Parts of Jerusalem are burning, and instead of taking measures to put out the fire the extreme Right (and the not-so-extreme Right, for that matter) is pouring fuel on the flames, while the Israel Police (not the fire brigade) is trying to contend with the results. “We have tried the ways of the Left,” say the pyromaniacs, “and these have failed. So it is now high time to try a different way.” They are not only referring to Jerusalem.
This approach assumes that the choice Israel faces is between doing things “its own way” without giving a damn what the gentiles say, or groveling to them while ignoring the “true interests” (whatever these may be) of the Jewish people.
In reality that is not the choice Israel faces. From the very start the Zionist endeavor – that of establishing a Jewish state in the Land of Israel in which every Jew (secular or religious, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, capitalist or socialist) was welcome, and where persecuted Jews might find a haven – faced opposition and a complicated international reality.
The genius of both Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion was that they knew how to navigate the boat which they commanded in a judicious manner, taking advantage of opportunities (for example, by accepting patrician plans for Palestine, even if they were unsatisfactory in many respects), acting as far as possible on the basis of the principle of “pacta sund servanda” (agreements must be kept) and other principles of international law, and avoiding swallowing more than the nascent state could digest.
For example, when Ben-Gurion rejected a military plan proposed by Yigal Alon toward the end of the War of Independence to conquer the West Bank – which was militarily feasible – not only because this would be in breach of understandings with king Abdullah of Jordan, but also because it would mean that the Arabs would constitute a majority within the territory of the State of Israel.
The Zionist Right at the time – first the Revisionists and later the Herut Movement – rejected this approach on similar grounds to those proclaimed by the extreme Right today, insisting on a policy of “two banks to the River Jordan,” a rejection of partition in any form, and contempt for the policy of “giving in” to the wishes and whims of the gentiles. We do not know whether the Revisionists and Herut could have done any better than the socialists and liberals, or even whether they would have managed to establish the state in 1948, had they been in control.
However, we do know that where the old Right differed from its current counterpart is that its leaders – especially Menachem Begin – were true liberals and upholders of the Rule of Law. It was Begin who fought against the use of the emergency regulations inherited by Israel from the British Mandatory Government and used primarily against the state’s Arab citizens, and for the abolition of the special military administration – which was a form of apartheid – to which the Arabs of Israel were subjected until 1966.
Perhaps the best (and saddest) manifestation of the difference between the old Right and the new Right are the current attacks on President Reuven Rivlin for daring to follow the path of his teacher and mentor Begin, including his decision to attend a service in memory of the shameful Kafr Kasim massacre of October 29, 1956 (in the course of the Sinai Campaign), in which 49 innocent Israeli Arab villagers were shot dead by a unit of Mishmar Hagvul, which opened fire at them without warning, as they returned from work to their village, unaware that a curfew had been declared in their absence. The policemen involved were charged and sentenced to imprisonment, and the whole episode was condemned by Ben-Gurion. How many Jewish Israelis today, including those badmouthing Rivlin, know the details of this episode? For his efforts to act as the president of all Israelis, not just Jewish Israelis, and “daring” to admit that Israel too has been responsible over the years for crass acts of criminal injustice, Rivlin has been referred to as a “Jew boy” (yehudon), a traitor, who ought to be president of Gaza.
A poster showing Rivlin wearing a keffiyeh has appeared, reminiscent of similar posters of Rabin just days before he was assassinated, 19 years ago.
But back to our pyromaniacs, who belong to the political camp that cannot stand any Jew who does not believe that sticking fingers into the eyes of the Palestinians and the rest of the world is the only true patriotic way for a proud Jew to act – not even the president of the state, who rejects the two-state solution, but at the same time really and truly seeks a formula for coexistence with the Palestinians, not because he is a wimp, or a “self-hating Jew,” but because he believes that there can be no one-state solution without coexistence.
I don’t believe that the one-state solution is possible or desirable under any circumstances, but at least Rivlin is making an honest effort to create circumstances in which he believes it might work. Nor do I believe that Israel will find peace and quiet by calling for Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount, and threatening to build the Third Temple there with 1.6 billion Muslims yelling bloody murder in the background, and threatening to act; or by continuing indiscriminate settlement activities in the West Bank, which not only the third world but also the EU and our only ally – the US – vehemently oppose, even if to date they have done very little to stop it (nothing lasts forever); or by continuing to bring Jewish settlers into Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem by very dodgy means, and continuing to build Jewish neighborhoods on territories that were never part of the municipal zone of Jerusalem before 1967, and are not recognized as part of Jerusalem by anyone except the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
Those who are advocating and actively promoting all the above mentioned activities claim that the “Oslo way” has failed, and that it is high time to try “something else.”
But why do they believe that setting fire to the region will bring the desired result? True, the number of Jews (and others) killed in Palestinian terrorist activities rose sharply after Oslo, but so did the number of Jews killed and murdered by other Jews, and who knows whether without Oslo the numbers would have been smaller and not larger? And how can any rational human being believe that one can bring peace and quiet by denying that the Palestinians have any sort of rights, and by taking away any glimmer of hope from millions of Palestinians, most of whom are not supporters of Hamas, in a situation where the phrase “the whole world is against us” is sadly turning into bitter truth with our own encouragement? THERE ARE apparently many in the national religious camp, including ministers Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel, who are acting as if they believe that God is on the side of the pyromaniacs, and can be counted on to control the fire – the very same God who let one million innocent Jewish children die in the Holocaust. However, let us not forget that according to most of the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) the whole Zionist endeavor runs counter to God’s will, as does angering the gentiles, and hastening the construction of the Third Temple.
And what about the secular Right? The likes of Miri Regev answered that question by attending the meeting of the LIBA Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem the other day, after which an attempt was made to kill the organization’s leader Yehuda Glick (to whom I wish a full recovery, despite his disruptive activities).
For several weeks there was no reaction from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, on Saturday night he finally acted. Not due to any lesson he learned from the incitement before the assassination of Rabin, which he had failed to stop in time as leader of the opposition, nor from the tragic results of the Mount Carmel fire back in 2010, which had caught him unprepared as prime minister, but rather due to heavy pressure from the US and Jordan.
On Saturday night Netanyahu called up Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein to help him convince the Knesset members to avoid further inflaming the situation – especially with regard to the Temple Mount. He will hopefully also take some firm action among his ministers – especially those from Bayit Yehudi. It is a shame, however, that foreign intervention caused him to act, and not common sense.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.