These days government ministers, journalists and assorted self-appointed experts, who should know better but don’t, are debating how we can apologize to Turkey without really apologizing. And for what? So that Mr. Erdogan can spit in our faces yet again?
Turkey demands not only that we apologize for killing the IHH terrorists who tried to murder our soldiers on the Mavi Marmora, but that we pay them damages and cancel the naval blockade of Gaza. For all this they say they will consider returning their ambassador to Israel.
In response, some of our “brilliant” leaders like Ehud Barak, say we must apologize and pay damages because we need Turkey more than they need us. We need them to refrain from filing vexatious lawsuits all over the world against our Ministers, generals, officers and soldiers. All this is a pipe dream. Why?
1. The Turkish government has no control over who files these lawsuits, even if they wanted to, which they don’t. Anti-Israel individuals and NGO’s will continue to file them no matter what the Turks say or do and Tzippi Livni will still not be able to visit England without being arrested.
2. Even worse, an apology will be taken as evidence that these lawsuits are legitimate. If Israel is not wrong, why did we apologize?
3. Anyone not convinced of Israel’s guilt by our apology will be convinced by the damages. If we were not at fault, why would we pay the families of the dead terrorists?
Thus, rather than make Israel’s situation better, an apology and payment of damages will make it much worse. But, say the “brilliant” leaders, we won’t really apologize we’ll just say we’re sorry. Unfortunately, an apology by any other name smells and acts the same; as the following true story will show.
In the spring of 1956, when I was earmarked to become head of the Betar Zionist Youth movement in North America, I was sent to the World Zionist Congress and World Conventions of the Herut-Revisionists and Betar in Israel, so that I could meet the movement leaders and they could become acquainted with me. At the time, I was 21 and a first year law student at Columbia Law School. In order to attend the Congress, I had to take three weeks off from school just before the final examinations. I went to consult the Assistant Dean who asked me where I thought I would learn more law during those three weeks. I happily answered, “In Israel”.
The year 1956 was a period of great tension with constant Arab terrorist raids going on. At that time the terrorists were called “fedayoun.” The dean said to me, “Don’t get shot,” and I left for Israel.
When Menachem Begin spoke to the Congress plenary session, he told the delegates that upon their return to their countries they should explain that when Israel would be forced to cross the borders to stop the fedayoun attacks, it would not be aggression, but an exercise of the natural right of self-defense.
The next speaker was Ya’acov Hazan of Mapam, the extreme left wing Zionist party. He said about Begin, “He who calls for war commits a crime against the Jewish people.” Immediately there was pandemonium. If the Chariman of that session had been experienced, he would have demanded that Hazan retract the statement (as was frequently done in the Knesset), and everything would have continued normally. However, he was not experienced and things got out of hand. The Herut delegates kept shouting down Hazan and would not let him continue his speech without an apology. He refused to apologize. The business of the Congress was brought to a stand-still for that entire day and night. Hazan would not yield the floor, but whenever he tried to speak, he was shouted down.
The session was eventually closed at 2:00 A.M. and an announcement was made that the Herut-Revisionist faction would meet immediately. We all trooped upstairs to the faction room. Joseph Klarman, who was our representative to the Presidium of the Congress, reported that a compromise had been suggested that Hazan would finish his speech, and at the end he would say that he did not mean to insult any delegate of the Congress.
The hotheads in the room argued against this compromise because of the timing and the wording. They wanted Hazan to open his continued speech with a much more convincing apology.
At this time I asked to speak. The Chairman, the late Dr. Bukshpan, tried to ignore me, figuring he had enough hotheads and didn’t need a young Betari to further inflame the atmosphere. Eventually he had no choice but to give me the floor. I rose and said, “What are we debating here?” Some of the members did not understand that this was a rhetorical question and tried to explain it to me. I continued, “We are debating the value of the honor of a member of the Herut-Revisionist delegation to the Congress. We have shown the world what value we place on his honor. For an entire day and night we have prevented the Congress from conducting any business because the honor of one of our delegates was insulted.
“Now we must decide. The world of Israel and the Jewish people is burning. Do we want the responsibility at this point for the cancellation of the Zionist Congress?
“No one will pay attention to the exact wording of Hazan’s apology. If we accept it everyone will say, ‘You see, they forced him to apologize.’ If we do not accept it they will say, ‘Despite everything they did, they couldn’t make Hazan apologize’.” At this point I sat down. Joseph Klarman said, “Our young friend Heimowitz has spoken the thoughts that many of us had but did not express. Now let us vote.”
Menachem begin said, “It is not necessary to vote”, and my position was accepted.
On May 31, 1989 Mr. Begin wrote me from his retirement (translation from the Hebrew):
“Dear Mr. Heimowitz,
Thank you for your letter of May 26, 1989. I also remember that incident at the Zionist Congress and I don’t think we were wrong in our reaction to the terrible words of insult which emerged from Mr. Hazan’s mouth.
However, on another occasion Mr. Hazan said that the only thing which unites us is love of Israel. Let us leave it to him to decide where to put the emphasis, on what separates us—or on love of Israel.
So let no one tell us that saying Israel is sorry is not an apology. The entire world will say we apologized and therefore we must have done something wrong, and we should pay for it.
Ehud Barak can tell himself otherwise, but he will be the only one listening.