The Jerusalem Post
Three people who made sharp breaks from their past and took up vastly different ideologies and worldviews recall their transitions
It’s the stuff of which juicy conversation, best-selling books, popular movies and muchhyped reality television shows are made: people born into one world or worldview who make the decision – after “seeing the light” – to cross a chasm and move to the other side.
It could be a former socialist hippie who became a venture capitalist, a haredi woman who became a fashion mogul, or the son of a Hamas terrorist who became a Zionist. We are fascinated by these tales: What prompted the transition? How was it accepted by friends and family? Is the person at peace with this life-altering switch?
Not all transitions are as extreme as the ones above – though those are definitely made for Hollywood. We all know people who have moved from one worldview or religious lifestyle to another, and even if not as dramatic as the examples given here, there is a fascination with them, too.
Those remaining firmly in the world from which the person came often look at the wayward son or daughter as a misguided lost soul, maybe even a traitor, while those on the side toward which the person gravitated see this switching of sides as a form of legitimization of their way of life or ideology, an ability to crow, “See, this proves we are right.”
Three people who made sharp breaks from their past and took up vastly different ideologies and worldviews were featured on a panel called “Changing directions’’ at the annual Katif Conference in Jerusalem this week marking 16 years since the withdrawal from Gaza: author and radio personality Irit Linur, Brig.-Gen (ret.) Amir Avivi and Peace Now activist Shabtay Bendet.
LINUR, ACCORDING to a vicious 2016 profile on her that appeared in Haaretz – a newspaper she once worked for and to which she then very publicly canceled her subscription during the Second Intifada, saying that “its anti-Zionism is often turned into malevolent and stupid journalism” – started out “as a cutting-edge feminist-leftist columnist” in the 1980s.
The author of several novels and a volume of humorous essays, Linur was once very much a part of the secular, Tel Aviv, left-wing milieu. When Army Radio started a show in 1988 called The Final Word, pitting as cohosts a secular left-winger against a religious right-winger, she was enlisted to represent the Left (Uri Orbach was her right-wing counterpart.)
But, in Haaretz’s telling, “sometime in the 1990s she performed an astonishing flip-flop,” and today the sarcastic, funny, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, say-whatever-I-damn-want Linur is firmly ensconced on the Right.
In her telling, however, she didn’t change; it’s the Israeli Left –with which she so identified in the past – that underwent change.
“The Left moved, the Left turned anti-Zionist,” she said, bluntly. She presented Peace Now as an example, saying that what once was an organic Israeli left-wing organization is now a “foreign body, with foreign money; of the money it gets today, some 90% comes from abroad. It is a foreign, anti-Israeli initiative which, if it did not get money from abroad, would have no Israeli members.”
In her brash style, Linur said, “My basic sentiment was and remains very Zionistic: that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people; that we have rights to the land; that Israel is the best country in the world; that Jews [belong to] the best religion in the world, and Israeli Jews even more so; that our cause is just, and even if we are not [always] right, I want to defeat my enemies.”
Linur said that this was, and remains, her worldview, and that four decades ago there was room within the Israeli Left for that perspective. She always realized that “many Arabs live here who have a claim to the land. Their claim never seemed just to me, but I knew the reality that there was a big hostile population that meant we could not build one big Jewish country from the desert to the sea, and that we needed to look at how to deal with that. The solution of my camp – the left-wing Zionist camp – was acceptable to me.”
Once upon a time, she said, she believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a geographical one that could be solved by a few tweaks of the border.
She believes that no more, and said the aftermath of the Oslo Accords is what changed her mind. “After Oslo it was clear that [PLO head Yasser] Arafat did not exactly act like a peace partner.”
She remembered Bennie Begin bringing translations of what Arafat was saying in Arabic to his people after the signing of the accords, and being told – including by some prominent Israeli journalists – not to publicize them, because “it will cause people to doubt the peace process.”
Linur agreed with the statement “I did not change, but the reality changed,” and asserted that “the solutions of the Left, which I agreed to look into and seemed logical, failed.”
AVIVI ALSO attributes his ideological shift to the dissonance between the solutions proffered by the Left and the country’s harsh reality.
“I come from a deeply rooted Mapai household,” said Avivi, whose father, Pini, was a veteran
diplomat whose various postings included ambassador to Colombia, Chile and Turkey, and who was deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s division dealing with the peace process in the late 1990s.
“My grandfather was a Hagana fighter, and my father was a paratrooper in 1967 and one of those who liberated Jerusalem,” he said.
Avivi is the founder of an organization called Habithonistim, made up of former senior security officials who promote a right-wing security agenda and serve as a counterpoint to a similar organization on the Left called Commanders for Israel’s Security. He came out strongly in favor of extending Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
Avivi said that when his political ideas started to change, it caused “difficult arguments” between him and his father. “We had some very hard arguments until we reached a type of compromise. I can say that today he is very proud of the work I have done in Habithonistim. He follows, he reacts; he does not always
agree with my opinion, but in some things, I do see a little movement.”
These disagreements with his father, Avivi said, were difficult for him since “he is someone I admire.”
Like Linur, Avivi said that the failed Oslo process is what changed his mind.
“I voted for Yitzhak Rabin [in 1992] and very much identified with what he said,” Avivi explained, adding that Rabin spoke of autonomy for the Palestinians and the need to forever control security in the West Bank. Avivi said that when he heard the first speech Arafat gave after arriving in Gaza in 1994, he realized there was a disconnect between what was being said and reality.
“I felt a complex dissonance between what was being said in the media and all the excitement that we were all on the way toward peace, and here comes a man who on his very first day said, ‘In fire and blood we will redeem Palestine.’”
Avivi said it took some time before
he realized that an entire public and its leaders were lying to themselves and to others, and that there was no connection between what was happening on the ground and what they were saying.
Avivi said that during this period he was witness to a process that “was troublesome, and continues to this day: Jews blaming themselves for the problems of the Arabs. This is what happens: they fire on us, and we feel guilty. How does that happen? How are we guilty? Every time they fire rockets, I hear from my family that it is because of one reason or another, something that we did. This is an interesting recipe for coexistence: They blame us for everything, and we say we are guilty.”
UNLIKE AVIVI and Linur, Bendet did not transition from the Left to the Right, but rather from the Right to the Left. A man who was raised as a religious Zionist, was one of the founders of the first wildcat settlement, Rehelim, in 1991, became a Chabad hassid after studying with Yitzchak Ginsburgh at the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, is today the director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch division, which tracks
and prepares reports on precisely the types of settlement activity he was actively engaged in a couple of decades ago.
Sitting on the stage with earrings in both ears, two rings on his left hand, and one on the right, Bendet cuts a much different figure than he did in pictures from his Od Yosef Chai days in the late 1990s when he was sporting a black jacket and matching black fedora. Then he looked like someone who might put tefillin on your arm at the central bus station; today he looks like a hipster on his way to a yoga retreat.
Bendet explained that the change of his political ideology was preceded by a change in his religious beliefs: “After a few years I came to the conclusion that I did not believe anymore, and that I was not willing to live a religious lifestyle.” Since his political ideology at the time was intricately tied up with his belief system, when his religious faith dissolved, he decided to also examine his political ideology.
“I felt that I had to look more seriously at my political agenda, because much of what it was based upon was no longer a factor in my life,” he said.
Part of this reexamination took place while he worked covering the territories, first for the Galey Israel radio station, and then for the Walla website.
In 2015, he said, “I came to the conclusion that the path of the Right was not correct, that we are always looking at a lofty goal and simply ignoring the reality on the ground and the price that we are paying as a society for ruling over another people. I came to the conclusion that we need to find a solution and solve the conflict, and not act in the name of some exalted goal like redemption or something like that, and commit so many injustices in order to justify our existence here.”
Bendet’s transition was the most difficult with his children, who he said have remained committed to the settlement enterprise in “all the fibers of their beings.”
In 2017, when he was covering the eviction of settlers from the Amona outpost for Walla, two of his older children – a son and a daughter – were among those who went to the site to protest. He watched his son get arrested after failing to convince him to get up and leave the site on his own volition.
“When one of my sons heard that I was going to work for Peace Now, he said, ‘I wish you success, but don’t wish success for the organization you are going to work for.’ My son loves his father, even though he doesn’t agree with me on anything, certainly not on this issue, but there is still mutual respect on both sides.”
In a personal column Bendet penned for Walla after the Amona evacuation, he wrote: “Most importantly, my dear children, I want to say: I’m proud of you, I’m proud that you’re choosing your way and are willing to fight for it while maintaining clear boundaries for your struggle. I promise I will always be by your side even if we do not always agree and think the same thing.” •