And none embodied the biblical worldview more, or had more political agility, than Menachem Begin, who has no real heirs
Benjamin Netanyahu waves near a portrait of Menachem Begin after casting his ballot for a proposal to amend the Likud party’s constitution at the party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2010. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
Israel’s founding generation is disappearing. In January, Ariel Sharon, who left an indelible mark on Israel’s map and history, finally passed away after spending eight years in a coma. Earlier this month, Meir Har-Zion, the fearless and controversial soldier who helped create the Sayeret Matkal, died at 80. And this coming summer, Shimon Peres, now 90 and the last surviving member of David Ben Gurion’s inner circle, will retire from Israel’s presidency and, presumably, begin to step back from public life.
Certainly there are politicians who can still claim direct connection to the founders’ generation, most notably Isaac Herzog—known as Buji—whose grandfather Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog was Israel’s first chief rabbi and whose father Chaim Herzog, a disciple of Ben Gurion, was the country’s sixth president. But in a sense, we are already living in a post-founder era: There is no meaningful way in which Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud, can be called an heir to the party’s founder, Menachem Begin.
The inexorable disappearance of those who lived through—and shaped—the heroic period of Israel’s establishment virtually begs us to ask: Why is it that no one in today’s generation of leaders, who of course are all deeply committed to the state of Israel and to the Jewish people, can truly claim the mantle of those who went before?
The answer lies, perhaps, in the difference between how the members of the Independence generation perceived their Jewishness. These were men who came out of a Europe whose sons were educated as Jews. They embodied a biblical sort of statesmanship, in which their stewardship of the new state was crucial to the rebirth of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.
This was true of no one so much as Begin, who saw the world through utterly biblical lenses. The Bible, he believed, was actually the Jews’ deed to the land. The Tanakh fed his adoration of Jewish fighters. And it gave context to Begin’s sense of time and purpose—in a way that has been true of none of Israel’s leaders either before or since. Devoted to the Jews, he believed with all his heart that those of other faiths were no less created in God’s image. A man of great faith, he understood the difference between a biblical worldview and a narrow ideology.
In Israel, it is rare to find leaders who couple such profound conviction to such generosity of spirit and nimbleness of mind. But Israel’s leadership no longer thinks of itself so consciously and unabashedly in biblical terms; Israel no longer produces people with the authority of biblical fluency, let alone conviction, at the core of their politics.
Begin was not “observant” in today’s sense, but he was always a person of deep Jewish faith, for whom the Tanakh was the roadmap of life. He often related the tradition of his parents’ house, in which the children would play a game with their father: They would recite the beginning of a biblical verse, and their father would have to complete it. It was almost impossible to stump him, Begin would later recall. The Bible was the text, the book.
When he was elected in 1977—a surprise not only to the nation but to him, as well—Begin was confronted by a group of reporters and asked if he had anything that he wanted to say to anyone. Begin reached into his pocket and took out a kippah, with a casualness unimaginable on the part of any non-Orthodox leader today, and replied that yes, he wanted to say something to Aliza, his wife and the love of his life: “I recall with favor, the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride—How you followed me into the wilderness, in a land sown with mines.” It was, of course, a conscious misquote of the famous verse from Jeremiah 2:2, in which God says to the Jewish people:
I recall with favor the devotion of your youth
Your love as a bride—
as you followed Me in the wilderness
In a land not sown.
Faced with cameras and the surprise of his election, Begin did the only thing he knew how to do: He drew his inspiration from the biblical well that he always nourished him. Much the same transpired in June 1981, when eight Israeli warplanes prepared to take off from an airfield in the Sinai to head to Iraq, where they destroyed the nuclear reactor at Osirak. Israeli Intelligence had prepared copious amounts of material for Begin to review, as part of an assessment of what Saddam Hussein might do in response to the attack. But as the planes took off, made their way eastward, bombed the reactor, and then raced home, Begin did not so much as crack one of the binders. Rather, he paced to and fro across his office, mumbling softly, apparently—according to Yehuda Avner, who was present and who related the story to me—reciting psalms. It was the height of tension, a moment of grave danger for the Jewish State. Rather than burying himself in classified data, Begin drew his calm from the Book of Books.
It wasn’t simply a question of faith. The Bible, after all, is a book with a majestic sweep and a grand view of history. It opens even before the world is created and imagines a re-perfected reality at the End of Days. The events related in the Tanakh—the beginnings of the Jewish people as a small family and then clan, Egyptian slavery and freedom, the march to the land, conquest, kingship, and loss of the kingdoms—were, though central to Jewish history, reflective of just a small slice of time in the unfolding of the cosmos. Begin saw the world that way.
When negotiations between Israel and Egypt stalled in late 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter tried to press Begin, then physically ailing, into making concessions. It was, Carter entreated the Israeli leader, “an opportunity that may never come again.” But Begin’s view of the world was too biblical, too vast, too grounded in a sense of endless possibility of Jewish rebirth for that warning to strike a chord. Responding to Carter on Israeli television, Begin evoked a biblical perspective when he retorted, “Our people lived thousands of years before Camp David, and we will live thousands of years after Camp David. … If we are told that this is the last chance to arrive at peace, we shall not agree: There are no ‘last chances’ in life.”
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.