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Matzpen and the story of two ads

A strange historical coincidence had it that on the same day, September 22, 1967 – three months after the Six-Day War, with most of the Israeli public still intoxicated with euphoria – two very different political ads were published in Israeli dailies. One came from the most radical and demonized group in the political fringes, while the other was a product of the most respected members of the elite.

In Yedioth Ahronoth, 57 of the leading cultural figures in Israel signed a petition that read:

The Land of Israel is now in the hands of the Jewish people, and just as we don’t have the right to give up the State of Israel, we are ordered to hold to that we received from it: the Land of Israel. We must be loyal to the wholeness of our land, to the past of the Jewish people as well as to its future, and no government in Israel is entitled to give up this wholeness.

The names under this delusional text included some of the oracles of Israeli society, including leading centrist Labor figures, like poet Nathan Alterman and author Haim Guri (a reminder to those who think that the roots of the Israeli colonial messianism are in the religious right). S.Y. Agnon, the only Israeli to win the Nobel Prize for literature, was also among the list of names (*).

The signatories to the Haaretz ad, on the other hand, were completely unknown to the public. Many of them had been members of the radical political party Matzpen, which was established in 1962 by four former members of the Communist Party. In 52 words, they summed up the history of the decades to come. It ain’t no prophesy, just common-sense:

Our right to defend ourselves from annihilation doesn’t give us the right to oppress others. Occupation leads to foreign rule. Foreign rule leads to resistance. Resistance leads to oppression. Oppression leads to terrorism, and counter-terrorism. The victims of terrorism are usually the innocent. Holding onto the occupied territories will make us a nation of murderers and victims (Hebrew: “murderers and those who are being murdered”). Let’s leave the occupied territories now.

Matzpen ad in Haaretz, 22.9.1967


Akiva Orr, co-founder of Matzpen, died last weekend. Truth can lie with a tiny (“radical”) minority.

(*) I translated the Yedioth ad, taken from Nitza Erel’s Matzpen: Conscience and Fantasy (Resling, 2010)

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    1. Kolumn9

      So can delusions.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      If the ad were true, all belligerent occupations would be unjust and unwise. But that’s an absurd conclusion. So the argument, in its overbearing, abstract generality, is clearly invalid.

      There were (or could have been) good, reasoned arguments against the occupation in 1967. But these are necessarily particular not general, concrete not abstract. Arguments that weigh the good and bad of this particular occupation at this particular time and place.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        That’s a very astute comment.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Western occupations of defeated Germany and Japan were designed to end. They were undoubtedly belligerent at first; but, unlike the Soviets in Germany, were made to exit, gambling a better world for the residents. I am certain there were many in the US opposed to reconstruction; but distance dilutes anger. Israel has not had that luxury.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron Gross

      The Matzpen ad is frightening in its abstraction, its lack of concreteness. The Whole Land of Israel ad is frightening in its abstraction as well. “[L]oyal to the wholeness of our land” – how could a poet or a novelist sign on to such a horrible abstraction?

      Reply to Comment
      • Our words are not ours; they form us as much as we form them. A novelist or poet might seem isolate, but they are not. To say one’s reason for picking up the pen has gone too far–a child denouncing the father, and father denouncing the child, in one man.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Poets and novelists work in abstractions as part of their professions. If you had asked how a mathematician or scientist could sign something so abstract you would have a better question. In either case still humans regardless of their background think in abstractions. Think of either nationalists or humanists or religious people. All levels of abstraction. People and groups (abstractions all) just go bouncing from one to another. Those who don’t think in abstractions are considered not normal.

        Reply to Comment