Monday, March 9, 2009

Center Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 20

Menachem Begin Heritage Center Bulletin | 5 March 2009



With Israel in the midst of forming a government in this post-election period, we wish to draw your attention to the following translated extract from an article about the role of the Opposition by Menachem Begin published in Hebrew in "HaUmmah" (The Nation) in 1963:

As far as I know, an opposition in a free democratic country is founded on three things: 1) generally on the expression of difference; 2) sometimes on the proof of unity; 3) on constant aspiration for change and replacement. I will dedicate words on each one of these three roles, but firstly I will try to clarify the mission of an opposition in the government we generally call a democracy.

I will not hesitate to say that there was great folk wisdom in the founding of this institution. … If there is a force that opposes the government, then this force ensures that it won't be the citizen who is afraid but the government will be apprehensive. This is because when the citizen fears, that is termed slavery and when the government is apprehensive – that is liberty.

Let us appreciate therefore, as fitting, the fact that there is an opposition in our country. Even though there are those who don't agree, as is their wish, to its existence and hope for its strength and well-being, to the point that a day should come that it will cease being an opposition. And when that day should come the opposition itself must desire, as a condition, that there will stand opposite it a strong opposition, recognized by the nation … Perhaps I may be permitted to say that the Herut movement fulfilled in this area a decisive and pioneering role when it announced from the start – in opposition to all the other factions in the Knesset – that insofar as the nation gave it in 1949 only a certain measure of trust, insufficient to compose a government, that it would serve the nation in opposition, and this service will be to its distinction. From then until today this institution called opposition has been a legitimate and recognized institution.

The three roles placed upon the opposition are: first, the obligation of the opposition to express difference…to block to the extent of its ability the path of bad laws. A second way to express difference is a resolution of no confidence…one of the clear roles of every parliament is to turn to public opinion. It is not correct that the nation judges its rulers in one day, namely election day, as Montesquieu once wrote. The nation needs to judge every day, and mainly every day in which parliament is in session. Every day the nation needs to judge both sides: the government proposes, the opposition agrees or the opposite. Civil liberty exists through argument. The nation hears and reads and judges. Its judgment is a process of many days, until the day arrives in which it deposits the ballot and produces its ruling.

The second role of the opposition is, as stated, to prove the unity of the nation. This does not mean forced unity…but unity out of the free will of those being unified. Unity of a free people is a tremendous force. When there is danger, everyone is uniform; they toss away differences, disagreements, and stand shoulder to shoulder against the enemy until he is overcome.

The third role of opposition is, as stated, constant aspiration for change and replacement. An opposition worthy of its name is not sheltered in the shadow of the governing party, but aspires to take its place according to the decision of the nation, and may the time of realizing this aspiration be as long as it may be…it is incumbent on the opposition to continue aspiring for change and replacement and not to sit squinting at the government of today's table. Without this aspiration an opposition is nothing but a sort of a simple division of roles – essentially artificial.


Braving the rain that had been pouring off and on since the previous Friday, a crowd of people honored Menachem Begin on Sunday at the Mount of Olives at his gravesite including outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister Designate Binyamin Netanyahu and MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Ruby Rivlin, Danny Danon, Dan Meridor, Tzipi Hotevli, Ayub Kara among others, as well as the family and close friends and associates from the Irgun, Herut and Betar.

Later in the evening, the Reuben Hecht Auditorium was filled to capacity with overflow seating in the large seminar room for a beautiful evening of songs from the Underground and Menachem Begin's personal favorite songs and rare film footage, including Ze'ev Jabotinsky speaking in Yiddish and Hebrew, Betar before the state of Israel was established and Menachem Begin speaking.


On Tuesday night, a conference Thinking after the Holocaust: Voices from Poland and Israel was held at the Begin Center which was co-sponsored by the Begin Center and the World Jewish Congress Research Institute. Herzl Makov, Chairman of the Begin Center, opened the conference about Jewish life after the Holocaust, and introduced Dr. Sebastian Rejak, Bureau for Polish–Jewish Relations, Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Rabbi Sam Kassin, Dean Shenbar Sephardic Center, Jerusalem; and Prof. Daniel Grinberg, Prof. of History, University of Bialystok.


Nine classes from the Leo Beck High School in Haifa made their traditional trip to the Begin Center. In addition to visiting the museum, they also heard stories of the underground from the Hasten Library librarian, Bruria Ben-Senior-Romanoff, who remembers those days from her childhood.

Police personnel and groups of soldiers also came this week to participate in the new leadership workshops.
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