fbpx
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What Can We Learn From the Altalena?

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

The Altalena affair has gone down in the annals of Jewish history as the moment a civil war was averted. A mere five weeks after declaring statehood, Jew was fighting Jew. It was Palmach vs. Irgun. David Ben-Gurion vs. Menachem Begin. Pragmatist vs. idealist.

The Altalena — carrying arms, volunteers and Irgun men — was docked off the coast of Tel Aviv when, soon, the bullets started to fly. This was just as the British anticipated. They warned that after they vacated the land the Jewish people would be too opinionated and too fractured to band together. 

And yet, Begin made a startling decision: “Do not shoot back!” he told his men. That Begin chose to sublimate himself and his organization to the will of the newly founded state is perhaps one of the defining moments in modern Israeli history and broader Jewish history, and he deserves credit for transcending his beliefs in the service of a cause bigger than himself.

In fact, it was not the first time Begin resisted the retaliatory instinct. In 1944, when Ben-Gurion decided to support the Allies (including the British) against the Nazis, Begin was determined to rebel against the British. Ben-Gurion would not allow for such dissidence and even turned in some Irgun fighters to the British. Begin, instead of responding in kind, told his men to restrain their desire for revenge against Ben-Gurion. “Ki Yehudim anachnu,” he said. “Because we are Jews.” 

It would not be intellectually honest, however, to revere Begin as someone who invariably placed the preservation of the Jewish state above his personal convictions. Just three years after commanding his men not to shoot during the Altalena affair, he took a radically different approach when it came to the issue of reparations from Germany.

No matter where we fall on the ideological spectrum, we all ought to internalize the mantra of Begin. Let’s put down our arms. A Jew does not shoot at a Jew.

In 1951, Israel’s economy was in a precarious state. Israel had a severe shortage of housing for the waves of new immigrants, there was food rationing and the country was in a desperate place. On Sept. 27, 1951, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer offered assistance to Israel to bring about a solution to “the problem of material restitution” after Israel absorbed so many homeless refugees. Begin, whose parents were killed by the Nazis, was incredulous that such an offer could even be considered from a country that murdered 6 million Jews.

On Jan. 7, 1952, he unleashed an impassioned diatribe against his archnemesis, then-Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, that would result in his three-month suspension from the Knesset. “There will not be negotiations with Germany, for this we are willing to give our lives. It is better to die than transgress this. There is no sacrifice that we won’t make to suppress this initiative. This will be a war of life and death. Today, I shall give the order: Blood!” 

Still, when push came to shove, there was no blood from Begin. In the end, the Knesset voted to accept the reparations from Germany — despite Begin’s protestations — and Israel’s economy greatly benefited from this decision.

As an educator, when I study Begin’s decision not to shoot back at the Palmach during the Altalena affair and his resistance to German reparations, I am fascinated by the implications for the Jewish community as a whole. So many complex questions come to mind: 

When do we sacrifice? 

When core values collide, how do we determine the right course of action? 

When do we follow pragmatism, and when is idealism not just the preferred approach but the ethical one?

What is our North Star? 

Which principles are existential red lines that we dare not cross? 

As individuals, when do we drive our decisions not by what is in our personal best interest but rather by what serves the interest of the greater good of our community and nation? 

When is survival and self-preservation the primary value, and when is self-transcendence in service of a larger cause ideal?

As a teacher, this is what I ask myself and my students to ponder.

And yet, despite all the complexity, I still see a point of clarity. Yes, Ben-Gurion was the first prime minister and the founding father of the modern state of Israel. In my mind, though, it is the clarity of Begin’s vision that has penetrated more Jewish souls. 

No matter where we fall on the ideological spectrum, whether we’re Likud or Labor, we all ought to internalize the mantra of Begin. Let’s put down our arms. A Jew does not shoot at a Jew. It’s as simple as that. No equations, no proofs, nothing. Why?

It’s a simple maxim: “Ki Yehudim anachnu.” “Because we are Jews.”

Dr. Noam Weissman is senior vice president of education at Jerusalem U.

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

Massachusetts Man Arrested for Allegedly Vandalizing Synagogue, JCC

He's also accused of yelling at parents and children at a JCC.

Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

More Than 120 Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations Call on Facebook to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

"We cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Home Shalom Monday Message #20

Home Shalom promotes healthy relationships and facilitates the creation of judgement free, safe spaces in the Jewish community. Home Shalom is a program of...

Elton John Says He and Husband Signed Letter Condemning Racism, Anti-Semitism

"There is no room for any kind of prejudice in music, or in society as a whole."

Jewish Congressional Candidate Alex Morse Faces Allegations of Inappropriate Relationships

He argued that his relationships were consensual but acknowledged that he has "to be cognizant of my position of power."

What Midrash Can Teach Us About Our Current Social and Political Turmoil

There is a lot to be learned from the margins, and from the spaces and silences between words and sentences.

Israeli Protesters in L.A. Call on Netanyahu to Resign

45 Israeli Americans gathered outside the Israeli consulate building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.

Culture

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Elton John Says He and Husband Signed Letter Condemning Racism, Anti-Semitism

"There is no room for any kind of prejudice in music, or in society as a whole."

Former Major League Player Cody Decker Says Anti-Semitism Is ‘Rampant’ in Pro Baseball

"I hate every half-measure response Major League Baseball always makes.”

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Virtual Theater: ‘Fugu’ Tells Little-Known Holocaust Story

"Fugu" is based on the little-known history of how Japan sheltered 6,000 Lithuanian Jewish refugees in the city of Kobe, to protect them from the Nazis.

Latest Articles
Latest

Massachusetts Man Arrested for Allegedly Vandalizing Synagogue, JCC

He's also accused of yelling at parents and children at a JCC.

Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

More Than 120 Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations Call on Facebook to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

"We cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Hollywood

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

Podcasts

The Bagel Report: An American Pickle? Sounds Crazy, No?

Erin and Esther dive right into the barrel and pickle their minds in the majestic, artisanal brine that is Seth Rogen's "An American Pickle,"...

Shlomo Fischer: The Jerusalem Protests

Shlomo Fischer and Shmuel Rosner discuss the almost daily protests aking place in Jerusalem. Who are the protesters? Why are they protesting? And how...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x