Israeli officials should restrain their treasonous rhetoric

The latest outrageous outburst by Arab Knesset member Azmi Beshara, who endorsed a united front to destroy Israel in Damascus, in the presence of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the head of Hezbollah, must under no circumstances be ignored or swept under the carpet by the government.

Since the loathsome assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the word "treason" has been erased from the Israeli political lexicon. In the overheated world of Israeli politics, that was probably all for the good.

But the time has now come to look at it again. We are at war. This is not a conflict with a country situated thousands of miles from here — such as the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It is an existential struggle in which Israel remains the only country in the world whose right to exist is still challenged.

A country at war that fails to shore up civilian morale and unite the home front is in great peril. During the Second World War, Britain — the most democratic nation in the world — took decisive steps to neutralize a potential "fifth column" by detaining and arresting all who were remotely suspected of supporting the Nazis; the message was that enemies from within would not be tolerated.

Could anyone visualize Oswald Mosley or other pro-Hitlerites retaining a parliamentary role during that war? Would the British have tolerated media propaganda criticizing the war effort while British blood was flowing? Absolutely not.

Yet in Israel, Beshara's outburst was not an isolated incident. Following the Tel Aviv suicide bombing, an Arab member of the Knesset, designated as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's adviser on Israel affairs, had the chutzpah to broadcast from Ramallah to CNN and the BBC, warning the Israeli government not to respond to the killings. Arab parliamentarians axiomatically call on their constituents to support the Palestinian cause in the struggle against Israel. Some pay tribute to terrorist "martyrs" and repeatedly visit Damascus and pay homage to the Assad dictatorship.

The majority of Israeli Arabs are law-abiding citizens. But they are under considerable pressure to conform to the inflammatory incitement orchestrated by their parliamentary representatives. In this environment, it is not surprising that some of them were involved in violent riots and a few even participated in terrorist activities.

This is an unpleasant subject that we avoid discussing openly. But if the treasonable actions of Arab parliamentarians are not curtailed, the problem will intensify and Israeli Arabs will be stereotyped as "fifth columnists." That would be a tragedy.

In order to reverse these trends, the government must urgently introduce tough, new legislation to restrain any member of the Knesset from promoting treason, while simultaneously intensifying efforts to raise the social and economic level of the Arab community.

Unfortunately, the Arab aspect is only one dimension of the problem. Recently, the opinion columns of Ha'aretz seem to be dominated by post-Zionists and apologists for Arafat, focussing more on the suffering of the Palestinians than on those of their own people. With Israelis being murdered almost every day, it is unprecedented for mainstream media groups to encourage defeatism and disunity.

When Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister who preceded Winston Churchill, finally realized that his policy of appeasement was in fact encouraging Adolf Hitler to make more demands, he resigned. Could anyone visualize Chamberlain or any of his former supporters blaming Churchill for having started the war, or providing tactical advice to England's enemies? That is precisely what is happening now in Israel.

The former minister of justice, Yossi Beilin, whose utopian vision of peace turned out to be a cruel illusion, behaves as though nothing has changed and ignores the fact that the electorate overwhelmingly rejected his views. In what many regard as obscene behavior, he advises Arafat on tactics to adopt in relation to Israel. He travels abroad and encourages the United States and European governments, and other political bodies, to take a tough stand against the policies of the national unity government. He continues to blame Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for unleashing the intifada and urges the world and diaspora Jews to continue to accept Arafat as our only partner. Beilin is supported in these activities by a number of other Knesset members.

In a democracy, there are no easy solutions to these highly sensitive issues. But they are too important to be swept under the carpet. No nation, facing an existential struggle, can tolerate such a state of affairs.

The government should appoint a broadly based committee to review the situation and provide recommendations for a voluntary code of conduct designed to enhance morale and encourage a sense of unity.

Such a committee should also be encouraged to examine the legislation introduced during the war against Nazism in Britain and the United States, and learn from the mistakes and excesses that occurred then.

Measures of this kind can only be considered during the term of a national unity government, which would embody a broad consensus and minimize the danger of undermining democratic institutions. Even in the absence of practical results, a broad public discussion would at least create an awareness of the gravity of the problem.