Hundreds of faithful jammed the Bessarabian Immigrants Association auditorium in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago at the first joint gathering of Yisrael Beiteinu and Moledet, which have become one party. On the podium, Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the National Union, presented the combined list. When he got to Prof. Aryeh Eldad (Moledet's candidate for the seventh spot on the Knesset list), he paused a moment, gazing out at party activists like a stand-up comedian eye-balling his audience. "I want to tell you something about our new member," he said. "While we were all still playing soccer, he was already reading Nietzsche. I know how much this audience appreciates the fact that Eldad read Nietzsche."
It was certainly a comic moment for that time and place - unless the listeners somehow got the message about Nietzsche's writings on the lust for power as embodied in the M16s which many of the activists present were toting. The palpable irony wasn't lost on Eldad either.
"I assume he wasn't addressing the people with the M16s but rather those packing intellectual ordnance," he explained this week. I must confess that I was surprised myself to learn that in Dr. Mina Tzemach's latest survey, 11 percent of respondents with college diplomas voted for the National Union, compared with only 0.5 percent of those with an elementary education. Evidently most of those voting for our new entity here are better educated than their image suggests."
This discussion was taking place in his parents' house in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, the same house in which his father, Prof. Yisrael Eldad (Scheib) translated Nietzsche. The elder Eldad was known for more than his translations. He's widely remembered as the ultimate Lehi rightist who abandoned that organization to found his own small group called the Eretz Yisrael Faithful. Eldad senior was to the extreme right wing what Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz was to the left - an angry prophet. They were often invited to appear in tandem, as on the day when Leibowitz called IDF soldiers "Judeo-Nazis."
In 1969,Yisrael Eldad tried to stand for election to the Knesset on the independent Eretz Yisrael Faithful list, and failed. About eight years ago, the late Rehavam Ze'evi, then Moledet chairman, invited him to head that party. Eldad senior, already elderly, refused. Still, he agreed to round out the list in 120th place, an honorary slot. So in a sense, Aryeh Eldad is completing the circle. He represents his father's name, not just literally but ideologically. Transfer, Moledet's banner, has been part of his worldview since childhood.
In 1940, his father was asked to write a commentary for the 18 principles drafted by Yair Stern for Lehi; this was published clandestinely. With regard to one point, he wrote explicitly: "Deal with foreigners via population exchanges."
"I learned from my father that's the solution on which to base a permanent resolution of the conflict in Eretz Yisrael. I have no ethical problem with it," says Eldad junior.
Officer and physician
On his anticipated election to the Knesset, Eldad, 52, will become the first prince of the radical right. The National Union was looking for a senior officer and an intellectual to dress up their list. In Eldad they found both. Not a commander riding a tank or an airplane wing, but until two-and-a-half years ago, he was Brigadier General (Res.) Eldad, chief of plastic surgery at Hadassah University Hospital and an expert on the treatment of burns, and the IDF's chief medical officer. Last week he abandoned his post as head of the response team at the National Union party and head of the movement's propaganda headquarters and flew to Mombasa to treat the wounded from the terrorist bombing.
His manner is relaxed, sometimes analytical, sometimes full of humor about himself, nothing like the blunt manner of the National Union leadership. If the movement was seeking to buy itself a little respect, Elded is the right choice. But style or no style, he makes no attempt to hide the fact that his positions are no less extreme than those of Lieberman or Benny Elon.
True, there's no good reason to camouflage them anymore. Eldad relates that since he began publicizing his views in writing and in interviews, he's enjoyed the encouragement of building workers at Hadassah Hospital, like the guys who collect the garbage. They treat him with respect, and when hospital elevators are maddeningly slow and the lines long, they invite him to hitch rides on the freight elevators they use for the trash.
Eldad says that over the last year, things have changed, and now it's not just the workers. And it's not just that respected professors have joined the right-wing "Professors for a Strong Israel" of which he is a member. His joining Moledet has brought him unexpected phone calls, he says, from doctors and researchers who have told him: "We envy you."
Eldad says he is surprised by the breadth of openness to the notion of transfer. "I see this as an expression of despair," he says. "Transfer is perceived in the same vein as separation."
In only one situation does he feel uncomfortable with this position: with the Arab physician on his team at the hospital. "But this discomfort doesn't last more than two or three minutes," he hastens to explain. And then what? "Usually there's another terrorist bombing, and we're treating the Jewish and Arab victims," says Eldad, "and I feel like the moral delegitimization of transfer has disappeared. I'm not hearing any more ethical arguments - at most, practical comments about its being impractical."
One looks in vain for the key to this resilience in the fact of a child's hardships or unpopularity, growing up in such a right-wing household in the days of the old Mapai hegemony. Unlike some who have made considerable political capital by complaining about persecution, Eldad says that he never felt that. "Sometimes at school there were comments made, some fairly nasty, but nothing that could kill you," he says. In the last analysis, he's from the Rehavia elite.
The incident that he recalls most vividly is his first anatomy lesson at Tel Aviv University. The instructor was walking up and down the aisles and asked a woman student her name. "Karni Jabotinsky," replied Benjamin Ze'ev's granddaughter. The next in line was Aryeh Eldad and the instructor was unable to hide his alarm, wondering, evidently, "if they were all like that. By the second row he had calmed down," recounts Eldad. He named his eldest daughter, one of five siblings, Karni, after the heroine of "Samson," by Jabotinsky.
Radical from childhood
He decided to go into politics almost immediately on leaving the army two years ago. He was tired of the learned debates of Professors for a Strong Israel, talk which he felt led nowhere. One day, Eldad was sitting at home in the settlement of Kfar Adumim and talking with his neighbor, Avital Darmon, sister of Dan Meridor, who was a Center Party MK at the time. "How can Dan talk that way," he wondered aloud about something Meridor had said that didn't sit well with him. "It was right after I'd written a very passionate article and she told me that writing articles is easy," Eldad recalls, "and she was right. My father said that he was glad he hadn't been elected to the Knesset, because he wouldn't have known what to do if he'd been required to vote against a withdrawal from the territories in exchange for an agreement not to draft yeshiva students, something he was very much against. It's a hard decision for an ideologue, but an everyday thing for a politician. For the first time in my life, I'm going into a system where I'm not sure of my ability to function effectively, but we really are heading for a kind of showdown in which I can no longer feel that I've contributed something by having written an article."
The road to Moledet was foreordained. Five conversations with Benny Elon, a childhood neighbor from Rehavia and sometime playmate, were enough; it was a natural match. The radical image didn't scare him. "This radicalism is part of my childhood," he says. "I've never known any other kind of environment. I didn't somehow emerge from the bosom of bourgeois Rehavia and land at the extreme end of the continuum; I've been there all the time. I've never known any other way of thinking, other than as an intellectual exercise."
Likewise the borders of Eretz Yisrael - the only term he's willing to discuss - are engraved in his mind from childhood. If a person is but the image of his childhood landscape, the first map of the Land of Israel that he saw as a child was the one his father printed in "Sulam," the movement organ. On this map, Israel extends to the Tigris and the Euphrates. It's obvious that when Eldad contends now that Jordan is Palestine, he's actually giving up the promised borders and making, in fact, a substantial compromise.
"That's right," he confirms. "The criticism is that we have no right to give up the land that was promised to us. I don't think we're compromising on the moral level, only in terms of realpolitik. There's a state in Jordan now of which 70 percent of the citizens are Palestinians. The only justification for the existence of the Hashemite king is a colonialist decision made 90 years ago. So when we say that Jordan is Palestine, it's not a concession, it's coming to terms with an existing political fact. In our opinion, this fact can be changed so that the Palestinians would rule there, and not the Hashemite Bedouin. As practical people, we are examining what of the vision may be actualized at a given point. One cannot waste one's time on fantasies. A Palestinian state in Jordan would offer a political solution to the matter of Palestinian identity."
But all these ideas, including transfer (voluntary, of course - not voluntary on an individual level, because the individual can't be expected to agree, but an international agreement, including with the Arab states), come later on. At this stage, Eldad expects a war, a real war. And he's not just talking about the reoccupation of the territories. "War is too big a word for a movement of forces that will begin and end within 12 hours," he says. "Even now, you can go into and come out of Nablus the way you go into and come out of a mall." That's not war, when after this brief movement he anticipates "the return of complete Israeli control over all of Eretz Yisrael."
But that isn't the really big, terrible war that Eldad is certain is coming. Eldad believes that on the northern front as well, the only solution to the security situation is a comprehensive war in which he expects that Iraq, Iran, and Libya would also be involved. He expresses himself in agreement with a comment to the effect that someone who anticipates a war behaves differently from someone whose intention is to prevent war. "We aren't inciting to war, just saying that war is inevitable," he says. "In the present situation, it's preferable that we choose the time and place. I don't think that turns me into someone who desires a war. My experience in the army and at the hospital has got to distance me from that. I'm not just familiar with the way it looks, but also with the way it smells."
As befits a professor of medicine, Eldad grounds his worldview in images from science. "It's easy to be naive, supposedly humanist; that's the simplest thing to do. This natural inclination has to be reined in with rationality. I have no hatred toward Arabs. Some of my friends on the left hate Arabs worse than I do. But we've been naive long enough; now the time has come to rein in our natural, human feelings that are leading us to destruction." Queried, after all this self-declared activism, as to what he wants to do in the Knesset, Eldad replies: "Preventive medicine."
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