Requiem for Sini, and for the Labor Party

Gershom Gorenberg

My new piece on the Labor Party is up at The American Prospect:

Sini died. My son spotted the square black-bordered obituary notice deep inside the newspaper. It was placed by Sini’s kibbutz. It referred to him as “Sini,” his nickname — “Chinaman” in loose translation, politically incorrect today but accepted when he got the name, somewhere so far back in the previous century that no one is around to remember when it happened. The nickname referred to his eyes, which had the Tartar look that occasionally occurs among Jews of Eastern European ancestry. The ad gave his real name, Arnan Azaryahu, in parenthesis. It said nothing of what he’d done in life. Those who need to know, know — those who were high up in the movement, the underground, the party. The death notice mirrored how he lived, between understatement and secrecy.

I was surprised by my own surprise at his death, and by how sad I was. When I interviewed Sini five years ago about the history of Israeli settlements, he was already 87. He spoke for four hours, with a deep voice and a clear memory, never getting out of the chair in the tiny kitchen of his kibbutz apartment, a few hundred meters from the Lebanese border — an old, slightly slumped man in the Spartan frontier dwelling of another era. I’d been told to go to him by those who remembered him as the shadowy aide of the Yisrael Galili. Galili’s official title in the 1960s and 70s was minister without portfolio; his actual job was advising three Labor Party prime ministers — Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin — on defense policy and party intrigue and quietly (always quietly) orchestrating settlement in the occupied territories. For me, Sini was a living connection to the inner sanctum of Labor in its days of power.

Read the rest here; come back to SoJo to comment.