The Darkening Light

Amid a growing unease with the new right-wing Israeli government, forty-nine top U.S. Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum have signed an ad appearing in Israeli newspapers calling for immediate electoral reform in Israel and an end to ‘the embarrassing trade-offs’ required to form a government.”

—David Firestone, in
New York Newsday, June 14

Mr. Shamir’s aides privately explain that the Prime Minister is caught between the image he would like to project abroad and the constraints he faces in a narrow coalition with what some in his office are calling ‘right-wing crazies.’ ”

—Joel Brinkley, in
The New York Times, June 14

Normal duties prompt the heart to pity persons as unhappy as Shamir’s staff says their prime minister is, or as embarrassed as these forty-nine distinguished Americans less disputably are. But in my own case if in no one else’s the pull of sympathy does not run as it once did. It seems to me that most of these troubled spirits have gotten what they asked for and that essentially they are asking for it still.

Zionism was an idea conceived by Europeans who had despaired of the practices of Western civilization and at the same time put full trust in its ideals. Their model was the democratic socialism whose aspirations were embodied in the Labor party, which held office for a generation until it was left no visibly operative articles of faith except that Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin would always hate each other, that every bureaucrat would sit until the fall of Jehovah’s hand upon him, and that the Ashkenazi was ordained to lord it over the Sephardi because he was there first.

The Labor party got its just desserts in an upending by the Likud’s Menachem Begin. Begin made an uneasy fit for the image of Israel as close cousin to Western democratic tradition; but he had nonetheless a nobility and breadth of spirit rare in any country and undetectable among contenders for the succession since.

To be a Jew meant to Begin that nothing was too good for you; and the Sephardim turned to him in no small part because they recognized that his efforts to lift them from second-class citizenship sprang not from the calculating politician but from the genuine believer. We would be a better nation if every American felt as much responsibility for every other American as Menachem Begin did for every Jew in Israel.

And then, having been wrong about much but never this one great thing, he went to the shadows in self-disgrace; and Israel’s soul has been at hazard ever since. Twenty-five years ago, the Council of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations could not have conceived a prospect less imaginable than an Israel whose prime minister had led the Stern Gang, an army still policing the West Bank, and a Knesset that had descended to debating the question of “Who Is a Jew?” and then coming within a single vote of …

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