Written Out of History

How Ben-Gurion tried to erase Etzel and Lehi from history / How they erased the Beatles from the British heritage / Who was the Jewish queen of Tahiti? / The difference between 'Jew' and 'Jewish' on Google.

At first, everything seemed heroic and high-minded, but it didn't take long before the voices of the screwed began to be heard; over the years this voice has dominated the history of the State of Israel. Mizrahim and Arabs and women, of course; Holocaust survivors; natives of almost every country in the universe, from the Yemenites to the Yekkes (German Jews): All were shortchanged, all suffered. Those who abandoned religion: Oy, how they suffered, in terms of family and of faith; those who were reared in children's houses in the kibbutzim: Oy, how traumatic it was that everyone saw their you-know-what.

Unfortunately, most of the crybabies are right, most of the time. Someone may eventually track down those Israelis who are unburdened by humiliations and discrimination complexes, but for the time being the voice of the members of the second generation is being heard. No, not those whose parents were in the Holocaust, but those whose parents fell victim to David Ben-Gurion's dictatorship because they were members of the Irgun and Lehi right-wing, pre-State paramilitary organizations.

Udi Label, who teaches political psychology and political science at Sapir College and at the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, has written a book that is full of bitterness and humiliation, but which is very much worth reading ("The Road to the Pantheon: Etzel and Lehi and the Boundaries of Israeli Memory," Carmel publishers, in Hebrew). History belongs to the winners, and Ben-Gurion knew that. That's why he closed the gates of the national pantheon to the dead of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (also known by the acronym "Etzel") and Lehi, and ordered Israel to remember only those heroes who fought in the military organizations connected to the Labor movement. The disabled of Etzel and Lehi did not receive assistance, widows and children were left without stipends. Ben-Gurion is portrayed as a petty tyrant who was not satisfied with the fact that he made history: He wanted to control memory as well.

The government monopoly over history left one sole arena for alternative clarification: the courts. The relatives of those killed in the battle over the weapons ship Altalena, and even relatives of several of those who carried out the massacre in Dir Yassin, demanded to be recognized as entitled to compensation from the Defense Ministry. Their lawsuits gave rise to several emotionally and politically fraught trials, which centered around what constitutes "terror," as opposed to a legitimate struggle for independence. Twenty years later, then-prime minister Menachem Begin rewrote history and shaped a new culture of memory: Terror thus received national legitimacy. Here is a fascinating book that Palestinians should also read, prior to the inevitable debate as to whether only the terror of Fatah, or the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well, deserve a place in their pantheon.

300,000 examples of heritage

In the English city of Ramsgate, in Kent, stands a uniquely shaped white building, neither large nor small, neither square nor rounded. It was designed by Jewish architect David Mocatta, who was the nephew of Judith Montefiore, wife of Sir Moses Montefiore. The building in Ramsgate is the Montefiore Synagogue. It is the only synagogue in England standing on private land, and the first one that was designed by a Jewish architect.

One can learn all this on an amazing new Web site worthy of imitation, which contains over 300,000 photos of historical sites in England. Everything from Buckingham Palace to the last phone booth in some remote village. To be more precise, 2,146 phone booths. This is a heritage project whose preparation, with the help of volunteers, took seven years and cost almost 7.5 million pounds sterling; the money came in part from the national lottery.

The site is very user-friendly: The photographs are clear, the search engine works and hence it's not too difficult to determine that it is also quite an eccentric project, as is to be expected in England. The sites that were chosen, including 130 important locks, appear accompanied by overly detailed and tiring architectural explanations, including measurements, building materials, and exposure and ventilation, as though these places were on public auction. The historical information, however, is summed up in several words at most: Regarding the synagogue in the West End of London, it says that Chaim Weizmann prayed in it. Too many sites appear without any historical explanations. It saves the initiators of the project a lot of headaches as well as concrete questions: How, for example, was Moses Montefiore capable of paying for his synagogue in 1900 if he had died already in 1885? One can understand the initiators of the project, who chose to include in their historical heritage a hotel where Agatha Christie was once a guest, and every statue of Shakespeare anywhere, but it is not at all clear why the search engine shows no results for "Beatles."

It's important to know

The following lines come from a casual reading of the book "Noa, Noa," by Paul Gauguin. Gaugin, a Parisian stockbroker who began to paint, fled from his conventional life to the most distant and exotic place he could imagine, Tahiti, an island in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between California and Australia. Gauguin was a racist and a pedophile, and one remark in his book also reflects anti-Semitism. At his first meeting with the island's Queen Marau, she seemed to him a fat, vulgar and unpleasant woman: "That day the Jewish part of her blood cast a shadow on everything," wrote Gauguin. After a while he understood that he had been mistaken and now perceived her great charm. Therefore he wrote: "The Tahitian blood had the upper hand."

Here is a natural question: The settlers from Europe brought Christianity and sexually transmitted diseases to Tahiti, but how did the queen of Tahiti come to have Jewish blood flowing through her veins? Nowadays we are fortunate to be able to find out the answers to such important questions on the Internet. There is a site that represents the Jewish community of Tahiti - yes, there is one even there - and among other things, the site honors the memory of an Englishman named Alexander Salmon, although it doesn't say explicitly that he was Jewish. This Salmon fell in love with Princess Arrioehau, but local law forbade the girls of the island from marrying foreigners. Queen Pomare IV abrogated the law for three days. The princess and her Jew lived happily every after, we hope, and their daughter Joanna eventually became Queen Marau, the last queen of the island.

A million signatures won't extinguish it

At present there is a call circulating via e-mail asking recipients to sign a petition calling for the removal of an anti-Semitic site from Google's search engine. The site, belonging to a man named Frank Weltner, is among the first hits that come up when one plugs the word "Jew" into a search. The attempt to remove the site has been going on for over three years. According to the latest campaign, Google will do just that if it receives half a million demands from users.

At issue is a site that truly is blatantly anti-Semitic. Google attaches a complicated and barely comprehensible technical explanation to the site, which can be summed up as follows: Since most anti-Semites use the word "Jew" and most Jews the word "Jewish," this site is high on the list. The explanation does not include a promise to remove the site, even in response to one million signatures. On the contrary: Google explains why it is not removing it. This explanation too is complicated and barely comprehensible, but the upshot is that as long as there is no violation of the law, the company does not intervene. But there are bounds even to Google's liberalism, as we are aware: for example, in China, where Google accepted the demands of the regime.