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Translation of an article to be published
in Ma'ariv on February 28, 2000

An eye for an eye?

by Uri Avnery

There are junkies of many kinds. Heroin junkies, Hashish junkies, Nicotine junkies, Alcohol junkies. David Levy is an honor junkie.
If he were not, he would not be Foreign Minister. Why should he? As the chief of a party whose sole platform is social populism, he should have been keen to become Finance Minister, a position that would have enabled him to effect a social revolution. Even as a Minister for Work and Welfare he could have done wonders for the unemployed and downtrodden. But he wanted the Foreign Ministry.

Odd, isn't it? Not only is there no way a Foreign Minister can effect social change, but he also has nothing to give away - no jobs for his faithful, no fat directorships for the party hacks, no budgets over or under the counter. Nothing. In the Foreign Ministry there is nothing but honor. Plenty of honor. A paradise for an honor junkie, like a wine-cellar for a chronic alcoholic.

Menachem Begin, who took Levy for the building sites of Beth-Shean, did not give him the Foreign Ministry. That was for Moshe Dayan. He gave Levy the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, and later the Housing Ministry. It didn't enter his mind to give the Foreign Ministry to a person who does not speak English, the international diplomatic language, and who is not particularly versed in the history of the world's nations. But Prime Ministers Shamir and Netanyahu didn't care. They intended to conduct foreign policy themselves, leaving the honor to David Levy.

Ehud Barak followed the same cynical path. He needed Levy in order to obtain some populist sheen himself and was ready to give him honor in return. Why not? It's cheap. Barak was determined, anyhow, to make all foreign and military affairs decisions himself, including all decisions concerning the "peace process'. So who cares if foreign statesman visiting Israel are compelled to waste an hour on a visit to Levy? That's what they get their salaries for.

Now it appears that there is a price for this. The honor of David Levy may cost a lot.

His outburst in the Knesset - "Blood for blood! A child for a child!" - has caused consternation and outrage throughout the world. Even more than his last pronouncement - "We shall put fire to Libanon" - there was something of Mussolini there.

But Levy was not mindful of recent history, but rather of the ancient one. In bad Hebrew he repeated the Biblical commandment: "Then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Ex. 21. 24). But the Talmud has long ago amended this primitive morality and set down the law: "Eye for eye - reparation payment", meaning monetary compensation. Otherwise we would have a lot of one-eyed Jews.

If this was only a verbal slip, a uncontrolled outburst of rage, Levy would have apologized. But he justified his horrible words, arguing that it served the purpose of deterring the Hisbullah. Perhaps he is too ignorant to perceive that the very opposite has happened: His threats have for the first time created a united Arab backing for the Shiite guerillas. From President Mubarrak to King Abdallah, all Arab leaders have now endorsed the Hisbullah. Only David Levy could achieve that. Indeed, he deserves a medal - an Arab one.

But worse than the speech itself was the reaction of our leadership. Not one single minister demanded to remove Levy from the Foreign Ministry. Meretz and the Labor doves were satisfied with weak condemnations. Worse, Ehud Barak gave his full backing to Levy. Not just an obligatory formal backing by a politician who is in dire need of every partner, but a justification of both content and style.

Levy is a physical symbol of the continuity of the Shamir-Netanyahu-Barak governments. Once he belonged to the radical right-wing Likud trio that tried to prevent Shamir from moving towards peace. Before that he was considered a moderate, because on the eve of the Sabra-Shatila massacre he warned his colleagues not to send the Phalangists into the Palestinian camps. Contrary to Begin, he understood that after the killing of Bashir Jumail, the Christians would massacre the Palestinian refugees. An eye for an eye.

But that is not the expertise one demands from a Foreign Minister. Leaving him in office will shame Israel in the eyes of the Arab countries and the world at large. And in our own eyes, too.

Gush Shalom
[Visit the Settlement Special]

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