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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

'Tis the Saison

'The Saison', (or hunting season) was a dark period in Israeli/Jewish history that officially began in November 1944 after members of the Lehi (Stern Gang) assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State in the region.

Tensions between the three armed Jewish 'militias' (for lack of a better term) - the Haganah, The Irgun and the Lehi- had been building for most of the latter half of WWII.  As the tide of the war turned in favor of the Allies, the Haganah favored full cooperation with the British authorities in hopes that the mandatory power would reward the Jews with a better deal after the war.

However, the Irgun (under Menachem Begin) and the Lehi (under Avraham Stern) were furious with the British for their heavy handed treatment of the Jews, their deliberate disregard for their mandate and their refusal to allow Jews to enter Palestine at a time when Hitler couldn't kill them fast enough.   

By 1944 all cooperation/truces between the three militias had broken down,and the Irgun and Lehi began waging open war on the British in defiance of the Haganah's orders.  This culminated with Lord Moyne's assassination by two Lehi operatives.

As a result, the Haganah declared a 'hunting season' (la saison de chasse), initially on members of both groups, but eventually exclusively on the Irgun.   'The Saison' included:

  • Firing suspected Irun and Lehi members from workplaces and expelling them from schools and universities.

  • Denying members of these groups shelter and sanctuary when they were being pursued by the British.

  • Cooperation with the British struggle against them.

This last point was especially troubling.  The word 'cooperation' could be mistaken for things as subtle as providing tips and passive assistance.  But in many cases Irgun and Lehi members were kidnapped by the Haganah and actually handed over to the British... resulting in torture, imprisonment, deportation and on more than one occasion, execution.

The Lehi couldn't do much about the firings and school expositions, but they drew the line at kidnapping.  They made it clear that if any more of their members were kidnapped, the Haganah would find themselves facing the wrong end of Lehi guns.  And for the most part the Lehi was left unmolested from that point on.

But the idea of Jews killing (or even threatening) Jews was so abhorrent to Begin that he ordered Irgun members not to respond to the Haganah 'Saison' under any circumstances.  As much as he hated the British, he hated the idea of Jew raising a hand against Jew even more.

Even though 'The Saison' ended during 1945 (when the three groups began loosely cooperating in actions against the British), one late event which occurred after the declaration of the State of Israel can't help but be associated with that terrible time; the Altalena affair... a tragic incident where David Ben Gurion, the new State's Prime Minister, ordered Yitzhak Rabin to have his troops open fire on an Irgun ship carrying refugees and much-needed arms, all because he couldn't come to an agreement with Menachem Begin over how the arms would be distributed.

On the one hand, it is understandable that the state couldn't tolerate 'an army within an army.  But it was nearly eight months later that the Haganah's elite Palmach troops were fully absorbed into the IDF leaving one to wonder why that wasn't considered an army within an army.

In any event, the Haganah had morphed into the IDF, and the Irgun was expected to integrate fully into the ranks of the new state's defense forces.  However, the arms the Irgun ship Altalena carried were procured before the establishment of the state, and the ship set sail from Europe without clear instructions from Begin. 

Rather than treat the ship as a Godsend (which it certainly was) and make heroes of the arriving Irgun members who had worked tirelessly to find the badly needed arms and ammunition, Ben Gurion opted to create a confrontation and issued perfunctory orders to his commander in the field to tell the ship to surrender its arms or be fired upon.  When the ship didn't respond immediately, Rabin opened fire, destroying the ship, sending its precious cargo into the water off Tel Aviv beach, and killing many of the helpless, unarmed Irgun members who were trying to escape the ship and swim ashore. 

Near the end of his life, Yitzhak Rabin was quoted as saying that his part in the Altalena affair one of his life's proudest moments.  By comparison, Menachem Begin wrote that his years in government and his time as Prime minister meant nothing to him compared with his pride at the fact that - even according to his detractors - his policy of restraint played a role in averting a Jewish civil war during the Saison. 

The French word 'Saison' which means season suggests something that returns year after year.  During the first half century of Israel's existence the right and left distrusted and attacked one another only slightly less vehemently than during the pre-state years.  But the hate was a fairly constant thing where the two sides pretty much gave as good as they got (even though the left had the distinct advantage of being in power).

But since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a lone lunatic who happened to belong to the rightist camp, the hate and distrust that the Israeli left has heaped upon the right has swelled and taken on a life of its own.  And it has found a natural cycle during each passing year... a season, if you will, during which Rabin's flaws are all forgotten and his murder is held up as the death of the one and only chance Israel may ever have for peace. 

The season leading up to the anniversary of Rabin's assassination is a hideous spectacle of squandered opportunities and lessons lost.  Rather than using the commemoration ceremonies as an opportunity to seek unity, explore common goals and repair the broken vehicle of Israeli political discourse, these events are used as partisan workshops in how to indoctrinate yet another generation in the fine art of hate and distrust.

Well, I'm done being blamed.  I used to delude myself into thinking I was a centrist... a Tevye capable of endlessly looking 'on the other hand' to see almost any point of view.  But like Tevye, I am out of other hands... there is no other hand on some things.   

The right did not kill Yitzhak Rabin.  And although he pulled the trigger, even Yigal Amir didn't kill Yitzhak Rabin.  What killed Rabin was the hate and distrust that both the right and left have always felt so free to express and use bludgeon one another. 

He was killed by that most deadly of Israeli attitudes: that anyone who does not share your point of view is your enemy.

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of holding annual remembrance ceremonies for Yitzhak Rabin.  In fact, I'm in favor of it.  It is necessary.  He was the prime minister during a tumultuous time and was gunned down while in office.  It was a tragedy worth marking and remembering.

But these ceremonies cannot be allowed to be used to accuse me and my children, and everyone else on the political right, of creating and fostering an environment where murder becomes not only possible... but probable!

If we are ever to find our way as a nation - a unified nation with a comfortably diverse population engaged in healthy, energetic political debate - we must also use these annual ceremonies to teach our children - and remind each other - about the tragedy of 'The Saison'... and to finally understand that in a world where so many want to annihilate us, Jew must never raise a hand against Jew.

Posted by David Bogner on November 3, 2009 | Permalink

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An interesting - albeit disheartening post - that gives me insight into Israeli political life. Unfortunately the attitude you describe in Israeli politics (i.e. anyone who does not share your point of view is your enemy is also to be found in Jewish religious life where we spend far too much time and energy going at each other's throats than striving towards some kind of unity.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Nov 3, 2009 8:07:08 PM

"a Jew must never raise a _hand_ against Jew"

Or a voice, pen, keyboard...

May Mashiach come soon to save us from ourselves!

Posted by: Tehillah | Nov 3, 2009 8:23:01 PM

I join in everything that David has related. Yigal Amir killed Rabin, not the amorphous right.

If anyone thinks that the political opposition of the right to him was universal in its hatred, let me add a personal memory. A week before Rabin was assassinated, a visiting talmid chacham was at our schul and was taking questions. A questioner said something derogatory about the PM. Although the talmid chacham was politically opposed to Rabin as was the audience, he stopped questioner short. He raised his voice and said that we must never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to Rabin for his service to Israel. I will never forget the moment. A week later Rabin was dead.

Posted by: lrg | Nov 3, 2009 8:36:35 PM

Political assassination is never acceptable, but the left-wing conveniently forgets that the Haganah committed the first assassination in 1924 when they murdered De Haan.

Tragic events can serve as a rallying cry for unity or as a catalyst for further estrangement. It depresses me to no end to see how Rabin's murder is being used and abused.

Posted by: Raz | Nov 3, 2009 8:42:39 PM

They kept firing right-wingers well after the state was established, by the way. And in a workforce that was virtually all Histadrut, that also meant you couldn't get a job if your opinions weren't PC.

Speaking about "a week before killed," see the YouTube video of R' Kahane at Brandeis and how he's treated.

Posted by: Nachum Lamm | Nov 3, 2009 9:52:50 PM

This year I attended our school's memorial event. Our school belongs to the Meitarim schools, where children from different background - orthodox, maorti, chiloni - learn together. The school's rav was aware of the potentially divise nature of the Rabin memorial and he managed to pass a strong message against hate and strive among ourselves.

By the way he did NOT object to disagreeing even while raising your voice! I think it is a mistake to frame "violence" so wide that anything but the most polite agree to disagree can be defined as violence.

Posted by: Ruth | Nov 3, 2009 10:22:28 PM

I don't understand what that means, that Rabin was quoted as saying the Altalena affair was one of his life's proudest moments. Can someone explain that to me? I don't mean this sarcastically or ironically, I just can't believe, or understand, that anyone but a delusional or a drunk could have said that. I must be missing some historical information.

Posted by: Barzilai | Nov 3, 2009 11:41:42 PM

It's worth remembering that Amir was, in part, encouraged into his act by Avishai Raviv, who had been sent out by Rabin's own government agency the Shin Bet to stir things up and make the Right look bad for political purposes.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 4, 2009 1:23:08 AM

the amorphous right does bear some responsibility for the death of rabin. rhetoric ratcheted up to dangerous levles -- 'bogged,' for example -- should have been avoided at all costs.

Posted by: fred | Nov 4, 2009 6:17:42 AM

Ilana-Davita ... So sad but so true.

Tehillah... On the contrary. I didn't mean to imply that disagreement and/or dissent is to be avoided. There is just a more civil way to go about it so ideas can be exchanged... instead of blows or shots.

lrg... The Arab parties and even Meretz have expressed far more racist and inflammatory rhetoric than Kahana ever did.

Raz... Sadly, those in power get to write the history books.

Nachum Lamm... I once saw him speak while I was at Hebrew U. He began his speech with "Welcome Jews and dogs". Not exactly a way to build bridges. But even that doesn't justify murder.

Ruth... Good point.

Barzilai... He was still puffed up by what Ben Gurion had said at the time about a 'Holy Cannon' having destroyed the Altalena. There are those who feel that this 'mini-civil war', even though it was entirely one-sided was necessary to 'vaccinate' the new state against a wider division. I don't subscribe to this hogwash, but there is that opinion. Clearly Rabin agreed with it... because to do otherwise would be to admit he was a cold-blooded murderer of his own people. Fratricide.

Anon... This has never been proven and is part of a larger conspiracy theory that the Shabak actually wanted Rabin dead (on orders from his political enemies in the government). This is a bunch of 'grassy knoll' nonsense as far as I am concerned.

fred... You are dead wrong and this is a dangerous part of the wider problem. The left and right have been equally horrible in the use/abuse of inflammatory language. Nazi, fascist, murderer, liar, thief... you name it and these names were used by both sides. That a right winger fired the shot is a coincidence. It could have just as easily been a left winger or an Arab killing a political enemy. Political discourse in Israel is dangerous. SO long as people delude themselves into thinking that only one side ratcheted up the rhetoric the problem will never be fixed.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 4, 2009 10:37:53 AM

David - I'm not talking about any conspiracy theory - simple facts. Here's an old NY Times article from before Raviv's trial uncovered more information:
http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/26/world/ex-undercover-agent-charged-as-a-link-in-rabin-killing.html

The GSS wanted to paint the Right negatively and used an undercover operative to do it - and it worked - before the assassination. And this operative made the environment even more poisonous than it was.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 4, 2009 4:30:22 PM

Trep, your could refer to Meretz and the Arab parties in the present tense.

Posted by: lrg | Nov 4, 2009 4:33:53 PM

Forgive me, I know this is totally off topic, but since I can't find an email link I'm posting this here. It's something I think you'll really enjoy:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/11/04/us/politics/20091104_BEES_SS1/index.html

Posted by: The Hedyot | Nov 5, 2009 7:11:22 AM

Yes, the sezon continues and the Moshiach still waits.

Posted by: Batya | Nov 5, 2009 8:55:29 AM

David, you proabably meant something like this? http://www.haloscan.com/comments/yonathanbert/276868854297805851/

Yes, this also makes me angry!

Posted by: Ruth | Nov 5, 2009 4:49:03 PM

Nachum Lamm - They kept firing right-wingers well after the state was established, by the way. And in a workforce that was virtually all Histadrut, that also meant you couldn't get a job if your opinions weren't PC.

This is quite true. One of the reasons why my grandfather (along with his wife and children) left Israel in the early 50's is because he was too much of a Yekke and an individualist (certainly with many non-PC opinions, and the guts to state them publicly) to kowtow to the Histadrut to get a decent job.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 6, 2009 8:54:55 PM

Very interesting and informative post, David. Look forward to more such posts that give us insight into Jewish/Israeli history and politics. When are you back in Bombay?

Posted by: Sonal | Nov 9, 2009 1:24:43 PM

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