Since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the words “treason” and “patriotism” have been expunged from the Israeli political lexicon. Yet now – with scarcely a day going by without people being killed and Israel effectively being in a state of war – it is perhaps timely to revisit concepts such as patriotism, disloyalty, and solidarity.
Let me say at the outset that before my aliya, whatever my personal reservations might have been with regard to Oslo, I supported the so-called “irreversible” peace process that proved to be such a cruel illusion. I did so because I considered it obligatory for Diaspora leaders, if not to endorse, at least to avoid public criticism of the security policies determined by the democratically elected government of Israel. I still hold that view, just as I still believe that the architects of Oslo were well-intentioned.
Yitzhak Rabin took a huge gamble and lost. The consequences for the nation are horrendous. He will be judged harshly by history, but I believe that future historians will still conclude that he was sincerely motivated by what he mistakenly believed was best for his nation. I also venture the thought that, were he alive now, he would have long admitted failure, cut his losses, and concentrated on trying to unite the people of Israel against the common enemy – unlike so many of his Labor Party colleagues.
Alas, despite the daily toll in lives, the irresponsible behavior of some of our rejected political leaders raises serious questions challenging the fundamentals of Israel’s democratic ethos. In the most liberal of democracies it would be unacceptable that a former justice minister – in this case Yossi Beilin – would be given sanction to lobby foreign governments, including the United States, urging them to reject the policies of his own democratically elected government. It is simply not done. Likewise, Beilin providing tactical advice to Arafat and his cohorts, who advocate the killing of Jews, on how to respond to the Sharon government, is scandalous.
And to top it all we have also recently been told that Beilin is currently drafting a document with Nabil Sha’ath summarizing the “understandings” which, in its dying moments, members of the Barak government desperately sought to reach with Arafat’s representatives. The Taba negotiations, it will be recalled, took place in the absence of a mandate from the Knesset, were never consummated, and were ultimately nullified by prime minister Barak himself. Yet here is Beilin producing such a document knowing full well that it will be used as leverage against the coalition government of Israel.
No less appalling, the leader of the opposition, Yossi Sarid, recently wrote an article in The New York Times demonizing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, bracketing him and Arafat as twin evils “dancing their dance of bloodshed and despair,” and calling on the American administration to reject the policies of the elected Israeli government and impose a settlement.
SUCH MACHINATIONS are abhorrent to most Israelis . The Sharon government still enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the electorate, including former supporters of the Oslo Accords. Yet here we have the leader of the opposition and other diehard Osloists, such as Beilin, displaying utter contempt for the democratic process and acting as though there were no red lines or limits to international political activity intentionally designed to undermine the policies of a government during a time of war. I repeat that such behavior would not be tolerated in any normal democratic society.
Such politicians and the media that support them could take an example from the behavior of their American counterparts after September 11, when all political groups set aside differences and united behind their president. Could one possibly visualize them behaving as Beilin and Sarid do? They would be hounded from public life for far less.
We should also take a cue from Menachem Begin, who as a highly outspoken leader of the opposition always stressed that divisions in Israel were not for export and had to be resolved in Israel within a democratic framework. He consistently refused to criticize the government when abroad.
Although many would support it, the solution is not to introduce coercive legislation. Yet no democracy under siege can tolerate such agitation and we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand. We must therefore at least make ourselves heard and confront the post- Zionist defeatists who demonstrate contempt for the Jewish people and the feelings of most Israelis.
We must demand that, as in other Western democracies, rejected or opposition politicians abide by the decisions of the electorate. Certainly, they have every right to try to persuade their fellow Israelis to support their views. But they must cease subverting the will of the people by collaborating with our enemies or trying to persuade other countries to impose solutions on us which were overwhelmingly rejected in the course of democratic elections.
Tolerance of such abominable behavior undermines national self- respect and international standing, especially at a time when Israel is still facing an existential struggle.
The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress.