Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin: Kindred Spirits?

Nov. 21 2017

In the words of Jimmy Carter, the personalities of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat “were totally incompatible”; they were two men with nothing in common. The president’s characterization interpretation of the two leaders, widely accepted both now and at the time of the 1978 Camp David negotiations, inflated Carter’s own image as heroic peacemaker. But, argues Martin Kramer, Begin and Sadat actually had very similar backgrounds and career trajectories—and these similarities might have made possible their success at achieving a compromise:

One obvious similarity is [that] both entered politics through the back door, as conspirators who planned political violence and were steeled by long stints in political prison. Sadat, as a young revolutionary, immersed himself in conspiratorial plots, both against the British (who then controlled Egypt) as well as against Egyptian leaders he regarded as collaborators. As a result, he found himself in and out of prison. . . .

Menachem Begin had the more famous “underground” career. He was first sent to prison during World War II by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. . . . By then, he too had been initiated into a life of clandestine conspiracy—methods of operation he would bring with him to Palestine in the last days of the British Mandate. . . .

Both men [later] spent many years on the political margins, overshadowed by domineering leaders who had a stronger grip on the imaginations of their peoples, . . . [and] who issued the declarations of independence of their countries. (David Ben-Gurion actually declared Israel’s independence in 1948, and Gamal Abdel Nasser effectively declared Egypt’s independence by nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956.) But neither of these giants had managed to bring peace to their peoples. . . .

[T]he parallels in the lives of Sadat and Begin may have worked, in ways subtle but strong, in favor of an agreement. Here were two men forged by prison and violence into believers in their own destiny, but who had been written off politically for decades. By the time they came to power, they were in a hurry to achieve something that would transcend the legacies of their celebrated predecessors. Here were two men who believed their peoples were fated to struggle alone, but who were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to cement relations with the U.S., in the interests of their peoples but also in order to shut the Soviet Union out of the Middle East. Here were two men who did not shy away from the bold gamble, and who saw a greater risk in inaction.

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More about: Anwar Sadat, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays