Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.
In the 63 years since its Independence, Israel has had 12 different Prime Ministers. Four of them, including the present incumbent, served 2 terms. History will judge success or failure according to their actions. But there is another way in which they will be remembered. Their words of wit or wisdom. Were they so memorable as to be ingrained forever in the minds of men? (Just an expression – women included, of course). Read and judge for yourself.
Actually, many people are remembered only by the aphorisms they left behind. What they actually did
in their lifetime is frequently not recalled. Before referring to our Prime Ministers, I want to make a particular point of highlighting THE Prime Minister of all Prime Ministers – Winston Churchill.
(Full disclosure; I am originally from the U.K. – and reminisce ridiculously about his articulate and actual strengths. If only…………!)
But I digress; this post is about the power of words, but in the condensed form of quotations. The ability to encapsulate an entire philosophy, idea or political statement in a very few words, is a particular skill. To have those words enter the world vocabulary, a unique achievement. Churchill was the master; he could inspire a whole nation with an adroit turn of phrase:
” Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”
is a permanent memorial to the brave young pilots of the Royal Air Force.
And to ” encourage ” the population further there is this:
” I have nothing to offer but blood,toil, tears and sweat”
And this perceptive description of the Russian domination of Eastern Europe”
” From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”
By now ( if you are still with me) , you are asking yourselves, fine, but what does all this have to do with Israeli Prime Ministers? Well, let’s just call it a yardstick by which to measure the performances of our current and former leaders.
So, Let us begin with our first PM.
David Ben Gurion ( 1948-1954 and 1955-1963).
How will we best remember ” the old man” as he was affectionately called? A small (and highly
” We shall fight the War as if there were no White Paper, and the White Paper, as if there were no War.”
” What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.”
” In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles”
” We have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise, the Arabs will wipe us out.”
” The most dangerous enemy to Israel’s security is the intellectual inertia of those who are responsible for security.”
” If an expert says it can’t be done, get another expert,”
* His opinion of the U.N. As true today as ever.
So, How many of these sayings do you think are still relevant today? My count is 5.
Moshe Sharett (1954-1955)
Served a very short term as Prime Minister, but still had a few things to say:
” Arabs respect only the language of force.”
” I have learned that the state of Israel cannot be ruled in our generation without deceit and adventurism. These are historical facts that cannot be altered.”
” The state of Israel must, from time to time,prove clearly that it is strong, and able to use force, in a devastating and highly effective way. If it does not prove this, it will be swallowed up,and perhaps wiped off the face of the earth.”
” What is our vision on this earth – war to the end of all generations and life by the sword?”
“When the Jewish state is established – it is very possible that the result will be transfer of Arabs.”
A little confused and conflicted – but quite prophetic.
Levi Eshkol ( 1963-1969)
His term included the momentous years leading up to the 6 Day War and its aftermath. However, it seems that his public utterances were very limited:
” Put 3 Zionists in a room and they will form 4 political parties.”
” OK.OK – but what if intelligence is wrong?” (1)
“The notepad is open and the hand is writing.” (2)
“We must show the Arabs that the Jews are not just standing here and bleating” (3)
1. Refers to Arab military preparedness
2. Regarding reprisals for terrorist bombings
3. General outlook.
Golda Meir (1969-1974)
Only Woman to occupy this position in Israel – and only the third female Prime Minister in the world to that date.
” Being seventy is not a sin”
” Don’t be humble… you’re not that great.”
” The Soviet government is the most realistic regime in the world – no ideals!”
” In our wars with the Arabs we had a secret weapon – no alternative.”
” Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
” There was no such thing as the Palestinians.”
” I prefer to stay alive and be criticised than be sympathised.”
” Not being beautiful was the true blessing. Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. the pretty girl has a handicap to overcome.”
I think seven of these are still valid.
Yitzhak Rabin ( 1974-1977 and 1992 -1995)
The first ” warrior” Prime Minister from a military background – and the only one to be assassinated while in office.
” Jerusalem is united, will never be divided again”
” We do not celebrate the death of our enemies”
‘” In the midst of fighting there is no place for public debate.”
” Israel has an important principle; it is only Israel that is responsible for our security.”
” No Arab ruler will consider the peace process seriously, so long as he is able to toy with the idea of achieving more by the way of violence”
” The world is no longer against us”
Well, he certainly got the last one wrong!
Menachem Begin (1977-1983)
Awarded Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Anwar Sadat in 1978. In the light of current events in Egypt one must be concerned that peace agreements in this region are signed with individuals and not governments.
” Israel is the only country in the world against which there is a written document to
the effect that it must disappear.”
” The Partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognised… Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital.”
” Israel will not transfer Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district to any foreign sovereign authority.”
” The world must know that the Jewish people have a right to self defense, just like any other people.”
” The Palestinians are beasts walking on two legs.”
So, not always politically correct. And he was wrong about Gaza.
Yitzhak Shamir (1983-1984 and 1986-1992)
A former colleague of Begin in the fight for Independence. Took the decision in the First Gulf War not to retaliate when Iraq fired Scud missiles into Israel. A believer in the concept of not taking a decision is a decision. ( I agree).
“All the land of Israel is ours.”
“Israel’s capital will never again be a divided city ….(it) will be the eternal capital of Israel for ever.”
“Israel has a very bad history with the United Nations, and whoever cares for himself in Israel distances himself from that Organisation.”
‘I believe that the will of the people is resolved by strong leadership. Even in a democratic society, events depend on strong leadership with a strong power of persuasion, and not on the opinion of the masses.”
‘We must never bend too much.”
“Our image has undergone change from fighting Goliath to being Goliath.”
I can’t see him getting on with Obama had the historical timing been different.
Shimon Peres (1995-1996)
Now Israel’s 9th President. To his great surprise he lost the election in 1996 to Benjamin Netanyahu , but he had a reputation for losing elections. However, he did share the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. (Amazing the peace prizes that have been awarded for a region which hasn’t seen peace in over 60 years!).
” Clinton is the greatest charmer on the planet.”
” Peace is like making love. You can’t enjoy either without closing your eyes a little bit.” *
” I have no hard feelings against Arafat.He remembered names and birthdays. He just didn’t remember facts.” *
” Today, it’s difficult to become a dictator in the Middle East. Five years ago, it was so easy.” *
” Television has made dictatorship impossible but democracy unbearable.”
” When you have two alternatives, the first thing you have to do is to look for the third that you didn’t think about, that doesn’t exist.”
” With the religious you can hardly negotiate. They think they have supreme permission to kill people and go to war.”
” I am in favour of talking with the Palestinians.”
I’m not sure that Hillary is so happy about the first observation.
* Jerusalem Post 18/11/2011 – print edition
Benjamin Netanyahu (1996-1999 and 2009 to today)
It seems that no one is quite sure whether, with ” Bibi” is what you see, what you get ? Victim of a hostile media on both occasions in office; you either love him or hate him.
” I always lose the election in the polls, and I always win on election day.”
” This is an unfortunate part of the UN institution, it’s the theatre of the absurd.”
” The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives. and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.”
” The Palestinians want a state, but they have to give peace in return.”
” A strong Israel is the only Israel that will bring the Arabs to the peace table.”
” Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, will never be divided, and will remain the capital of the state of Israel for ever and ever.”
Well, the American Supreme court is tussling with that last statement to this day.
Ehud Barak ( 1999-2001)
A highly decorated and respected soldier who turned to politics. Unfortunately he is perceived as being willing to do anything to stay in government, including forming a new party when rejected by his previous Labour faction.
” If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I’d eventually join one of the terrorist
” We want peace, but not at any price”
” (Jerusalem is) the united and eternal capital of Israel.’
” There is no failure, even though the level of expectation is very low.”
” Don’t make any concessions.”
At least he gets on well with Bibi!
Ariel Sharon (2001-2006)
After an illustrious, but frequently controversial, career in the IDF, Sharon turned to politics. He is probably best remembered for his political U-Turns, especially the withdrawal from Gaza. He formed the Kadima party when he lost the support of his traditional power base in the Likud.
He was also deeply embroiled in financial scandals, the outcome of which will probably never be known, following his massive stroke in January 2006. He has remained on life support to this day. Gilad Sharon has just published a biography of his father.
” Things you see from here, you don’t see from there.”
” There is no bullet-proof vest in my size.”
” All the Prime Ministers built settlement blocs, but I built more than all of them.”
” Netanyahu feels the heat…in any stressful situation he immediately panics and loses his cool.”
” (Jerusalem), Israel’s capital and the capital of the Jewish people for all eternity.”
” We extend our hand towards peace…. we know that peace entails painful compromises for both sides.”
” The disengagement was a one off step and I don’t see another one.”
We can only speculate on what might have happened were it not for his illness.
Ehud Olmert (2006-2009)
Became Prime Minister by default following Sharon’s stroke and was never really popular; viewed as too much of a hedonist. Became embroiled in a number of financial scandals which are currently making their way through the courts. Credited with making the most generous offer to the Palestinians ever. Which, of course, they rejected!
” Simply don’t trust the Palestinians.”
” Bibi wants to destroy everything for his own personal interests.”
” We can never totally return to the pre-1967 borders.”
” There can be no progress with an administration in which there are terrorist organisations as members.”
” We are not going to transfer funds which could finance terrorist attacks against our civilians.”
For someone who didn’t have a high opinion of Bibi, his views are remarkably similar.
So, these are a few selected insights into the thinking of our Prime Ministers.
I think it is possible to detect a common thread on basic issues, such as Jerusalem. And general distrust of the Palestinians figures highly.
But will any of their (mainly) political quotes be part of the vocabulary 50 years from now?
Somehow, I doubt it. Our leaders, whilst obviously concerned how will history remember them, did not have Churchill’s single minded determination on this subject.
When challenged on how history would remember HIM, Churchill replied that history would remember him very well. When asked how could he be so sure, he said:
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”
And just a final comment on the power of words from someone not well known as a deep philosopher. The comedian Eric Idle ( of Monty Python fame) said:
” Sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours.”
Andyboy – Telling it as it is