True liberal: Begin making peace with Egyptian president Sadat
Photo: Yaakov Saar, GPO
In the 1950s Menachem Begin left for a tour of South Africa, to promote the recently-released English translation of his book, The Revolt.
Upon entering the hall in the town of Kimberley to deliver a speech, he discovered a small issue: Two black people wanted to come in, but the white officer at the door forbid them entry, due to the country's Apartheid laws.
"There will be no lecture until they are admitted," said Begin. Eventually, they were permitted to enter, and at the end of the evening Begin approached the men with signed copies of his book.
In those years Begin campaigned in Israel against the military rule placed on Israel's Arab citizens. He claimed the State of Israel could not tolerate discrimination against any minority whatsoever.
Later, as prime minister, he instructed the Shin Bet security service to stop using torture as part of its interrogation process, and he told Ariel Sharon – then head of the ministerial committee for settlements – not to plan settlements on privately-owned land (neither really complied).
Menachem Begin is not considered a "black lover," and is not really suspected of trying to curry favor with Israel's Arab voters. In Africa as in Israel, he was a human rights fanatic. He was truly a liberal.
There are still liberals in Israel today, but in keeping with the unilateralism currently in fashion, it is granted only to those we agree with: Those interested and concerned with the Palestinian issue (wrongly called "leftists") are concerned with Arab rights, whereas those waving the flag of the Complete Land of Israel and who oppose withdrawals (called "right-wingers", also in error) are pained by police brutality against right-wing protesters.
Liberalism has become so one-sided that it has affected even individual rights organizations. There is Btzedek to represent the right and B'tselem on the left.
Even the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has become identified with left-wing causes, and does all it can, all its image will allow, not to defend the rights for those on the right. Even the Supreme Court is suspected (with some justification) of allowing a "secular, leftist, Ashkenazi" agenda to blind the eyes of justice.
The phrase, "I detest what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" is well known. In Israel, we might add, "on condition that your words comply with what I think."
I am looking for the "leftist" who is concerned about the rights of Jewish settlers, and the "right-winger" who is pained by the violation of Arab rights.
Our society is full of dialogue groups, round-table discussions and meetings intended to find a common denominator, in an attempt to "get to know" one another, to exchange a few hugs.
This is an effort in vain. We have differences, real and deep, and there is no reason to blur them. We don't need a lowest common denominator; rather, we need deep mutual respect, and mainly fanatic respect for basic rights.
When some in the settlement movement clapped their hands at the blatant breaking of the rules, with contempt for proper procedure and the violation of Arab human rights, they should have expected those same politicians to be less concerned with the basic rights of Jewish settlers.
And those who are currently unconcerned at the manner in which people were uprooted from their homes but are happy with result should expect that the lowly standards that have been established will one day be turned against them.
Democracy means more than elections from time to time. It does not mean a dictatorship of the majority, and certainly not of some elite.
Israel and its citizens need a liberal democracy, a democracy championed by Menachem Begin.
Herzl Makov is the director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center