Israel has been saddled for 14 years with the law commemorating Rehavam Ze’evi, whom Palestinians assassinated. He was controversial in life because of his political espousal of transferring Palestinians and because of dubious behavior like befriending criminals, among them convicted murderers.
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In his death, Knesset members added insult to injury by officially commemorating him at a cost of 1 million shekels ($262,000) annually, naming a bridge after him as well as a military base, instead of naming it after the commander of the ill-fated Lamed Hey in 1948, Danny Mas. Personalities who built or defended Israel did not enjoy such regal honors. Ze’evi, whose military and political careers are seriously flawed – he was commander of the battle of Tel Mutila, which Israel lost to Syria in 1951, and he advocated transfer – has been sanctified.
Criticism of him has grown over the past year, since several women testified about sexual assaults, as well as rape, on Channel 2’s “Uvda” (“Fact”) program. These women included former soldiers who had served under his command. Palmach veterans, who gathered around him in previous opportunities, lost their appreciation for him because of an internal fight among battalions of the strike force and opposed commemorating him at Sha’ar Hagay. The Israeli public is discovering what was hidden for decades by censorship and concealment – that Ze’evi was fundamentally an unsavory person. The law to commemorate him is a blot on the Israeli law books and desperately needs to be repealed.
More than two-thirds of MKs realized this and skipped the Knesset memorial for him on Tuesday. However, coalition and opposition leaders still lack a measure of wisdom regarding this issue. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a demonstration of callous insensitivity toward Ze’evi’s victims, defended his reputation on two accounts. He asserted there “is no argument” as to what Ze’evi did “on the national, military and diplomatic level here,” and that Ze’evi should be presumed innocent publicly because “he is unable to give his account of things.” He added, “The right to a good reputation is reserved for the living and also for the dead.”
Beyond the fact that there is disagreement about Ze’evi’s national, military and diplomatic activities, we should remember that this is the same Netanyahu who joined those slandering Yitzhak Rabin before one of those who was incited took the life of the prime minister. Netanyahu immortalizes Ze’evi but not Rabin.
And if the public has already become used to Netanyahu’s cynicism, Isaac Herzog was the one this time to deepen the moral stain. The Labor Party chairman protested that he had misgivings because the complaints of sexual assault cast “a shadow over Ze’evi’s image,” but decided to participate in the embarrassing scene. Israeli democracy can only regret that this is the ethical character of the current opposition leader.