“It could be that Gandhi’s opinions were ahead of their time, and the fact that many people have sobered up in recent years is proof of this,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the Knesset on Wednesday at a state memorial ceremony for former minister Rehavam Ze’evi, nicknamed Gandhi, who was murdered in a 2001 terror attack.
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Both the event itself and Ya’alon’s remarks are outrageous. Ze’evi was just one of about 1,000 Israeli victims of the violent conflict with the Palestinians in the first half of the previous decade. He doesn’t deserve preferential treatment over any of the other civilians and soldiers whose lives were taken from them.
As a career officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Ze’evi was a controversial figure. During his five years as GOC Central Command, he exemplified the spirit of arrogance and corruption that pervaded the top brass between the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Complaints about his treatment of soldiers, especially female soldiers, were shelved in the prevailing atmosphere of leniency and reciprocal cover-ups.
After he left the IDF, he palled around with criminals. “If you need me, I’m here,” he told his underworld friends. Finally, he headed an extreme right-wing political movement, Moledet, which wasn’t far from Meir Kahane’s Kach party. The shocking idea most closely identified with Ze’evi’s worldview is his proposal to “transfer” Palestinians out of the territories Israel occupied in 1967.
It would be better to repudiate people like Ze’evi. A large majority of Israelis renounced Kahane and would never dream of memorializing him, even though he, too, was murdered by an assassin. But Ze’evi has been granted an honor otherwise given only to Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the state, and to Yitzhak Rabin, the murdered prime minister – a law mandating his memorialization in state ceremonies and by educating Israel’s youth in his “heritage.”
Ya’alon, who has been courting Likud's Ze’evist right wing in the hope of someday inheriting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mantle, is betraying his responsibility as defense minister in a government that is conducting peace talks when he says that “Gandhi” was right. In what was he right? In his demand to “transfer” those with whom Israel is conducting negotiations?
The mistake inherent in the law to memorialize Ze’evi must be corrected by repealing it. Israel should be ashamed of the fact that a man with such views once served in its government. His views weren’t ahead of their time; it would be better for their time never to arrive – for that would spell the end of the state that Herzl envisioned and that Rabin and others built up.