner founded an insurance and pension brokerage company which some years later they sold to Migdal Insurance. Simon is closely affiliated with the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. He needed very little persuasion from Harry Zvi Hurwitz, who conceived the idea of such a center, to become one of its founding members and donors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ZZW's Stefan Wladyslaw's New Gravestone in Warasaw's Jewish Cemetery

Stefan Wladyslaw was a member of the Revisionist ZZW militia fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazis.

Yesterday was the ceremony of the unveiling of a new gravestone marker at his burial site which is also the symbolic grave of all the soldiers of the Jewish Military Union, members of Betar and the Revisionist Movement who were not allowed to join the rest of the left-wing figthing groups.  It took place at the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street yesterday.  Prominent on the new marker is the name of Pawel Frenkel, the ZZW commander.

Pictures I received via Moshe Arens and Wojciech PluciƄski, the latter of the Komitet Hadar there in Poland:

Stefan's importance is that on May 17, 1942, disguised as an Aryan, he crossed over from the ghetto and sent a telegram to Hillel Tzur, an Irgun emissary to the Irgun cells organizing in Poland, who had returned to Netanya in Mandate Palestine only in September 1939.  It was hoped that the telegram would, however innocuously worded it was because of the Nazi censor, would alert Jews outside as to the terrible reality.

The telegram indeed was sent from the Red Cross offices although part of it indeed was crossed out on May 17, 1942.  It actually reachyed Tzur on August 31, 1942 but its cryptic message was not understood.

On February 4, 1943, Stefan was again outside the ghetto attempting to purchase weapons for the ZZW.

Upon finishing his task, he began his return but was accosted by German soldiers.

He pulled out his own pistol and engaged the Nazis in battle, killing two before being killed.

His comrades recovered his body and buried him in the Jewish cemetery.  The original tombstone noting his ZZW membership and his nom de gurre, Nesher (Eagle):

Please read Moshe Arens' "Flags Over the Ghetto".

Friday, April 8, 2016

Correcting a Misleading Assertion

This Letter-to-the-Editor was sent to the UK's Jewish Chronicle:

In Lawrence Joffee's review ("The Rise of the Israeli Right", March 31) of Colin Shindler's most recent book, we read that on June 20, 1948, Menachem Begin "defied the state of Israel's month-old provisional government by smuggling forbidden weapons aboard a requisitioned ship, the Altalena". That assertion is misleading.
The arms ship Altalena had docked near Moshav Kfar Vitkin in accordance with the agreement with Israel's Defence Ministry officials. The government was informed of the ship's existence on June 1 whereas the Hagana had been contacted about the ship while it was in France months earlier.
On June 15, Begin and members of his staff met with government representatives and reported the ship's imminent arrival.  As even Wikipedia notes, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary entry for June 16: "Yisrael [Galili] and Skolnik [Levi Eshkol] met yesterday with Begin. Tomorrow or the next day their ship is due to arrive…I believe we should not endanger Tel Aviv port. They should not be sent back. They should be disembarked at an unknown shore."  At a second meeting, the Mapai-dominated Kfar Vitkin moshav was selected.
At the beach, the IDF demanded a different distribution of the weapons and ammunition than that had been originally agreed upon which was 20% would go to Irgun units enlisted in the IDF.  Seeking to settle that issue, Begin refused to submit to the 10-minute ultimatum handed to him and, given the lack of communication facilities, ordered the ship, which had been fired upon resulting in the deaths of both Irgun members and IDF soldiers, to sail to Tel Aviv. There, on June 22, it was fired upon and eventually shelled and abandoned.
The real question for historians is why did Ben-Gurion defy his own agreement.

It was published in this week's edition (no online link available) and so I do not know if, or how much, it was edited.

However, I had to send this letter of complaint:

I understand my letter appeared today in The JC.
I have not as yet seen it but I received this note from a friend:
Have just read your letter to the JC. Surely the subeditor's heading for the letter: "Begin's action is still begging an explanation" is completely wrong? Your final para makes clear it is Ben Gurion's actions which require explanation. (I think the sub ed got carried away with his attempted pun of Begin and begging.) You should ask for a correction! 
If my correspondent is right, I do think a correction is warranted, something along the lines of:
"In a letter published last week by Yisrael Medad on the Altalena Affair, the heading gave a misleading impression that Medad considered Menachem Begin's actions as "begging an explanation" whereas, as his letter makes clear, David Ben-Gurion's actions still require an explanation."
Thank you.


The letter:


Monday, April 4, 2016

Nazi Terminology

A proposed law currently making its way through the pipelines of the Israeli legislature, which would forbid use of the word "Nazi" and the terminology or images of the Third Reich for anything other than historical or educational purposes, not only contradicts the principles of free speech, but also runs against hallowed tradition in Israeli politics, right back to the days of David Ben-Gurion.

Israel's first prime minister was in the habit of using such terminology when referring to his chief ideological rival, leader of the Revisionist Movement Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky – long before the foundation of the state and even before the Holocaust. In 1933, with conflict between the two wings of the Zionist movement at its height, Ben-Gurion repeatedly compared Jabotinsky to Hitler in print and in speeches, including one where he called him "Vladimir Hitler."

Ben-Gurion reserved the comparison also for Jabotinsky's successor, Menachem Begin. In 1963, in a letter to author Chaim Guri, Ben Gurion wrote that "Begin is a distinct Hitlerist type" and predicted that if he would ever come to power "he will replace the army and police headquarters with his goons, and rule as Hitler did in Germany."
Begin for his part called Ben-Gurion a Nazi once during the heated Knesset debate over the government's decision in 1951 to accept reparations from the Germans for the Holocaust. As prime minister, Begin kept the Nazi imagery for the Arabs, likening his decision to go after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Beirut to attacking "Hitler in his bunker" and saying in cabinet that "the alternative (to launching the Lebanon War) is Auschwitz."


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Another Misquotation of Menachem Begin

Found here:

The critic Leon Wieseltier once warned that nationalist politics grounded in collective memory can “destroy the empirical attitude that is necessary for the responsible use of power”. It is an insight that events in the Middle East – that proving ground for the irresponsible use of power – seem to confirm every day. To take only one example, when Israeli forces encircled Beirut in 1982, Israel’s then prime minister, Menachem Begin, announced that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had the “Nazis surrounded in their bunker”, even though it was Yasser Arafat and Fatah that were trapped in the Lebanese capital. It was a paradigmatic example of what happens when collective memory born of trauma finds political and, above all, military expression.

First of all, the exact text of that August 2, 1982 thank-you message to American President Ronald Regan (thanks to MP):

The image emphasized the attack on civilians, rather than Arafat as a Hitler and no "Nazis" is there.  And Begin is relating to the historical achievement of a Jewish leader being able, finally and fully empowered, to defend innocent Jewish lives.  Not that Arafat was a "Hitler" but that unlike in World War II when no Prime Minister, President or other free world leader cared enough to defend Jews, Begin had that power.

And if the link to Nazis bother David Rieff, the author of the oped whose new book, In Praise of Forgetting, is to appear soon, almost eight years ago, we wrote on the matter:

Menachem Begin viewed, correctly, that Arafat had inherited the Mufti's identification with racial antisemitic hatred of the Jew as a Jew and therefore, it is not the Holocaust that Begin was promoting as a symbol but the very real physical deaths that Arafat was promoting at the time. 



The material here was used by Melanie Phillips in her JPost column Friday, March 4: