Counting on despair
Brig. Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam doesn't leave in place a single convention of normalcy and civilized society. It all crumbles under his crude boot. The Arabs are a ticking bomb, and a cancer, and traitors. He glibly crushes civic discourse, and crosses the fragile line of separation between the Palestinians in the territories and the Arabs in Israel.
A few months ago, while the High Court of Justice was considering a petition against the appointment of Ehud Yatom as the prime minister's adviser on terrorism, Brig. Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam had a meeting with Ariel Sharon, who asked Eitam if he'd be interested in the adviser's job. There are two versions of what happened next. According to Eitam, Sharon offered him a minister's post, and Eitam, for ideological reasons, refused. According to Sharon's office, the adviser's job was offered, but Eitam wanted to be a minister and Sharon refused. A few weeks ago, in a private conversation with a journalist, Sharon said he knows Eitam well. "The only people I've learned to be suspicious of in politics are not the bad or the good, the smart or the stupid. It's the oddballs," he said.
A reading of Eitam's interview with Ha'aretz last weekend leads to the conclusion that Eitam is indeed very odd. He hears voices, expects a sign, and is convinced that the People of Israel have a direct line to the Master of the Universe. One could take all that messianic megalomania as a joke, but as they say in certain Hasidic courts, I'd laugh if the fool wasn't ours.
Eitam's text - in which he claims the People of Israel have a role, and the Palestinians understand that role (a vulgar, violent interpretation of the complex doctrines of Rabbi Kook) - can be read differently. It might have been a sophisticated provocation, assuming that Eitam knows that what he said would be controversial and he intentionally chose extremist positions to improve his place in the ranks of contenders for key positions in the next right-wing government.
Either way, his rhetoric is imbued with danger, mostly resulting from the level of brutality in the statements he makes. Practically everything he said has already been said, in one form or another, by the right. But Eitam pulls all the slogans together into one unbridled and total doctrine. Eitam can say such serious things because he knows well what constitutes Israeli despair: the fear of Arabs, the fear that "the state is going kaput," the weakening of Zionism's moral rationale. Out of all these he managed to formulate a total way of thought - roughly concentrated on one problem: the Arabs in Israel.
Eitam doesn't leave in place a single convention of normalcy and civilized society. It all crumbles under his crude boot. The Arabs are a ticking bomb, and a cancer, and traitors. He glibly crushes civic discourse, and crosses the fragile line of separation between the Palestinians in the territories and the Arabs in Israel. He smashes the image of Israel as a sovereign entity, defining it as some experiential fantasy of "the Jewish nation," in which the Arabs live alongside the state as residents without voting rights.
Eitam weaves an illusion by saying that he speaks out of ideology. But that ideology is merely the remains of the battered codes left by Kahane, Ze'evi, and others, from which Eitam knitted his kippa. His innovation is that he turns the Arabs into an enemy that one is allowed to kill. In that, he's worse than his predecessors, because he diverts the legitimate debate about the territories in the direction of Israeli citizens.
Those who believe Eitam is aiming his rhetoric at the national religious and nationalistic ultra-Orthodox will be surprised to hear that four of the young rabbis most popular with that community, to whom Eitam turned for support, threw him out. Eitam isn't aiming for the religious, who doubt his credibility (in part because he is too enthusiastically newly observant), but to those desperate for a quick solution, and they are mostly in the center. But he isn't proposing a solution, just enlisting the despair to produce a false solution. When despair is the solution, history teaches us that it is, without fail, only brutal and dangerous.