Sunday, November 23, 2008

Princes of Lies by Gideon Levy

The return of Benny Begin and Dan Meridor to Likud passed through the Israeli media without a hitch. There were those who, with the required politesse, reminded the two princes of their harsh statements made in the not-so-distant past against Benjamin Netanyahu, and they replied, with their customary grace and elegance - "Netanyahu matured, and I grew older," a pearl of wisdom offered by one of them. And all agreed that before us stood two clean, ethical, straight-as-an-arrow politicians without peer. Yet what we have are princes of lies.

Seemingly it is difficult to find a common denominator between the two. One is a far right-winger, the other is thought to be moderate. Nonetheless, the unavoidable conclusion upon seeing their joining Likud is that both are opportunists to the same degree. They returned to Likud solely because it is now on the path to success. There is no other way to explain their late return, now of all moments. Both of them left to join other parties, failed in them, and returned to Likud only when it is on the safe road back to power. If we were talking about anyone else, from David Levy to Yehiel Hazan, the media would be falling over themselves attacking their "cynical opportunism." Not so when talking about the two sons of kings.

Netanyahu, like his party, has yet to prove that he has changed. In any event, there is no way Likud and the man leading it have changed at the same time. Either Netanyahu has moderated his views (or he hasn't changed) and Begin is leading us astray, or Netanyahu has taken more extreme views (or hasn't changed) and Meridor is trying to deceive us.

True, it is difficult not to be amazed by the two. Begin is a humble man who travels by bus, a scientist who speaks clear, erudite Hebrew and who comports himself with austerity. Like his father, he opposes some of the cruelest edicts of the occupation. Meridor is an affable man who takes in the opera, is steeped in the poetry of Else Lasker-Schiller, is a fan of Heine, Schiller and Goethe, speaks many European languages and was raised in the cradle of culture in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem. While it was easy to attack Begin for his extreme, uncompromising, impossible positions, Meridor was always thought of as a staunch liberal, a champion of human rights and a friend of the Supreme Court; someone who fought against the Shin Bet lies and torture practices, opposed the expulsion of 415 Hamas operatives to Lebanon and supported the inclusion of Arab Knesset members to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which he chaired. In recent years, he has also sought redemption for the sin of his dream of the Greater Land of Israel. Meridor discovered, belatedly, that it is verboten to control another nation. His bizarre dream of the Greater Land of Israel was abandoned only after he realized that the dream would mean there will not be a Jewish majority here. Nonetheless, what a joy: two politicians of a different stripe, one that is disappearing. One must not allow the pleasant, impressive appearance which the two create, and which led to the media's protective coverage of them, to continue to mislead the public.

Begin comes to Likud without any change in his positions. "In the coming years, there is nothing to talk about with the Palestinians," he said last week. We can talk to them about quality of life, water and sewage, but there is nothing to talk about regarding political arrangements, or partial or final status. He is convinced that he was correct in opposing the Oslo Accords and the disengagement. In his view, anyone who opposes any agreement belongs "not to the fringe right." If so, then what is the fringe right?

Meridor comes to Likud convinced of the need for two states; that the right thing is to withdraw from most of the territories in the West Bank, not all of them. But he, who wears the preeminence of democracy and the rule of law on his sleeve, also views any step leading to the end of the illegal, immoral occupation as "an Israeli concession." Meridor now joins a party advocating "economic peace," another one of the screwball ideas that have been tried in the past and have proven to be colossal failures and whose entire purpose is to put off a real diplomatic agreement and buy more time for the occupation. Judging by his declared positions, Meridor's place ought to have been in Meretz or with the sad-sack Labor Party or Kadima. But Likud? What's the connection?

Here is the bottom line: Begin, who espouses continuing the occupation forever, is by essence an amoral man. Meridor, who now significantly buttresses a leader and a party which supports that position, also cannot be considered an exemplary figure, if we were to use his own words of understatement. Morality is also measured by one's worldview; it is amusing to know that an exalted man uses public transportation, but if he is a proponent of continued occupation then he cannot for even one moment be considered "Mr. Clean." Morality is also measured by integrity; a man who prides himself in holding liberal, enlightened views cannot join Likud. In doing so, he either betrays his philosophy or he is leading others astray in expressing his opinions.

In these grim days for Israeli politics and given the human gallery that is Likud, news of the return of the two princes is seemingly welcome. But let us not forget for one moment the dark, deceptive sides of these two individuals whom we love to love.

Ha'aretz dot com November 22, 2008

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