The New Frontier

A large ad was placed in the Hebrew-language newspapers this week under the banner headline: "And thanks to the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow for screwing the Sephardis."

A large ad was placed in the Hebrew-language newspapers this week under the banner headline: "And thanks to the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow for screwing the Sephardis." The ad is disgusting, for one because of its crude language, but mainly for implicit incitement.

"If the Sephardi Rainbow succeeds..." the ad continues. In what? Its conspiracy? After all, it is talking about a petition to the High Court of Justice. "this region [the Jerusalem Corridor, the Ta'anakhim area and the Mount Gilboa area] will end up empty and abandoned, waiting for the return of Arab refugees."

It's been a long time since people resorted to such cheap patriotism because they face a potential defeat in court. The sons of those who are sponsoring the ads are indeed leaving the moshavim, and they themselves are finding it difficult to make a living off the land. But there is no connection between that and the Sephardi Coalition's petition to the High Court of Justice. No is there a connection to the fact that in the last hearing a week ago on Tuesday - in which no decision was handed down - Osnat Mandel, from the State Attorney's Office, told the court that the state accepts the Sephardi Coalition's position concerning the decisions of the Israel Lands Administration ILA). In other words, the state agrees the decisions of the ILA, which would have allowed the farmers to sell their land to developers for a fistful of shekels, are unreasonable.

The crude emphases on the Mizrahi element - referring to those whose origins lie in Middle Eastern countries - and on the right of return are misleading. The leaders of the kibbutz and moshav movements, with their battery of high-powered, expensive lawyers, painted the weak kibbutzim and moshavim, whether Mizrahi or Ashkenazi, into a corner. But underlying this provocation, which smacks of racism, is an argument that cannot be ignored.

What are the spokesmen of the kibbutzim actually saying? In the newspaper ads, in their response to the court petition, in scores of symposiums, and in oral and written clashes, they are invoking the ethos of the American frontier, in which a lone settler acquired his right to land by the very fact of sitting on it and fighting off the Indians. In terms of the ads, one could say the kibbutzim coped with the local "Indians" and therefore their grandchildren are entitled to ownership of the land. Furthermore, if they leave the land, the Arabs will come in their place and that will spell finis to the Zionist vision.

True, we cannot dismiss the national aspect of the redemption of the land. However, the fact that the farmers are presenting it as the exclusive subject on the agenda is one of the tragedies of the Zionist idea. Historic Zionism wanted the nation not only to obtain the land but also to work it. How sad that the kibbutz movement, which supposedly is part of the left, doesn't understand that the total acceptance of the frontier ethos means broad legitimization of the settlements in the territories, while insistence on the privatization of the land runs roughshod over the principle of its equitable distribution.

But behind the scenes of the violent struggle, a different type of activity is going on. Representatives of the Sephardi Coalition and members of the kibbutz movement who oppose the real estate orientation have lately been holding discussions, which have led to interesting agreements on the reorganization of the welfare state. Early this month the bulletin of the kibbutz movement, Hadaf Hayarok (The Green Page), published an article by Ezra Dalomi from Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra calling on the kibbutz movement to split formally, as it is already split on major issues. The land issue is only the tip of the iceberg.

In another development, the chairman of the Development Towns Forum, Yair Hazan from Ofakim, this week joined the petition of the Sephardi Coalition on behalf of many of his colleagues - heads of councils in development towns and Arab villages. None of these people are interested in the right of return.

On the eve of the High Court's decision then, all the sides are at a critical crossroads. The Sephardi Coalition, which set itself a three-stage campaign - exposure, containment and just distribution - must move from representing only the Mizrahi community to speaking on behalf of the public, Jewish and Arab, for whom these lands are a resource and a social asset. The kibbutzim can exploit what they perceive as a failure and, together with the Rainbow Coalition and the heads of the local councils, lend a hand to reorganizing Israeli society.