A recent Ha’aretz editorial criticized the government for enacting a law memorializing the death of Rehavam Ze’evi, who was assassinated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 2001. Ze’evi, who at the time of his death was the Minister of Tourism, was the founder and leader of an extreme right-wing political party that advocated the expulsion of all Palestinians from the occupied territories.
The editorial goes on to characterize as “outrageous” the recent remarks of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Ya’alon said: “It could be that Gandhi’s [ironically Ze’evi’s nickname] opinions were ahead of their time, and the fact that many people have sobered up in recent years is proof of this.” As the newspaper points out, Ze’evi had a very similar political philosophy to Meir Kahane, who was disqualified from serving in the Israeli Parliament for his racist views.
The editorial calls attention to the contradiction in the Defense Minister’s role in participating in the current peace talks while expressing support for Ze’evi’s worldview.
Ya’alon, who has been courting Likud’s Ze’evist right wing in the hope of someday inheriting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mantle, is betraying his responsibility as defense minister in a government that is conducting peace talks when he says that “Gandhi” was right. In what was he right? In his demand to “transfer” those with whom Israel is conducting negotiations?
Unlike Kahane, who was born in the United States and was an outsider among the Israeli military-political establishment, Ze’evi had been a general in the army and was about as much of an insider as one could be. He was given a state funeral worthy of a Prime Minister. The murdered minister was warmly eulogized by his good friend, the then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and many military and political dignitaries.
Among those who effusively praised Ze’evi was Avraham Burg, then the Speaker of the Parliament. A few years later, after retiring from politics, Burg became a leading critic of Israeli society and darling of American opponents of the occupation.
Ze’evi’s assassination was surely related to his extreme political views and specifically to his advocacy of expelling Palestinians. However, the Ha’aretz report of the 2001 funeral never mentioned this or alluded to Ze’evi’s outrageous worldview.
Remembering Ze’evi is to confront just how embedded the idea of transfer is in the Jewish Israeli political discourse. As Max Blumenthal wrote in his new book, Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel, in 1989, Benjamin Netanyahu bragged that he had advised the government to carry out mass expulsions of Palestinians (p.32).
For the Palestinians, the idea of mass forced transfer is both a memory and an ongoing fear. The validity of this fear is becoming more and more difficult to deny.