Growing Grass Roots Movements for and Against Begin’s Peace Plan

A burgeoning grass roots peace movement urging the government to modify its policies and a counter-movement supporting Premier Menachem Begin’s peace plan are emerging in cities and towns all over Israel. The growing controversy followed a massive “Peace Now” rally in Tel Aviv last Saturday night which Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich denounced, saying it “stank of a military putsch” because the reserve officers who sponsored the demonstration styled themselves “officers for peace.”

The reservists demanded that Ehrlich apologize for his “undignified attempt to deal with criticism of the government” and the Finance Minister has come under a storm of criticism from writers, journalists and various youth groups.

He refused to apologize, and, today, Rafi Farber, secretary of Likud’s Liberal Party wing of which Ehrlich is a leader, issued a statement likening the “Peace Now” slogan to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” statement after the Munich conference in 1938.

But black and red “Peace Now” signs are proliferating on billboards and vehicles and petitions declaring “Better Peace than a Greater Israel” are being circulated by “peace pickets” on busy comers and are getting many signatures.

Meanwhile, a counter-slogan, “Secure Peace” has become the rallying cry of Begin’s supporters. More than 2500 students at Tel Aviv, Bar Ilan and Beersheba universities have signed petitions backing the government.

The initiators of the counter-movement are also reserve officers. They informed Begin of their intentions but reportedly were advised by him not to campaign as reservists because it would be unseemly for two groups of Israeli war veterans to oppose each other as such. Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin said today that the use of the term officers for or against government policies was unfortunate because it created the impression that military officers were engaged in political activity. Member of the reserve are civilians unless called to active duty.

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