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Israeli Politician Eliav Takes a Sabbatical; Labels Harvard a 'Breath of Pure Oxygen'

By William E. Mckibben

At home in Israel, where Jewish settlers continue to migrate to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the political battle between the country's hawks and doves rages.

But in Coolidge Hall 413, Arie Lova Eliav, a veteran of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) and a leader of his country's peace movement, sits at a small desk, reading, writing and getting ready to teach.


And Eliav's enjoying his break. "Politicians everywhere should take a sabbatical, just the way people from academia do," Eliav, who resigned his Knesset seat to come to the Center for International Affairs, says. "Professors need a year every seven to recharge their intellectual batteries. That is even more true of politicians, who can become more locked in, more parochial and self-centered."

Time Warp

"When I started in sociology at Hebrew University, it was light years from today," Eliav declares. "A Congressman who learned economics 20 years ago is hopelessly out of date today." But catching up on new ideas is only one of the reasons which prompted Eliav to come to Harvard.

"President Truman said if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. All politics is kitchens, and Harvard is like a breath of pure oxygen," he says.

The kitchen of Israeli politics, however, is never far from Eliav's thoughts. Yesterday, for example, he condemned the Israeli government's recent decision to encourage Israelis to settle in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.


"I am dead set against it. I have been campaigning against settlements for the last ten years. Now, more than ever, while we are negotiating with the Egyptians, we should put a moratorium on new settlements," he explains.

Eliav, former secretary-general of the Israeli Labour Party and later chairman of the "Sheli" or peace movement, states his solution to the Palestinian question in simple terms: "I am for halfing the loaf," he says. "We have all the loaf now--we should give the Palestinians their land and let them determine what they want, once they have recognized the state of Israel and agreed to live side by side."

"We want security," Eliav adds, "but we should not subjugate the Palestinian Arab people by force, because it will erode us. Ruling over another does more harm to the ruler than to the ruled."


Eliav, who served in the Jewish underground from 1936-40 and later smuggled refugees out of Europe, says he understands why many of his countrymen want to hold on to the West Bank. "Jews in general have a right to traumas. They have been through seven wars and the Holocaust, and suspicions run very, very deep."

But he says the peace movement is growing, perhaps large enough to challenge for control in Israel's 1981 elections: For his part, Eliav will stand for his old seat the year after he returns from Harvard.

And although government has been his life, Eliav will re-enter the political arena with some misgivings. "It's a cruel, cruel game, far crueler than football or boxing," he says. "You'll find out in the next year's elections in this country."

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