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Israel Studies 10.3 (2005) 104-126

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"Beyond the Pantheon"

Bereavement, Memory, and the Strategy of De-Legitimization Against Herut

Drawing upon Hobsbawm's explorations of the invention of tradition, this study illustrates the ways and means by which Israel's Mapai party, which dominated the State's political institutions during its first three decades, formulated ritualized frameworks for bereavement and commemoration of the military dead. Two objectives infused state remembrance of the fallen: a conscious effort to associate Mapai, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, with glorious military and political events for which so many made the supreme sacrifice; and pari passu, a deliberate attempt to remove its chief political rival, Herut, from any recollection or participation in this aspect of public memory. Remembering and forgetting were an inextricable part of the forged historiography.

Methodical exclusion through a selective remembrance of the war dead and wounded was also a leading tactic in the framework of a general policy designed to delegitimize Mapai's main political rival. On the other hand, the reactive behavior of Herut confirms research descriptions of marginalized groups which, ousted from the perimeters of state memory, attempt to re-gain entry and through this effort attain political legitimacy for their historical claims.

Legitimacy, Public Image, and State Memory

The legitimation accorded to the government, claims Hobsbawm, is a product of historical accretion derived "not [from] what has actually been preserved in popular memory, but [from] what has been selected, written, pictured, popularized, and institutionalized by those whose function it is to do so."1 [End Page 104]

In this understanding, historical memory is a resource that fashions political behavior and orientations of the wider public about the present and future. Azaryhahu, a student of contemporary cultic behavior in developed societies, emphasizes that the legitimacy accorded rulers enables them to continue holding on to the reins of government contingent upon the extent to which the population has internalized the constitutive mythologies which serve the rulers.2 The production of myths is an effective and necessary praxis of what he defines as 'public rationality'. This praxis entails grasping and organizing facts (or quasi-facts) to make one internal, solidifying whole in whose framework the supremacy of the political power is proven.

Historical myths have a contemporary importance that not only contributes to increasing the past power of a political entrepreneur in the pages of historical studies, but also contributes to his present power. Rather than assigning the creation of myths to the public, it is historical myths that foster and structure the behavior of the public. In Durkheim's terms, they become 'political facts', acquiring a semi-objective presence and engendering civil behavior.3 This approach is adopted in Liebman and Don-Yehiya's study on the formation of civil religion. According to them, civil religion is based on "stories" in which the determinant role resides with the "story preparer" who fabricates a "story" intended above all to justify the existence of structure and social stratification within whose framework he enjoys preferred status and power.4

Political elites and hereditary rulers have always used history as a legitimating device to uphold their standing. In the earliest times, institutionalized myths were recited or staged which connected the ruling dynasty to the ruling forces in the universe through divine ancestry. In the secular, modern age, the age of the nation-state, history replaced divinity and was mobilized to grant political legitimacy to its formulators. In nationalist history, groups and actors are identified as responsible for the national project or as those who bore the principal burden for its attainment. This will grant their acknowledged successors the privilege for a larger share of government. Because of this, there is no reason to grasp terms such as "national memory" as embracing all individuals and groups constituting the nation, or "cult of the fallen" as relating to all those who fell in battle, but rather as a selective project, strictly devised, to advance claims of hegemony. Groups whose bereavement was shunted aside and excluded from the national...