Monday, October 31, 2011

Akiva Eldar Needs Menachem Begin

Akiva Eldar uses Menachem Begin for his own political/ideological ends:

Israel needs a new Menachem Begin

As far back as 1956, Begin suggested that the Knesset 'not legislate any law that limits freedom of expression, orally or in writing.' It's horrifying to realize that after more than 50 years, even this self-evident principle of democracy is now held in doubt by the Knesset.

A few years before the killing of two Palestinians who had hijacked Bus No. 300, I wrote an article about a Palestinian jounalist from East Jerusalem who had complained that when he was in administrative detention, he had been tortured by Shin Bet security service interrogators.

They didn't kill him, nor did they break any bones. It was just the garden-variety shaking, humiliation and sleepless nights (the allegation, incidentally, was "membership of a hostile organization" - Fatah).

In contrast to Shimon Peres, a member of the "peace camp" who abetted the cover-up of the Bus 300 affair, the prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin, the head of the "national camp," ordered a thorough investigation of the young Palestinian's claims. The investigation, carried out by then-State Prosecutor Gavriel Bach, ended with the dismissal of two Shin Bet investigators and strict directives that banned the use of torture in the questioning of security prisoners.

It would be easy to imagine what a tumult there would be in the Knesset if someone in the political or judicial echelons would dare today to touch a hair on the head of any security officer for hurting an Arab.

Actually, it's doubtful whether Menachem Begin would even be offered a place on the Likud benches today. Begin, the godfather of MK Yariv Levin (Likud) - who ridicules the Supreme Court and sponsored the bill to increase compensation in libel cases - probably wouldn't find his place anywhere in the 18th Knesset, whose winter session opens today.

He would be considered weird even by many members of Kadima, including party chairwoman Tzipi Livni and leadership contender Shaul Mofaz. Nor are the struggles Begin conducted to reinforce the rule of law, and to preserve human rights and freedom of expression, particularly attractive to Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich. She prefers to leave such "left-wing" agendas to Zahava Gal-On and Meretz.

Those who have sponsored anti-democratic laws - both those that have been enacted and those still pending - present their supporters as "patriots," while opponents are described as "bleeding hearts" who care nothing for state security.

A position paper published by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and attorney Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute examines Begin's doctrines and demonstrates that one can have a broad perception of democracy while still remaining a patriot and committed to security. Although the quotes they bring are taken from Begin's Knesset addresses when he was leading the opposition, he was generally true to his principles even after rising to power.

No one can question Begin's concern for the safety and security of Israeli citizens. Yet here is Begin, during a debate in the Knesset plenum on February 20, 1962, on a bill to cancel the (Emergency ) Defense Regulations:

"The existence of these regulations raises a question about the basic rights of every Israeli citizen... We've heard the argument that the British did us a favor by leaving us these 1945 regulations when they left the country. This is a very strange argument... If it isn't fitting for the State of Israel to legislate such a law or something like it, is it fair for the State of Israel to maintain this law?"

During the same address, Begin rejected the argument that Israel's Arab citizens should not be given full and equal rights because they do not serve in the army.

"This is an unusual argument," he said. "We are the ones who decided not to obligate Arab residents, as opposed to the Druze, to serve in the army... We believe that in the Jewish state, there must be, and must always be, equal rights for all citizens, regardless of religion, nationality or ethnic origin."

Even earlier, in a Knesset speech in 1959, Begin said, "We don't accept the semi-official notion, which we heard during the third Knesset, that a state grants rights and thus a state is allowed to retract rights. We believe that there are human rights that predate the human way of life known as the state."

As far back as 1956, when Israel's democracy was still in diapers, Begin suggested that the Knesset "not legislate any law that limits freedom of expression, orally or in writing."

It's horrifying to realize that after more than 50 years, even this self-evident principle of democracy is now held in doubt by the Knesset.

Menachem Begin, where are you when we need you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shimon Peres on the Altalena Affair

Excerpted from his new autobiography at Tablet, Ben-Gurion: A Political Life by Shimon Peres in conversation with David Landau:

It was a reinvigorated IDF that took to the field when the battle was rejoined on July 8. This was the case in more than just the logistical sense. For while the Arab guns had been silent, Ben-Gurion faced his sternest test—from within his own side.

The Provisional Government had issued an ordinance on May 26 establishing the Israel Defense Forces and prohibiting “the establishment or maintenance of any other armed force.” On June 1, Menachem Begin, the Etzel (also known as the Irgun) leader, signed an agreement with the government whereby Etzel units would join the IDF in battalion formations and take an oath of loyalty. The Etzel’s separate command structure would be disbanded within a month, and the organization would cease buying arms abroad.

Nevertheless, on June 11, the Altalena, a ship that the Etzel had purchased, set sail from southern France with a large quantity of arms and explosives on board as well as some 850 immigrants. As it approached the shores of Israel, Begin informed the government that 20 percent of the arms would be sent to Etzel units in Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was not yet formally under Israel’s jurisdiction, Yisraeli Galili, negotiating for the IDF, agreed. Begin then proposed that the remaining weaponry go first to equip Etzel units within the IDF. Whatever was left could then be allocated to other units. Galili balked. He reported to Ben-Gurion on June 19 that the danger of a “private army” was evolving. Ben-Gurion convened the cabinet. “There are not going to be two states,” he declared, “and there are not going to be two armies. And Mr. Begin will not do what he feels like. … If he does not give in we shall open fire!” The cabinet resolved unanimously to “authorize the defense minister to take action in accordance with the law of the land.”

Ben-Gurion feared that Begin might use the arms aboard the Altalena to equip Etzel units outside the sovereign jurisdiction of the state—thus ostensibly not violating his commitment—in order to extend the war with the Arabs into the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), thereby defying government policy.

The Altalena anchored off Kfar Vitkin, a moshav, or settlement, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, and hopefully far from the prying eyes of U.N. observers, and began off-loading the weapons with the help of hundreds of supporters who had gathered at the site.

Galili and Yigael Yadin, chief of operations for the IDF, deployed troops to surround the beach and ordered Begin to surrender. Some of the troops with Etzel sympathies crossed the lines and lined up with the Altalena crew and its enthusiastic sympathizers. The ship, with Begin and other Revisionist leaders now on board, weighed anchor and put out to sea, chased by IDF craft. It sailed south toward Tel Aviv and eventually ran aground close to the shore. At army headquarters in Ramat Gan, I spent that night with a rifle in my hand in Ben-Gurion’s office, in case the headquarters compound was stormed by demonstrators.
Off the Tel Aviv boardwalk, a traumatic scenario unfolded the next day. Etzel soldiers and civilian sympathizers streamed to the site. Some waded into the sea and swam out to the ship. At military headquarters, Ben-Gurion paced back and forth, fuming.

Eventually he issued written orders to Yadin to concentrate “troops, fire-power, flame-throwers, and all the other means at our disposal in order to secure the ship’s unconditional surrender.” Yadin was then to await the government’s instructions.

Ben-Gurion then convened the cabinet again. Some colleagues suggested possible compromises, but he was of no mind for any such weakness. “This is an attempt to destroy the army,” he thundered. “This is an attempt to murder the state. In these two matters there can be no compromise.” The cabinet backed him. Small-arms fire broke out between shore and ship. The government evacuated homes and shops in the line of fire. The Palmach commander Yigal Allon, now a senior IDF general, was put in charge of the operation. He ordered a cannon deployed. Yitzhak Rabin was in command of it. The first shell fell wide, but the second struck the vessel. Fire broke out in the hold. Those on board began to abandon ship. (It stood barely one hundred yards from the beach.) But before they could all do so, an explosion tore through the ship, destroying it. Sixteen Etzel men and three IDF soldiers died in the episode; dozens more were wounded.

Begin delivered a two-hour broadcast live on Etzel radio that night, roundly cursing Ben-Gurion who, he claimed, had been out to kill him. For his part, Begin said, he would continue to restrain his men and thus prevent the outbreak of civil war: “We will not open fire. There will be no fraternal strife when the enemy is at the gate.” Ben-Gurion spoke at the People’s Assembly, the transitional parliament. He said that since the arms had not been destined for the IDF, he was glad they had been destroyed. He added a line praising “the blessed cannon” that had fired at the Altalena—a phrase the Revisionist stalwarts never forgot nor forgave.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Egyptian-Israel Peace Treaty

Results from arecent opinion poll conducted by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies

By Abdel Monem Said
Al Arabiya News
Monday, 24 October 2011

4% favour recourse to war for various reasons
7% for abolishing the peace treaty
12% for expelling the Israeli ambassador from Cairo
11% for recalling the Egyptian ambassador from Israel

62% would like to see the peace agreement to continue, but with amendments intended to enhance Egyptian security (and which are currently being reviewed).

23% want the peace treaty to remain exactly as it is for fear of renewed tension and conflict at a time when Egypt needs to rebuild itself amidst a host of other formidable challenges.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nobel Prize Awardee Dan Schechtman at Begin Center

Israel's latest Nobel Prize winner, Prof. Dan Schchtman, conducted a press conference here at the Begin Center and graciously posed with the members of this years participants of the Israel Fellows Program:-

as well as conducting a short discussion with Begin Center president, Herzl Makov:-