(photo credit: Henrietta Avi-hai)
Television and films have given a kashrut certificate to cursing, to words that
would have seen old-time parents wash your mouth out with soap. In conversation,
and in the media, an ugly curse word has been replaced by once meaningful words,
which now are pejoratives.
“Liberal” tops the list. (“Socialist” must
never be used in American and some Israeli polite company. It causes virgins to
faint, widows to take the salts, brave men’s knees to quake and politicians to
run for shelter.) Well, dear reader, “liberal” stems from the same Latin source
which gives us “liberate” and “liberty.”
In its more modern use, it
denoted a person who was free, independent, concerned with individual rights in
face of tyranny and with opinions based on reason. A liberal was able to think
freely and fearlessly.
To me, a liberal is an independent individual who
can make up his/her mind on each issue on its own merits. He or she sometimes
sees logic and reason on the Right in one issue, and sometimes finds reason on
the Left in another. A liberal protects minorities and minority opinion in face
of governmental or public repression.
What then is a conservative? A
curse word of the Left, he or she is a person who sees value in “things as they
are” – the present situation – or who believes that an idealized past situation
If a society is based on liberal values, (“liberté, égalité,
fraternité” or “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”), the battle between
liberals and conservatives is to determine how much government involvement is
needed to preserve life and liberty.
In Israel, democrats such as
Menachem Begin and Moshe Arens may be called conservative in wishing to create
or conserve a liberal and democratic state, which would respect minority rights.
“Respect,” perhaps, is an aspect their mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, hoped for in
his poem “Two Banks of the Jordan River”: “prosperity... for Arab,
Christian and Jew.”
Now I have committed the ultimate sin, worse than the
ugly cursing on television: I called Jabotinsky, Begin and Arens “conservatives
The “liberals” of today are extremely conservative, and
the Left even more so.
The Left wants to conserve Israel as a democratic
and Jewish state by shedding heavily populated Arab areas. So on the Left,
Shelly Yacimovich, or in the Center, Tzipi Livni, are conservatives of
Confused? We all should be. In parlors on Friday night, in
local and foreign press reports, stereotypes abound. (More on that in a future
The true problem is that the various Zionist parties in Israel
all have elements of both philosophies or political approaches, from rabid
proto-fascism on the off-the-chart Right to rampant populism and limitless state
interventionism on both Right and Left.
Left-wing politicians (so-called)
including those still alive today fostered settlements in their time; right-wing
politicians declared settlement freezes. Another example of stereotypes gone
True confession: I too stereotype. I too am a Left liberal and a
So, in the words of that famous Yiddishism, “What is
the bottom line?” A smart Jew said it a few thousand years ago: “Wise men, be
careful with what you say!” Avraham Avi-hai, now retired, has worked as a
Jerusalem Post reporter, senior civil servant, university lecturer, founder of
the Hebrew University Rothberg International School, chairman of Keren
Hayesod-UIA and author of the recent Amazon.com novel,
A Tale of Two Avrahams.