The Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem is a national commemoration project for the words, deeds and achievements of one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
The Begin Center is modeled on the style of an American presidential library with a museum telling the story of Begin’s life and career through a combination of dramatic reenactments and original film footage. The museum highlights his lifelong commitment to the safety and survival of the Jewish people, the security and flourishing of the State of Israel, and the principles of democracy and the rule of law. The Center also houses a comprehensive archive comprising documents and historic records covering every chapter of Begin’s life, and runs educational workshops and courses on topics such as leadership and democracy. Every week, even during these recent months of restrictions, the Center hosts public events in Hebrew and English. (The great many lectures and discussions held on Zoom are recorded and can be viewed on the Begin Center YouTube channel.)
Now, the Begin Center is taking its mission one stage further.
On Sunday, 6th June, the Center is hosting the inaugural Begin Symposium, the first of what will be an annual event, examining Begin’s legacy and its lessons for Israel and the Jewish people today. The Symposium has been preceded by a series of virtual webinars, held on Zoom and broadcast on the Center’s YouTube channel. (Some the webinars in this series have also been shown on the American Jewish television network, the Jewish Broadcasting Service.)
President Reuven Rivlin, who has described Begin as his political tutor, will open the Symposium. There will also be welcome addresses from Herzl Makov, the CEO of the Begin Center, and from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Mr. Hoenlein is one of American Jewry’s most prominent and longstanding activists; he knew Menachem Begin personally and very much admired his integrity and his commitment to the unity of the Jewish people.
Other speakers include the award-winning author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, who was greatly influenced by Begin as a young man growing up in New York; former member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who will talk about her views on Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and how they connect to Begin’s legacy; and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who will focus on Begin’s moral, Jewish-infused leadership.
The date of the Symposium is not incidental. It falls a day short of the 40th anniversary of Operation Opera, Israel’s bombing raid over Iraq that destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor. It was one of Begin’s most momentous decisions as prime minister – and one of his toughest calls, with opposition from international allies including the United States and accusations of recklessness from political opponents in Israel. Ten years later, fighting Iraqi forces in Kuwait, the United States would thank Israel for denying Saddam Hussein nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, in Israel, Begin’s decision has been enshrined in Israeli national security policy as the Begin Doctrine, which simply states that no country committed to Israel’s destruction will be allowed to acquire the means to carry out that threat.
Although the Symposium is not focused generally on the bombing of Osirak, the anniversary serves to remind us of Begin’s post-Holocaust worldview, which took threats to the Jewish people seriously, his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and his decisive and principled leadership.
Next year, the Begin Symposium will be held as an in-person event at the Begin Center, with subsequent symposiums held annually in the United States and Israel alternately.
This year’s inaugural event will be open to a worldwide audience via Zoom, with registration available from the Begin Center website.