Yesterday the world lost a friend, the Jewish people lost a great man, and Israel lost a great cultural asset. Abie Nathan was one of a relatively small number of Israelis who made a signal contribution to Israel's moral culture, which is more important than our political culture. He is one of those among us who have created one of the great characteristics of Israeli society: the possibility to be decent and to appear decent even in the face of the utmost adversity.
Abie Nathan was not really about politics, any more than Mother Teresa was a politician. He was above politics or perhaps in a different plane, and what he was trying to do was not directly related to political views.
Abie was an original Israeli patriot who came here to volunteer for the Israeli air force in 1948. For many years, he ran his business more or less quietly until he resolved to do something for peace - and to keep doing and not give up. While Nasser was rattling sabers, Nathan ran for the Knesset in 1965 promising to fly to Egypt. He was not elected, but he flew to Egypt anyhow in 1966 and again in 1967, each time being turned away. He tried again and again with commercial flights as well. "Not practical," "a dreamer," "an eccentric" we all said.
The story of modern Israel begins with exactly such futile, determined, "never say die" dedication. The wild eyed Bilu people who came here in the 19th century and the pioneers of the second aliya who came to settle malarial swamps ruled by Ottoman despots were certainly no more "practical." Real Zionism is about deciding what is right first, and then finding the means to implement it, regardless of practicality. Abie Nathan was a real Zionist, who understood what must happen in order for Israel to survive, and sought by every means to make it happen.
Beginning in 1973, his ship, The Voice of Peace, brought a different culture and a different view of Israel to many young listeners, not just in Israel, but in Egypt and Jordan. In his first broadcast, he declared:
''Shalom, salaam and peace to all our listeners. The Peace Ship is a project of the people. We hope through this station we will help relieve the pain and heal the wounds of many years of suffering of the people of the Middle East.''
For the first time, young people in several countries in the Middle East began to think of peace as a positive value, and got the first inklings of the idea that not all Israeli Zionists have horns and tails. Nathan went on hunger strikes to pressure the Israeli government to make concessions for peace with Egypt and to attempt a rapprochement with the PLO. For his contacts with the PLO, he was awarded with jail sentences, only to have Israeli diplomats follow in his footsteps a few years later. When he nearly died during one of his hunger strikes, he asked that his epitaph be "Nissiti" - I tried.
If his political instincts were perhaps not always correct, his heart was always in the right place. Nathan also organized aid to Biafra, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Lebanon and the former Zaire among other countries, and the foundation he created continued to aid disaster victims even after he was silenced by a stroke in 1996.
Critics point out that during the Yom Kippur War Abie Nathan's Voice of Peace broadcast calls to Israeli and Egyptian soldiers to put down their arms. Abie was not stupid, and did not expect that any soldiers would really do as he said. But perhaps they would think about it, and perhaps the world would. To the soldiers under attack his broadcasts may have seemed quixotic and maybe annoying. But Abie no doubt had a different vision. In the end, the same peace was achieved that could have been arranged without the tragic loss of lives. Are we sure that he was wrong?
And suppose that all of Abie Nathan's efforts were really quixotic and needless, and made not the slightest contribution to peace with Egypt and Jordan? And suppose there is really, in the end no hope for peace with the Palestinians? Abie's quest was not about that. It was a moral quest, that needs no practical justification. One man may not be able to do much, but he is morally obligated to do what he can. He must be able to say "Nissiti" - I tried. Isn't "Tikkun Olam" what it is supposedly all about? In this sense, Abie Nathan was one of those unique human beings who should be a universal inspiration to all those who hope for a better world.
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Replies: 2 Comments
To advance peace we must challenge the hate. But this is something all peace activists and movements have failed to. That was the mistake made by Abie Natan and “peace now“, others like the ISM are vessels of hate. And some, like Michael Lerner of Tikkun don’t know when they do and do not know that they should care to know.
While Abie’s Humanitarianism is undisputed, his approach to peacemaking is another matter. Because at the end, all of what he did for peace never went beyond the level of gimmicks. And gimmicks have a very limited affect.
Dvar Dea, Monday, September 1st
I respect a person, who puts himself on the line for his convictions, even when I strongly disagree with its reasoning which was flawed. But he paid the price for his hubris and for that he gets my respect. But you have no idea how confusing and demoralizing that man’s messages were to us in the front in 1973, Ami you make very short work of the morale damage he did in those horrible weeks, and don't kid yourself those who met the Egyptians in the field in those days knew quite well by their behavior that Nathan's message if heard at all by them only emboldened them. His messages with the music were classic Disneyesque Pollyanna which had no bearing to what was the reality of the conflict, that even today you still don't get it. Nathan tried and I commend him for having put it to the test, even though he taught me at the cost of my idealism and sheared my heart to the reality that I escaped by the hairs on my head. By your eulogy you are showing me that you have not learned a darn thing from Abby’s test! You remind me of the academics who scream to hell with reality of results they can't be right, reality just doesn't appreciate my wonderful theory.
Your Eulogy is so hurtful to me and I believe to many of my achim, it would have been more fitting to have given a frank assessment of the man's dedicated convictions and the results they actually wrought, instead you've eulogized his dream and really made his life forever synonymous with failure.
, Friday, August 29th
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