Blaming someone else for our failures is the standard practice in these political climes. But I almost fell out of my chair late last week when Benjamin Netanyahu, interviewed by Ma'ariv, lay the blame for "the catastrophic economic situation" on David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson. "Their big mistake was to establish a socialist state - a faulty system for which we are paying the price to this day," he said.
When he claimed that the current state of affairs was something he "inherited," I was sure he would point the finger at his predecessor. Instead, he sent us to search history's graveyards.
Ben-Gurion stepped down as prime minister 40 years ago and Katznelson died 59 years ago. Mapai, under this name or that, lost its hegemony 26 years ago. The Likud has ruled the roost and shaped the character of the state for 20 years. For three years, Netanyahu himself was prime minister and one of the biggest flops we've yet had. And now, on this self-declared social and economic Day of Judgment, he's scrounging around for someone to blame in the history books.
The contribution of the Labor movement to the establishment of the state is uncontestable. For 31 years, from the Balfour Declaration until the birth of Israel, the historical Mapai party built the institutional infrastructure of a state founded on equality and mutual aid. It organized illegal immigration, absorbed newcomers, created the framework for a future army.
Throughout this period, the Revisionist camp was not a partner to these deeds. Jabotinsky, a gifted leader remembered chiefly for his exalted rhetoric, did not plant a single tree in the Land of Israel. In terms of building up the country, his movement was characterized by impotence.
It barely lent a hand to the settlement endeavor that established borders and facts on the ground, producing the Grade-A human material from which the future commanders of the Israeli army were forged. The Revisionists even opposed the decision of the organized Jewish community in pre-state Palestine to help fight the Nazis by enlisting in the British army and Jewish Brigade. Later, this service in the British army provided the military experience needed to build the Israel Defense Forces.
As the first prime minister, Ben-Gurion waved several banners simultaneously - defense, immigration, immigrant absorption, education and science. During its first 25 years of existence, half a million Jews immigrated to Israel and the population doubled.
While Menachem Begin, whose senior party colleagues all hailed from Eastern Europe, headed for the public squares to inflame the masses against ethnic discrimination and hardship in the immigrant transit camps, Ben-Gurion abolished independent trends in the school system, dismantled the Palmach in favor of a state-run army and came up with a home-grown nuclear program.
Back in 1952, Herut, precursor of the Likud, vehemently opposed reparations from Germany. While the vote was going on in the Knesset, Begin was in Zion Square, preaching violent opposition: "This is a life or death battle and today I give the order. Blood!" The frenzied crowd stormed the Knesset and Begin was banned from entering the building for three months.
In time, it was discovered that Israel barely had enough supplies of grain and fuel to last 24 hours. The first three billion marks from Germany were a godsend for immigrant absorption and the development of infrastructure. Imagine where we could have been if Herut, with its nationalistic narrow-mindedness, had shot down the reparations agreement.
Sitting pretty for 20 years, the Likud led this country from bad to worse. When settlement was imperative in the pre-state days, Herut never lifted a finger, but the Likud has covered the West Bank with a blanket of settlements and outposts to ensure its irreversible annexation.
The legendary notes Pinhas Sapir handed out to his favorites to assure them VIP treatment are child's play compared to the hyperinflation of political appointments during the reign of the Likud.
The Likud dragged us into 300 percent inflation and bought votes for cash, following Begin's famous directive "to do right by the people." It entangled us in the 18-year Lebanon War, which eroded the IDF's power of deterrence, spawned Hezbollah and paved the road to two intifadas.
It is not the socialist ideology that Sapir buried when he enlisted foreign millionaires to build job-creating factories here, but the Likud's generations of mismanagement and poor decisions, including that mother of all sins - guaranteed income supplements - which have brought us to the brink. If Netanyahu is looking for a fall guy, what about Moses? After all, isn't it his fault we're here and not in America?
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