Meet an Israeli leader: The case of Ephraim Eitam

by Yaniv Reich on December 3, 2009

Ephraim “Effi” Eitam is no marginal figure in Israeli politics, even if he relatively right of mainstream opinion. He is a decorated Brigadier General in the Israel Defense Forces, having won a Medal of Distinguished Service during the Yom Kippur War. He commanded the Givati Brigade during the first intiffada (1988–1993), a unit which was tasked by then Defense Minister Rabin (who later won a Nobel “Peace” Prize) with “breaking the bones” of Palestinians who resisted Israeli occupation.

He is also a long-time politician, who has led the National Religious Party, and later forming a breakaway party that was later incorporated into Likud. During his time in politics, he has sat in the Knesset, been Minister of Housing and Construction, Minister of Infrastructure, and Minister without Portfolio. To make a long career in Israeli public life short, he is a very important if not widely liked man.

Now that you know a bit about him, you should read a bit of his thinking (much of which was cited recently in an excellent article on Electronic Intifada):

  1. The Israeli army “can tomorrow … conquer Judea, Samaria [the West Bank], and the Gaza Strip and expel the population there overnight. It’s not a problem to do this. We have a problem of having the will to do this. As a nation we are inhibited.” Jerusalem Post, Dec. 13, 2000
  2. What will become of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza? “They will be residents without the right to vote. We have to obtain an interim settlement regarding their status. Not on the status of the territory – on their status.” Haaretz, Mar. 20, 2002
  3. What about the Israeli Arabs? “I am saying that the Israeli Arabs are in large measure the ticking bomb beneath the whole democratic Israeli order inside the [1967] Green Line … Therefore, I say that the State of Israel today faces an existential threat that is characterized by being an elusive threat, and elusive threats by their nature resemble cancer. Cancer is a type of illness in which most of the people who die from it die because they were diagnosed too late. By the time you grasp the size of the threat, it is already too late to deal with it.” Haaretz, Mar. 20, 2002
  4. What is the [Jewish and Zionist] mission? “To reveal God’s image in the world … The Jewish people is different in a very deep way from every other people. I see the Jewish people as a kind of big family. A small people, a big family. And the most intimate family trait we have is that we encountered the Master of the Universe. We are, in fact, a family whose whole culture and whose whole memory and whose whole way of life revolve around the experience of the encounter with the Master of the Universe. That is our national story. That is what sets us apart … We are not only individuals who possess the image of God—we are a nation that possesses the image of God. That is the great innovation. What is new is that there is a nation that has this. There is a nation with a soul.”
  5. A world without Jews is a “a dead world. Without Jews the world cannot live. A world without Jews is a world of robots without a soul. A dead world.”
  6. “For me, the State of Israel is the revelation of divine providence in history. It is the embodiment of divine providence within the human order of life. And the State of Israel is the beginning of the emergence of our redemption. It is the expression of God’s operation in the world. I have a fundamental conception of the period in which we are living: that it is the most riveting and most amazing time in which the Jewish people has ever lived. I feel that in front of my eyes, the most meaningful process of the repair of the world for 2,000 years is taking place. Every number, every event, every newspaper headline, is some sort of decoding of something that was inherent in the secret of the generations, the secret of the kabbala. It is a secret that was hidden in the bosom of history and is now being realized in practice.” Haaretz, Mar. 20, 2002
  7. Is the combat experience a romantic one for you?

    “On the one hand, war is terrible. Someone is lying next to you and suddenly a tiny rose blossoms on his forehead and he is gone. Never to return. That is the worst loss there can be. But on the other hand, it certainly does not resemble murder or death in an earthquake or all kinds of other deaths of the individual. Because in hard days, bad days, there is also a kind of glory. In war, the most sublime things in man appear.”

    Can you give me an example?

    “To this day, the thing that makes my eyes grow moist is when I saw young people loaded with equipment going into action and becoming silhouettes on the horizon. I think that is so dramatic, it is what moves me the most. Because it is the experience of the akeida [the binding, or sacrifice, of Isaac]. It is the experience of the akeida anew every time. And in this, there is a certain uplifting, like the offering of a sacrifice.” Haaretz, Mar. 20, 2002

  8. “I don’t call these people [Palestinians] animals. These are creatures who came out of the depths of darkness. It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces.” Eitam told me that he believes there are innocent men among the Palestinians, but that they are collectively guilty. “We will have to kill them all,” he said. “I know it’s not very diplomatic. I don’t mean all the Palestinians, but the ones with evil in their heads. Not only blood on their hands but evil in their heads. They are contaminating the hearts and minds of the next generation of Palestinians.” The New Yorker, May 31, 2004

    Pretty much everyone I know in Israel and the US would be horrified to read these comments. In a sense, that’s the easy part: disavowing blatant racism and fundamentalism. Yet those same Israelis will turn around and in the next breath, after discounting long powerful people like Eitam, will go on to advocate the exact same policies he does. For example,

    “That is why I think the danger lies in the deterioration of the region into a fanatic religious war that will not be able to be stopped other than by the use of terrible means. I want to make it clear that I do not think we should use weapons of mass destruction. But I do think that in order to avoid a situation like that, we have to vanquish [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat along with Iraq and Iran as one package. It is impossible to talk with them, impossible to effect a conciliation with them, they have to be vanquished. There is no other way.”

    Are you saying that a certain war is necessary in order to prevent a more terrible war later?

    “Absolutely. The State of Israel cannot afford to have regimes like [those in] Iran and Iraq cross a line of nuclear capability. The model of a balance of nuclear terror will not work against regimes like that.”

    What you are saying is that a preemptive strike has to be launched against them before they develop a nuclear capability?

    “Certainly.”

    My point should be clear by now: Israelis love to reject in a purely verbal manner their extremists (even if they still vote for people who support them) while simultaneously internalizing and regurgitating the policy prescriptions of those exact zealots.

    This is a dangerous state of affairs, which brings continuous death and destruction to Palestinians, Israelis, possibly Iranians, and any hope of future peace.

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