Yesterday we presented the deliberations of the cabinet on Sept. 28, 1982, when the decision was made to appoint a commission of investigation into the events at Sabra and Shatila, two weeks earlier. Our post was based upon this newly declassified transcript from that meeting.
Here's a short discussion which took place during the meeting, which offers a glimpse at the intensity of emotions in Israel at that moment - and also at the power of society to shape how people see the world. In the immediate aftermath of the massacres, PLO spokesmen inflated the number of civilian victims to 6,000, a neat little symmetry with Nazi crimes which was lost on no-one; anti-Israeli demonstrators in many countries were denouncing Israel for being like the Nazis. In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the slur was being used in a very different way. Minister of Labor Aharon Uzan, who was born in North Africa and represented the Tami party of religious Sephardis (a precurser of the later Shas party) was explaining why the gigantic anti-government demonstration which had just been held in Tel Aviv had been a bad thing, but holding a pro-government demonstration was also a poor idea:
I think holding a counter-demonstration will cause an even larger conflagration. We hear what happened to the radio station's van in Mahane Yehuda [the central open-air market in Jerusalem, and a bastion of Begin's supporters]. I heard from a dignified elder Sephardic man that some of the rowdies shouted at him "It's too bad Hitler didn't kill you all". A Jew shouted that at a fellow Jew! My friend is light-skinned, so they thought he must be Ashkenazi.
Dr. Yosef Burg [who had escaped Nazi Germany in his youth]: I have the unfortunate honor of informing you that 96% of the magnificent [sephardic] community of Salonika were murdered by the Nazis.
Uzan: I was held in a Nazi labor camp [in Tunisia]. Had they been given two more weeks, they would have murdered us.
Mordechair Ben Porat [born in Iraq]: In Libya they sent Jews to camps, including camps in Europe.
Uzan: My point was to illustrate how tense the atmosphere is in the country at the moment. The government's task is to calm things down, not fan the flames.