From Gush Shalom
THE SPECTACLE is almost bizarre: a political party refuses to accept new members. And not just a few individuals, but tens of thousands. And not just any party, but the Likud ("Unification"), the main force in Israel's governing coalition.
Strange? But there is method in this madness. It may soon come before Israel's highest court.
The present leaders of the party, Binyamin Netanyahu and his fellows, are afraid that the people who are now seeking to register as Likud members are really settlers in the occupied territories, who want to take over the Likud, while in practice remaining loyal to their own parties, which are even more extremist.
One of the present Likud members of the Knesset has submitted a bill that may well be unique in the world. It arises from the fear that these new Likud members will not vote for the Likud in the general elections. To counter this possibility, the bill says that when a new member registers in the Likud party, their name will be struck from the general election voter registry, and they will be recorded as having voted for the Likud.
This is manifestly unconstitutional, since it negates the secrecy of the ballot. The legal adviser of the Knesset will probably block it. If not, it will go to the Supreme Court.
This all shows that the Likud is really a curious kind of bird. And not from today.
YEARS AGO, a leading French journalist came to me during an Israeli election campaign. I directed him to an election rally of Menachem Begin's.
When he came back he was bewildered. "I don't understand it," he exclaimed. "When he was talking about the Arabs, he sounded like a rabid fascist. When he was talking about social affairs, he sounded like a moderate liberal. How can this fit together?"
"Begin is not a great thinker," I explained to him. "All the ideology of the Likud goes back to Vladimir Jabotinsky."
Vladimir (or Ze'ev) Jabotinsky was the founder of the "revisionist" party, the parent of the Herut Party, which was the parent of the present-day Likud. He was born in 1880 in Odessa in the Ukraine. When he was a young man he was sent as a journalist to Italy, a country that had attained its freedom not so long before.
The Italian liberation movement was an unusual mixture of extreme patriotism and liberal social ideas. This fixed the young Jabotinsky's political outlook for life.
He was a very captivating person, extremely gifted in several fields. He wrote a novel (about the Biblical hero Samson), translated Edgar Allen Poe's poems into Hebrew, was a brilliant orator and gifted journalist, wrote songs and much more. In World War I he helped form Jewish battalions in the British army and was a junior officer in the conquest of Palestine.
A few years later the British partitioned Palestine and set up the separate Arab emirate of Transjordan. Jabotinsky objected and founded the ultra-Zionist "Revisionist Party," which demanded the "revision" of this decision.
Jabotinsky loathed the dour, socialist "pioneers" who dominated the Zionist community in Palestine and who hated him. I suspect that he was not too unhappy when the British kicked him out of the country. David Ben-Gurion called him "fascist" -- though, as an Italy-lover, Jabotinsky loathed Benito Mussolini.