Their petition stated: “We consider the use of the army for political purposes and the war against Jews as a danger that can ruin the army, especially when it is involved in a grave sin against settling the Land. We declare that our faith in the Torah comes before any other law or order.”

Against this backdrop, memories of the Altalena were revived from a watery grave – not as the unmitigated tragedy it surely was but, astonishingly, as the preferred Israeli model for suppressing dissent.

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Even the distinguished Hebrew University political scientist Shlomo Avineri, writing in Haaretz, praised Ben-Gurion’s “ruthless determination” in 1948 to preserve the army’s “monopoly on the legitimate use of force.”

But the cannon that sunk the Altalena on that tragic June day fired the first salvo – literally and symbolically – in a struggle over legitimacy that has tormented Israel ever since. One Altalena tragedy was enough. The State of Israel must not, yet again, set Jews against their Jewish brothers.

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Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.
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