Who Wants a Lone Rider in the Knesset?

The local political system does not encourage one-man factions in the Knesset as they jeopardize governability - but they are also some of the most original and courageous politicians.

Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev

A member of the first Knesset, Ari Jabotinsky, once demanded that the parliament's cafeteria offer both kosher and nonkosher food, including ham sandwiches. Jabotinsky, son of the head of the Revisionist movement, was among the leaders of the campaign against religious coercion. His demand did not reflect the decision of his parliamentary faction: He started out in the Knesset in Herut, but quit and became a faction of one.

The Knesset has known quite a few lone foxes of his sort. The country's political history shows that a number of MKs who chose or were compelled to go it alone, without factions, were among the most influential, original, fascinating and challenging politicians.

The campaign ads airing these days reveal about half-a-dozen new heads of lists, whose names no one had ever heard of before. After the election they will doubtless be forgotten. The local political system does not encourage "factions of one." They jeopardize governability, and encourage eccentrics and buffoons. But party discipline stifles original and courageous thinking, and spews out independent people who offer ideological alternatives.

There have not been many of them: just under 50, out of more than 800 MKS elected since the state's establishment. Not all of them excelled as parliamentarians, not all were called upon to choose between obeying their faction and sticking to their worldview; all reserved their first loyalty for their ego. Almost all, in their way, were odd ducks. But most contributed something to the right of minorities to be represented.

David Ben-Gurion entangled himself unnecessarily in the famous Lavon affair and was expelled from Mapai, of which he had been a cofounder. But the Israeli Workers List (Rafi ) he formed won only 10 seats, and in 1968 it joined in creating the Labor Party.

Ben-Gurion refused to take part in that move, however, and remained alone. His faction of one reflected a personal tragedy, not an ideological rift.

I doubt there are more pathetic moments in the history of Israeli politics. Even Yigael Yadin as a faction of one never reached such a level of wretchedness.

Moshe Dayan's story was practically the opposite: He defected from his party to join Menachem Begin and managed to bring about the peace treaty with Egypt, the most important achievement of his political career.

Ben-Gurion and Dayan deserve to lead the "Top 10 Chart" of politicians without a faction. It isn't easy to pick the remaining eight.

Shmuel Tamir, an elite lawyer, and Uri Avnery, an elite journalist, starred in several formative affairs in the state's history - among them the 1954 Kastner libel trial and the so-called Shurat Hamitnadvim libel trial, involving Amos Ben-Gurion. Before they developed bottomless hatred toward each other, the two waged important battles for the supremacy of the law and freedom of the press. Tamir moved around from one faction to another until he remained alone; Avnery started off in the Knesset by himself.

The formative affairs that made the 1950s so fascinating also made a standout of Benjamin Halevi, the judge in the Kastner trial, the Kafr Qasem massacre trial, and later also the Adolf Eichmann trial. His story was unique in that he served as a Supreme Court Justice before running for Knesset on the Gahal list. He too moved about from one faction to the next, until he wound up alone. The decision over which of these three deserves a spot among the Top 10 - Tamir, Avnery or Halevi - is tough.

Jabotinsky competes with another prominent Revisionist, Hillel Kook, who also - how can I put this politely? - was a colorful character. "Peter Bergson," as he called himself, resided in the United States at the time of World War II and initiated efforts to save Jews.

Vying for the same spot on the MKs' list is another man whose life story, like those of Jabotinsky and Kook, could be the basis for a movie: Natan Yellin-Mor, the sole member of the Fighters List. A commander in the Irgun (prestate underground militia ), he was jailed for his part in the murder of the Swedish UN mediator Folke Bernadotte, and later was one of the leading spokesmen for the Israeli peace camp. The author Moshe Shamir took the opposite course: from left to right. There, on the right, one of the few MKs who left a "legacy" is awaiting a spot: Meir Kahane.

His inclusion on the Top 10 list will make Rafael Eitan's inclusion redundant.

It is interesting that so many of the lone foxes in the Knesset came from the general direction of the Revisionist movement - not from the "ideological collectivism" that characterized the parties on the left.

For its part, the ideological left can offer for the Top 10 list Charlie Biton, Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi, all three of them more serious than the buffoonish image they adopted. If there is any room left on the list, it could be filled by Rachel Cohen-Kagan, one of the mothers of Israeli feminism. Arie Lova Eliav and Dedi Zucker will be out, and, along with them - what can you do? - also a series of rabbis.

Here then is a possible list of the Top 10 lone MKs through the generations: David Ben-Gurion; Moshe Dayan; Uri Avnery; Shmuel Tamir; Meir Kahane; Rachel Cohen-Kagan; Hillel Kook; Ahmed Tibi; and Yigael Yadin. Rabbi Joseph Bagad and Samuel Flatto-Sharon will vie for the last spot. Bagad enriched Knesset folklore with gimmicks nobody before him had tried, but he became tedious; he once suddenly sat down on the plenum floor. In a contest between the two, Flatto-Sharon would win. Because of the accent, of course.

KahaneCredit: Nati Harnik/GPO
Ben-GurionCredit: Starphot
Yellin-MorCredit: Eldan David/GPO
AvneryCredit: Daniel Tchetchik



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