Woe to the people of Israel if their elected representatives are a true reflection of the electorate. The public has become so accustomed to the appalling behavior of its politicians that it seems to have become immune to outrage.
At present, the problem is principally centered on a group of Labor ministers and MKs who are unable to come to terms with the reality that the Oslo Accords were a cruel hoax and that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is an outstanding con man.
The successors to the great Labor Zionist movement of David Ben- Gurion – which headed 20 out of 29 governments since Israel wasstablished – have marginalized themselves to the fringes of political life. Many lifelong Labor supporters have defected from the party in disgust.
Today, radicals who still occupy the dominant role in the party are behaving almost as though they were members of Matzpen, the loony leftist group which sympathized with Palestinian terrorism in the 1970s. Their behavior is also reminiscent of that of the members of Mapam – the Marxist antecedent to Meretz – which refused to recognize the evil of Stalinism even when Jews were being murdered at the height of the Soviet anti-Semitic purges. When Mordechai Oren, one of their own leaders, was arrested in Czechoslovakia on trumped-up charges of espionage, Mapam still refused to believe that a Communist party could behave in such a manner.
Now the contemporary counterparts to those discredited Marxists of the past are the apologists for Arafat.
Former ministers such as Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben- Ami have no qualms about making statements which provide encouragement to our enemies and undermine the morale of a people under siege.
Beilin, the previous minister of justice, backed by substantial funds provided by European countries opposed to the Israeli government, actually consorts with those who endorse the killing of fellow Israelis, and actively lobbies foreign governments to take up positions against the policies of his own democratically elected government.
In most countries, such scandalous behavior, especially at a time of war, would be considered treasonous. It stands in stark contrast to the behavior of American politicians who, in the wake of September 11, set aside partisan politics and united behind their president.
Beilin could also have taken a cue from Menachem Begin, who, as an outspoken leader of the opposition, never criticized the government when abroad, stressing that divisions in Israel were not for export and had to be resolved within the country.
THIS BIZARRE political environment was highlighted during US Vice President Richard Cheney’s visit to Israel in March. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres argued with Cheney, urging him to avoid publicly humiliating Arafat. Cheney had to terminate the discussion by stating: “I respect the foreign minister, but disagree with him on this situation.”
More recently, at last week’s Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting, Peres insisted that we are obliged “to give credit to Arafat for having been courageous enough to endorse the Oslo Accords.”
That remark was made a few days after the country had endured most horrific casualties from Arafat’s Al-Aksa homicide bombers.
Even the “moderate” head of the Labor party, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, feels impelled to make statements and gestures to promote his personal political agenda, irrespective of the damage he may be causing. Immediately following US President George W. Bush’s speech last Monday, he released a plan for resolving the ongoing crisis in Israel, using the hostile east Jerusalem Arabic media as the vehicle.
This infuriated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was aware that the initiative was motivated solely by a desire to score points against Labor MK Haim Ramon, Ben-Eliezer’s rival for the party leadership.
Sharon rightly observed that it was “not fitting” for a senior government minister at a time of war to unveil his diplomatic vision to Israel’s enemies before presenting it to his own people and the government.
Such appalling deviations from rationality and acceptable civic- political behavior pale in comparison, however, to some of the reactions on the part of Labor politicians to the Bush speech.
For the first time in Israel’s history, the leader of the most powerful country in the world spelled out the truth. Instead of employing the customary rhetoric about “cycles of violence,” or other statements creating moral equivalence between perpetrators and victims, Bush clearly stated that Israel is entitled to defend itself against those seeking to destroy it and murder its citizens. And though he endorsed the Palestinian right to a state, he did so conditionally: demanding that the Palestinian people elect leaders who are not tainted with terrorism and that their governing bodies undergo genuine reform.
There is little question that today, the overwhelming majority of Israelis enthusiastically endorse that formulation.
Lo and behold, however, the Peres, Ramon, Ben-Ami, and Beilin people considered the speech “unbalanced.” Peres was even “dismayed and frustrated” by Bush’s call for the ousting of Arafat, describing it as a “fatal mistake.”
A few days later, on a BBC program, Peres reiterated his willingness to continue working with Arafat as a partner for peace if he adopted reforms. When our foreign minister publicly expresses his willingness to cooperate with Arafat after the president of the United States calls for his ouster, the time has arrived for the prime minister of Israel to say enough is enough.
BUT THE prize for the crossing of red lines must go to Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg. It is axiomatic that in Western parliaments, the speaker rises above the political party fray. Indeed, all of Burg’s predecessors endeavored to be apolitical, regardless of their affiliation.
From the day of his election, however, Burg created a political fiefdom, using his office to torment former prime minister Ehud Barak on one hand and enthusiastically joining the campaign to demonize Prime Minister Sharon on the other.
He felt no constraints in initiating independent political forays. Despite the fervent opposition of the prime minister and the Knesset majority, he pulled every lever to address the bogus Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah – even while the killings of Israelis had already become a daily occurrence.
When his efforts failed, Burg discovered a new vehicle through which to ingratiate himself with his radical Left colleagues, by assuming the role of promoter of the so- called Saudi Peace Plan. He – the former chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency – even tried to sell the Saudi plan to Diaspora Jewish leaders by promoting it at a World Jewish Congress conference in Brussels. At that meeting, he misled his audience by denying that the Palestinian right of return was a crucial component of the plan.
Now, when most Israelis – and Jews the world over – are relieved that for the first time an American president has pointed a finger at the man who “traffics with terrorists,” Israel’s Knesset speaker tells that president that his speech may be nice, but that “you won’t be coming to the funerals.”
He also told Israel Radio that despite his fervent opposition to Sharon, he would have suggested to Bush that he mind his own business should he ever be inclined to tell Israelis to reject their own prime minister.
This hint of an analogy between Arafat the terrorist, and Sharon, the democratically elected prime minister of Israel, is repugnant.
For someone whose own election to the Labor Party leadership was disallowed because more Druse voters supported him than were on the electoral rolls, it is perhaps somewhat grotesque for Burg to extol Arafat’s virtues as an elected leader. After all, Hitler was also democratically elected. Does that mean that the Allied demands for unconditional surrender and the trials of Nazi war criminals were wrong?
Should we be expected to come to terms with a future transparent Palestinian government that reelects Arafat, or new leaders who still believe that the eradication of Jewish sovereignty through the blood of their children is more important than peace?
Bush told the Palestinians that if they want a state, they should replace those of their leaders who are contaminated with terror. If they don’t, they get no state. Does the sspeaker of the Knesset consider such a proposal to be unbalanced, unfair, or undemocratic?
In light of such remarks, it is not surprising that Burg also calls for greater European involvement in the Middle East and an end to the “occupation.”
Burg’s outrageous behavior makes him unfit to hold office. He should resign or be dismissed.
Sharon is heading a country at war. His political and military strategies enjoy the support of the vast majority of the public. Let him therefore now take decisive action by demanding the dismissal of those who undermine his administration from within and thus neutralize the impact of the unrepresentative noisy splinter groups.
If he acts with strength, he will achieve unity and raise the morale of the nation. Perhaps he will even revisit outdated concepts such as patriotism and solidarity, rather than indulging fringe elements whose governmental style is that of a banana republic.
The writer is the senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress. His e-mail address is [email protected].