Effi Eitam's double game
It's as if he belongs everywhere, while he actually belongs nowhere. He's simultaneously a salt-of-the-earth kibbutznik and an extreme rightist imbued with messianic fervor. He's a senior officer as well as an irresponsible settler. He's a coarse politician, but an enthusiastic preacher of unity and brotherhood.
By the time journalists managed to publish Infrastructure Minister Effi Eitam's scathing remarks about Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Eitam had already scrambled to apologize and to attribute his outburst to emotional turmoil. That evening on Channel One, when MK Ofir Pines of Labor called Eitam a "blight," Shaul Yahalom of the NRP rolled his eyes in self-righteous indignation and berated Pines for saying such things about a brigadier general who participated "in ambushes in Lebanon."
This is the dangerous secret of Eitam's double game: It's as if he belongs everywhere, while he actually belongs nowhere.
He's simultaneously a salt-of-the-earth kibbutznik and an extreme rightist imbued with messianic fervor. He's a senior officer as well as an irresponsible settler. He's a coarse politician, but an enthusiastic preacher of unity and brotherhood whom a group of people affiliated with the left tremulously embraced by allowing him to breathe life into the Kinneret Covenant and then sending him on to the government with the stamp of legitimacy, where he now sits together with the Labor Party. With all this patronage, he can now unveil the ultimate horror: a minister close to the prime minister who is also the head of a gang of lawbreakers.
Those who find it hard to understand Eitam and his success in the delusionary politics of the new Israel ought to listen to what he says to the settlers.
They also have their qualms about him: This week, a few veteran Gush Emunim settlers in Beit El and other settlements said that Eitam was too messianic for their taste, that he was getting too full of himself. But this wariness, which derives in part from his being a religious penitent, actually helps him win sympathy among the secular.
In an interview last week with Ariel Kahane in the new weekly Sheva (a new competitor for Makor Rishon, edited by Emmanuel Shiloh and published by Arutz Sheva), Eitam said that his vision is the establishment of a religious-Zionist super-party that would attract all those who aspire to build a "Jewish state" - as if the Zionist homeland for the Jewish people that was established here 54 years ago was just a rough draft for the real thing. Even the NRP is just a temporary tool in his hands. Eitam has his sights set on Tekuma, parts of Meimad (before whom he appears in his progressive liberal-religious get-up), the Russians and Shas, which he says is undergoing an "involuntary Zionization." If Eitam is the one defining Zionism, then Shas's shift toward a more racist and national-religious extreme constitutes Zionism in the purest sense of the word.
Eitam promised that he would eventually lead the NRP and that he would become a minister, and he kept his promises. In private conversations, Sharon said that he was afraid of Eitam because he's crazy, and promised not to bring him into the government, and now Eitam is telling Sheva: "There is no forum that I'm not a part of.
The prime minister welcomes me to private meetings a minute after I ask." And here we have the Labor Party sitting in a government that includes a very ambitious minister, who considers Sharon dangerous because he could "provide political power to a Palestinian state," and who, under the guise of his security expertise and love for Israel, represents a most unruly group of the citizenry that operates somewhere in the twilight zone between Gandhi and Kahane, and the false messiah Shabtai Zvi.
Eitam epitomizes the dangerous, fascist blurring of all differences. At the end of the interview in Sheva, he explains that it's hard to get things done in the government because "things are transformed by bureaucracy and the courts and all kinds of systems that empty them of content and delay implementation." He also said that "the key positions must be filled by true believers" (not necessarily religious people, but those who are filled with "the kind of fervor we have in the settlement movement"), and finally, that young people should know "that politics is part of the way in which the redemption of the Jewish people is evolving."
One mustn't make light of Effi Eitam. He has to be seriously reckoned with, just like the hilltop youth who are his younger reflections. The time has come to stop cowering in the face of threats about a civil war. It's not too late for the Kinneret Covenant people to wash their hands of him. They and the Labor Party and the left as a whole can still give him the label he truly deserves. For the sake of Zionism, and yes, for the sake of the Jewish people.
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