Monday, October 18, 2004

From Left to 'Wrong'

I admit that in joining the Betar Zionist youth movement when I was 16 I
was not aware I was becoming a member of yet another minority within a

The move to Betar was borderline heresy in the black yarmulke world to
which I belonged, despite my having only joined it three years previously.
I was leaving my childhood friends behind and aligning with
the political Right just when the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam protest
movement was about to burst on to the scene.

While the ethos of the New Left beguiled much of my generation, I went
down a different road. At Zionist youth council meetings and joint kumzitz evenings
as well as at the annual folk dance festival at Madison Square Garden, "fascist" was
the epithet hurled at those of us in Betar by members of the pioneering youth movements.
It was they who came to control the Zionist apparatus and its budget within the World
Zionist Organization. The pioneers were ostensibly nonpolitical youth groups. In practice,
they were partisan and left-wing. Our movement's ideology, our reading of history, left us convinced that Hashomer Hatza'ir or Habonim were wrong. Our take on the communist threat to Israel
and to the Jews of the Soviet Union left us unenthused about the value of linkingup
with progressive forces.

Four decades later I have the sense that I am still part of a much-maligned minority, and that left-wing ideas shape the political orientation and cultural landscape of Israel's civil society.

GENE SHARP is the doyen of nonviolent direct action strategy at the Albert Einstein Institute in Boston. Recently I wrote him about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza andnorthern Samaria.I drew his attention to the draconian elements of the new Disengagement Law being prepared for legislation. Paragraph 27(A) [2-3] decrees up to three years' imprisonment - five years if a policeman is endangered -for those who refuse to leave their homes. Thus employing the tactic
of passive resistance, such as a sit-in, is outlawed.

Sharp's reaction was striking. "Such an extreme law against explicitly nonviolent opposition may
drive people who prefer to use nonviolent methods instead to use violent methods."But Israel's Left,
in the media, Knesset and other corridors of power seem almost oblivious.

From where I sit, it seems that the Right is a particular target offree-speech restrictions. For example, any national camp figure employing the phrase "Oslo criminals" is excoriated. But when Yossi Sarid wrote in the September 23 edition of Haaretz that "the time hascome to admit that the crime of the settlements is the greatest crime in the history of the country" - inflammatory and inciteful from our point of view - nary a criticism was leveled. And what are we to make of Yahad MK Avshalom Vilan's August 20 interview
in Haaretz in which the Peace Now founder said, "I am telling you that the goal of the extreme Right is to create Jewish shaheeds."... In the end a situation is liable to be created in which the trigger will have to be squeezed slowly, responsibly, coolly and intelligently."But when Ofra's Uri Elitzur talks about having anti-disengagement demonstrators shoving soldiers trying to remove them, he is targeted as a seditionist.

And what are we to make of the sympathetic treatment Tali Fahima has been getting - at least judging by the advertisements that have appeared in the prestige press, and the talk radio chatter? She's the activist who was placed in administrative detention for allegedly intending to carry out a terrorist attack inside Israel
in conjunction with a Jenin-based terror cell.

Contrast her case with that of far-Right activist Noam Federman, who failed to garner expressions of concern about his eight months in administrative detention from progressive voices concerned with civil liberties.
More recently, rabbis who urge their pupils to talk to their commanders about not taking part in the disengagement plan have been pilloried. But soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories are upheld as paragons of morality.Haifa University philosopher Ilan Gur-Ze'ev is within his rights in advocating that Israelis embrace an exile-oriented education. But, then,why should talk on the theological Right about a Messianic Zionist
education be denigrated?

In September 2003 former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg wrote in Yediot Aharanot that " The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on the foundations of oppression and injustice... [a state]
run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawmakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies.
A state lacking justice "

Harsh words. Perhaps as harsh as the words of Nadia Matar, who compared disengagement head Yonatan Bassi to a Judenrat official. The difference is that Matar's remarks landed her an appointment with the police, while Burg's didn't. Despite all the years that have passed since my decision to align mysel fwith the Zionist Right, I have still not become inured to the sense that my progressive opponents enjoy an unfair advantage.

The Jerusalem Post
October 17, 2004