The Many Faces of Treason

The traitors of today are sometimes the heroes of tomorrow. Beware the treacherous, for from them might come the truth, as bitter as it may be.

The Friends of the Hebrew University invited me last week to participate in a conference titled "Treason and treachery." The day was meant to look into the face of treason - and it has many faces. Yisrael Yovel lectured on "The ultimate betrayal - Judas Iscariot," and Yehuda Bauer lectured on "A new look at the Judenrat," while Shlomo Aharonson and Yehiem Weitz and Albert Dessault lectured on "The dirty affair - anatomy of treachery." And there were other enlightening lectures and lecturers.

I was asked to speak on "Treachery in politics." On my way to Jerusalem, I conducted a little soul-searching of my own: Did I betray? I remembered two incidents that raise the suspicion of treachery. The first in 1984, at the height of the Lebanon War, when I got up and left the Labor Party, where I had grown up; leaving it barely a month after I was elected to Knesset for another term on its behalf. It wasn't fed up with me, I was fed up with it, because of its support for the war; it raised me on high, and I committed a crime against it because of its unsteady position toward "the Palestinian problem." I left in an uproar, and took my Knesset seat with me. So who was betrayed by whom, and how? It's said that history will judge - if it ever gets around to it. History's hands are full of work.

The other case was in 2000. Finally, a centrist-leftist government was formed to be a "peace government." And once again, I slammed the door because I refused to pay NIS 100 million in black money, coalition-extortion fees. Maybe it was the first crack ahead of the great collapse. The horns of the dilemma butted at, and pained, me: On the one hand, it was as if our resignation was clipping the wings of peace, but on the other hand, we were fighting political corruption. So who was betrayed, and by what? Those who didn't hear the beating wings of history or those who did not agree to become corrupt? History has another trial to conduct.

Days of war are always days of dunghills where the treacherous thrive. The soldiers, the boys, are at the front, sacrificing their lives, and politicians and journalists step aside and stab the warriors in the back. The campaign is under way, but they question its justice and logic. Was Rosa Luxembourg a traitor? Were those who opposed the war in Lebanon from the start, or the American war in Iraq, on principle, a fifth column? Does someone who speaks ill of their country because of its attitude toward the Palestinians remove himself from the community or do something good? History already has written some precedents in verdicts and said what it has to say: the traitors of today are sometimes the heroes of tomorrow. Beware the treacherous, for from them might come the truth, as bitter as it may be.

Isaiah Berlin did better than other philosophers at analyzing the contradiction between various commitments and how those contradictions are inevitable. Did I say "contradiction?" I should say clash, frontal clash. Berlin undermined the Platonic ideal, as if every significant question requires a real single answer, like in the sciences, and all the other answers are, of necessity, wrong. Only at the end of days will those sole answers be found, fitting with each other and creating a single whole.

Exclusive loyalty in politics is often contradicted by other loyalties. And which loyalty is most moral? To the state? Principles? Friends? It's said there is loyalty in the world, and what is that loyalty that is so often born in vain?

The depressing conclusion, therefore, is that treason this way or that is imminent. When the effort is made to avoid and escape it, treachery proliferates and chases one down; another person abides by a friendship, and thereby betrays a public confidence, or vice versa; another person remains loyal to his roguish state, and his values already begun to crumble. And who has the scales as sensitive as a pharmacist's to decide at a moment's notice what is more or less moral? Nevertheless, woe are the politicians who break the scales. And we should all be wary of politicians who forgo weighing at all.

Did Ariel Sharon betray his voters when he implemented the disengagement plan after he promised that what held true for Netzarim held true for Tel Aviv? Did Amir Peretz betray his voters when he went to the Defense Ministry and not the Finance Ministry, the only place from which he could conduct his "social revolution?" Did Yitzhak Ben Aharon as secretary general of the Histadrut betray his dovish principles when he allowed Solel Boneh to build settlements?

How can we learn to tell the difference between betrayal that will go down in infamy and betrayal that will be known for its glory? Here, too, the profit and loss test is proposed. If the tested, meaning the betrayers, are going to profit from the betrayal, then suspect them; and if they could lose their world - going against the evil current and swimming against the muddy waters, then surely respect them. That test may not be perfect, but it is a vital aid in judging intentions and innocence. If it is used wisely, it can even beat the judgment of history to the punch.