Her Ongoing Silence

Her friends say Yuli Tamir has not changed her views, that she remains as ethical and moral as she was. Nor can anyone accuse her of cynicism. Then what is the explanation? A lack of courage, the most crucial attribute of anyone who wants to lead.

It happened exactly 30 years ago: the first demonstration by Peace Now. There were 40,000 people in the square that was then called Malkhei Yisrael. On April 1, 1978, they demonstrated in favor of accelerating the peace talks with Egypt. One of the energetic organizers was the princess of the extra-parliamentary left in those days, Yuli Tamir.

Scion of the aristocracy of the Israeli workers' movement, Tamir stood out among the founders of Peace Now. When, a short time later, the question arose as to whether to demonstrate against the demolition of houses in the territories, Tamir was among those who enthusiastically called for taking to the streets and protesting. Afterward she became an activist in the Ratz party in the 1980s and the chair of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in the 1990s. Her academic activity also related to similar issues: One of her books discussed liberal nationalism. Isaiah Berlin was her teacher and mentor.

Thirty years after that demonstration Tamir is the minister of education. Her last two projects: granting Israel Prizes for contribution to society to eight different organizations, including the Manufacturers Association and the Jewish Agency, and the initiative Derech Eretz V'Shamayim (a play on words meaning both "the Golden Way and the Sky" as well as "Across Land and Air"). In this initiative, 8,000 army officers and soldiers visited schools across the country last week to speak to the students about values and national pride. In a nutshell, these two projects tell the entire story of the long way Tamir has come from then until now. When Shulamit Aloni was minister of education, she battled to award the Israel Prize to Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz; Tamir will award the prize to the Manufacturers Association. She sent the Israel Defense Forces officers to schools to impart values to our children. Post-leftist.

Could any of those who signed the "officers' letter" in the late 1970s have imagined that one day his friend Tamir would be sitting in a government that has been imposing a cruel siege on Gaza for almost two years? Could any of Peace Now's founding fathers have dreamt that their impressive friend would eventually serve as a senior minister in a government that carries out a policy of assassinations like the murder in cold blood about two weeks ago in Bethlehem by the Border Police, on the orders of the defense minister, as B'Tselem indicates?

Tamir is one of the few ministers with a clearly defined electorate. Just as Shalom Simhon is a representative of the moshavim in the government, Eli Yishai is a representative of the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox community; and Rafi Eitan is the representative of the pensioners, Tamir is the representative of the Zionist and intellectual left. She is betraying her mission and her voters.

As minister of education she actually did try to leave a mark that recalls her early days. That was true of her work to promote teaching about the Nakba ("catastrophe" of the 1948 War of Independence) in Arab schools, the restoration of the Green Line to school maps, her opposition to turning the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel into a university and the cut in the budgets of the pre-army mechinot (Jewish study institutes). That's praiseworthy. That is exactly why she was elected. But Tamir is not only a minister of education, she is also a member of the government. She is a full and senior partner to all its deeds and failures. Even if we can accept, with difficulty, that she sits in a government whose entire goal is to gain time and survive, a government that embarked on a useless war, that is barely working - and certainly not on deeds to promote peace with either the Palestinians or Syria - it is impossible to accept the ongoing silence of the former princess of peace.

Tamir should have served as the representative of the doves in this government, an internal opposition in the name of peace and the protection of human rights, morality and humanity - warning and challenging, criticizing and protesting. With the exception of a few weak words she once said about her opposition to the assassinations, her silence is thundering and embarrassing. Tamir is tainted by the failures of this government.

Her friends say she has not changed her views, that she remains as ethical and moral as she was. Nor can anyone accuse her of cynicism. Then what is the explanation? A lack of courage, the most crucial attribute of anyone who wants to lead.

Perhaps it is not too late. In the ideological wasteland surrounding the present government, with Ehud Olmert at the head and Ehud Barak at the head of her party (Labor), Tamir can still return to her early promise, if she would only open her mouth. Why is it that Shas Chairman Eli Yishai can try to cast a veto against the core issues, and Tamir cannot try to cast a similar veto against the siege in Gaza? Why doesn't she at least tell us what she thinks about the pointless policy of starving 1.5 million people? About the kidnapping and arrest without trial of her colleague, the Palestinian minister of education? About the killing of 26 children in Gaza over one weekend? Why doesn't Tamir return, even if far too belatedly, to herself and to what she was then, 30 years ago this week?