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The speech that wasn’t aired live

Eliezer Shkedi, commander in chief of the Israeli Air Force from 2004-08
Eliezer Shkedi, commander in chief of the Israeli Air Force from 2004-08. Credit:

I don’t want to write about Benny Gantz’s momentum. Why not? Because of what was already said here about Avi Gabbay’s momentum. Here are a few tidbits I pulled out of my computer archives this week:

Mazal tov! Israel has a newborn opposition party. And everyone’s talking about it.” (The surveys were giving Gabbay 24 mandates, 24 Knesset seats.) “Gabbay has identified all the hottest ingredients in the Israeli salad—ethnicity, Judaism, Arabs, the disputed territories—and put them all on his message board. It’s a credible mix.”

“Avi Gabbay is leaving his plough marks all over the Land of Israel. For the past hundred days he’s been traveling, visiting and speaking, mainly in places where they don’t vote Labor.”

I also found the cliché, “Something new is beginning.” It wasn’t long ago that wrote all that. So what happened? And what might happen to Gantz as well? Experts explain that binge-watching has become popular today because people no longer have the patience to wait. We want it all right now, so we can finish it to the last drop and move on to the next thing. The Gabbay binge is over; the voters have cast him aside so they can focus on their new addiction, Gantz, until they finish the season. Only in this case, the season may end well before April 9.

* * *

The seasoned military man stepped up to the podium, started speaking and impressed the whole audience. I’m not talking about Gantz, but about Reserve Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, who spoke at a recent lecture day held in memory of Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno.

“I want to speak about four things,” he said, “all of which I learned from my father. The first thing is acceptance and love. Abba was a Holocaust survivor. After the war, he went back to his village in Hungary and waited there nearly two years for someone to return.

“After two years, he realized the following inconceivable thing: I am alone in the world. He was about your age,” Shkedi said to the cadets of Training Camp 1 in the audience. “Try to imagine it. The entire family murdered in Auschwitz, and he came on aliyah alone. There was this amazing thing he used to say: ‘I can’t understand the way they try to divide us.’ I feel at home with every Jew.

“When I was appointed as commander of the air force,” Shkedi continued, “I called a meeting with the air-force chief rabbi, Rabbi Rami Ravad, and I told him I wanted us to do a project with the haredim. What’s a haredi? It’s the father or grandfather of everyone sitting here. They didn’t fall down from the moon. And by the way, let’s make no mistake here: On the way to the crematoria, they didn’t ask what kind of kipah you wore or didn’t wear. So we really ought to find a way of living together. So together, we started Shachar Kachol, a project to bring haredim into the air force. The project was duplicated in other branches of the Israel Defense Forces, and it became a success. How do you know when your project is succeeding? When your biggest opponent claims it was all his idea … ”

The audience laughs, and Shkedi explains, “One morning Rabbi Ravad called me and said, ‘The senior commander of General Headquarters was just talking on the radio, the guy who said, “This project will open over my dead body.” And he said it was his idea!’

“The second subject is values,” said Shkedi. “My father had values. I don’t know you, but I can say this about you with certainty: There is not one man or woman here in this auditorium who, in a fierce war against terrorists, wants to kill random women and children who aren’t terrorists. How do I know? Because this is our culture. At the beginning of my tenure as air-force commander, we killed many who were not involved in terror. The ratio was 1-1. For every terrorist we killed, we also killed a non-terrorist. I worked to reduce the number of non-terrorists killed, and we succeeded. When I retired from my post, the ratio was 24-1. For every 24 terrorists, one non-terrorist was killed. I’ve been asked why this was so important to me. I will tell you why. They cannot defeat us by force. They can only do one thing to us: make us be like them. They want to kill our women and children, and as soon as we think it’s legitimate to do that to them, they win. We definitely want to target whoever we must. Anyone who knows me, knows it’s not a good idea to be someone I want to target. Most of them aren’t around to talk about it … ”

* * *

Shkedi’s third subject was leadership. “There’s no such thing as a part-time leader,” he said. “You have to lead all the time. If I had to come into this room and tell you just one thing, it would be this: Personal example is everything, and I mean everything. You can talk, tell stories and say fine things, but none of it is relevant. What matters is what we do. Act the way you would like others to act. They are watching you.”

He ended his speech with his fourth subject, seeing things in correct proportion, and it was a lesson that resonated, especially during these days when everyone is labeled as an instigator and an enemy of democracy and the people. The country will go down the drain with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, they tell us, or it will go down the drain if anyone takes his place.

Shkedi provided a bit of balance: “Once,” he said, “I was invited to a dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres for the president of Hungary, and I invited my father, too. On the way there, my father said to me, ‘Do you realize what is happening here? You don’t get it at all. I, Moshe Mendel Shkedi, am in a car going to Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I am traveling with my son, who is the commander of the air force of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.’ That was the title he gave me, that’s what he used to call me. …  ‘And I am going to meet the president of Hungary, a country where, 65 years ago, our lives were worth less than the life of a dead dog. The president of Hungary doesn’t know yet that he’s going to apologize to me this evening … and you know what? If someone had said to me 65 years ago, dream the most amazing dream you can possibly think of, the craziest, wildest dream you can imagine, there’s not a chance in the world I would have dreamed even one little part of what I just described to you as reality.’

“My father was right. Everybody sitting here is part of a miracle.”

“We were in the biggest catastrophe of our history, and now we’re in the biggest miracle of our history—a democratic Jewish state with stunning achievements in every area. Well, except for sports, but that will come some day. … Ah, and if you’re wondering whether the president of Hungary ever did apologize to my father, that means you didn’t know my father. There wasn’t any alternative.”

Eliezer Shkedi, Eliezer ben Moshe Mendel Shkedi, stepped down from the podium to the sound of loud, lengthy applause. No survey was taken the next day, and no mandates were counted up, but I think that during these days of campaigning, this is a speech worth listening to.

Translated from the original Hebrew by Yocheved Lavon.


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