This evening, a state memorial will be held to mark twenty years since the death of Israel’s former prime minister Menachem Begin. In the beginning of December, I published an article titled ‘Menachem Begin – a Leader Who Stood the Test of Decision Making’ in which I focused on his decisions to attack the Syrian missiles and the Iraqi nuclear reactor, against the backdrop of the current discussion of a possible attack of the Iranian nuclear facilities. Today I will focus on a few other facets of the controversial man who was far from perfection, facets we can learn a lot from and perhaps even miss.
Menachem Begin was a modest man. His name was not tied to luxury flats, top restaurants, expensive cigars and a never ending stream of trips abroad. He lived a life which was highly focused on a political mission in which he believed, without falling into the honey traps that his high position in his later years could have brought before him.
Menachem Begin was also a man of clean hands and of the highest integrity who was never accused, even by his most sworn enemies, of an involvement in economic corruption scandals, wheeling and dealing, bribery, or accepting cash payments in brown paper envelopes or gifts of excessive value.
Menachem Begin understood when it was right to stand behind personal and ideological principles and when they were ought to be examined against the background of historic national opportunities. Even with the hindsight of thirty five years, his decision to hand over the Sinai to Egypt in return for a peace agreement was the right decision. Nobody predicted, even a few days before they started, the upheavals that took place in the Middle East since the uprising in Tunisia.
Menachem Begin understood, as the leader of the opposition during many years, when it was right to stand up to serving prime ministers and attack them, and when it was time to put disagreements aside and unite in the face of existential military threats. And he did so with statesmanship fitting the place and the circumstances.
I will leave it to you to make the comparisons between Menachem Begin’s patterns of behaviour and what is taking place these days in the Knesset and the prime minister’s office. I will only repeat – Begin was far from perfection, but in view of the deep pit into which Israeli politics have fallen, there is nothing left but to miss him.