Menachem Begin was honored recently by a major American Jewish organization that had seemed to have despised and denounced him when he was alive. What has changed?
The American Jewish Committee was at one point decidedly not Zionist and it vehemently opposed Begin's revolt against the British during the British Mandate period.
Later, when he was prime minister, the AJCommittee frequently publicly criticized Begin for establishing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
However, slowly but surely, even the AJC came to eventually realize that they had been wrong about Begin.
Among the proof for this is the recent AJC sponsored public event "The Legacy of Menachem Begin: Israel’s Future Challenges and Opportunities.” What is also of note here is that ideas that Menachem Begin (1913-1992) and his mentor Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) promulgated about where Jews can live in the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel) were opposed by AJC and other establishment groups in the US Jewish community for decades. The settlements are no longer an issue for AJC, or for most American Jews, no matter what the extremists of J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, or the New Israel Fund claim.
The Philadelphia event boasted Ambassador Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York, as the keynote speaker on October 16. Advertising for the series, that this event was a component of, included this statement in its purpose: “...explore the unique traits common to great leaders as diverse as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Menachem Begin.”
That the AJC must now recognize that Menachem Begin was a "great leader" cannot go unexamined.
After 29 years as the leader of the main opposition party Menachem Begin was elected Prime Minister in 1977. This historic event was labeled as "The Revolution" . Begin's victory ended the monopoly on power that the socialist Labor Party (Alignment) [and its predecessor, Mapai] had held for nearly three uninterrupted decades after the creation of the state.
A quote from a 1980 JTA story about an AJC meeting with Begin does much to illustrate the opposition that AJC then had to Begin's policies.
"Leaders of the American Jewish Committee warned the Israeli government not to overestimate the support of American Jews for its policies. They declared specifically that the organization “will not defend” any decision by Israel to resettle Jews in the West Bank Arab town of Hevron." While Begin "upheld the “right” of Israelis to settle anywhere in “Eretz Israel.” The AJ Committee officials said later that they understood the Premier’s message to be a call to them to resist the Carter Administration’s policy line on the Palestinians."
Just a year before this AJC meeting with Begin Jewish families had returned to Hevron and at the point in time when the above incident happened Begin showed no intention of removing them.
It is now nearly forty years since Hevron was resettled and over fifty years since Israeli soldiers liberated that
The fact is that the majority of Israelis believe that Jews have the right to live in any part of “Eretz Israel" exactly as Begin told AJC in 1980.
Settlers come from every sector of Israeli society: religious and secular; Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Ethiopian; working class and wealthy. They comprise a significant part of Israel's politcial leadership. Dayan was Chairman of the settlement movement's Yesha Council from 2007 to 2013 and is a "settler." Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, too, is a "settler." Liberman announced on October 11 that he planned to seek government approval to construct 31 new housing units for Jewish families in Hevron's Hezekiah Quarter. AJC issued no statement on the expansion of Jewish housing in Hevron.
When Jews in the US challenge the rights of Israeli Jews to live in Hevron, they cannot at the same time defend the right of Jews to live in the Golan Heights or in Jerusalem’s Old City without being hypocrites.
Words by the late think tank guru Herb London about the Jerusalem embassy move quoted in a March 14, 2018 interview with Ami Magazine may explain how this has changed globally: “the decision was really considered ho-hum in the Arab world, and the Egyptians and the Saudi Arabians made up their minds that they needed Israel more than they needed the embassy to stay put in Tel Aviv, or even the Palestinians. The Palestinian question has now been put on the back burner. While no one will admit it, it’s the truth.”
This is a truth that J Street and its extremist allies can’t and won’t admit. That is why these extremists are so focused on eradicating 'settlements' and removing over 400,000 Jews from their homes and destroying their communities. J Street’s sole reason for existence is the creation of a Palestinian state and it cannot allow this “back burner” placement and maintain its status as the leading voice on the Jewish left in the US that it was during the Obama era. J Street's unyielding demonizing of Jewish settlers is not just wrong, it endangers Israel and Jerusalem. American Jewish Committee no longer issues statements against 'settlements'.
It is far time for all American Jews to recognize Israeli 'settlers' for what they are: Jews who have the right to live wherever in “Eretz Israel" they care to. Just as Menachem Begin did. It is part of what made Begin a great leader.
Moshe Phillips is the national director of Herut North America's U.S. section. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education. More information about Herut is available at https://www.herutna.org