On June 11, 1990, Yitzhak Shamir presented his new government to the Knesset. It was a narrow government, after his previous national unity government had been brought down in a vote of no-confidence and Shimon Peres failed to form an alternative government.
For almost a month the new coalition numbered only 59 MKs, but from the very beginning enjoyed the external support of Moledet, the extreme right-wing party led by Rehavam Ze’evi, which held two vital Knesset seats.
Moledet joined the coalition on February 5, 1991, and Ze’evi was appointed minister without portfolio. At that point the coalition numbered 66 MKs, but the number went down again to 59 after the three right-wing parties Moledet, Tzomet and Tehiya left the government over Israel’s participation in the Madrid Conference in October/November 1991. The mere fact that the Israeli government had agreed to participate in a peace conference, in which the Palestinians formed part of the Jordanian delegation, was too much for the trio of right-wing parties.
What followed was a general election in which the Labor Party won, and Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister.
Ze’evi’s entry into the government – even in the relatively insignificant role of minister without portfolio (though he received a seat on the Security Cabinet) – was accompanied by an uproar of indignation, which also included some of the more liberal members of the Likud, such as Moshe Arens, David Levy, Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Ehud Olmert.
The reason for the indignation was the fact that Ze’evi’s party, which had been formed toward the elections to the 12th Knesset in 1988, advocated a “voluntary” transfer of Arabs who refused to accept Jewish supremacy in western Israel.
Ze’evi claimed at the time that the transfer he advocated was not the same as that advocated by Meir Kahana, which was involuntary (i.e. expulsion), and that political leaders like David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson and Yitzhak Tabenkin had, before 1948, also advocated a transfer of Arabs from the future Jewish state, forgetting to add that what they had spoken of was a population exchange with Arab states in which there was a Jewish population. Ze’evi’s critics retorted that he knew full well that a voluntary transfer was a fiction, adding that it was evident that he had no qualms about the idea of expelling Arabs by force.
In the early 1990s the aversion to Ze’evi concentrated on his political views. Nothing was said about his conduct as an IDF general, who openly pooh-poohed orders regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and behaved like a gluttonous sheikh. Little was said about his known contacts with the Israeli underworld after his retirement from the IDF. Nothing was said about his treatment of women – which was not common knowledge at the time, but was certainly known by all those who finally spoke up in Ilana Dayan’s Uvda (Fact) documentary program about Ze’evi last Thursday, and many others, who preferred to keep mum.
It should be remembered that the Law for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment was only passed in 1998, and that before that law was passed sexual harassment was not something one spoke about, let alone acted upon.
Ze’evi was not the only Israeli general accused of sexually harassing and even raping female soldiers under his command.
I recall having a long conversation with author Shulamit Har’even in the late 1980s or early 1990s, in which she told me her life story. Inter alia she recounted that as an officer in the women’s corps in the 1950s one of her tasks had been to take care of the young women allegedly sexually assaulted by Moshe Dayan. I didn’t ask her what she meant by “take care,” but it was clear that lodging a complaint was not part of the process. I don’t even know whether psychological assistance was included. Hushing the affair up certainly was. As one of Ze’evi’s alleged victims said on the Uvda program – after she had been harassed by him, she told her immediate commanding officer about the event, but he did nothing.
Unlike the Dayan family, who prefer to keep quiet about allegations regarding Dayan’s alleged misdeeds (sexual and archeological alike), the Ze’evi family is up in arms, claiming that since Ze’evi has been dead for 15 years and cannot answer the accusations, the whole “documentary” is nothing more than a trial with only one side present, and his assassination for a second time. As is well known, on October 17, 2001, Ze’evi was shot dead outside his hotel room in east Jerusalem by Palestinian terrorists.
Ze’evi was the first, and to date the only Israeli government minister – he was tourism minister in Ariel Sharon’s first government – to be murdered by Palestinian terrorists, even though numerous Palestinian political and military leaders were “eliminated” by Israel, for which the Palestinians have persistently threatened revenge. Incidentally, had Ze’evi agreed to accept a personal security guard from the Israeli Security Agency, he might still have been alive today.
There is no doubt that the fact that the Knesset voted in favor of a law to officially commemorate Rehavam Ze’evi on July 25, 2005, is much more a consequence of the circumstances of his death than any widespread appreciation for his legacy – a legacy that is diametrically opposed that of Rabin, not only in the political sense, but in the sense of human decency and integrity as well. If “legacy” could be limited to its political aspects – dayenu. But it includes everything, and that is why since the broadcast of Uvda last Thursday, there have been calls to repeal the 2005 commemoration law.
Since 2005 many tens of millions of shekels have been spent on Ze’evi’s commemoration in all possible forms. TV personality Rivka Michaeli – who was allegedly both sexually harassed by Ze’evi and later threatened by his henchmen after she dared speak publicly of the experience – related in her interview to Uvda that every time she passes under the bridge bearing his name crossing the Ayalon Highway, she spits.
But it is not only those who were direct victims of Ze’evi’s alleged misdeeds who resent the official commemoration at the expense of the public purse, but also bystanders, who do not believe that “love of Eretz Yisrael” is good enough a reason to forgive rape and other forms of moral and criminal misconduct, even if for years they were swept under the carpet by the authorities.
I would certainly be happy if the 2005 law were repealed, even though whenever I bumped into Ze’evi in the Knesset corridors in the years 1988-2001 he gave me a big friendly smile and called me Meidale, which was the endearing term he used for all females, of whatever age.
However, what I find more disturbing than the fact that the state spends so much money on the commemoration of a morally problematic man like Ze’evi is that when the law was first passed in 2005 there were people who knew all the accusations presented in the Uvda documentary, and kept quiet. This is the same complaint I have against all the people who knew of MK Moshe Katzav’s sexual misconduct when the Knesset elected him president on July 31, 2000, and also kept quiet.
As to Ze’evi’s family, they have every right to try to defend the reputation of their deceased loved one. However, I find their insistence on ignoring all the evidence that he was anything but a saint outrageous.
As a young man Ze’evi was nicknamed “Gandi” because of his emaciated appearance – not because of any moral resemblance to the saintly Indian leader.
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.