On June 11, I heard a forceful speech: Israeli consul general Dani Dayan’s reflections on his spiritual rebirth in 1967. Speaking to Zionist groups in New York at a conference on “Israel at a crossroads on the anniversary of the 1967 War,” Dayan said that the most important weeks of his life were when he was 11 and experienced the deaths of his grandparents and the 1967 war and committed himself to a nationalist political vision that would take him from Argentina to Tel Aviv and on to be a colonist in the West Bank.
“The winner takes all, by force. And we won. Thank god,” he said, summarizing the war.
I pass Dayan’s speech along (absent the afterthought, which I already quoted), because it shows how deeply-ingrained the rightwing settler way of thinking is in Israeli politics and U.S. Jewish life. You would think Dayan is an outlier. In March 2016, Brazil rejected Dayan as an ambassador because of his settler ideology. Just a year ago Dayan savaged liberal Zionists as “un-Jewish.” Five years ago he wrote on the op-ed page of the New York Times that a two-state solution was “unattainable” and represented a “disaster.”
Yet liberal Zionists have now embraced the famously-charming ambassador. The Forward editor did last year. The June 11 conference that I attended of mostly liberal Zionist groups welcomed him. Rick Jacobs, the president of the Reform Jews, the “most powerful force” in US Jewish life, praised Dayan to the skies (below) and was twice mentioned in the speech.
Let us hear Dayan:
I’m very glad to be here. You know what I’m going to say now is true. It’s not fake news. I don’t know if you heard but this morning in the Kotel [western wall plaza in Jerusalem], a naked woman strolled around the Kotel till she was taken into custody. It seems to be a woman with mental problems– But I wonder whose purpose in the Kotel was fulfilled. [Laughter] And I have some ideas about it…
We are celebrating now the 50th anniversary [of Jerusalem unification]. The 25th anniversary was celebrated in the White House, when President Bush 41 received Mayor Teddy Kollek, the great builder of Jerusalem, of Ramot and all those neighborhoods, and celebrated…. That shows that in politics the variable is larger than the constant, or surely larger than we tend to believe.
Now luckily for me, since I was asked to speak personally, luckily for me the personal and the national and the political and the philosophical are so intertwined that I can under the pretext of speaking personal also speak politics.
Actually I’m now celebrating a kind of birthday these days. I think that I am celebrating my ideological birthday. I was born biologically in November 1955, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But I think that politically, ideologically and in some sense spiritually, I was born in June 1967 after a long three weeks of labor, from May, late May to early June.
Because for me as an 11-year-old child in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a very Jewish, although nonobservant, but staunchly Zionist family– the product of the amazing Hebrew education system also that the Jewish congregation of Argentina built that was second to none– speaking Hebrew– those were my formative ideological days. Also it was intertwined as I said with a very, very personal happening. My grandparents whom I lived in the same house with, my mother’s parents, decided to go to visit Israel for Yom Ha’atzmaut 1967 [Israel independence day] and they had a terrible road accident, a few days after Yom Hatzmaaut [May 15]. My grandfather passed away immediately. My grandmother struggled in the hospital for a few days more. My mother immediately flew to Israel. When she came, she came for the funeral of my grandmother.
What was happening in Israel in those days was also political, Jewish and completely personal.
And I remember—you know, today you can rewrite history. But I always say that the only advantage I can find of not being young is that I remember. I assume that at a certain stage I will start to forget, but that’s another issue.
I remember the exasperation, I remember the agony, I remember the feeling– you could touch the feeling of anguish, of exasperation, that barely 20 something years after the Shoah it might happen again.
And today when I read these accounts about Israel, the expansionist grand design of the Zionists in 1967, I really don’t know if to laugh or to cry. Because we remember; we remember the explicit chilling statements by all Arab leaders, Nasser in Egypt, Shukeiri of the PLO, and Attasi in Damascus and others, about what the fate of our brethren in Israel will be. And then of course the spiritual innovation — when we returned to the places that I read and learned so much in Hebrew school. Not only Jerusalem, by the way, also Hebron and Shiloh and Beit El, and other places that are the cradle of Jewish civilization, the cradle of Jewish history.
I think if at a certain point– I am a non-observant Jew, I’m a 100 percent Jew but quite nonobservant. I always say that my relationship with God is… one of the things I live to examine after I retire. Maybe I will ask Rabbi Jacobs to be my counselor on that after I retire. But if I was at a certain point close to become an observant Jew in the orthodox sense of the word, those were those days.
And add to that, the amazing spiritual uplifting of coming to live in Israel three and a half years later, and to see the places and to fulfill it personally. And those are for me no doubt the most significant days of my life. And I made a decision, no doubt I made a decision those days that I am still loyal to, that as far as I was concerned, Israel will never return to that vulnerable situation it was in 1967.
That as far as I am concerned I will do whatever I can to prevent Israel’s enemies to have such a wonderful chance to fulfill their dream of destroying Israel. And that decision that I made as an 11 year boy in Buenos Aires, a year and a half before my bar mitzvah– is still my ideological guidance.
It’s very important for me to tackle two points. Again, they are the personal and ideological intertwined.
The first one… In 1988, I, a very urban guy, a guy that loved city life, that was born in a very big city, Buenos Aires, and grew up in Tel Aviv, decided to move to a small community in the hills of Samaria—Ma’ale Shomron– for purely ideological reasons. We had both of us, my wife and I, very good positions. I was chairman and CEO of a large information technology company. My wife was a senior executive in an advertising agency, one of the most trendy agencies in Tel Aviv of those days. Since then they went bankrupt– but nothing to do with the fact that my wife left them.
We enjoyed the cultural scene of Tel Aviv, the shopping of Tel Aviv. And as you can see, we enjoyed too much the gastronomic scene of Tel Aviv.
Nevertheless we decided to leave and live in Samaria. And the question I want to tackle is, Did we do as is often portrayed, an immoral act by doing that, or not?
And for me that’s the most crucial question. It’s much more important than the question if we did a politically wise move. Because for in order for a political move to be wise, it has to be first and foremost moral. I’m a person that tries to live his life by high moral standards, strict moral standards. I never visited South Africa before 1994, I always preferred to spend my shekels in another place, not in a racially segregated regime.
So is it immoral, like persons claim– what I am doing? No! It is not. And I want to devote a few minutes to explain this.
Look, there are two national movements, legitimate national movements, in the patch of land that we Jews call Eretz Israel and the Palestinians call Falastin. The Jewish national movement, the Zionist movement is legitimate, the return to our homeland after 2000 years of dispersion, forced dispersion, in which every single day we yearned to do that. And then a gigantic statesman… Theodor Herzl converted that yearning into a political movement, into a national liberation movement–
And there are the Palestinians who were there when we arrived. Yes, they were there when we arrived, and their claim is also legitimate and makes sense. For sure it is genuine, it’s sincere.
So how do you resolve a conflict like this, morally, ethically?
I must admit even if it’s painful for me to say that the only way that makes sense may be partition. But what happens when partition is proposed time and again, time and again, and the only constant pattern in the political aspect of the Jewish Palestinian conflict, the Zionist Palestinian conflict, the Israeli Palestinian conflict– call it what you whatever name you want– is this: the Zionist movement, Israel, the Israeli government accepts partition, in some cases proposes partition, the Palestinian national movement rejects it.
That is the only constant pattern since 1936 to 2017.
Actually to be on the safe side I used to say that the last time it happened was in 2008, during Ehud Olmert’s administration, but yesterday, Haaretz published the details of the Kerry proposal. John Kerry, 2014. And we learn from there, that Netanyahu accepted Kerry’s proposal of partition and Abbas rejected it…
It happened in ’36, in the Peel Commission, and in 47. Whatever happened on November 29 of 47? By the way, November 29 is my biological birthday, in ‘55. What happened? The Jews of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanyah, New York, Buenos Aires, they went into the squares to dance the Horah and they attacked us. That’s the only reason the state of Palestine doesn’t celebrate its 69th anniversary in May 2017. The only one.
What happened from 1948 to 1967. My academic education is not in politics, political science or international relations. My master’s degree is in finance. In finance, you say that if you own a stock or a share, every day you do not sell it actually you made a rational decision to buy it. Because you can sell it in the market. If you keep it, it’s equivalent to making the decision to buy it. The parallel is that every single day in those 19 years in which the Palestinian national movement decided not made a make peace with Israel in the pre-1967 borders they made the rational decision that they prefer the annihilation of Israel to a two state solution.
And then came ’67. In 1967 there was the blatant attempt to destroy Israel. The Palestinians, the Arabs set the rules of the game: The winner takes all, by force. And we won. Thank god. That Rabbi Jacobs will tell me how to – never mind. I am being recorded, and they love me– the haredi in Israel– as you know.
And yes we have a right to live there. We have a right to live in those disputed territories that we were ready to relinquish but we were attacked.
Yes, I will say more than that. Yes: Israel did, does, and most probably will continue to do its share of injustices. Yes, of course! I don’t know if any other nation that in such an entrenched conflict, did not, including this country.
Yes, Israel did, does, and most probably will do its share of stupidities. Yes! I don’t know if any other nation in such an entrenched conflict did not.
But when I take a look at the big picture, my conscience is clear. We have by far the moral upper hand, including in residing in Judea and Samaria. No settlement was established over the ruins an Arab village, in Judea and Samaria. Yes there are some local disputes about ownership, this place that place, but never a settlement was established on the ruins of an Arab village.
Dayan and Rabbi Rick Jacobs seem to have a real friendship. The Reform movement president says he told Benjamin Netanyahu that Dayan was a “flamethrower” when he was appointed, but Jacobs now praises Dayan for being a very responsive consul general, and for presenting the other side at this liberal conference.
The other side? That conference featured no anti-Zionists. And just one Palestinian, a conservative.
As for revising history: for the facts on the ’67 war, both the alarm beforehand and the ease of the victory, read Norman Finkelstein here, as well as the reflections of I.F. Stone, Avigail Abarbanel, Vivienne Porzsolt, and Joel Kovel here.
Lastly, Dayan insists he is not religious. My definition of religion includes deeply held communal beliefs. Like Dayan’s “spiritual” belief in a Jewish civilization that was “cradled” in the West Bank, then scattered.