Israel's Right Must Remember: Like the Palestinians, It Too Once Resisted Oppression

Once upon a time, a time we knew better days, had loftier values, and even had more enlightened elected officials. There were human beings here. Even on the right.

B. Michael
B. Michael
Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli border police, October 30, 2014.
Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli border police, October 30, 2014.Credit: AP
B. Michael
B. Michael

The Jews of Israel respond to the Palestinians’ insistence on rebelling against their occupiers with angry astonishment. We seethe with fury and flush with indignation when an Arab — an inferior creature descended from the son of a slave-girl, a wild ass of the desert — refuses to thank his God for the privilege of being trampled beneath our boots; that he dares to raise his voice, pick up a stone, take up weapons, raise the flag of revolt.

After all, as everybody knows, the right to do all these things is reserved for us alone — only for those who were born of the right mother or dealt with by the clergy of the right deity. Because that, and only that, is all we managed to learn from the (rewritten) myths of our own revolts against oppressors.

And so, every Palestinian — even when he attacks the occupation forces (and not civilians) — will always be considered a “terrorist,” a mass-murderer who seeks to destroy the Jewish people.

Even when he does not do so by force of arms, but only with words and by making insolent demands for freedom and self-determination, he will still be part of the terrorist camp. He will simply be regarded as “an inciter of violence” or one who engages in “political terrorism” (another humorous contribution by Israel to the oxymoronic world dictionary, alongside the terms “Jewish and democratic,” “enlightened occupation” and “absent-present”).

But we were not always this way. Once upon a time we knew better days, had loftier values, and even had more enlightened elected officials.

On the eve of the state’s establishment and even afterward, many good people — and some who were less good — made efforts to draft a constitution for Israel. Dozens of proposals were written: the draft written by Dr. Leo Kohn, plus others written by Dr. Zeev Falk, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevy Herzog, Yitzhak Klinghoffer, Benjamin Aktzin, Uriel Reichman, Amnon Rubinstein, Ariel Bendor and the Israel Democracy Institute, to name just a few.

The two large parties, Mapai and Herut, wrote proposals as well. Zvi Berenson, later a Supreme Court justice, drafted Mapai’s proposed constitution. Yohanan Bader, a member of the pre-state underground, the Irgun, and one of the founders of the Herut movement, drafted Herut’s.

Amazingly enough, but understandably, most of the “old” proposed documents are much better than the later ones. This is because the earlier drafts came out of a real effort to build a worthy constitution. The later ones are the dubious results of compromises and shady back-room dealings, attempts to square circles and cut corners, bypass obstacles and please everybody.

All the proposed drafts were condemned to death by cruel and unusual means. They are very valuable as illustrations of a particular era, molds of their landscape of origin, composites of the people, values and spirit of the times. But only one of them — the one that deals, more than the others, with human and civil rights — touches on a point that is the most current of all: the right to rise up, the duty to rebel. What follows is Statute 33 of the section entitled “The defense of liberty” in that draft proposal of a constitution for Israel:

The Irgun’s 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel. Credit: Underground Prisoners Museum

“1. A person has the right to resist oppression and tyranny, to defend himself, as necessary, from any illegal attempt upon his life, limb, dignity or property.

2. Should the government violate human and civil rights, and if even the constitutional guarantees have ceased to safeguard him, then rebellion shall be the right and the duty of the people, and of any part of the people.”

Those strongly-worded statements were written by Dr. Yohanan Bader, a man of the right wing whom the British occupier considered a terrorist; who arose from the underground and never forgot where he had come from; who remembered what he had fought for, how he had fought and against whom he had fought.

Let the thugs of Habayit Hayehudi (the “post-Jewish Home”), those who take Jabotinsky’s name in vain, the website commenters from the gutter, the Cossacks of the hilltops and the simple racists who have lost their humanity read and learn: Once upon a time, there were human beings here. Even on the right.

And those who continue the legacy of the master, Senator McCarthy, are invited to proclaim Yohanan Bader a post-Zionist, send him to Gaza and tell him that he is a traitor.

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