Likud and IDF, don’t touch our heritage

Whether it's changing the 'Yizkor' prayer for the fallen or re-igniting the blame for past tragedies, power-hungry politicians must not be allowed to demolish elements that mark the cornerstones of Israel’s creation.

Gantz 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Gantz 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
With awe, respect, and sometimes deep pain, every nation carries with it a set of traditions, memories, myths, customs and dreams that are an inseparable part of its character and heritage. While some of them may erode over time, they still retain a degree of respect for being a reflection of national identity.
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For example, Americans still delight in the details of the Boston tea party; they dutifully sing a national anthem that belongs to another age of rockets and bombs; they still mourn those who fell in the Civil War; they continue to be moved by the Gettysburg address; they still venerate the immortal words of former president John F Kennedy, when he called upon Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
The British still retain their royal tradition, even though it has lost most of its significance – other than attracting tourists for the changing of the guard or for the occasional wedding or funeral.
As for Israelis? Well, we still sing “Hatikva,” in which we cast “our eyes toward the East, looking upon Zion.” The fact that we are already in Zion won’t make us change our anthem, because quite simply, it reminds us of who we are.
Or does it? Almost every day we hear of some new genius who happily tries to sacrifice another of our sacred cows. Amos Oz said once that he, too, wanted to participate in the slaughter of the sacred cows, but today there is only one poor cow still standing so he prefers to be on the cow’s side.
In 1920, in a battle that has also become part of our mythology, Joseph Trumpeldor and his comrades fell while defending Tel Hai from Arab gangs. This act of courage and self sacrifice became an iconic paradigm for both the Labor and Likud parties. Berl Katzenelson, the spiritual father of the Labor movement, penned a poetic Yizkor prayer, in which he writes that “the people of Israel will remembers its sons and daughters…” who fell for its defense and for the rebirth of the nation.
Almost thirty years later, this Yizkor was adopted by the IDF, and came to characterize the deep bond between those who had fallen and the surviving members of the nation. Then some rabbis came and decided to change the Yizkor and substitute the phrase “the people of Israel” with the word “God.”
Why? We have enough prayers directed at God and we ask him over and over again to remember us (not always does He oblige). We, the secular Jews, have never asked to cancel or change the prayers; on the contrary, we join in with them - even when we are not convinced of their role in our lives. We don’t have to remind God to remember our fallen soldiers - I am sure that He remembers them quite well by Himself.
So why, when we are called upon to remember – an issue that is of paramount importance - must we break this connection between the fallen, their families, and the entire Am Yisrael? The new IDF Chief of Staff, Benni Gantz, rushed to approve the change in the Yizkor, and when a tsunami of indignation threatened to sink him, he rushed to wash his hands off it. 
Benni Gantz, leave Yizkor alone. Don’t help those who are trying to destroy a part of our national heritage. But Gantz is not the only one to blame.
This week we commemorated the death of members of the Irgun (the underground movement that later became the Likud party) who died on the Altalena ship while bringing illegal weapons to Israel. Refusing to deliver the weapons to the state (and the IDF), a firefight erupted with Moshe Dayan’s soldiers on Kfar Vitkin beach before they sailed to Tel Aviv and attempted to unload the weapons for the Irgun’s use.
In the battle that ensued, an artillery shell that was fired in adherence to former PM David Ben-Gurion’s order, hit the ship and killed several people. The boat itself caught fire and the battle ended. The authority of the state and its government was thus reaffirmed.
It was a very tragic episode in our history, and one that could have led to a civil war but thankfully, didn’t. The Irgun leader, Menachem Begin, exhorted his followers not to raise their weapons against their brothers. It is with due sadness that we remember this episode, which put the end to the Irgun as a private paramilitary army just later Ben-Gurion’s measures put an end to the left-wing paramilitary of Palmach’s elite corps.
However, this year, when Likud MKs came to mourn the Altalena victims, they used – for the first time in our history – a new term for the deceased: “murdered.” And the murderers, of course, were Ben-Gurion, Dayan, and Yitzhak Rabin (who defended a military building against an Irgun attack by throwing grenades).
Knesset members accused the nation’s leaders of “murdering” the Altalena passengers. It is of no consequence that Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Rabin subsequently reconciled with Begin and later on even cooperated closely with him. They were “murderers.”
This harsh accusation not only tries to demolish a cornerstone of Israel’s creation, it also conjures ghosts from the past and revives ancient hatreds.
There is a range of narratives authored by right-wingers that try to prove that the Altalena was just and right and that Ben-Gurion was wrong, but let’s not mix narratives with facts.
Let’s simply reject any effort by publicity-hungry politicians to re-ignite a dangerous fire. Let’s accept our heritage with all the glory that it carries. And all the pain.
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.