The campaign against Moshe Yaalon has produced images recalling the worst of Israeli and Jewish history. A composite picturing him as a target for assassination, with the slogan, "politically liquidated" may be thought by moderate rightists to be only a call to vote against him in the next Likud Primary. 

 

However, its parallel with composites of Yitzhak Rabin pictured as an Arab terrorist and labeled "the liar," or marked as "traitor" suggests something uglier.
 



Radicalism is not a new creation of the Jews. Josephus reported on zealots who attacked Greeks and Romans, presumably to obtain independence for Jews in their homeland, and a more extreme faction, Sicarii, or knife wielders, who killed Jews they viewed as collaborators with the foreigners.


The results of both were the Romans' squelching of rebellion and destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem, the expulsion of Jews from their holy city and what became 2,000 years of an almost total Diaspora existence.


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The prospect of a Jewish war in modern times appeared along with the efforts of right wing militia to pursue a more aggressive campaign than that led by the Hagana, but the possibility of a Jewish civil war along with a war against British and Arabs pretty much came to a stop with Menachem Begin's refusal to continue the fight after the newly created IDF shelled the Altelena, a ship bringing munitions for the Irgun. 


The story contributed to years of enmity between Begin and his political associates on the one side and figures in the IDF and Labor-dominated government on the other. There remain occasional eruptions of the tensions despite almost all of the principals having died, and with Begin's successors well established in the political establishment.


Rabin's assassination was a major event in this history, with its annual observance marked by Rabin family members and their supporters seeing a threat to the regime they prefer in whatever Likud leaders have been doing.


Also in the air, whenever the level of tension (either between secular adherents of competing ideologies or with religious activists who demand more than the society is willing to grant) reaches beyond moderation, are rabbis and political leaders who call for calm while citing the disaster that came as a result of Jewish civil war in the first century.


In the same spirit are Israelis who stress the need to get along with the United States, and cite the catastrophes associated first with Babylon and later with Rome, when the small Judaic community did not behave as demanded by the big powers of the day.


Current issues feature intense quarrels about Jews who attack innocent Arabs, i.e., the family in the West Bank whose home was burned and family members killed, or a soldier who killed an immobilized terrorist in Hebron, as well as extremists who call for the segregation of newborns and their mothers in hospitals.


Some may be offended or surprised by the revelation that Jews have their equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, with one of the most charismatic of young leaders a grandson of Meir Kahane. Among the extremists are Jews who make an annual pilgrimage to the grave of Baruch Goldstein, an American-born physician who killed 29 Muslims and wounding more than 100 others while they were praying at the mosque in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. 


The cartoonist for Ha'aretz portrayed a hooded father and mother under a heading that connected them to Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich and his wife.



Yaalon and the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Gadi Eisenkot,  have sought to retain Israel's sanity in a time of tension associated with a wave of Palestinian violence. 


Prime Minister Netanyahu is also on the team of the moderates. He criticized the soldier who killed the inert terrorist, and the posters portraying Yaalon as a target. "The publication of a picture with the Defense Minister as target is beyond the red line. Public criticism must be respectable and detailed, and there is no place for such portrayals." 


It would be surprising if the condemnation of extremism was outside politics. According to his critics, Bibi's comments were excessively mild and permissive.


Also in the moderate camp, and also coming in for criticism, is the head of a hospital that serves patients and has staff personnel from all sectors of society. He said that patient care was the primary mission, which sometimes could be furthered by accommodating those who preferred to be roomed with other Arabs, with Jews, or with Yiddish speakers. He said that it was not always possible to honor such requests, and that he would never honor the request by a Jew who refused to be treated by a non-Jew.


Involved in our struggles with ourselves and others are Jews who say that unity is essential for survival, against those who say that Jews' tolerance for diversity and dispute is the essence of our culture and strength. 


No surprise that Jews argue about the propriety of argument. 


Quarrelsome rabbis defend the culture with the epigram that God prefers dispute, and those who argue with others before reaching a decision will be closer to God's preference than those who decide by themselves.


On the side of those supporting diversity and dispute are contrasts with Muslims. Among them, enforced unity is the norm. And as some Muslims are saying, a people lacking freedom of expression are backward in science, technology, and other elements of the good life, and investing a great deal in killing one another.


Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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