Shalom Haver 2

With the end of the shiva for assassinated cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi, and with the sixth anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin just a few days away, it is difficult not to take notice of the back flip that Israeli society has made since November 4, 1995.

With the end of the shiva (the seven-day period of mourning in Jewish tradition) for assassinated cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi, and with the sixth anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin just a few days away, it is difficult not to take notice of the back flip that Israeli society has made since November 4, 1995 (the date of the Rabin assassination).

One can see a rough symmetry in the responses to the two killings. As was the case with Rabin's burial, at Ze'evi's funeral, a granddaughter, her voice choked with tears, said that her "grandfather is watching over us from above." As in Rabin's case, sad-eyed teenagers in the town of Ramat Hasharon lit candles and softly sang classic Hebrew songs. However, the most striking similarity could be noted in the eulogies delivered by veterans of the Palmach and the Israel Defense Forces.

All the elements of solidarity, nostalgia and patriotism were there - expressions of love for the land of Israel, as well as references to a "bond of blood" and to the idea of "fighting shoulder to shoulder." (But where was the phrase, "red battlefields," which was included in an advertisement of support for Ze'evi that appeared when he was questioned by the Israel Police with regard to organized crime?) However, the most prominent element in these responses was the magic formula uttered by all the eulogizers: "He was a true haver (comrade)."

The various reincarnations of the word haver in the tradition of Israeli eulogies are fascinating, but also misleading. Apparently, the term was borrowed from the legacy of the Palmach and the legacy of Israeli military history, although the keyword describing the bond between Palmach warriors is re'ut (friendship), which is referred to in the poems "Re'ut" (friendship) and "Bab el-Wad" by Haim Guri, as well the poem, "Rain is falling on my friend's (re'i) face" by Yehuda Amichai. Incidentally, Ze'evi's home is located on a street named Neveh Re'im (an oasis of brotherhood).

The beautiful and highly evocative word re'a (friend) has been borrowed from the Bible: "Love thy neighbor" is literally "Love thy friend" (re'acha), and expresses both close ties and a fraternal bond. Over the past few years, IDF soldiers have replaced re'a with the affectionate, uncomplicated term, "achi," ("my brother," with the accent on the first syllable).

Then where has the word "haver" sprung from? Its reappearance in contemporary Israeli discourse can be attributed to an interesting cultural juxtapositioning. In an interview that he gave to Israel Television's Channel Two in November 1998, then U.S. president Bill Clinton explained how the phrase he used at Rabin's funeral in Jerusalem - "Shalom, haver" ("Good-bye, comrade") - originated. One of Clinton's aides suggested that he use this phrase and explained the meaning of the words to the president. Clinton added that the aide was a Jew who had some knowledge of Hebrew.

In extracurricular study frameworks in the United States during the 1960s and in subsequent years, Jewish students used the same phrase book that was a standard text in ulpanim (adult Hebrew study classes) in Israel. The term "haver" that appeared in the phrase book did not connote "friend," but rather meant "comrade" and appeared in such contexts as "member of the Mapai party (Labor's predecessor)," "member of the Histadrut," and "member of a kibbutz."

The phrase "Shalom haver" thus imported and revived the discourse of the cultural elite of the nascent state of Israel. This discourse was satirized by Ephraim Kishon in his "Salah Shabati," in which the chief protagonist refers to someone as "Geveret Haver" - "Madame Comrade," which sounds funnier in Hebrew because of the combination of the feminine noun, geveret, with the masculine haver.

It seems safe to assume that Clinton, his aide and the excited Israelis who lost no time in turning the motto into a symbol, a private association and a bumper sticker (the motto was later recruited to help another haver, former prime minister Ehud Barak, a former member of the elite IDF Sayeret Matkal unit, in his election campaign) were unaware of the real connotation of the term in modern Israeli Hebrew.

In any case, immediately after Rabin's state funeral and while the phrase "Shalom haver" was still reverberating in the air in Israel, goodwill delegations of all varieties began offering thread and needle to sew up the deep political and cultural chasm that had been opened up in Israeli society in the wake of the assassination. Since November 1995, Israeli society has witnessed the mushrooming of dozens of groups all of whose agendas include items such as dialogue, conciliation, Jewish solidarity, democratic values, and a return to Jewish roots.

With the sixth anniversary of Rabin's death fast approaching, Israel's urban landscape will again feature "tents of conciliation," at which the watchword will be Jewish solidarity at any price.

In all of these tents, there will be young Israelis, who will define themselves as leftist or center-of-the-road politically, sitting together with Jewish settlers. The settlers will declare, with passion in their voice, that Jewish national unity is the supreme value and that all those who foment disputes within the Jewish nation are committing a grave sin. The assassination of Rabin, they will argue, was an act of insanity committed by "wayward" elements in Israeli society. The danger, they will tell their listeners, is not the assassin or the subgroup that he represents, but rather the major split in Israeli society that stems from the fact that "not all of us" have maintained Jewish solidarity: In other words, the Israeli left, with all its nonsense (Oslo and hatred of Jewish values), has not maintained Jewish solidarity and, in the name of that solidarity, must lean toward the right.

Since the outbreak of the new intifada, the counterfeit concept of Jewish solidarity has gained momentum and is rapidly moving toward the right, as it erases the essential meaning of the dispute that was the root cause of the Rabin assassination. The pathetic yearning of the elderly veterans of the Palmach for their haver, for their comrade, has now exposed the extent of the ideological devastation carried out by those who were always assumed to be the founders of the Israeli left. Loyalty to their haver takes precedence over any disagreement and expresses the basic principle that they serve: The group interests of the "old boys."

The time has, therefore, come for the crusaders of peace and social justice to discard these dear "comrades," who have caused the ideological collapse of the Israeli left. If these comrades are not discarded, in a few years' time, young teachers will ask their students to write a composition about either the "Rabin legacy" or the "Ze'evi legacy," or to watch the emotionally moving documentaries, "Shalom Haver" and "Shalom Haver, 2."

In such a scenario, the confused Israeli left will have no one on whom to pin the blame.