In according with the Basic Law: Government, the 37th Government of Israel was formed on December 29, 2022 having presented itself before the Knesset, announcing its guidelines of its policy, its make-up, and the distribution of functions among the Ministers, and merited an expression of confidence. Parliamentary democracy, following multiple elections and inter-party negotiations, won out. A coalition with a clear majority assumed power. But, then, something happened.
The government decided to proceed with its policy goals that were presented to the electorate during the election campaign.
Almost immediately, the arena for civic debate moved from the plenum hall and committee rooms to the streets. Ministers of the government, and most specifically, the Prime Minister, now serving for the third time in that position, were labeled “fascists”, “Hitler”, “traitor”, “dictatorship”, “destroying democracy”, “regime changers”, practicing a “coup” and so forth. The discourse became poisoned. Hi-tech company owners began moving their funds abroad as if they were pro-Palestinian BDS supporters. Highways and streets were, and continue to be, blockaded and closed down to traffic as demonstrators invaded. Strikes were initiated of various professions. Colleagues in industry, professional unions and academia found themselves bullied and threatened if they did not join in.
In the Constitution and Law Committee room, we were treated to Members of Knesset leaping over the table and approaching the chairman, MK Simcha Rothman, in a threatening manner, screaming and squawking a most raucous noise. Posters at rallies were decorated with S.S. lightning rods and even a few swastikas were observed. And the guillotines and hanging ropes returned from the Balfour Street protests.
Former and current politicians and senior army officers employed an extreme menacing vocabulary including using arms, breaking through barricades, war (“What is needed is to move to the next stage, the stage of war, and war is not waged with speeches. War is waged in a face-to-face battle, head-to-head and hand-to-hand, and that is what will happen here,” said Ehud Olmert) and the inevitable comparison since Yair Golan’s infamous 2016 “Processes” speech to Nazi Germany 1933 (“There were Dichters and Gallants and Barkats and Yuli Edelsteins there too. Good people. But there was one man – Hitler and next to him disturbed fanatics like Goebbels and Gering,” said former IDF Chief Education Officer Nechemia Dagan) and more.
For those a bit new to Zionist politics or to those for whom history is perhaps too boring, permit me a compact and concise review of the 100-year war the Zionist Left has been waging against the Zionist Right. That struggle is not as much over values, goals, beliefs and p[olicies but rather who will control the institutions of power. The issues prior to 1948 were who will supervise the defense policy, who will be allowed to immigrate, who will be employed, who will receive land for settlement and who will be represent the Yishuv in various international forums. These face-offs continued into the first two decades of the existence of the state.
The divide, I would suggest, began during World War One.
In early 1915, a few months after he realized that Jews needed to enlist in the war against Turkey, Ze’ev Jabotinsky began to work of the formation of what would become the Jewish Legion. The Executive of the World Zionist Organization opposed the move. They preferred neutrality. Menachem Ussishkin was so incensed that when he had occasion to meet Jabotinsky’s mother, he told her son should be hanged.
In early 1920, Jabotinsky adopted the position that Tel Chai needed to be temporarily abandoned unless David Ben-Gurion and friends fulfilled their promise to send reinforcement. Ben-Gurion declared he would. He didn’t. Yosef Trumpeldor and seven other pioneers were killed. Afterwards, Ben-Gurion and friends accused Jabotinsky of weakness.
In the summer of 1921, Maxim Slavinsky, a senior Ukrainian diplomat, proposed to Jabotinsky to establishment of a police force to accompany Ukrainian troops into Russia that would seek to prevent further anti-Jewish pogroms. Jabotinsky agreed. However, though the invasion did not occur, Socialist Zionists joined in with the Yevsektsiia Jewish Communists whose Yiddish language organ, Emes, reported: “The Zionists Are Plunging A Knife Into The Revolution’s Back. Jabotinsky Has Aligned Himself With Petliura” and making a pact with the devil.
Beginning in 1925, Jabotinsky began criticizing the agricultural settlement program of the Zionist Left, its relative failure economically and its inability to absorb masses of Jews and he was branded the “enemy of Labour”. Betar members, the Revisionist youth movement, found it difficult to obtain immigration certificates and were locked out of jobs if not member of the Histadrut. Anita Shapira has document violent attacks on Betar in her 1977 book Ha’Ma’avak Sh’Nichzav which never appeared in English although a summary was published in 1981 as “The Debate in Mapai on the Use of Violence, 1932-1935“.
Following the Haim Arlosoroff murder in June 1933, the Revisionist movement was stained as a camp of “assassins” and “fascists” and Ben-Gurion termed Jabotinsky “Vladimir Hitler” and ran Mapai’s Zionist Congress election campaign on the false charge of Revisionist guilt for the shedding of his blood. Ben-Gurion sat with Jabotinsky in London to arrange a cessation of the hostilities but the Histadrut rank-and-file voted the agreements down.
In October 1944, the Palmach engaged in the infamous Saison action. This included kidnapping, torturing and handing over to the British authorities mostly members of the Irgun in order to interfere with the revolt Menachem Begin had declared against the oppressive Mandate government a half year earlier. Almost one thousand were subjected to this treatment. One year later, ironically, Ben-Gurion ordered the same people to cooperate with the Irgun and Lechi in a united military resistance against the British. In June 1948, the Altalena arms ship was shelled off of Tel Aviv’s beach.
The election of the Likud with Menachem Begin at its helm to the country’s leadership in 1977 so astounded Yitchak Ben-Aharon of the Labour Party (Maarach) that he declared “I am unwilling to accept the decision of the people. They do not understand what they did and will yet regret it.” Someone wisecracked, “Ben-Aharon wants to replace Israel’s populace”. The inability to accept that election outcome was rooted in the approach the Mapai establishment had maintained for over three decades.
Back in 1963, David Ben-Gurion had written to poet Haim Guri and expressed his opinion that he had “no doubt that a Begin regime…will bring with it the destruction of the state. It will, in any case, turn Israel into a monster…[and] endanger Israel’s moral standing”. After all, as Ben-Gurion adamantly insisted, Begin was “clearly a Hitlerist type: a racist, willing to destroy all the Arabs for the sake of Greater Israel”.
The Mapai-regime hegemony that had based itself on the pre-state Histadrut empire, the Hagana militia and the Jewish Agency/World Zionist Organization institutions, as well an implacable hostility to those of the Zionist right and their potential allies, exerted control during the first two and a half decades of the state’s existence over government appointments both in Israel and abroad and assured acceptance through an old boys network based on the red-covered membership booklet for employment, positions in academia, government service, industry and the army. This created a powerful elite whose children and grandchildren are now in the forefront of the anti-judicial-reform protests. They are exploiting, as Moshe Radman explained at the end of July, the economic and military positions to force a collapse on the government.
This historical phenomenon, of course, is not the sole driving force of the protests. Nevertheless, it provides a “vehicle of legacy” that, parallel to any rational arguments they think they possess, forms an emotional framework that creates the psychological excitement to engage in their radical activity as well as support their rhetoric of hate and disparagement.