Uri Dan’s Famous Phrase

By Philologos

Published February 16, 2007, issue of February 16, 2007.
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I srael, as you may have heard, has a new justice minister, law professor Daniel Friedmann, who has replaced acting justice minister Tzipi Livni, who replaced former justice minister Haim Ramon, who was just convicted by a Jerusalem court of an “obscene act” for kissing a young female soldier against her will. Ramon had charged that he was the victim of a frame-up by elements in the police and judicial system opposed to reforms he wished to institute, a claim with which Friedmann, who is known for his strong criticism of Israel’s judiciary, reportedly sympathized — all of which led political commentator Yossi Verter to write in the pages of last week’s daily Ha’aretz:

“Paraphrasing Uri Dan’s famous comment about Ariel Sharon, one wag declared yesterday: ‘Whoever didn’t want Ramon as justice minister got Daniel Friedmann.’ Compared to Friedmann, Ramon was a puppy dog. He threatened a few reforms and occasionally went a little wild, but he did no real harm [to the judicial system]. Friedmann’s potential to cause damage is incomparably greater.”

This may lead you to ask these questions: Who was Uri Dan, and what was his comment about Ariel Sharon?

Dan, who died two months ago at the age of 71, was a well-known Israeli journalist and biographer of Sharon, to whom he was personally and politically close ever since being attached to his paratroop battalion as a young combat reporter in the 1956 Sinai Campaign. When, in 1972, Sharon, then a general, resigned from the army because he had been passed over for the position of chief of staff, Dan predicted in the newspaper Ma’ariv, “Whoever doesn’t want him [Sharon] as chief of staff will get him as defense minister.” This prophecy was fulfilled nine years later, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin appointed Sharon minister of defense.

Sharon served as defense minister for only two years before he was ousted, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, for alleged negligence in the massacre of Palestinians by a Christian militia in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Dan, who defended Sharon’s role in this incident, then made a second prediction, writing, “Whoever doesn’t want Sharon as defense minister will get him as prime minister.” Although this time it took nearly twice as long for Dan’s words to come true, in the year 2000 Sharon was elected prime minister.

Yet long before Sharon’s electoral victory, Dan’s first prediction had acquired proverbial status and was being copied in the form of the Hebrew expression “Whoever doesn’t want X will get Y,” meaning, He who is unwilling to accept a lesser evil will end up having to accept a greater one. Thus, for example, in the 1980s, when the government of Yitzhak Shamir rejected overtures from King Hussein of Jordan to reach a peace agreement on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, a frequent criticism on the Israeli left was, “Whoever doesn’t want Hussein will get Arafat.”

Needless to say, this, too, came to pass at the time of the 1993 Oslo agreement, as did the warning, issued by dovish detractors of Israel’s handling of relations with Arafat in the years following Oslo, “Whoever doesn’t want Arafat will get Hamas.” And, going one step further, veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery darkly prognosticated last year, after Israel’s decision to boycott the newly elected Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority: “Whoever doesn’t want Hamas will get Islamic Jihad.”

Let us hope that Avnery at least, proves wrong. Meanwhile, the “whoever doesn’t [or didn’t] want X will get Y” formula continues to prosper. A few recent examples are:

“Whoever didn’t want him as chief of staff will get him as a literary character.” (Israeli journalist Amos Harel writing about a new novel in which the hero is based on Dan Halutz, the recently resigned commander of Israel’s army in last summer’s war against Hezbollah.)

“Whoever didn’t want him in Ribu’a Kahol [The Blue Square, an Israeli supermarket chain] will get him in Supersol [another Israeli supermarket chain].” (The Hebrew business newspaper Globes on Matthew Bronfman, whose bid to buy The Blue Square was rejected.)

“Whoever didn’t want him at night will get him at six in the evening.” (A remark made about Israeli talk-show moderator Gabi Gazit, reportedly in danger of being fired because of his high salary.)

“Whoever didn’t want us in Blich High School will get us in the Knesset.” (The lawyer for Green Leaf, a pro-marijuana party that was barred by a court from running its own candidate in a high school election in Tel Aviv.)

It can be about anything. Not long ago, while having dinner at the house of friends, I witnessed the mother of the family trying to persuade her recalcitrant son to eat his mashed potatoes. “Whoever doesn’t want potatoes will get spinach,” she said to the stubborn child. Uri Dan didn’t know what he started.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com.

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