Hours before meeting with US special envoy Anthony Zinni last
Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sprinted up to the
stage of the Jerusalem Theater to thunderous applause. He thanked
the audience, taking special care to acknowledge the soldiers in the
house. Then, bending over a podium, he began reading in a booming
voice. Soon Mr. Sharon was totally immersed in "Song of the Great
Mind," by the late Jewish ultranationalist poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.
As the prime minister read, he raised his voice to stress a line
that condemned the small-minded and fearful. He emerged from the
work after a few minutes and shared reminiscences about Mr.
Greenberg, who died in 1981, in a warm and friendly voice.
"I have to apologize," Sharon said. "Unfortunately, I have a long
night ahead and I have to go. I would prefer being here."
Greenberg, who advocated Jewish control of the area from the Nile
to the Euphrates, has long been recognized as a leading poetic voice
by academics. Scholars of his work cite his powerful expressionism
and linguistic innovations. He is also considered to have written
brilliant lyric poetry. But amid Israel's confrontation with the
Palestinians, and the heavy casualties and psychological toll it is
taking, Greenberg is now being publically presented as the poet of
the hour by, among others, Sharon, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, and
the hawkish army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz. The celebration of an
ultranationalist writer is viewed as a way of boosting morale by the
Israeli right. And it offers a window into the goals - and possibly
dreams - of the country's leadership.
"These are exactly the issues of today," Sharon told the crowd
after reading the opening verses of the poem, published in 1947.
Hebrew literature specialists say the verses Sharon chose glorify an
expansionist Israel, including what is today Jordan (the mountains
"The poem is saying keep dreaming of your historic destiny, do
not compromise for small dreams, have a long breath," says Avner
Holtzman, director of the Katz Research Institute for Hebrew
Literature at Tel Aviv University. "It will take time, but [control
over all the territory] will come."
For proponents of Greenberg's viewpoint, "Song of the Great Mind"
and other poems translate today into a call to keep fighting in what
the Israeli right views as the battle for Eretz Yisrael (Greater
Israel), including the land it terms Judea and Samaria and the
"His poems provide encouragement, they speak of the strength and
power of this nation, they give it power to believe in itself and
they say that it is worthwhile to suffer for the goals of the Jewish
people," says Geula Cohen, director of the Uri Zvi Greenberg
Heritage Society and a former member of Knesset.
Greenberg, born in 1894, grew up in Poland, and immigrated to
Palestine in 1924. Influenced by a massacre by Palestinians of the
Jewish community in Hebron in 1929, he joined the nationalist
Zionist Revisionist Party, which advocated a Jewish state on both
sides of the Jordan River. During the late 1930s he warned in his
poems of imminent danger to European Jewry, and Cohen says that
Greenberg's writing was seen as inspirational by members of the
ultra-nationalist Irgun Zvai Leumi and Lehi militant movements. …