The Heritage of Death

It is inconceivable that Rehavam Ze'evi, a person who preached ideas which Israeli democracy has rejected, should be turned into a national hero.

The excessive efforts to memorialize Moledet party leader Rehavam Ze'evi, whose astounding details were reported here earlier this week by Gidi Weitz and Liat Levian, are a political and historical outrage. While Zionist patriarchs such as Theodor Herzl and Ze'ev Jabotinsky, along with former prime ministers and presidents of Israel, are memorialized in a relatively modest fashion, one of the country's most controversial politicians has been posthumously turned into an admired cultural hero.

As though a bridge, downtown promenades in three cities, streets, public parks, a moshav, a settlement outpost, a military base, a synagogue and a postage stamp were not enough, the Ze'evi memorial campaign has added classroom lessons, a memorial day and an education prize to commemorate Ze'evi's name, character and activities. And there's more: Starting this year, the government will allocate from NIS 3 million to NIS 4.9 million to memorialize him.

A convicted felon, Tuvia Oshri, is quoted in today's Haaretz Magazine (in Hebrew) as saying that Ze'evi's heritage is death. That, indeed, is an apt definition of the worldview that guided Ze'evi when he was alive. He acquired a dubious reputation back in his days as the army's GOC Central Command, when he behaved like a dictator, even using soldiers and officers to take care of his pet lions. He was known for hanging around with underworld types, and while the nature of these relationships was never clarified, Ze'evi never denied that they existed.

Above all, however, Ze'evi's name is associated with an extremist, immoral political platform whose gist is a "softer" version of Meir Kahane's scheme for expelling Arabs. Ze'evi dubbed his version "voluntary transfer." Yet promoters of the Ze'evi memorial project dismiss this minor detail, preferring to emphasize Ze'evi's love for the Land of Israel.

Ze'evi indeed demonstrated impressive knowledge of the history and geography of the Land of Israel, which he truly loved. But this fact in no way justifies the disproportionate efforts to memorialize him, which overshadow those to memorialize far more illustrious men.

It is inconceivable that a person who preached ideas which Israeli democracy has rejected should be turned into a national hero. Israel must not prefer a heritage of hatred and death to one of life and hope.