Radical Arab MKs: What would Abraham Lincoln do?

The US president dealt with Clemet Vallandigham, a leader of the pro-Confederacy Democrats of the North - by deporting him.

January 17, 2010 23:49
3 minute read.
Radical Arab MKs: What would Abraham Lincoln do?

Obama 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

Both Liat Collins and Danny Ayalon, in their recent Jerusalem Post columns "The democratic dilemma" and "Civic responsibility should not be optional" respectively, raise the issue of how the government should respond to the anti-Israel actions of our radical Arab Knesset members. As a student of history, whenever I read about this problem, I think of Abraham Lincoln, the greatest American president, and his response to the activities of Representative Clement Vallandigham (pronounced veLANdigam).

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Vallandigham was a Democratic congressman, representing Dayton, Ohio. Some background for non-American readers: The Civil War involved the attempt of the southern slave-holding states to secede from the Union and form their own country, the Confederate States of America. Vallandigham, though personally opposed to slavery, believed that the federal government had no constitutional right to prevent the secession of the southern states. Naturally, he was even more adamantly opposed to the use of military force to pull the South back into the Union. Vallandigham was the leader of the "Copperheads," the anti-war, pro-Confederacy Democrats of the North.

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In 1863, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, in charge of the military district of Ohio, issued an order declaring that public declarations of sympathy for the enemy would not be tolerated. Vallandigham was not deterred, and increased the provocative language of his speeches, charging that the war was being fought to free slaves, not to save the Union, and that the president was "King Lincoln" who should be removed from the presidency. He also declared that he "did not want to belong to the United States."

That was too much for Burnside, who arrested Vallandigham and had him tried by a military court. He was convicted of uttering disloyal sentiments and hindering the prosecution of the war. Vallandigham was sentenced to two years in a military prison, a sentence eventually upheld by the US Supreme Court.

Lincoln, however, had no desire to make a Copperhead martyr out of Vallandigham. He ordered the now-former congressman (he'd lost reelection in the middle of all this) taken out of prison and exiled to the Confederacy that he so strongly supported. Federal officers sent Vallandigham through Union lines to Confederate-held territory in Tennessee. He later made his way from there to Canada, and eventually returned to the North. After the war, he resumed his law practice in Dayton.

IN COMPARING Vallandigham to MKs Jamal Zahalka, Taleb a-Sanaa, et al., we can see both similarities and differences. Both Vallandigham and the Arab MKs strongly opposed their country's military actions; both Vallandigham and the Arab MKs used incendiary, provocative language in their public statements attacking their country; and both Vallandigham and the Arab MKs stated that they did not want to belong to the United States (Vallandigham) or the Jewish state (the Arab MKs).

Another similarity is that the congressman/MKs attacked their country during a time of war, seeking to aid the enemy. But that leads to a significant difference in the nature of the enemies to whom Vallandigham and the Arab MKs gave comfort. During the Civil War, the Confederacy never sought the destruction of the North. Rather, it wanted to go its own slave-holding way, without interference from northern abolitionists, who wanted to "ruin" its economic and social way of life. Israel's enemies, on the other hand, are dedicated to the goal of the state's destruction. Thus, the actions of the Arab MKs are far more dangerous and destructive than anything Vallandigham ever did.

So, should Arab MKs receive the Vallandigham treatment, exile to a country they apparently love and support more than the one they represent?

If we ask, "What would Lincoln do?" we have our answer, but we have no Lincolns among us today.

The writer is an attorney, historian and author living in Jerusalem.

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