PM Begin in an interview with Eric Breindel, Rolling Stone Magazine, Jerusalem
Mr. Prime Minister, I was in Parliament yesterday, and it seems fair to observe that you aren't being granted any sort of honeymoon period of the sort we're used to in the United States.
I never had it. From the first day, the honeymoon period disappeared, evaporated. Our opposition is very sharp and aggressive. I have no recriminations for it. It's the perfect right of a parliamentary opposition to fight the government and to criticize the government. I only said yesterday, and this is important, that, when we were in the opposition, we behaved differently when it came to matters of national consensus. For instance, I read yesterday two resolutions adopted by our parliament in October and November 1975 on the problem of the so-called PLO. Then, the Alignment was in power and [unclear 01:17]. They suggested [unclear 01:19] before the sessions and during the sessions between the communists and [01:27]. So the first session was, we agreed to [unclear 01:30]. Now, it was so done. In order that the resolution would be common between the government and the opposition, between which there are obvious and natural differences of opinion, what do you do? You actually narrow the problems to one or two, as they exist in reality, on which you agree because there is an impossibility to have a general consensus. Where there is a general consensus, you don't have an opposition to the government, you have a totalitarian state, one-party rule, etc. But if the parliament is a democratic institution with various parties – at least two, government and opposition – difference of opinion exists. There are some national problems on which you agree. Take out that problem on which you agree and bring it to a vote, because then you can…This is exactly what we did for many, many years. Therefore, I will give you some more examples. We were in unity during the Entebbe operation. We took upon ourselves the responsibility, at a certain moment, to say and to vote for it that we shall negotiate with those kidnappers, which was a very harsh decision. We could have said, "We don't want negotiations with them, bring the people back, send the army." But we knew all the difficulties, and yet, we agreed, on behalf of the opposition, let us negotiate in order to save the lives of the people because we were afraid every minute they may take out, the kidnappers may take out our people and shoot them, some of them, in order to terrorize. Later, we were informed military action is envisaged. It was also a very grave responsibility, because of the possibility of many casualties. It was almost a miracle that we had only one casualty. And it was taken into consideration that we may have many casualties, and still we voted for it. In two cases, we showed that responsibility of an opposition. We took [unclear 04:02] at the beginning when we said "Let us negotiate" and again when we said "Let us act." Now, on this issue of the PLO, I told you two resolutions, but there were many more. And we always said, "Let us single them out." Therefore, those resolutions were adopted almost by all the Knesset, except the communists. Yesterday was a different story. What we proposed was the resolution adopted and initiated by the Alignment only two years ago. The only change was a sentence which became superfluous, which said, "Israel will not participate in the Geneva Conference if the PLO is invited," it became superfluous because the Americans don't ask us to bring in the PLO to Geneva, so why should we say they are invited? The Americans don't invite them, even the Russians don't. It's pointless. Therefore, we deleted that last sentence, but the same wording we left as it was voted in the Knesset two years ago. Initiated by the Ma'arach, supported by us [unclear 05:11]. They refused to do so [unclear 05:18] parliamentary calculations, but rather [unclear 05:25]. They could have voted for it, it was their resolution, they didn't. We, on the other side, did another thing. When we were told by the Dash people that they are prepared to separate the three paragraphs in their draft resolution, the first being devoted completely to the problem of the PLO, I said, "We shall agree," in accordance with our parliamentary guidelines, if there is a resolution of several paragraphs, the group which proposes it should agree to separate the various paragraphs so that parliament can vote on each one separately, but then the majority of parliament should support it. Without Dash, there wouldn't be such a majority. So I asked in advance, that we should vote it down, we should vote, and then we should vote it for. We made it possible to separate the first paragraph from the other two in order to vote it down because we are the majority in parliament. And, as far as the press is concerned, the consensus came after, for the whole world to see, although it was Dash's [unclear 06:47]. And therefore, yes, clearly I am glad we achieved what we wanted from the parliamentary debate which we initiated, it was demonstrated that there is a consensus on the PLO. Namely, except the communists – only the communists voted against and Shelly abstained. The communists are five members, the Shelly are two. So, actually, a combination of parliamentary forces of 113 out of 120 supported it. In opposition were only the five members of the Communist Party and the two members of Shelly abstained, I wouldn't say they supported it. They weren't against it, but [unclear 07:35]. But the measurement of agreement of 113 out of 120, that's 90, 95%. These aren't the modalities [unclear 07:50]. I think we behave better in opposition. From the national point of view.
Does the fact that you yourself barely escaped the Holocaust in Europe, that members of your immediate family were murdered by the Nazis, necessarily make you a different sort of person entirely from your predecessors as prime minister? Is that aspect of your past perhaps the most critical difference between you and the prime ministers who came before you and not the fact that you're the first non-Labor Party premier?
Perhaps it makes a difference, but it shouldn't make a difference. The Holocaust was such a tragedy that even if a man didn't suffer personally or lose members of his own family – which is almost impossible, I suppose that Mr. Rabin also lost some members of his family, perhaps not his parents, not his sisters, but his parents came from Russia, I understand, some members of his family must have been there – but it is not a matter of a person and his family, it is the greatest disaster ever noted in the annals of mankind. Whenever you think of it, even 35 years later, it defies your imagination. Atrocities there were throughout the ages, mainly in the wake of war. War makes people cruel. The First World War is the great turning point. The cruelty which came between the wars and during the Second World War is the result of the first. Until then, people were kinder to each other. There were some wars, modern wars, the civilian population always was [unclear 10:20]. There were terrorists in Czarist Russia, they used to give up their planned attacks, at the risk of their own lives, and the government or Czar or the prince [unclear 10:35]. They never carried out those attacks. They always waited until the man they believed [unclear 10:42]. That is the terrorist way: to kill the ruler [unclear 10:52]. Lenin was against this method. He said instead of one prince will come another prince, it won't change anything else. Anyhow, that was the [unclear 11:00]. They were great idealists. [unclear 11:02] They would never touch a woman or a child. Now, in our army, we had a man whose name was Schwartzbard and he killed in Paris the Otaman Petliura. The Otaman Petliura in the Ukraine was a very cruel ruler, as far as Jews were concerned, and his troops pogromized the Jewish population. They killed tens of thousands of Jews after the Bolshevik Revolution, etc. And then that Petliura came to Paris as a refugee from the Bolshevik regime. Schwartzbard, who was also from Ukraine, his two sisters were killed in a pogrom. Before they were killed, they were raped by the Cossacks. Tens of thousands of Jews also were killed in the Ukraine pogroms. Schwartzbard assassinated Petliura. He handed himself over to the police. But he didn't carry out that plan of assassination of Petliura, once or twice, when Petliura was with his wife. Only when he found him alone, then he went over to him and said, "Are you Petliura?" "Yes, I am." Started shooting at him. That was his moral attitude. The man himself is considered to be guilty. [unclear 12:40]
The turning point, the greatest revolution in human history, in my opinion, is the First World War. In the wake of it came the Second World War. However, such a thing that, as the Germans used the word, a horrible travesty, scientifically, in planning, six years on end, to take out the civilian population. The Mongols, the Cossacks, in the wake of their onslaught, the battle, the war, the fury of the battle, they carried out atrocities. But that is a different, a completely different story. Decide, yes, they did decide, at Wannsee, that the Jews must be killed, that is the so-called final solution, all of them, as far as the Nazis can get their hands on them. And then millions were gasses, burned, burned alive. When I was in Romania, everything came again to me because Transylvania, which is now a part of Romania, was in Hungary as a result of that decision taken by Hitler and Mussolini together, given to Hungary, which was their ally. Romania was also their ally, but still they preferred Hungarians. And in 1944, to everybody it was clear the Germans lost the war, Eichmann was still in Transylvania and took out from there hundreds of thousands of Jews and brought them to Auschwitz, to the gas chambers. Then we asked the British, in 1944, "Bomb the railway lines." We knew that every day they take out, train after train, bringing people to death and it was only a matter of a few months now we can see people surviving. Stop it, through the railway lines. They won't be able to put people on trains. On trucks, it's more difficult. It's war. By foot, they may perish on the road, but still, how many? Hundreds of thousands would be saved. They bombed everything in Germany in those days. They already sent thousands of planes, thousands of planes. And the railways, of course, were strategic target. It's legitimate to bomb a railway line. It's for the military to use the railways. And then, silently, in an orderly way, as the Germans would put it, they took out hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children on every day on the trains [unclear 15:44]. Again, I say, it is so specific an event. It doesn't depend on a family, whether you have your family, of course, it is human, you are involved. But even if you are a non-Jew, whether you are a human being. Therefore, I wouldn't distinguish between Mr. Rabin and myself on this point of view. I think a Sabra can feel very deeply about the Holocaust, and there are Sabras who feel deeply. No, there shouldn't be such a difference. I don't think there is such a difference. What is the question, as far as I'm concerned? It lives within me, and I live with it, and I will live with it until the last day. That is what happened to our people. Imagine, I was now in Bucharest and the rabbi told the following people that one day, the Romanian Nazis burst into his synagogue and took out all the Jews who prayed there, together with – how do you say, the chazzan?
The cantor. They slaughtered them. They slaughtered them. And then they put them into, how do you call it, meat shop.
Butcher. Butcher shop. They put them in the butcher shop. The hooks there. The cows and they hang them on the hooks and put a platter on kosher meat. Can a human being understand such a [unclear 17:27-17:48]. The Holocaust lives within me. It is the prime mover of all we have done in our generation. For instance, our fight for liberation is a result of the recognition that we in our time must create conditions in which never again will the Jew be defenseless. The scourge was the defenselessness of the Jewish people, and the defenselessness which became helplessness was the real provocation for the murderers. They saw that they can do with the Jew anything they want to. A cruel man is a coward. If he sees that there is no resistance, there is no danger to him, then his cruelty doesn't know any limits. And we have the experience with the Nazis. They were so cruel as long as the Jews didn't resist. But when they themselves became prisoners, they were lower than the lowest. Kneeling, actually, to their captors, begging for pity and "Don't kill me." They themselves killed the Jews without any hesitation, as they wouldn't be human beings, but when they face the danger, they broke down completely and, as I said, they used to ask for pity, "Don't touch me," "Don't kill me," "I was a friend of the Jews," they used to say to our partisans. So therefore I again say the defenselessness of the Jews is the real scourge of our life, for centuries, but especially in our generation. Therefore, we decided to take up arms, fight for liberation, in order to have a state, an army, and means of national defense. That was the prime mover.
Secondly, to make sure that the Jewish state is secure, that the borders are unbreakable, that the land is unconquerable. That is the second prime mover of all our actions, whether in opposition or in government. All the time. And, indeed, we remind ourselves and remind other people of what happened to the Jewish people when they faced an enemy, a cruel enemy, and we couldn't defend ourselves. Even the men couldn't defend their own families. The men, in those terrible days, delivered the wives and the children into the hands of the executioners. Therefore, to us, as I said to President Carter, the term "national security" is no crock for anything or no excuse for anything. Admittedly, there are powers which use national security for aggrandizement. They used to say "national security" when you wanted some additional piece of territory. When we say "national security," we mean the lives of our families, of our women and children. Therefore, as you said, I agree that the Holocaust is, even today, an actual mover of our actions, of our decisions, of our words.
I: I'd like to ask you about Germany, in light of the 1952 controversy over reparations. At the time you said, as you don't need me to remind you, that there are things in life that are worse even than death, and that this is one of them. And you opposed the reparations payment, but now they're a fact of life in Israel. They have been for some time. And, indeed, some claim that they provided a much-needed boost to the economy. Were you right in 1952 and how do you feel about…
I must speak on this issue with complete candor. I believe I was right and I failed. My friends and I proposed, unconditionally, an agreement between us and the Germans, a financial agreement on the basis of the Holocaust in the generation of the Holocaust. It is still a horrible thought that a Jewish state made an agreement with the German state accepting a certain amount of money and giving, actually, rehabilitation to the Germans. It's a special cause of responsibility. Usually, every man is responsible for himself. But, in the case of the Holocaust, the German people, I suppose nearly 100%, supported, as Churchill called Hitler, the "embodiment of all evil in mankind." As long as he brought them victories, they were with him. It is not true that the German people didn't know what is happened to the Jews. They did know. And, therefore, it is a unique case of complete national responsibility for whatever happened to our people. It's not true, in this case, to distinguish between government and people. They are the same, in varying responsibility of what happened to our people. The Germans could have saved at least hundreds of thousands of Jews. They didn't. There were a few exceptions, and we respect those people, even in Germany, who helped the Jews. But you can count them on the fingers of one hand out of a nation of 80 million, they are all after our blood. Indeed it happened that a devilish man turned a great nation – a nation of poets and philosophers, as the Germans call themselves – into a bloodthirsty mob. But the fact is that all the Germans became that mob. Therefore, my friends and I opposed not reparations as such, but an agreement between the two states as the Germans bear totally responsibility for what happened to us, so now, as the Jewish state signed with the German state an agreement, that meant rehabilitation to the Germans in the generation of destruction. So, therefore, I wanted to stop that agreement from coming to be. But I failed. And I admitted that failure, and I admit it now, if you brought up this subject, and a man should admit his failures. Regrettably enough, I failed. As you said, it's a fact of life. I am now prime minister and there came a German ambassador and the foreign minister received him and I know, I knew it's going to happen. And this is now our reality and we have to live with it.
I: So you two would receive the German ambassador?
If he asks me to receive him, I will, because it's one of my duties.
I: After your victory in May, you were often described in the Western press as an ex-terrorist, a description you vehemently reject. And, often, what's cited specifically, the execution by the Irgun's [unclear 26:44] of British sergeants who had been kidnapped. You warned that they would be hanged if the British mandatory administration carried out the execution of the three captured Irgunists. You warned that gallows would be met by gallows. And when the mandatory government refused to heed your warning, you carried out your threat. Now, it's said that an act such as this, even within that context, is an act of terrorism.
It is not. The word "terrorism," what is its etymological source? In Latin, "terror" means "fear." There were terrorists. I only remind you of the way those who fought the Czarist regime in Russia carried out their acts. What was their method? To kill princes, governors. They knew that other governors would come instead, but they wanted to instill fear in the governors and, through fear, to bring down the Czarist government. That is a method. We never used it. We fought armored men against armored men. Pitched battles. Small groups of what is now called urban guerillas. But we actually give the example what is an urban guerilla. We created the method of an urban guerilla. In other words, to hit and disappear. Normal life. Never armed. I lived for years in the Underground and there was not one bodyguard. There was not one pistol, either within our house or outside, just as any other civilian. We took our arms from the stores only for the operation. After the operation, the men disappeared, the arms were again located in the store. That was the urban guerilla, which, really, we created in our time. Now, we never used personal assassination. Never. We planned military operations. We used military objectives. We carried them out. There were casualties on both sides, but this is the inevitable result of a fight for liberation. Such fights for liberation you have throughout history and everybody prides. Now, some historians say that the most justified fight for liberation is that of Spartacus, during the Roman Empire because it was not only a fight for political freedom, it was a fight for physical liberation of slaves. If this thesis is true, I contend that our fight was more justified than the Spartacus rebellion because ours was not only a fight for independence or for liberty, for survival. And that fight, by Spartacus, was not for survival. Their lives were not in danger. Yes, some of them used to lose their lives, but…
[Audio cuts at 30:12]
Everything would have been lost. I suppose that third would have disappeared. Part of it physically destroyed by the Arabs. And the [unclear 00:28] would have left. So then I think the beginning of the end of the Jewish people would have started, because after the Holocaust, the Jew can be destroyed. Who ever helped him or who ever cared? So we changed that course through our fight and, therefore, it is even more justified than the Spartacus revolt. You have the American fight for independence. What did they do? They took up rifles and fought, fought the British army. I can give you an endless set of examples. This is a fight for liberation. It's not terror. Terror means that you use a method instilling fear into a certain government, killing its representatives, assassinating its representatives. But we never used such a thing. And we said so that we don't use such a thing. Therefore, that word really didn't apply to us. We didn't mind. We were not impressed by name-calling. They called us different names. One of the British generals decided one day to call us "tacks." So what? So he called us "tacks." We were not.
We had the complete conviction that ours was a just cause. We never thought about danger to ourselves. We went around the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem legitimately. It's our country. The British will leave. We are not going to. They are illegal here in their behavior. We are legitimate. And, therefore, we never thought about danger to ourselves. We slept well and we never thought that, well, perhaps tomorrow will come the police or the military and will kill us. They would. They would have opened fire on the spot. That is the conviction of people who believe in the justice of their cause and the legitimacy of their fight. So that word never applied to us.
The special case of executions by the British and retribution by us doesn't change the principle. Sometimes people are depressed that the Irgun hanged two sergeants. What do they mean by that? They took just two British sergeants, hanged them, that we want to hurt them? We, in 1944, warned the British that they should never execute our men because our men are not criminals, they are fighters, idealists. They are ready to sacrifice their lives and when they fall in battle, it is no reason for retribution. The fight goes on. It is the British responsibility, but none of the British army or police should pay any price for it. It's a battle. That's our fate. Every one of us was ready to die for liberty. We said so. Liberty or death, that was the first proclamation I wrote myself when we started our fight in the end of 1943. These two words actually change history and create history. "Liberty or death." And we were prepared to give our lives.
But if you captured them, put them in prison, put them in a camp, don't execute them, don't hang them. That was our first warning, as early as 1944. Then they captured two of our men and sentenced them to die, so we captured five British officers. We didn't say anything. We didn't want to create a kind of prestige, a British prestige. Of course it's a government, a government of oppression. It should disappear, but it's a government. We didn't say one word. But everyone understood. Now, they commuted a sentence of death, we set free all the officers. We never wanted to touch anybody of them. It was not so-called hostages we had taken. Hostages are being taken by cruel, oppressive regime and this was a matter of saving the lives of our men, and when their lives were saved, go home. Now, the British hanged nine of our men during our revolt because Ben Yosef was executed in 1938 and two Lechi men were executed in Egypt, all of them together 12, and nine were hanged during our operations. All of them men of the Irgun, eight men of the Irgun, one man of the Lechi. Two of them put a hand grenade between their hearts and made it exploding and thus avoided the hangman. That was their decision. So we warned them, time and again, there will be retribution.
One of the laws of warfare is represario, retribution. When one side breaks the law, the other side answers the same. And when the Germans bombed, during the First World War, London by a zeppelin, the British in those days with the means of slow planes, etc. bombed [unclear 05:58]. And really, people, civilians, British didn't want to harm, but it is written in international law, "You bomb my civilian population, I have no choice but to bomb your civilian population." And exactly the same story, of course, with different implications, was with us. We warned in advance, "Don't do this," but they did. It was an order from London. There was no justice involved at all. It was a political decision by the British government. They wanted to break the backbone of the Jewish resistance. They knew that we were very sensitive about the gallows. There is a difference between a soldier falling in battle and a soldier being hanged, alone, completely alone. We tried to save them but all our plans fell to the ground. They transferred them from Jerusalem to the Acre Fortress and suddenly executed them. They betrayed their word when they spoke to Dov Gruner's sister, who came from the United States, told her, "Nothing is going to happen to your brother." The following day they executed him. And we carried out that retribution. The result: no more hangings. Then, really, the British gallows were broken. They still were for a full year, and they arrested many of our men, and they sentenced them, not to death. So we had to save our people. General Barker was then the commander in chief of the British forces, said in the house of Mrs. [unclear 07:44] – it was a British woman who married an Arab, and they had an open house for many people – we had a good intelligence service in those days and we had the information. Barker said one evening in the house of Antonious, "I will hang one hundred Jews and there will be peace in Palestine." He would have carried out that threat. He was almost a Nazi. He was a man capable of anything. He was the ruler after the Second World War in Schleswig-Holstein. The Danes hate him until this day. They say he was like a Nazi. I wouldn't say that he was a Nazi, he was a Briton, but a cruel man. He didn't take any human evaluations into consideration. First he wrote the Jews should be hit in their pockets, the pockets. A sheer anti-Semitic outburst. Then he said he will hang one hundred Jews. He said even on the lamps on the street he will hang them. He thought that he can do anything he wishes. He had to admit his mistake. We taught him a lesson. He left in clandestinity, this country. He ran away. In clandestinity. Nobody knew when he was leaving. It was cowardice on his side. He found here an opponent who will not give up. He didn't break our resistance, but that retribution became inevitable. We forewarned him.
It is not terror at all. We wanted to save our people's lives, our men's lives. We were a group of people in which everyone was ready to give his life for his colleagues'. That is a great source of moral strength. Our men knew that all the Irgun will be behind them, under any circumstances.
When Dov Gruner and Drezner, Kachi and Alkashani were in Jerusalem Prison and we wanted to save them, we planned an operation. It was very difficult to carry out. We had to capture a kind of a British tank, an armored car, and then, with false documents, come to the prison. We got orders, British police, dressed as British police, with orders to transfer them to the Acre Fortress, "Give us the prisoners." Then they would have been let in and the prisoners were supposed to know when, during their walk in the compound, they would have jumped on that armored car then, in battle, with machine guns, they would have burst out of the prison compound. The man who was charged with carrying out that operation was one of our most heroic fighters, because he was in the British commando during the Second World War, Shimshon. He fell later in the Battle of Acre, defending our liberated prisoners with his Bren gun. He himself [unclear 10:53]. I saw him before the Acre operation. He was one of the few I saw during the Underground. One of the most valiant fighters of the British army and the Jewish people. So, every day he watched on the road, he wanted to capture that armored car, and I said, "Quiet, otherwise we will draw their attention." And then they were transferred suddenly by the British to Acre Fortress and executed. But then, for that operation, I had to call upon volunteers because the risk to lives was complete and I said in that written order there is little chance to come back home. Everybody [unclear 11:44]. We had a unit called Chak, Cheyl Hakrav, the battle unit. They actually carried out all the main operations. A few hundred, 3, 400, no more, and all of them wanted in, but one we left behind. That was the spirit, to save the lives of our men. The British didn't heed that warning. But then, when the retribution came, never again hangings. We saved the lives of scores of our men through this retribution. It was absolutely inevitable, and it was unique. We didn't take British soldiers and execute them. It never occurred to us. We used to set them free after all the operations. Sometimes they were so astonished, "Do you really ask us to go home?" [unclear 12:38] "You bloody go home." That was the ethics of our fight.
Therefore, any comparison with the so-called PLO, I call it sacrilegious. Sacrilegious, because we never hurt a woman, a child, a civilian. We never wanted to hurt them. It was battles men between armored men and armored men. The PLO never attacks army installations, army unit. Always civilians. It's easy, of course, to kill a child, kill a woman, put a bomb in a marketplace. What's the great chochma? What's the great deal about it? Anybody can do it. And mainly, as we know, they get a lot of money to do it. Therefore, as I said yesterday, this is the basest, the meanest armed organization ever, because no fighting organization, if it fights for an ideal, for a cause, intentionally ever hurts civilians. Sometimes it happens, then you regret it. Then you prove to your own fighters you don't want such a thing. But they plan hurting civilians, women and children, and when they carry out those bloody attacks, they rejoice in them. They say, "This is the proper way." That is a genocidal method. Therefore, someone asks me from time to time, "Well, you yourself fought, why don't you respect your opponent?" I would. I will respect another fighter, but I can't respect those killers. We never used such a method. It never occurred to us to capture a plane somewhere, 30,000 feet up, scare women and children, bring it down and say, "I will kill all these passengers if you don't do our will." It never occurred to us. We could have captured scores of British planes. We had people all over the world. It's no special thing to know [unclear 14:37] with a bomb, "Raise your hands" and capture. What can the captain do? He can't do anything.
It never occurred to us to do such things. Our men, when they were in prison or in concentration camps, escaped. Sometimes with their wisdom, we helped them, because they wanted to take part in the fight. There, they were safe. They gave up their safety. They want to come back to the front lines. But they did it on their own account. We never took hostages and said, "Set free our colleagues somewhere in Eritrea or in the Acre Fortress, otherwise…" Otherwise, what? We shall kill some passengers from Alaska? What do they have in common with this fight? And that PLO exactly does that, with women and children. Therefore, I say it's the meanest armored organization ever created, except the Nazi organization, and I can't respect them. We can't respect them. And any comparison is sacrilege. It's different. I think we must now again, perhaps you'll come again and we shall continue. I did my best, my friend, under the circumstances.
Interviewer: I know, I do appreciate it. If I were to stay around, if I were to wait, is there a possibility I could squeeze in today?
It's Erev Shabbat, but if you stay a few days, then on Monday, I will meet you. On Sunday, I can't because there's a session of the cabinet. Perhaps on Sunday afternoon I can meet. Sunday afternoon. Let us say between 5 and 6 o'clock.
[Cut at 16:28]
I: I want to start by asking you about the Soviet Union. Some people now say that the greatest enemy the Jewish people face is actually the Soviet Union, not the Arabs, and you spent more than a year as a prisoner in Soviet labor camps. You underwent interrogation by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. What is your opinion of the chance for a Soviet-Israel rapprochement, a détente, and, on a more personal level, your experience in the Soviet Union must have left deep scars. How do you feel about the Soviet Union and the Jewish people?
The word "enemy" should be used in its proper meaning. "Enemy" means a state which is in a state of war with you. That is the technical meaning. I wouldn't like to enlarge that term on any state. Those who are in a state of war with us are enemies. When we conclude peace treaties, they will cease to be our enemies, they will be our neighbors. Now, they are both. They are neighbors and enemies, because they are in a state of war with us, at their own proclamation, as well, and they are our enemies. All the others may be friendly or unfriendly, but they are not enemies from this point of view. And, therefore, I wouldn't include now the Soviet Union into that category. Saying an enemy from the point of view of war and peace is a country which is in a state of war with Israel. And any country which is in a state of war with us and will conclude a peace treaty with us will not be an enemy, even if it's an Arab state.
Now, about the Soviet Union. There are three periods in the history of the Soviet Union with Zionism, or the Jewish state, which is the result of the Zionist idea and struggle. There was a period of 30 years of complete restriction. Since the Bolshevik Revolution, Zionism became a so-called "nationalistic deviation" in the Soviet Union and they used, during the [unclear 19:00] this concept to prove – "they" meaning the Russian authorities – to prove they are evil or minorities. As you know, the Soviet Union, the Russians are actually the ruling nation, the strongest. They have many nationalities. Ukrainians, Belorussians, Uzbekis, Cossacks, Jews, etc. The only non-territorial nationality is the Jewish. They tried [unclear 19:40]. They recognize the Jewish nationality as such, not in the sense of citizenship which, mistakenly, is being identified with nationality in the West. As a result of historical developments, in Eastern Europe, you always distinguish between nationality and citizenship. You can be a citizen of the country and a different nationality from the majority. And this is the proper ideal. Therefore, we, for instance, in Israel recognize the Arab nationality in our state. There is a Jewish nationality and an Arab nationality, although all are citizens of Israel.
Now, they consider that Zionism is the so-called "nationalist deviation" from the socialist program, idea, etc. and they used to put into jail every Zionist. It was a crime. There are various arguments and anti-Semitic propaganda. Nothing is written about Zionism in the penal code, but you always find the proper article, as they did against me. I was sentenced under Article 58 of the Russian penal code, the Russian Republic's penal code, because they called it counterrevolution. Lenin himself at the time wrote that article. But then, it was enlarged. It almost became a book. The article, so many subsections. And everything can be put under that article. So that was complete hostility. They persecuted Zionists. Sent them to Siberia. Put them into jail, concentration camps. Opposed it. Opposed it here. Sent their agents to incite the Arabs against us. Complete hostility.
And in 1946 and 1947 there was a change. Far-reaching change. I think it was a result of our struggle for liberation against the British rule, for obvious reasons. And then they said that our struggle was a progressive struggle. And Gromyko made his famous speech in the United Nations based on our struggle and he called it the krovoprolitiya sobytiya, the "events of bloodshed," which go on in Israel. "British rulers cannot crush that and it proves the bankruptcy of the British rule in Palestine." And then, Gromyko made his famous, not Gromyko, yes, Gromyko, made his famous statement to the effect that British rule is bankrupt and now there should be a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine. For us, of course, the decisive point was a Jewish state. [unclear 22:55] And since 1947, that was a turning point. Up to 1954, 5, the Soviet Union was quite friendly with Israel. Friendly. First, they were the second country to recognize Israel de jure after Mr. Truman. It was a matter of 24 hours. The Soviet Union followed suit after [unclear 22:20]. Secondly, perhaps this is the most important point, we got arms from Czechoslovakia in those days. From Czechoslovakia in those days meant with the approval of Moscow. We got rifles and some artillery. Anyway, very vital weapons. They helped us also in the United Nations. That is the second period.
The third period started somewhere in 1954, 55, and they negotiated with Egypt an arms deal, also through Czechoslovakia, and they concluded it and Czechoslovakia started to supply arms to Egypt. Of course, with the knowledge and approval of Moscow. And then started renewed hostility. There was a moment when they severed diplomatic relations with us and then renewed it. There was a solid ambassador, but the policy was hostile towards Israel. Then came the Six-Day War and it was [unclear 24:25] diplomatic relations with us and this policy continues.
One change took place in the last two or three years. It's a very far-reaching achievement. The Soviet Union was always for negotiations between us and the Arab states and they never recognized the so-called PLO as a partner to negotiations. Lately, they do. It is a far-reaching change. You can understand the reasons. They wanted a base in Israel. If the PLO should take over Judea and Samaria, in no time the territory will turn into a Soviet base. It is now absolutely sure. And this is the reasons. Very convenient. From here, they can go in any direction. To the north, to the south. And this is the very serious, sudden change in their policy. It's a policy of hostility.
Now you ask me about what you termed rapprochement. It has many meanings, that word, rapprochement. First of all, there should be normalization of our relations. I think the Soviets regret that they severed relations with us because you can have the most far-reaching differences of opinion and you still talk to each other. This is international life. Doesn't the Soviet Union have difference of opinion with the United States of America or Britain?
I: They even have an ambassador in the People's Republic…
I beg your pardon?
I: Even in China they have an ambassador.
In China they have an ambassador. In Germany they have an ambassador. It was a mistake. We would like there to be normalization. Normalization means there will be an ambassador in Jerusalem, Soviet ambassador in Jerusalem, Israeli ambassador in Moscow, with all the difference of opinion. They should take the initiative to restore diplomatic relations with Israel. They should take the initiative because they severed diplomatic relations. Then we would agree to diplomatic relations, but we would ask the right of every Jew who wishes to do so to come to Israel from the Soviet Union. It is what we call "return to Zion" and this is a perfect right for us as Jews. It is consistent with the final letters at Helsinki and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. And then, of course, we have the special problem of prisoners of Zion, prisoners of conscience. We would ask to release them. So, the normalization of relations [unclear 27:34]. That is what we stand for. Whatever, then, the relations will be, in the future ,that is a matter of the political general situation of our, how we say, talks, diplomatic channels, nobody can foresee the future. The word "rapprochement" would be, in my opinion, under these circumstances, too far-reaching. Normalization is the better and the more exact expression. So normalization, perhaps, is possible. Anyhow, we stand for it and gladly welcome it. Normalization.
As far as my own experience is concerned, as I wrote in my book, I would like to say the harsh conditions in which I lived in the Soviet Union don't have anything in common with our policy. [unclear 28:38] and there were very harsh conditions, but when one survives them, it becomes an experience and even with positive results. You have seen things. You've learned. This is not any reason for having, let me say, negative attitudes towards Russia. They are hostile, of course, we cannot answer with friendship. Friendship must be mutual. But my own experience in Soviet concentration camps and Soviet prison, they were quite harsh [unclear 29:20].
I: In the early period of the Zionist movement, many thought that Zionism, the establishment of the Jewish state, would bring an end to anti-Semitism.
I: Bring an end to anti-Semitism.
Yes, that was Herzl's idea.
[unclear 29:46] Herzl wrote so about a Jewish state would bring an end to anti-Semitism. To a certain extent, it did. Not completely.
I: I wonder if I could ask you to, in a philosophical sense, analyze anti-Semitism as a phenomenon. Jabotinsky spoke of the anti-Semitism of things, objective anti-Semitism. What, in your view, is anti-Semitism today?
Of course, there are anti-Semites in the world.
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