Oy McVey

From the Irv Rubin Bust to the Stern Gang: The Rich History of Jewish Terrorism

The Germans declined to take Stern up on the offer, but Stern held out hope as his organization continued to engage in terrorism against the British. After Stern died in a shoot-out with British police in 1942, his mantle was picked up by future Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. Still, the Israeli underground focused on the British as the greatest of all evils, and on November 6, 1944, Lord Moyne, the British minister for Middle East affairs, was assassinated in Cairo by Eliyahu Beit-Tzuri and Eliyahu Hakim—both members of the Lehi, who were later arrested, convicted, and hanged. After the state of Israel was established, the Lehi, displeased with what it considered the too pro-Arab views of the Swedish UN-appointed mediator for Palestine, assassinated him; on September 17, 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte—who, as a neutral diplomat in World War II, had saved thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps—was shot and killed by Lehi assassins, along with French colonel Andre Serot, the senior UN military observer, whose wife's life had been saved by Bernadotte.

The Bernadotte assassination was so outrageous that the nascent government of David Ben-Gurion had little problem disbanding the Lehi (though none of the assassins were ever brought to justice). Yet, despite this history of terror, the Israeli Ministry of Defense underwrites museums commemorating the Stern Gang and the Irgun—which, under Menachem Begin, bombed the British headquarters at the King David Hotel in 1946, leaving 90 dead and 45 wounded (with 15 Jews among the casualties). Like Lehi, it wasn't until 1948 that the Irgun was forced out of existence, after its arms-transport ship, the Altalena, was blown up by the provisional Israeli government—a point analysts like Ibish say bears remembering.

"There are streets named after the assassins of Moyne and Bernadotte. They are historical figures not disavowed by the rhetoric of the state of Israel, nor is there any reflection on the fact that two terrorist leaders later became distinguished leaders of the republic," Ibish says. "And now people are saying that Arafat must have his Altalena." Ibish adds that Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, "never moved against the Irgun and the Stern Gang until after the state was established and secured, which is definitely not true in the case of the Palestinian Authority. Essentially, the Israelis are asking the Palestinians to do something they themselves refused to do."

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