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March 21, 1986 - Image 46

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-03-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

46 Friday, March 21, 1986



The Herut Fiasco:
Life After Begin


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"I don't belong to any organ-
ized political party. I'm a
Democrat," Will Rogers once
said. The Cowboy Philosopher
would have felt right at home at
last week's Herut Party na-
tional convention. For three
days, more than two thousand
delegates milled around the Con-
vention Center while the leaders
of two warring factions — Yitz-
hak Shamir and Moshe Arens
on one side, David Levy and
Ariel Sharon on the other —
maneuvered behind the scenes.
Finally, on the fourth night,
with the convention hopelessly
deadlocked, the meeting broke
up in a clenched-fist fiasco.
The' acrimony between the
two camps was obvious from
the beginning and grew as the
convention proceeded. Shamir,
the party's nominal leader,
called Levy's supporters "crim-
inals" and accused Levy himself
of megalomania. Levy respond-
ed by intimating — on national
television — that Shamir isn't
worthy to serve as Prime
Minister, a position he is
scheduled W assume, under the
Rotation Agreement, this com-
ing fall.
Many outside observers were
puzzled by the harsh confronta-
tion. Thersearched, in vain, for
any ideological or policy dif-
ferences between the two camps.
• In fact, both groups are or-
thodox Beginites, committed to
retaining the West Bank, to a
hard line against Arab adver-
saries and to populist social and
economic programs. Through-
out the convention, no one even
bothered to pretend that the
clash was about issues.
What took place at the Herut
Convention was a naked strug-
gle for power between insiders
and outsiders. David Levy
represents the tens of thousands
of new Herutniks, most of them
Oriental Jews, who have joined
the party in the last ten years,
and now want their share of the
action; Shamir leads the old
time, mostly Ashkenazi Herut
The struggle was made pos-
sible, necessary and probably in-
evitable by the absence of
Menachem Begin, the party's
founder, leader and great organ-
izing principle. Ever since
Begin's amazing withdrawl
from public life, Herut had
hoped for a comeback. But when
the former Prime Minister
declined to drive the few miles
from his Jerusalem home to the
Binyanai Ha'umah convention
hall to attend opening cere-
monies, his absence sounded'the
bell for round one in the fight for
his inheritance. •
Begin didn't come, but he sent
a message — support Yitzhak
Shamir. The message was read
to the assembled delegates who
responded by applauding polite-
ly. In the old days, such a sug-
gestion from Begin would have
been enough, but not anymore.

"Mr. Begin, you have an heir,"
thundered David Levy in his
speech that same night. Levy
was clearly referring to HIM-
SELF, and the declaration was
one of revolt. What about
Begin's explicit endorsement of
Shamir? "Begin is still our
father," a Levy delegate said
later, "but you can be mad at
your father."
Two days later, the Shamir
forces brought out their biggest
gun, Dr. Benyamin Ze'ev Begin,
son of the leader. Benny Begin,
the very symbol of Herut
legitimacy, challenged Levy's al-
ly Ariel Sharon for the. chair-
manship of the convention's
Mandate Committee. Party pros
were certain that Benny would
win, but when the votes were
counted, Sharon, who joined
Herut less than a decade ago
(previous parties: Shlomzion,
Liberal, Labor) beat the found-
er's son, by 561 to 444. It was
the first time that a Begin had
ever lost a vote in Herut; and it
was also the moment that the
Old Guard; led by Shamir and
Arens, realized that the party
had spun out of control, that the
Begin magic no longer works.
At that point, the convention
totally broke down. The two
camps were split almost evenly,
and the party found it had no
means of breaking the stale-
mate. Under Begin, Herut
became a vital, open party,
unlike its Labor rival, which is
still largely controlled by a few
insiders. This openness was a
source of vitality and political
strength — as long as Begin
himself was around to keep it
from getting out of hand. But,
with Begin gone, the delegates
found a vacuum where the
decision-making apparatus
should have been. They could
only scream at each other in
frustrated rage, charge the
and generally make a spectacle
of themselves in front of an ap-
palled nation.
A few years ago, someone
asked Herut veteran Yohanan
Bader who would succeed
Menachem Begin. "That's
easy," Bader replied, "David
David Wolfson is the name of
the man who succeeded Theodor
Herzl as head of the Zionist
Movement. The Zionists sur-
vived Herzl's departure; but as
Hertit's Wolfsons square off, it
remains to be seen if, for the
party, there is life after Begin.
In another development, after
the Herut convention's collapse
Shamir and Levy may be inch-
ing toward a rapprochement in
what many observers see as a
last-chance effort to keep the
rotation of power agreement
with the Labor Party alive.
The would-be peaCemaker and
the man who may have' in the
long run outmaneuvered both
Levy and Shamir is Sharon,
Herut's most outspoken hard-
liner who allied his forces with

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