Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Mints Ultranationalist Hero ; This Week Israeli Schools Began Lessons on Rehavam Zeevi, an Advocate of Expelling Palestinians

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Mints Ultranationalist Hero ; This Week Israeli Schools Began Lessons on Rehavam Zeevi, an Advocate of Expelling Palestinians

Article excerpt

The high school students listening to principal Arik Wurzburger's lecture may not have realized it, but they were participating in the creation of a new Israeli hero.

Rehavam Zeevi, assassinated a year ago by Palestinian militants, was regarded almost to the end of his life as an extremist for his anti-Arab views. But now, with a push from the government, and amid the charged emotions generated by war and terrorism, he is taking on new life after death. His call for "transfer," a euphemism for a mass expulsion of Palestinians, is now embraced by an estimated 20 to 30 percent of Israelis.

A battle over Mr. Zeevi's legacy came to a head this week when some, but not all, schools offered lessons about his "heritage" in keeping with a government recommendation.

Pitting a small but vocal left-wing opposition against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's national unity coalition, the debate over Zeevi's legacy offers a window into a larger contest over Israel's identity.

Nationalism versus compromise

Those promoting Zeevi's legacy control the Ministry of Education and other government institutions and identify themselves with a Jewish nationalism of territorial expansion and power. Those rejecting his ascent to hero status identify themselves with territorial compromise with the Palestinians and humanistic values, concepts under fire after two years of fighting.

At the Light of the Torah High School in Israeli- annexed East Jerusalem, Mr. Wurzburger told the religious pupils, many of whom identify themselves as "transfer" supporters, that Zeevi's "political views are controversial."

Wurzburger took no position on the issue. The important thing to mark, the principal said, was that an Israeli minister had been murdered.

He stressed that like the Bible's Joseph, Zeevi should be admired for his intimate tie to the land of Israel. "Every section of the land was a part of him," he said.

Attentive silence greeted this opening of a new page in official Israeli history.

Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister and architect of the Oslo peace process, who was assassinated by a Jewish fundamentalist in 1995, is the only other leader to be designated by the education ministry for class discussion. In Mr. Rabin's case, the occasion is mandatory, and entails a full day of assemblies and activities, giving stress to the need for tolerance and education in democracy.

Zeevi's roles were many: an underground fighter from the same generation as Rabin and Mr. Sharon before the founding of Israel, a general who commanded the occupied West Bank, a counterterrorism adviser and director of the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

He was best known, however, as the person who, as the head of the Moledet [Homeland] party, turned the idea of expelling Palestinians into a political platform. …

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