What challenges shake the foundations of the modern Zionist project?

Date29 November 2020
Published date29 November 2020
Publication titleJerusalem Post, The: Web Edition Articles (Israel)
The apartment is one of several that the Meridor family own in the building on a quiet street in this leafy and pleasant Jerusalem neighborhood. Meridor's mother Raanana, a 98-year-old retired professor of classics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, lives in another.

There is nothing to indicate, as you walk past this unpretentious house, that it has served as the base for one of the more remarkable careers on record in Israeli public life. A particular detail that seemed to me to characterize something of the nature of this unusual man and his family is the intercom at the entrance. One might expect, at the very least, a finely painted or engraved card detailing something of the status of the inhabitants. A former deputy prime minister, after all, who served as finance minister and justice minister is resident here. There is none of that. Instead, on a scrap of paper taped next to the intercom, is written in biro in scrawled Hebrew script: Dan and Liora Meridor in the way that students who rent accommodation in Rehavia tend to record their presence.

Status, display, the trappings of power or influence are not of interest to Dan Meridor and his family.

This modesty, however, should not be permitted to deceive. For four decades, Dan Meridor, now 73, has dwelled at or close to the inner sanctum of Israeli policymaking at the highest and most sensitive levels. His career encompasses membership in two tangentially overlapping but distinctive elites: the first is the leadership group of the Herut movement and Revisionist Zionism – from which the current ruling Likud Party emerged, and specifically the 'Fighting Family' – those who took part in the underground war against Britain in the 1940s and their descendants.

The second is a more inchoate and less tangible gathering – consisting of those officials and former officials, politicians and former politicians, generals and former generals, who collectively form what might be called Israel's national security and policy establishment. People who, having worked at the very highest levels of policy, never really retire – but remain through formal and informal channels close to the heart of affairs in Israel.

This ultimate insider status notwithstanding, Meridor is today deeply concerned about the direction of public life in Israel. Indeed, he cautions, that the country is currently embarked on a course that, unless diverted, could mean the historic defeat of the Zionist project in modernity.

Entering public life, Begin's cabinet secretary

Meridor, on his father's side, is the scion of an Eastern European Jewish family deeply rooted in the Zionist trend established by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. His father, Eliyahu Meridor, commanded the Irgun Tsvai Leumi (National Military Organization) in Jerusalem and played a prominent role in its successful insurgency against the British Mandatory authorities in the 1930s and '40s, going on to serve as a Knesset member for Menachem Begin's Herut Party, before dying at the age of 52.

Recalling his childhood in Rehavia, Dan Meridor displays none of the bitter memories sometimes encountered among veterans of this movement, remembering the days of Labor domination in Israel. These are not the Revisionist refugees depicted by Amos Oz recalling his childhood in the Kerem Avraham neighborhood of Jerusalem in A Tale of Love and Darkness – excluded from advancement, forced into constricted lives by their affiliation with the "wrong" party. Rather, the Meridors seem from the start to have successfully combined membership of Jerusalem's academic and legal elite with a staunch commitment to the Herut movement.

"On Tisha Be'Av, we would go to Mount Zion," Meridor recalls, "and read Eicha (Lamentations) with candles in a dark hall. We would meet people there – the poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg and...

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