To the folks who’ve commented and written in: I’ll be answering your messages over the next few days. I didn’t know how to do that until my wife showed me. Computers and I don’t really get along and I’m subject to periodic bouts of OHM. “Operator Headspace Malfunction.”
(In the last post, we sketched out the current world situation to Menachem Begin and asked him, “What would you do?” Here’s his answer.)
“Ah, Boychick, you really know how to ask the tough ones. But thank you for asking. It’s been a while since anybody asked me anything. As you know, my final years were neither productive nor happy, and I became rather a difficult recluse.
“But enough complaining. You want an answer. What would I do? Specifically, what would I do now that violent Islamism has become, not just a threat to Israel but a global menace to civilization?
“You mean, of course, what should Israel do? What should the Jews do?
“I’ll answer you with a story.
“Go back with me to 1950 or so. We of Irgun had fought the British successfully and honorably, more successfully than we’d dared hope and as honorably as we could. Twice we averted Jew-on-Jew civil war. Twice is all that the world knows about. Let’s leave it at that. Then we participated, also effectively and as honorably as we could, in the War of Independence. I kept my vow to disband Irgun if Ben-Gurion declared statehood. After the war, I entered politics as leader of the new Herut Party and spent the next few decades somewhat under-employed.
“Those years of what seemed to be perpetual and pointless opposition to Labor and Ben-Gurion, were hard for me. Personal recovery from the decades of stress, also. Still, it gave me a chance to think and to read. Especially to read. (Ben-Gurion also loved to read, but I purchased my own books, while his ten thousand came from . . . but we’ll not get into that.) Anyway, I read everything I could find. And one day I discovered a book by a man for whom I thought I’d have little use.
“In 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre – you know, the French philosopher who once claimed, or so I’ve heard, that he became an existentialist because it was easier to seduce women from that perspective; no mensch, he – but I digress. In 1944, France was liberated and he watched his fellow countrymen return almost instantly to their old evil ways. Especially where the Jews were concerned. So he began a book, Anti-Semite and Jew, published in 1946 and condemning all such barbarism.
A blessing on his head, thought I at first. But then he got into, “Who is an authentic Jew?” Such goyische presumption could only come from a French intellectual who’d embraced existentialism in order to embrace more women, and now wanted to tell the Jews how to be Jews.
“I doubt a lot of rabbis were impressed.
“But he challenged my self-understanding. An authentic Jew, to this rascal of a philosopher, was someone who finds himself “in the situation of a Jew” and then deals with it honestly, according to his inner lights.
“At first, I was furious over his presumption. All my life, I was a religious Jew, an ardent, uncompromising Zionist. They were as natural to me as the air I breathed. I was authentic.
“But was I authentic?
“So in the early 1950s I had, what do people call it – an identity crisis. I could have done other things, been other things. I was still young. There were many possibilities. Why did I choose what I did? Why did I persevere?
“I did, I finally realized, because I was authentic. I had understood the situation of my era and committed myself totally to victory because this was my people, my country, my world. And I would not abandon any of it to evil.
“But there was more. I held the silent belief that someday Israel and the Jewish people would be enormously important to the world. No, I don’t mean that “Light unto the Nations” mischegass, that the world will love us because we keep Kosher and lay tefillin. And I don’t mean “An App unto the Nations” either. This “start-up nation” stuff – all very fine, but not a good way to run a serious country. No, I had this sense that someday we would play a vital role in a world that needs us. And this too was authentically part of my Judaism, my Jewishness, my life.
“Has that day come?
“I think so, yes. And now I’ll ask the question you didn’t ask. What price is Israel willing to pay in order to fight alongside civilization against this latest evil? And if that price should include an independent Palestine . . . is it too high?
“I’ve always held that our claim to Eretz Israel is a single claim. All that God gave us is ours and we may not renounce any part of it. I cannot believe otherwise. But as a great American president once said, ‘The earth belongs to the living.’
Provided, of course, they defend it and at least try to leave it better than they found it.
“So let me be a good Jew and answer a question with a question.
“Now that the struggle against the Islamists is going global . . . what would an authentic Jew, an authentic State of Israel, an authentic Jewry, do with the situation in which we find ourselves?
“What would you do?”
Next: “What’s Peace Got to Do with It?”