Media Watch: The ‘Romance’ Of The Irgun


Even if liquor had as much to do with it as love, all children want to feel that they are the result of a romantic union rather than sleazy circumstance. All the peoples of the world prefer the romantic version of their national birth, as well. And yet, with the intensification of the war on Israel’s legitimacy, comes a related salvo: Israel, alone among the nations, is to be denied the romantic version of its birth; Israel, these critics say, was born in sin — an alien people engaging in terror — and in sin remains.

Which brings us to The New York Times Sunday magazine (June 25), and the quick and often light Q & A column by Deborah Solomon. Last week she interviewed Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition.

Solomon: “Your parents were among the country’s founders.”

Livni: “They were the first couple to marry in [the newly independent] Israel. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.”

Solomon: “It was a more romantic era.”

Stop right there. At the blog “,” Daniel Tencer noted that “a Times reporter” called “Zionist terrorism ‘romantic,’” proving “the media has a ‘double standard’ when it comes to terrorism.”

Imagine, writes Tencer, Livni “boasted that her parents, both members of the Zionist militant group Irgun … were the first couple to be married” in Israel.”

What exactly is the problem here? CLAL’s Rabbi Brad Hirschfield said, via e-mail, “Appreciating that war should never be romanticized does not require denying that romance occurs even in the midst of war.”

However, Philip Weiss, at the oft-cited Mondoweiss blog, argues that the Irgun’s crimes were monumental: “Remember that the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel, killing 90-odd civilians, and ethnically-cleansed Deir Yassin and later Jaffa, where Palestinians were literally forced into the sea.” Israel, of course, disputes just about everything in that sentence.

Writes blogger Matt Duss at ThinkProgress: “What’s amazing here is not only does Solomon neglect to challenge Livni’s characterization of her parents’ membership in a terrorist group as ‘freedom [fighters]’ Solomon herself volunteers further assistance in the whitewash. … Can you imagine any mainstream American journalist performing this service in regard to Hamas terrorism? I doubt it.”

What’s revealing here is that Livni is “the good Israeli.” She favors a two-state solution and settlement contraction, and leads the opposition to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Solomon is no right-winger either. Yet the leftist bloggers would deny even Livni and Solomon any momentary romance about Livni’s parents, the Irgun and the founding of the state.

“All successful countries romanticize their founders,” said Jonathan Sarna, via e-mail. “The Sons of Liberty,” during the America revolution, “were quite similar to the Irgun, engaging in violence against the British and occasionally against those who supported them in order to bring about independence. Romanticizing the Irgun is, to my mind, little different from romanticizing the Sons of Liberty or romanticizing the French Revolution or romanticizing Garibaldi. All four had unlovely aspects to them, which we overlook given their success. None of them, unlike contemporary terrorists, deliberately targeted civilians to effect political ends.”

Sarna defines terrorism as “the deliberate targeting of civilians to effect political ends,” so, “by my definition the Irgun was not terrorist at all. It did not deliberately target civilians; indeed, it tried mightily to avoid targeting them. In the case of the blowing up of the King David Hotel, it always claimed to have sent multiple warnings, which were ignored. Nothing remotely similar can be said of real terrorists who believe that targeting civilians is the road to heaven.”

Two years after the King David bombing, the Irgun fought the battle at Deir Yassin, where (according to Bir Zeit University) 107 Palestinians civilians and 13 Arab soldiers were killed, although newspapers first reported 250 civilians killed. Four Irgun soldiers were killed; 37 wounded.

At Deir Yassin, explained Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, “bystanders were killed.” Because of Israeli “political rivalry reasons, many accepted the Arab exaggerated atrocity claims about Deir Yassin — although recent scholarship has raised considerable doubt that it was an atrocity.”

CLAL’s Rabbi Irwin Kula said, “Certainty tends to be the enemy of both compassion and insight and it seems that if we are ever going to ‘resolve’ the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we will need heavy doses of both.” The Irgun “was more like a terrorist organization than the right would like to believe and less of a terrorist organization than the left would claim.”

Who was the Irgun, anyway? According to the website of Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs (MFA), the Arab pogroms of 1929, led to the creation of the Irgun for self-defense when it was felt that the British weren’t fulfilling their mandatory responsibilities. The Irgun was inspired by Zev Jabotinsky, and led in the 1940s by Menachem Begin.

Aside from Livni, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, presidential adviser Rahm Emanuel and J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami all had parents in the Irgun. The one word they each would have associated with the Irgun would not have been “bombings” but “hadar,” Jabotinsky’s code of Jewish pride, a physical and spiritual elegance, all the more inspiring at a time when the Nazis were depicting Jews as vermin, and American Jews were gripped by insecurity.

The MFA credits the Irgun for “bringing 6,000 illegal immigrants” to the pre-state Yishuv. In 1944, when Auschwitz and Treblinka were smoking around the clock, and the British wouldn’t relent on immigration, the Irgun declared “the revolt.” According to the MFA, “this revolt took the form of a series of attacks on [British mandatory] government buildings.” Soon after the notorious Black Shabbat, when the British raided Zionist offices and made numerous arrests, the Irgun retaliated against the most important government building of all — the King David Hotel, the British military headquarters.

Said Rabbi Greenberg, “Like all human activity, the creation of the state was not morally perfect [but] the definition of ‘moral’ is not ‘spotless.’ On balance, was the Zionist behavior responsible, restrained, consciously trying to maximize defense and safety while minimizing Arab casualties and suffering? Yes.”

In the end, “that the British would not have left if the Jews had not fought with them is now clear, so the Irgun contribution is not deniable. Still, the Irgun never decided or descended to a policy of [civilian-targeted] terrorism. All these attempts at moral equivalence are morally pernicious attempts to legitimize Islamic terror and/or to delegitimize Israel, preparing the moral framework for attempted genocide. It is utterly reprehensible to cloak attempted genocide with ‘moral’ cover.”