November 18, 2019

A Vocab Lesson for Bibi

“The Israeli notion of mamlachtiyut does not translate well into English. Coming from the word mamlacha, or kingdom, the word suggests the quality of acting in sovereign-like fashion. It was the term David Ben-Gurion invoked when he spoke of Jews’ ability to have military power while at the same time exercising caution with their political power. Read Israeli history, and you’ll see this term conjured every time the nation faced a major juncture that required individuals and factions to transcend their partisan loyalties. Israelis are a cynical bunch, yet the fact that we have a specific term for putting one’s own interests aside for the greater good speaks volumes and makes clear precisely what it is that we truly value.

If this sounds like so much platitude to you, consider Israel’s rocky political history. When Menachem Begin was elected in 1977, for example, his victory was known as the mahpach, or turnover, having ended 29 years of Labor rule over the nation. You’d expect the victor, long maligned by Labor’s lords, to take a moment and enjoy the spoils, maybe even exact political revenge here and there. Begin did no such thing: He embraced mamlachtiyut in his governance and decorum.

It was one of his guiding principles. In his book The Revolt, Begin wrote that he was confident that, despite opposing political beliefs during the British Mandate, the Jews would never reach a point of civil war.

“Two factors saved the people from the catastrophe of civil war,” he wrote. “In the first place we did not teach Irgun fighters to hate our political opponents. One-sided hatred is obviously a threat to national unity. Mutual hatred brings almost certain civil war. Whenever we saw manifestations of hatred against us we grieved and were astonished. Was such brother-hatred possible, we asked ourselves.””

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