ISRAEL'S WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY
By Moshe Phillips
The recent passing of William F. Buckley, Jr., America's most influential right-wing public intellectual, brings to mind the Jewish State's public intellectual, Dr. Israel Eldad. Eldad, like Buckley, was a newspaper columnist, author and magazine publisher known for his sharp wit, brilliant command of language and unwavering dedication to right-wing ideals. Eldad died in 1996 and will perhaps be recalled by most Israeli historians as one of the three commanders of the underground organization known as the LEHI (the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and shared the leadership of the LEHI after the assassination of Avraham "Yair" Stern by the British army, but he was much more.
Born Israel Scheib in Poland in 1910, Dr. Eldad was a graduate of the Vienna Rabbinical Seminary and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Vienna. While a student he joined Menachem Begin as part of the leadership of the Betar movement. In 1938 he met Avraham Stern through Betar.
After leaving Warsaw, during the Nazi invasion, Dr. Eldad and his wife shared an apartment with Menachem Begin and his wife in Vilna. Dr. Eldad arrived in the British Palestinian Mandate in 1941 and promptly joined the LEHI soon becoming a member of the LEHI high command. Another member of the three man high command was Yitzhak Shamir. In 1944, while attempting to escape arrest by the British Army, Eldad was badly injured and was captured.
After two years of British imprisonment he escaped and resumed his activities in the underground. Throughout the LEHI's revolt against the British, Dr. Eldad crafted the ideology of the LEHI, edited its underground newspapers and acted as its chief propagandist.
After the emergence of the State of Israel, Dr. Eldad concentrated on ideological activities. He began publication of the ideological magazine Sullam which provided a unique perspective on the cultural and social problems of the new Jewish State and was known for its sharp criticism of the Israeli government. As Buckley did with the National Review, Eldad provided right-wingers with a distinctive publication to nurture their writing talents and share ideas.
On orders from David Ben-Gurion, acting in his role as Minister of Defense, Eldad was banned from teaching in government schools. Even after having won a Supreme Court case he could not find a teaching position. He found work as an editor for the publishing arm of Mossad HaRav Kook in Jerusalem. Eventually Dr. Eldad held positions on the faculties of the Technion in Haifa and Beersheba University.
He published a volume of memoirs about his experiences in the underground entitled Maaser Rishon (First Tithe), as well as a series of historical and philosophical studies on the Bible. He also produced the (Jerusalem) Chronicles: News of the Past, a fascinating and highly innovative history of Israel and the Jews using a daily newspaper format. Eldad translated much of Nietzsche's writings into Hebrew. His best known book published in English is The Jewish Revolution: Jewish Statehood (1971, re-issued by Gefen in 2007). Eldad became a frequent columnist for the daily newspapers Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot in the aftermath of the Six Day War.
Buckley was a central figure in the formation of Young Americans for Freedom and Eldad too saw the vital importance of working with young people and was the driving force behind an Israeli student group called the National Cells.
There is little doubt that Bill Buckley would not have become a household name if not for his position as host of the PBS television program Firing Line for 33 years. Broadcast television networks in Israel were owned and tightly controlled by Israel's Labor Party led government for nearly thirty years and Eldad was never given the electronic mass media platform that Buckley was.
At the time of his death the Likud party issued an official statement calling Eldad the "spiritual father of the Hebrew Revolution, who groomed generations of fighters toward the realization of and dedication to the love of the people and the land."
Likud, however, had long since abandoned the ideas of Dr. Eldad. Eldad stated at the 1938 Betar international convention in Warsaw that "...only a Don Quixote believes there is any morality in politics." So Eldad never entered big party politics, even as his friends and colleagues Begin and Shamir went on to each become prime minister. Eldad never accepted a position in the Israeli government. He remained loyal to the ideas of Stern and the LEHI. Israel Eldad never stopped advocating that the entire Jewish People must return to the Jewish State. A Jewish State that encompasses all of Greater Israel with its capital in a fully rebuilt Jerusalem. A Jerusalem that has the rebuilt Holy Temple at its center.
Eldad was barely over five feet tall, bespectacled, and had a receding hairline even in his early thirties. He had the gentle appearance of a stooped shouldered scholar more comfortable in a library than in a prison. Yet when he had no choice he willingly became an underground leader dedicated to liberating the Jewish Homeland. Eldad's son is Member of Knesset Arieh Eldad of the National Union / National Religious Party and he has recently joined in starting the new Hatikva Party.
Dr. Israel Eldad has left an indelible imprint on the Jewish People. Our own and future generations were immeasurably enriched by his long and fruitful career. We should pray that his example and teachings endure, enlighten and inspire for generations to come. One can only imagine the impact Eldad would have had if the Israeli government elites had not censored and banned him. Given the opportunity to work free of government interference, as Bill Buckley was in the United States, Eldad's impact could have changed history to the extent that Buckley's did. Tragically, Israel's censoring and banning of the right goes on.
Moshe Phillips is a member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for a Safe Israel / AFSI. The chapter's new website is at: www.phillyafsi.com