Makings of History Our Buddy Minister of Defense Ehud Barak

National responsibility was not expected of a 'sahbak' – it sufficed for him to give you a cigarette.

Tom Segev
Tom Segev
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Tom Segev
Tom Segev

In the summer of 1950, David Ben-Gurion wanted to send 100 to 150 volunteer soldiers to the Korean War. Aside from improving relations with the United States, he hoped that Israeli participation would increase the country's prestige in the eyes of world Jewry and also in its own eyes: "It is necessary that a Jew have the feeling that his country is a hevreman [from Yiddish, a gregarious and reliable regular guy]. This is very important," said Ben-Gurion at a meeting of the government. At the time Ehud Brog, later Barak, was an 8 year-old. On his kibbutz, Mishmar Hasharon, they were still educating boys to become hevremen, but the boys of his generation grew up into a society that had given up the hevreman for the sahbak (from Arabic, meaning buddy or pal ). It is possible to construct a whole historical thesis around this change.

Dahn Ben-Amotz and Netiva Ben-Yehuda defined hevreman thus: "A good fellow always willing, ready to take things on, can be relied upon." Their dictionary cites the book "The Seventh Day" (a collection of interviews with soldiers after the Six Day-War ), published by the kibbutz movement in October of 1967, as perhaps the last manifesto of the unique Israeli quality of being a hevreman.

The sahbak phenomenon not only reflected the inroads into Israeli culture of the Mizrahi identity brought with them by Jewish immigrants from the Muslim countries. It was also much less demanding. National responsibility was not expected of a sahbak. It sufficed for him to give you a cigarette. The hevreman and the sahbak did, however, share two attributes: Both were afraid of being a freier (from Yiddish: sucker ), and both of them were also shvitzers (from the Yiddish word for sweat, meaning show-offs, boasters ).

The building that once served as the shared showers of Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon is now home to a history museum that also maintains a web site. The search engine does not bring up Barak's name. Ehud Brog comes up in a group photo, among a dozen tots, well-fed children of about 5; he looks sturdier and testier than the other children. He grew up as a member of the first generation of the native-born elite.

Mishmar Hasharon was involved in the struggle against the British, but Barak's generation identified less with the Palmach pre-state underground than it did with Hasamba - "The Absolutely Absolute Secret Group," which was featured in the series of children's books by Yigal Mossinson, and chronicled heroic exploits in Tel Aviv against the British and enemies of the Jewish state. Barak was 14 years old in 1956, when Israel embarked on the Sinai Campaign. The chief of staff then was Moshe Dayan. Twenty-seven years older than Barak, Dayan was already a person Israeli teens admired. A few weeks ago, Barak donned his black leather jacket and came to Tel Aviv University to lecture on Dayan. He spoke of him admiringly.

Dayan was a daring, intelligent and original individual, egocentric, ambitious, cynical, arrogant and a hedonist, who had no loyalty: not to the truth, not to values, not to laws, not to friends, not to women and not even to himself. A man of many complexes, throughout his life he needed a stronger figure to guide him and, above all, to exonerate him from his responsibility for his failures. Therefore he never dared aspire to the station of prime minister.

No less egocentric, cynical, arrogant and hedonistic than Dayan, Barak too would have a hard time finding people to volunteer to testify under oath to his loyalty. But his adventurousness and cunning put him closer to Ariel Sharon than to Dayan.

Apparently Barak did not suffer from the Dayan complex; just as daring, original and intelligent, Barak did not hesitate to take upon himself the position of prime minister. Born on a kibbutz, he was educated from childhood to see himself as part of the Israeli elite. However, his roots in the "labor settlement" movement were no longer enough. Mishmar Hasharon encouraged its sons to enlist in elite army units, but even a military career was no longer sufficient as an entry ticket to the new elite. Also necessary was an American experience of a few years, as an emissary or studying at a prestigious university.

Barak studied systems analysis at Stanford University. The new elite also required rational thinking - with no ideological impediments - professional excellence and money. Dayan still got points for the fact of having been born here and for taking an interest in archaeology and the Bible. Barak knows how to play the piano. The sahbak quality he radiated did not win him admiration, and there were even those hated him. Many more simply couldn't stand him. His way of life in New Tel Aviv aroused envy and he reacted insensitively, a sure sign of the new elites in Israel.

In the lecture he gave at Tel Aviv University three days before Operation Pillar of Defense started, Barak recounted several encounters with Dayan; it seems they did not afford him any particularly deep insights.

There wasn't a hint of his intention then not to run for the next Knesset; in fact he sounded like a politician on the eve of an election, using sarcasm toward Golda Meir, a joke from a Gashash Hahiver skit and another from by Hananya Reichman - the Reichman who entertained the readers of Davar Leyeladim, the children's weekly of the long-gone labor newspaper Davar.

Here and there Barak threw in a few words in English. As befits a lecture at a university, he mentioned two historians, one from Israel, one from Harvard, Anita Shapira and Graham Allison, respectively, and quoted two poets, one Israeli and one American, Natan Alterman and Robert Frost. Barak attributed to Frost the saying "good fences make good neighbors." For years now he has been using that line to justify the separation barrier.

In fact, the line is a proverb from the 17th century that Frost used in order to make the opposite point of what Barak is attributing to him: Frost did not believe in fences. And then Barak set forth his Israeli vision. He is in favor of an exemplary society.

Ariel Sharon and Moshe DayanCredit: Reuters



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