Forum: Åpent

-Are you a Zionist?

Uri Avnery
January 31, 2015

MANY TIMES people ask me: “Are you a Zionist?”

My stock answer is: “Depends on what you mean by Zionism.”

This is quite sincere. The term Zionism can mean many different things. Like the term socialism, for example. Francois Hollande is a socialist. So was Joe Stalin.

Any resemblance?

WHEN I was young, there was a joke making the rounds in Germany: “A Zionist is a Jew who asks a second Jew for money in order to settle a third Jew in Palestine.” My father was such a Zionist. That was before the Nazis came to power, or course. I suspect that this definition applies nowadays to many American Zionists.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, did not really want to go to Zion, a hill in Jerusalem. He did not like Palestine at all. In the first draft of the Zionist Bible, Der Judenstaat, he proposed Patagonia as the preferred site of the Jewish state, because of its mild climate. Also, because it was sparsely populated after a genocidal campaign by Argentina.

When the movement turned towards Zion, Zionism still meant many different things to different people. Some wanted the country to become merely a spiritual center of the Jews. Others wanted it to become a socialist Utopia. Others wanted it to become a nationalist bastion based on military force.

The renewal of the Hebrew language, which has become such an integral part of our lives, was not a part of the Zionist project at all. Herzl, whose initial ambition was to become a great German writer, thought that we would speak German. Others would have preferred Yiddish. The fanatical desire to rejuvenate Hebrew came from below.

Even the desire to found a Jewish State was not unanimous. Some ardent Zionists, like Martin Buber, dreamed of a bi-national state, half Arab, half Jewish. “Practical” Zionists wanted to fulfill the Zionist dream by patient settlement in the country, “Revisionist” Zionists wanted to achieve at once an international “charter”.

Religious Zionists want a state based on and dominated by the Jewish religion. National-religious Zionists believe that God has sent the Jews into “exile” because of their sins, and wanted to compel God by their deeds to send the Messiah now. Atheist Zionists declare the Jews are a nation, not a religion, and want nothing to do with the Jewish faith.

And so on.

SO WHAT does Zionism mean nowadays? The word is bandied about in Israel without much thought. Almost every party wants to be seen as Zionist and brands its adversaries as anti-Zionist – a deadly accusation in Israeli politics. Only small minorities at the edges decline the honor. Communists on one side, ultra-Orthodox on another. (These believe that it is a great sin to go back to the Land of Israel in large numbers without God’s express permission.)

For many Israelis, Zionism means nothing more than Israeli patriotism. If you want Israel to exist as a “Jewish state” (whatever that means) you are a Zionist. Also, you have to believe that Israel is a part of the world-wide “Jewish people” and its leader, a kind of command-center. In up-to-date terminology: “the Nation-State of the Jewish people”.

In a deeper sense, Zionism may mean the profound belief that all the world’s Jews will eventually come to Israel, either by their own free will or driven here by anti-Semitism. The inevitable victory of anti-Semitism in each and every country is taken for granted. Therefore any real or imagined anti-Semitic wave – like the present one in France – is greeted with secret satisfaction (“We told you so”).

WHERE DO I stand?

A few years before the foundation of the State of Israel, a group of young people in this country, mostly artists and writers, declared that they were not Jews, but Hebrews. They were nicknamed “the Canaanites”.

Their gospel was that the Hebrew-speaking young people in this country were not a part of the world-wide Jewish community, but a separate new Hebrew nation. They wanted nothing to do with the Jews. Some of their announcements sounded positively anti-Semitic. They conceived the Hebrew nation as a continuation – after a brief interval of a few thousand years – of the original pre-Biblical Canaanite people. Hence the nickname.

Four years later I founded another group, nicknamed the “Struggle-Group”. We also proclaimed that we were a new Hebrew nation. But contrary to the Canaanites we acknowledged that this new nation was a part of the Jewish people, much as the Australians, for example, are a part of Anglo-Saxon culture.

We also contradicted the Canaanites on one other crucial element of doctrine. The Canaanites denied the existence of an Arab nation or nations. We not only recognized Arab nationalism, but declared that the Arab nation was the natural ally of the Hebrew nation in the creation of a new Semitic Region.

Soon after, Israel was founded. 40 years ago, in a libel case, I was asked by the judge to define my attitude towards Zionism.

In response I invented the term “post-Zionism”. The Zionist movement, I testified, is a historic movement with incredible achievements – a totally new society, an ancient-new language, a new culture, a new economy, new social models like the kibbutz and the moshav. But Zionism also performed grievous wrongs, especially to the Arab Palestinian people.

However, I said, this is history. With the creation of the State of Israel, Zionism has fulfilled its role. Israeli patriotism must replace it. Like scaffolding that is dismantled once the new building is finished, Zionism has outlived its usefulness and should be discarded.

This is my belief today, too.

THE WHOLE question has come up again now because of the decision of the new combined election list of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s group to call itself officially “the Zionist Camp”.

On the pragmatic level, this is a clever move. The Rightist parties almost always accuse the Left of being unpatriotic, even traitorous, a fifth column. In our case, the Left is being accused of being anti-Zionist. So it makes sense for a new combined list to call itself Zionist. Not “a” Zionist party, but “the” Zionist party.

(By the same logic, a very moderate French party once called itself the “Radical Party”, the word “democratic” has appeared in the official names of several communist countries and the German fascists called themselves “National-Socialists”.) Being sure of their hard-core adherents, they hope the misnomer will attract votes on the fringes.

One negative practical aspect of the name of the Labor list is that it automatically excludes the Arab citizens. For Arabs everywhere, Zionism is the synonym of evil. Zionism took away their country, Zionism expelled the Arab Palestinians and carried out the Naqba, Zionism today discriminates against the Arab citizens of Israel in all spheres of life.

However, very few Arab citizens voted in the recent past for the Labor Party anyhow, and these don’t care either way about Zionism as a name. All Arab political forces in the country, including the Communist Hadash party which has a number of Jewish members, united this week in a common Arab list, and are expected to harvest almost all the Arab votes.

(This, by the way, is one of the ironies of Israeli politics. The “Israel Our Home” party of Avigdor Lieberman, which some consider fascist, wanted to evict the Arabs from the Knesset. Noting that none of the three Arab lists achieved 3.25% of the votes, they enacted a law that raised the threshold for entering the Knesset to this level. As a result, all the Arab parties, which detest each other, united in a common list that may reach 10% and more.

Apart from the Orthodox, this will be the only self-styled anti-Zionist party. Everybody else, from the far-right national-religious Jewish Home party to the far-left Meretz, declare themselves staunch Zionists.

So it’s quite a coup that Herzog and Livni ran away with the coveted label.

-Political drone attack

Uri Avnery
January 24, 2015

THERE USED to be a joke about a sadist and a masochist.

“Hit me! Beat me! Kick me!” the masochist pleads with the sadist.

The sadist smiles a cruel smile and slowly answers: “No!”

THAT, MORE or less, reflects the situation on our northern border at this moment.

Two Israeli drones have bombed (or missiled) a small Hezbollah convoy, a few miles beyond the border with Syria on the Golan heights. 12 people were killed. One was an Iranian general. One was a very young Hezbollah officer, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a very high-ranking Hezbollah officer who was also killed by Israel, some seven years ago, in a Damascus car explosion.

The killing of the Iranian general was perhaps unintended. Seems that Israeli intelligence did not know that he, and five other Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, were in the convoy. An Israeli army officer admitted this in a roundabout way. A second officer denied the statement of the first.

He did not apologize, of course. One cannot apologize when one does not officially admit to being the perpetrator. And, of course, Israelis do not apologize. Never ever. Indeed, one far-right party in the present election has turned this into an election slogan: “No apologies!”

The intended victim of the attack was the 25-year old Jihad Mughniyeh, a junior Hezbollah officer whose only claim to fame was his family name.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the killing, the question arose: Why? Why now? Why at all?

The Israeli-Syrian border (or, rather, cease-fire line) has been for decades the quietest border of Israel. No shooting. No incidents. Nothing.

Assad the father and Assad the son both saw to this. They were not interested in provoking Israel. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which started with a huge Syrian surprise success and ended with a complete Syrian defeat, the Assads wanted no new adventure.

Even when Ariel Sharon attacked Lebanon in 1982, the Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon did not intervene. But since one of Sharon’s war aims was to drive the Syrians out of Lebanon, he had to open fire himself to get them involved. That adventure ended with a Syrian success.

Any intention Bashar al-Assad might ever have had to provoke Israel (and it seems that he never had any) vanished when the Syrian civil war started, more than four years ago. Both Bashar al-Assad and the various rebel factions were fully occupied with their bloody business. Israel could not interest them less.

SO WHY did Israeli drones hit a small convoy of Assad’s allies – Hezbollah and Iran? It is very unlikely that they had any aggressive intentions against Israel. Probably they were scouting the terrain in search of Syrian rebels.

The Israeli government and the army did not explain. How could they, when they did not officially admit to the action? Even unofficially, there was no hint.

But there is an elephant in the room: the Israeli elections.

We are now in the middle of the election campaign. Was there, could there be, any connection between the election campaign and the attack?

You bet!

TO SUGGEST that our leaders could order a military action to increase their chances in an election borders on treason.

Yet It has happened before. Indeed, it happened in many of our 19 election campaigns till now.

The first election took place when we were still at war. David Ben-Gurion, the war leader, won a great election victory, of course.

The second election took place during the fight against the Arab “infiltrators”, with almost daily incidents along the new borders. Who won? Ben-Gurion.

And so on. In 1981, when Menachem Begin ordered the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, somebody dared to suggest that the action was connected with the upcoming Knesset election. This gave Begin the opportunity for one of his greatest speeches. Begin was an outstanding orator in the European (and very un-Israeli) tradition.

“Jews!” he addressed his audience, “You have known me for many years. Do you believe that I would send our gallant boys on a dangerous mission, where they could be killed or, worse – fall into the captivity of these human animals – in order to gain votes?” The crowd roared back “No!”
Even the other side played their part. The Egyptians and Syrians launched their surprise attack on Yom Kippur 1973 in the middle of the Israeli election campaign.

After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, his heir, Shimon Peres, also faced an election campaign. During his short regency, he managed to start and lose a war. He invaded Lebanon and during the fighting a UN refugee camp was bombed by mistake. That was the end of the war and of Peres’ reign. Binyamin Netanyahu won.

WHEN LAST week’s killing was announced, the country and the army were requested to prepare for war.

Along the border, tension spread. Massive troop deployments took place. Armored brigades moved north. “Iron Dome” anti-missile batteries were positioned near the border. All the media prepared the public for instant revenge actions by Hezbollah and Iran.

That’s where the joke comes in. Netanyahu fully expected Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, to bomb Galilee in retaliation. Nasrallah just smiled one of his enigmatic smiles.

Revenge? Sure. But not just now. Some other time, perhaps. Some other place, too. Maybe in Bulgaria, where Israeli tourists were killed to avenge Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. Or even in Argentina, where the prosecutor investigating the destruction of two Israel-Jewish centers was found shot this week (by himself or by others.) The bloody attacks in Buenos Aires, 20 years ago, were attributed to Hezbollah and Iran after another Israeli action in Lebanon.

So why doesn’t Nasrallah avenge the drone action now? When you count on an enemy’s revenge action, it is very frustrating when it doesn’t come on time.

TO UNDERSTAND this, one must review the election campaign.

It is being waged by two large blocks – the right-wing led by the Likud and the center-left led by the Labor party. The left has gathered unexpected momentum by uniting Labor with Tzipi Livni’s little faction, and now, incredibly, has overtaken Likud in the polls. Aside from the two blocks there are the Orthodox and the Arab citizens, who have their own agendas.

The two main blocks sail under different flags. Likud and Co. sail under the flag of Security. The public believes that Netanyahu and his allies are more trustworthy when it comes to war and keeping our army big and powerful. The public also believes that Labor and its allies are more effective when it comes to the economy, the price of housing and such.

This means that the outcome will be decided by which side succeeds in imposing its agenda on the campaign. If the campaign comes to be dominated by the issues of war and fear, the Right will probably win. If, alternatively, the main issue is housing and the exorbitant price of cottage cheese, the Left has a chance.

This is not a matter of particularly acute perception, but of general public knowledge. Every missile launched by Hezbollah or Hamas will be a missile for Likud. Every day of quiet on the borders will be a day for Labor.

IT WAS therefore quite obvious to many Israelis that the sudden flair up on the northern border, caused by an unprovoked Israeli attack that makes no sense, was an election ploy by Netanyahu and his companions.

Many knew. But nobody dared to say so. The political parties were afraid of being seen as stabbing the army in the back. Accusing Netanyahu of risking a major war in order to win an election is a very grave matter.

The Labor party published a lame statement supporting the army. Meretz kept quiet. The Arab parties were busy with creating a united Arab list. The Orthodox couldn’t care less.

Gush Shalom, of which I am a member, prepared to publish an unequivocal accusation.

And then the silence was broken from a totally unexpected quarter.

General Galant gave an interview in which he squarely accused the government of warming up the northern border for election purposes.

Galant? Incredible!

Yoav Galant was the chief of the Southern Command during the cruel Molten Lead campaign. After that he was appointed by Netanyahu as the new army Chief of Staff. But before the appointment could be consummated Galant was accused of expropriating public village land for his palatial home and had to back out. I always considered him an out-and-out militarist.

Two weeks ago, Galant suddenly reappeared on the stage as candidate No. 2 on the list of Moshe Kahlon’s new center party with no ideology except bringing down prices.

Galant’s statement caused an outcry, and he quietly retracted it. But the deed was done. Galant had opened the gate. A horde of commentators stormed through it to spread the accusation.

The campaign may never be the same again after Galant’s gallant deed.

-Netanyahu unfit to be PM of Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu, serving as Israel´s prime minister since 2009, his third term, is “unfit for the job”, according to the leading leftwing newspaper Haaretz. In today´s editorial they analyse the situation, blaming him for turning Israel into a pariah state, with the following conclusion:

“… the dramatic change Netanyahu is talking about won’t happen if the person in charge remains someone unable to bravely deal with the difficult problems facing Israel, primarily the Palestinian issue. A 47-year-old occupation of millions of people is intolerable. A responsible prime minister must force a genuine effort to end this tragedy. For three terms as prime minister, Netanyahu proved he has neither the ability nor the intention to solve the problem, choosing instead the tactic of “managing the conflict,” which means stalling for time without action. Israel cannot allow itself another four years of stalling for time.”

You´ll find the complete editorial here

-With Bibi in the first row, campaigning

Uri Avnery
January 17, 2015

THE THREE Islamic terrorists could have been very proud of themselves, if they had lived to see it.

By committing two attacks (quite ordinary ones by Israeli standards) they spread panic throughout France, brought millions of people onto the streets, gathered more than 40 heads of states in Paris. They changed the landscape of the French capital and other French cities by mobilizing thousands of soldiers and police officers to guard Jewish and other potential targets. For several days they dominated the news throughout the world.

Three terrorists, probably acting alone. Three!!!

FOR OTHER potential Islamic terrorists throughout Europe and America, this must look like a huge achievement. It is an invitation for individuals and tiny groups to do the same again, everywhere.

Terrorism means striking fear. The three in Paris certainly succeeded in doing that. They terrorized the French population. And if three youngsters without any qualifications can do that, imagine what 30 could do, or 300!

Frankly, I did not like the huge demonstration. I have been in many demonstrations in my time, maybe more than 500, but always against the powers that be. I have never participated in a demonstration called by the government, even when the purpose was good. They remind me too much of the late Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and worse. Not for me, thank you.

But this particular demonstration was also counterproductive. Not only did it prove that terrorism is effective, not only did it invite copycat attacks, but it also hurt the real fight against the fanatics.

To conduct an effective fight, one has to put oneself first into the shoes of the fanatics and try to understand the dynamic that pushes young local-born Muslims to commit such acts. Who are they? What do they think? What are their feelings? In what circumstances did they grow up? What can be done to change them?

After decades of neglect, that is hard work. It takes time and effort, with results uncertain. Much easier for politicians to march in the street in front of the cameras.

AND WHO marched in the first row, beaming like a victor?

Our own and only Bibi.

How did he get there? The facts came out within record time. Seems he was not invited at all. On the contrary, President Francois Hollande sent explicit messages: please, please don’t come. It would turn the demo into a show of solidarity with the Jews, instead of a public outcry for the freedom of the press and other “republican values”. Netanyahu came nevertheless, with two extreme rightist ministers in tow.

Placed in the second row, he did what Israelis do: he shoved aside a black African president in front of him and placed himself in the front row.

Once there, he began waving to the people on the balconies along the way. He was beaming, like a Roman general in his triumphal parade. One can only guess the feelings of Hollande and the other heads of state – who tried to look appropriately solemn and mournful – at this display of Chutzpah.

Netanyahu went to Paris as part of his election campaign. As a veteran campaigner, he knew that three days in Paris, visiting synagogues and making proud Jewish speeches, were worth more than three weeks at home, slinging mud.

THE BLOOD of the four Jews murdered in the kosher supermarket was not yet dry, when Israeli leaders called upon the Jews in France to pack up and come to Israel. Israel, as everybody knows, is the safest place on earth.

This was an almost automatic Zionist gut reaction. Jews are in danger. Their only safe haven is Israel. Make haste and come. The next day Israeli papers reported joyfully that in 2015 more than 10,000 French Jews were about to come to live here, driven by growing anti-Semitism.

Apparently, there is a lot of anti-Semitism in France and other European countries, though probably far less than Islamophobia. But the fight between Jews and Arabs on French soil has little to do with anti-Semitism. It is a struggle imported from North Africa.

When the Algerian war of liberation broke out in 1954, the Jews there had to choose sides. Almost all decided to support the colonial power, France, against the Algerian people.

That had a historical background. In 1870, the French minister of justice, Adolphe Cremieux, who happened to be a Jew, conferred French citizenship on all Algerian Jews, separating them from their Muslim neighbors.

The Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) tried very hard to draw the local Jews to their side. I know because I was somewhat involved. Their underground organization in France asked me to set up an Israeli support group, in order to convince our Algerian co-religionists. I founded the “Israeli Committee For A Free Algeria” and published material which was used by the FLN in their effort to win over the Jews.

In vain. The local Jews, proud of their French citizenship, staunchly supported the colonists. In the end, the Jews were prominent in the OAS, the extreme French underground which conducted a bloody struggle against the freedom fighters. The result was that practically all the Jews fled Algeria together with the French when the day of reckoning arrived. They did not go to Israel. Almost all of them went to France. (Unlike the Moroccan and Tunisian Jews, many of whom came to Israel. Generally, the poorer and less educated chose Israel, while the French-educated elite went to France and Canada.)

What we see now is the continuation of this war between Algerian Muslims and Jews on French soil. All the four “French” Jews killed in the attack had North African names and were buried in Israel.

Not without trouble. The Israeli government put great pressure on the four families to bury their sons here. They wanted to bury them in France, near their homes. After a lot of haggling about the price of the graves, the families finally agreed.

It has been said that Israelis love immigration and don’t love the immigrants. That certainly applies to the new “French” immigrants. In recent years, “French” tourists have been coming here in large numbers. They were often disliked. Especially when they started to buy up apartments on the Tel Aviv sea front and left them empty, as a kind of insurance, while young local people could neither find nor afford apartments in the metropolitan area. Practically all these “French” tourists and immigrants are of North African origin.

WHEN ASKED what drives them to Israel, their unanimous answer is: anti-Semitism. That is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Israelis, they or their parents or grandparents, were driven here by anti-Semitism.

The two terms – anti-Semitism and Zionism – were born at almost the same time, towards the end of the 19th century. Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, conceived his idea when he was working in France as a foreign correspondence of a Viennese newspaper during the Dreyfus affair, when virulent anti-Semitism in France reached new heights. (Anti-Semitism is, of course, a misnomer. Arabs are Semites, too. But the term is generally used to mean only Jew-haters.)

Later, Herzl wooed outspoken anti-Semitic leaders in Russia and elsewhere, asking for their help and promising to take the Jews off their hands. So did his successors. In 1939, the Irgun underground planned an armed invasion of Palestine with the help of the profoundly anti-Semitic generals of the Polish army. One may wonder if the State of Israel would have come into being in 1948 if there had not been the Holocaust. Recently, a million and a half Russian Jews were driven to Israel by anti-Semitism.

ZIONISM WAS born at the end of the 19th century as a direct answer to the challenge of anti-Semitism. After the French revolution, the new national idea took hold of all European nations, big and small, and all of the national movements were more or less anti-Semitic.

The basic belief of Zionism is that Jews cannot live anywhere except in the Jewish State, because the victory of anti-Semitism is inevitable everywhere. Let the Jews of America rejoice in their freedom and prosperity – sooner or later that will come to an end. They are doomed like Jews everywhere outside Israel.

The new outrage in Paris only confirms this basic belief. There was very little real commiseration in Israel. Rather, a secret sense of triumph. The gut reaction of ordinary Israelis is: “We told you so!” and also: “Come quickly, before it is too late!”

I HAVE often tried to explain to my Arab friends: the anti-Semites are the greatest enemy of the Palestinian people. The anti-Semites have helped drive the Jews to Palestine, and now they are doing so again. And some of the new immigrants will certainly settle beyond the Green Line in the occupied Palestinian territories on stolen Arab land.

The fact that Israel benefits from the Paris attack has led some Arab media to believe that the whole affair is really a “false flag” operation. Ergo, in this case, the Arab perpetrators were really manipulated by the Israeli Mossad.

After a crime, the first question is “cui bono”, who benefits? Obviously, the only winner from this outrage is Israel. But to draw the conclusion that Israel is hiding behind the Jihadists is utter nonsense.

The simple fact is that all Islamic Jihadism on European soil hurts only the Muslims. Fanatics of all stripes generally help their worst enemies. The three Muslim men who committed the outrages in Paris certainly did Binyamin Netanyahu a great favor.

Half of Shas

Uri Avnery
January 10, 2015

THE SHAS party has split into two. Opinion polls show that both parts are hovering around the 3.12% threshold which is now necessary for entering the Knesset, after the minimum was raised by the last Knesset.

Many people in Israel would be glad if both parts do not make it, and Shas would disappear once and for all from our political landscape.

Not I.

SHAS IS the party of oriental orthodox Jewish Israelis. It is debatable whether it is foremost orthodox or foremost oriental. I believe that the oriental part of its outlook is far more important.

(The term “oriental” needs some explanation. Jews from Muslim countries used to be called “sepharadi”, but that is a misnomer. Sepharad is the Hebrew name of Spain, and the terms applies properly only to the Jews who were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. They were welcomed by the Ottoman Muslim empire and spread from Morocco to Bulgaria and Iran. However, most Jews from Muslim countries are not Sepharadim. My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, started to call them Mizrahim, Orientals, and this term is now generally accepted.)

Orientals are now about half the Jewish population of Israel. The rift between them and the Jews of European origin, which was expected to disappear over time, is growing. Orientals feel discriminated against, despised by the Ashkenazi “elite” and generally mistreated. They bear a deep grudge. (Ashkenaz is the old Hebrew name for Germany, but applies now to all Europe.)

HERE I must explain my special relationship with the oriental problem. Don’t stop me if you have heard it before.

In the middle of the 1948 war I was promoted from private to squad leader and was allowed to choose between Polish and Moroccan recruits. I chose the Moroccans, sprinkled with Libyans and Turks. Without a common language, I trained them and led them into the fighting. I tried very hard to treat them fairly. They thanked me by risking their own lives to save mine when I was severely wounded.

Already during that war, I realized that something was going very wrong. My soldiers, volunteers who had come to Israel to fight without their

families, felt that the old-timers – and especially the girls – saw them as knife-wielding savages.

The interaction between these immigrants and the “old” inhabitants was based on mutual misunderstandings. The old-timers who were born and grew up in the country felt vastly superior, and sincerely wanted to help the “primitive” newcomers to become like us. The newcomers, who met prejudice everywhere, naturally resented this attitude. This generally happens in immigration countries.

Fresh from my army experience, I saw from early on that a tragedy was brewing. Already in January 1954 I published in my magazine an investigation entitled “Screwing the Blacks” which caused a nation-wide scandal. We were accused of inciting hatred, sowing division and what not. It took decades for the country to realize that they had a major problem on their hands. In the intervening years, my magazine generally supported the Orientals.

THE RIFT between Ashkenazis and Orientals is only one of several in Israel. There is a profound rift between orthodox and secular, Jewish and Arab, old immigrants and new ones (from the former Soviet Union), leftists and rightists, inhabitants of Tel Aviv and its surroundings and the “periphery”, and, of course, between well-to-do and poor.

That, by itself, is not so tragic. Every country has internal rifts of diverse kinds.

What is so bad about our rifts is that they are really one and the same. The great majority of the Orientals are also religious, rightist, poor and living in the periphery. They dislike the Ashkenazis, the secular, the Arabs, the leftists, the Tel Avivis, the rich and the “elites” in general.

They are also the electoral basis of the Likud.

WHY, FOR God’s sake?

Logic would dictate the very opposite. The Likud is neoliberal, an instrument of the super-rich, the proponent of policies that make the poor poorer, that divert huge funds from education, health and welfare to the settlements and the army. The great majority of the settlers are Ashkenazi.

When an Oriental votes for the Likud, he votes against his own interests. So why does he do it?

There are many explanations, all of them valid.

One of them is that, when the mass of Orientals came to Israel, they found a society that saw the Arabs not only as archenemies, but also as primitive and contemptible. But the Orientals spoke with the guttural sounds of the Arabs, their music was Arab, their culture and mentality was Arab. So the newcomers hastened to shed all these Arab attributes, though with little success. They professed an abiding hatred for everything Arab.

One curious aspect was the retroactive remaking of history. Muslim rulers had welcomed the Sepharadi refugees, who settled throughout their Empire. Jews in Islamic lands lived in peace, protected by Muslim rulers who were enjoined by the Koran to protect Jews (and Christians), the “peoples of the Book”. No pogroms (a Russian word), no expulsions, and, of course, no Holocaust. Anti-Jewish incidents were rare and local.

Yet in Israel, the immigrants from Morocco, Egypt, Iraq and Iran, and even more so their descendents, are convinced that their life in the Muslim world had been one long hell, even before the advent of Zionism started a real struggle.

Once, during a debate in the Knesset, Abba Eban said the same. I sent him a private note and protested furiously. He half-heartedly apologized (“There were lights and shadows…”) and sent me his large book on Jewish history, in which he made no such claim.

Curiously enough, Palestinians believed for many years that the “Jewish Arabs” would bring about peace and reconciliation, unlike the Arab-hating Ashkenazi Zionist leadership. Arab citizens in Israel also believed that the Oriental Jews would become a “bridge”. They were bitterly disappointed.

Another reason for the attachment of Orientals to the Right in Israel is their socio-economic status. It is a world-wide phenomenon that in colonial countries, the lowest layer of the dominant nation (“white scum” in the US) is the most extreme enemy of the national minorities.

And there is the emotional factor. The Right generally speaks an emotional language, appealing to the heart, while the Left uses cold logic, appealing to the brain. Secular logic does not appeal to the masses of Orientals, who wear kippahs. However, the religion of the Orientals is generally far more moderate and tolerant than the fanatical religion of the Orthodox Ashkenazis.

THE SHAS party was founded in 1982, after several previous attempts to set up an Oriental political force had failed. Shas (the name means 360,

the number of the books of the Talmud) was moderately orthodox. In general, Oriental Jews are far more easy-going and tolerant in their religious outlook than their orthodox Ashkenazi counterparts.

The outstanding religious guide and political leader of Shas was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a charismatic Iraqi-born rabbi, considered a religious genius. It got 4 seats in 1984, rose to 17 in 1999 and settled at around 12 seats.

Its initial rise was due to the meteoric advent of a Morocco-born young man, Aryeh Deri, a very talented politician, who at the tender age of 28 had already attained the rank of Director General of the Interior Ministry.

Deri attracted my attention when he clearly advocated peace with the Arabs and saw his party as an instrument to this end. Rabbi Ovadia, too, advocated peace and unlike almost all other prominent rabbis declared that it was permissible to give the occupied territories back to the Arabs if it saves Jewish blood. He visited Egypt and there expressed similar views.

All this convinced me to support the party. I chose Deri as the Man of the Year of my magazine and wrote a lengthy article, in which I stressed the mission of the Orientals to make peace, based on the cultural symbiosis of Arabs and Jews since medieval times. All the great personalities of the Oriental Jews, from the religious thinker Moshe Maimonides, who was the physician of Saladin, to the outstanding poet Yehuda Halevy, spoke and wrote Arabic and are also part of Arab culture.

However, throughout the years Shas moved further and further to the right, prompted by the masses of its voters. It was generally an ally of Likud. But during the Yitzhak Rabin interlude, it was Shas which enabled the left-wing government to achieve the Oslo agreement.

RABBI OVADIA died 15 months ago and was buried in the largest funeral Israel has ever seen. He left behind two heirs, who can’t stand the sight of each other.

One is Deri, who had in the meantime been sentenced to 4 years in prison for bribery and fraud and was released after 2 years and 6 months.

The other is Eli Yishai, a humorless, fanatical politician. I once sat next to him on a bench in the Supreme Court. It was like sitting next to a nervous volcano. He did not sit quiet for a moment, moving his limps all the time, and from time to time jumped up to say something. The judges ordered him again and again to sit down and be silent.

The enmity between the two is personal, but it has profound political implications. Shas has split into two almost equal parts.

The part led by Yishai has turned determinedly to the extreme right and is looking for allies among the far-out and even fascist elements. They lead furious attacks on Deri, whom they accuse of being an Arab-loving leftist. As proof they circulate an interview I gave years ago, in which I praised Deri’s attitude towards peace. (When accused that I am his friend, he replied with dry humor that with friends like me, he doesn’t need enemies.)

THE PRACTICAL implication of all this is that if Deri’s Shas survives the election in March with 5-7 seats in the next Knesset. his party may be a possible candidate for a center-left coalition – if the numbers add up. This could be crucial.

For me, this would be the realization of a dream. It would mean that the Israeli peace movement would break out of its Ashkenazi, elitist ghetto, and meet with at least a part of the Oriental masses.

At the moment, this is only a possibility. If I were religious, I would pray for it!

My Glorious Brothers

Uri Avnery
27.12.14

WHEN I was 15 years old and a member of the Irgun underground (by today’s criteria, an honest-to-goodness terrorist organization), we sang “(In the past) we had the heroes / Bar Kochba and the Maccabees / Now we have the new ones / The national youth…” The melody was a German military marching song.

Why did we look for heroes in the remote past?

We were in desperate need of national heroes to emulate. For 18 centuries, Jews had not fought. Dispersed throughout the world, they saw no reason to fight for emperors and kings who mostly persecuted them. (Though some of them did. The first authentic hero of the new Zionist entity in Palestine was Josef Trumpeldor, one of the few Jewish officers in the Czar’s army, who lost an arm in the 1905 Russian-Japanese war and was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Palestine.)

So we found the Maccabees, the Zealots and Bar Kochba.

THE MACCABEES, in whose honor we celebrated Hanukka this week, revolted against “the Greeks” in 167 B.C. “My Glorious Brothers” Howard Fast called them in his famous novel.

Actually, “the Greeks” were Syrians. When Alexander the Great’s empire was divided between his generals, Seleucus acquired Syria and the countries to the East. It was against this mini-empire that the Maccabees rose up.

It was not only a national-religious struggle against a regime which wanted to impose its Hellenic culture, but also a cruel civil war. The main struggle of the Maccabees was against the “Hellenizers”, the cultured modernist Jewish elite who spoke Greek and wanted to be part of the civilized world. The Maccabees were fundamentalist adherents of the old-time religion.

In today’s terms, they were the ISIS of their time. But that is not what we learned (and what is being taught today) in school.

The Maccabees (or Hasmoneans, their dynastic name) set up a Jewish state, the last one in Palestine, that lasted for 200 years. Unlike their successors and imitators, they had a lot of political acumen. Already during their rebellion they made contact with the up-and-coming Roman republic and secured its help.

Yet the Maccabees won by a quirk. Their revolt was a very risky adventure, and they owed their eventual victory to the problems that beset the Seleucid empire.

The irony of this story is that the Hasmonean kings themselves became thoroughly Hellenized and adopted Greek names.

THE NEXT great rebellion started in the year 66 AD. Unlike the Maccabee revolt, it was a totally mad affair.

The Zealots belonged to diverse competing groups, who remained disunited to the bitter end. Their rebellion, called “The Great Revolt”, was also a fanatical national-religious affair.

At the time, messianic ideas filled the air in Palestine. The country absorbed religious influences from all directions – Hellenic, Persian, Egyptian – and mixed them with the Jewish traditions. It was in this feverish atmosphere that Christianity was born and the Book of Job and other later books of the Hebrew Bible were composed.

With the Messiah expected any moment, Jewish fanatics did something that now seems incredible: they declared war on the Roman Empire, which was then at the height of its power. As if Israel today would declare war on the US, China and Russia at the same time – something even Binyamin Netanyahu would think twice about doing.

It took some time before the Romans gathered their legions, and the end was as could be foreseen: the Jewish community in the country was squashed, the temple was destroyed (perhaps by accident) and the Jews evicted from Jerusalem and many other places in Palestine.

Throughout, the Zealots believed in their God. In besieged Jerusalem, already starving, they burnt each other’s wheat, sure that God would provide. But God, it seems, was otherwise engaged.

At the height of the siege of Jerusalem, the venerable rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai was smuggled by his pupils out of the city in a coffin, and the Romans allowed him to start a religious school in Yavneh, which became the focus of a new kind of anti-heroic Judaism.

HOWEVER, THE lesson of the catastrophe caused by the Zealots was not learned. Less than 70 years later, an adventurer called Bar Kochba (“Son of a Star”) started another war with the Roman Empire, even more hare-brained than the last.

At the beginning Bar Kochba, like the Zealots, won several victories, before the Romans could gather their forces. At that time, the important rabbis supported him. But his megalomaniac nature caused him to lose their support. He is said to have told God: “You don’t have to support me, but at least don’t obstruct me!”

The inevitable defeat of Bar Kochba was an even greater disaster than the previous one. Masses of Jews were sold into slavery, some were thrown to the lions in the Roman arena. A legend recounts that Bar Kochba fought a lion with his bare hands and killed it.

However, the basic Zionist tenet that the Jews were expelled from Palestine by force and that this was the beginning of the Diaspora (the “Exile”) is a legend. The Jewish peasant population remained in the country, and most became Christians, and later Muslims. Today’s Palestinians are probably mostly descendants of this Jewish population which clung to their soil. At one time, David Ben-Gurion supported this theory.

The Jewish religion was actually born in the Babylonian exile, some 500 years before Christ, and from the beginning the majority of the Jews lived outside Palestine, in Babylon, Egypt, Cyprus and many other countries around the Mediterranean. Palestine remained an important religious center which played a significant part in the transition of Judaism into a Diaspora religion based principally on the Talmud.

THE HANUKKA feast symbolizes the basic change of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple – and the counter-change effected by the Zionists in modern times.

The rabbis were against the cult of heroism, whether God-fearing or not. They belittled the battles of the Maccabees and found another reason to celebrate. It appears that a great miracle had happened, which was much more important than military victories: when the Temple was re-dedicated after being defiled by the “Greeks”, the sacred oil left sufficed only for one day. By divine intervention, this small quantity of oil lasted for a whole week. Hanukka was dedicated to this huge miracle. (Hanukka means literally inauguration, dedication).

The Book of the Maccabees, which recounts the struggle and the victory, was not included in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew original was lost.

(Hanukka, like Christmas, was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice, much as Passover and Easter are based on the pagan celebration of the spring equinox.)

The Jewish sages were determined to stamp out, once and for all, the craving for revolts and military adventures. Not only was Hanukka turned into an innocuous feast of sacred oil, but the Zealots and Bar Kochba were ignored or belittled in rabbinical writings, which shaped Judaism and Jewish life since then until this very day. Jews were supposed to adore God, not human heroes.

Until Zionism appeared on the scene. It resurrected the ancient heroes and turned them retrospectively into Zionists. The Maccabees, Zealots and Bar Kochba became our models. The mass suicide of the Zealots on the Masada mountain after the Great Revolt was celebrated as a glorious deed, generations of children were and are taught to admire them.

Today we have national heroes in great abundance, and really do not need all these ancient myths any more. But myths die slowly, if at all. Still, more and more voices of historians and such are cautiously raising doubts about their role in Jewish history. (I may have been the first, in an essay I wrote some four decades ago.)

ALL THIS may reaffirm the saying that “nothing changes as much as the past”. Or, in the words of Goethe: “What you call the spirit of the times is nothing but the spirit of the lords in which the times are reflected.”

Zionism was a great spiritual revolution. It took an ancient ethnic-religious Diaspora and re-shaped it into a modern European-style nation. To effect this, it had first of all to re-shape history.

It could base itself on the works of a new generation of Jewish historians, led by Heinrich Graetz, who painted a new picture of the Jewish past influenced by the German nationalist historians of their time. Graetz himself died a few years before the First Zionist Congress, but his impact was and remains immense.

While the Germans resurrected Hermann the Cherusker and built a huge statue of him on the site of his great victory over the Romans in the Teutoburger forest, shortly before the Jewish Great Revolt, the early Zionists resurrected the Jewish heroes, ignoring the disasters they caused. Many European peoples, large and small, did the same. It was the Zeitgeist.

Three generations of Israeli children were brought up from kindergarten on these myths. They are almost completely cut off from world history. They learn that the Greeks were the people whose yoke was thrown off by the Maccabees, but learn next to nothing about Greek philosophy, literature or history. It creates a very narrow, egocentric state of mind, good for soldiers, but not so good for people who need to make peace.

These children learn nothing at all about the history of the Arabs, Islam and the Koran. Islam, for them is a primitive, murderous religion, bent on killing Jews.

The exception is the autonomous Orthodox school system which teaches nothing much except the Talmud, and is therefore immune to the cult of heroes, but also to world history (except the pogroms, of course).

The great political change we need must be accompanied by a profound change of our historical outlook.

The heroes of antiquity are perhaps due for another revision of their status.

Israel´s splendid isolation

Uri Avnery
December 20, 2014

ALMOST A thousand Israeli personalities have already signed an appeal to European parliaments for their governments to recognize the State of Palestine.

I am honored to be among the signatories, which include former ministers and members of the Knesset, diplomats and generals, artists and businessmen, writers and poets, including Israel’s three outstanding writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A. B. Yehoshua.

We believe that the independence of the Palestinian people in a state of their own, next to the State of Israel, is the basis for peace, and therefore as important for Israelis as it is for Palestinians. This, by the way, has been my firm conviction ever since the 1948 war.

The extreme right wing, which has ruled Israel in recent years, holds the opposite belief. Since it wants to turn the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River into the “nation-state of the Jewish people”, it totally rejects the setting up of a Palestinian state.

These, then, are the battle lines:

A Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, the end of the occupation, peace between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world, or a Greater Israel, continuous occupation or annexation, more settlements and ethnic cleansing, permanent war.

Israel has to choose.

So has the world.

LATELY, SEVERAL European parliaments have called upon their governments to recognize the State of Palestine. We want to encourage that process.

The Portuguese parliament did so last Friday, following the parliaments of the UK, Ireland, France and Spain. The European parliament, an institution with growing influence and power, has done so, too.

These are only recommendations. But the government of Sweden has officially recognized the State of Palestine. Some misguided spirits have stated that this was the first recognition of Palestine by a European Union country. That is quite wrong: Palestine has already been recognized by the EU countries of Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, as well at the European non-EU states of Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Quite an impressive list. But is it important?

THE AMERICAN Declaration of Independence stresses the importance of a “decent respect for the opinion of mankind”.

The Israeli declaration of independence does not include this phrase, but its whole composition shows that is an attempt to explain its aims to the world and attain world-wide diplomatic recognition.

However, David Ben Gurion, who read the declaration aloud at the founding meeting, soon after announced his doctrine: “It is not important what the Goyim say, the important thing is what the Jews do!”

Is this really true? Doesn’t the opinion of mankind count?

It was perhaps true 150 years ago, when Benjamin Disraeli proclaimed the British policy of “Splendid Isolation”. I doubt it. Even then, Great Britain was deeply involved in European and world affairs.

Since then, the world has changed profoundly. Governments have become much more democratic, mass education has broadened the basis of public opinion, undreamt of means of mass communication have promoted transparency, some speak of the “world village”.

Public opinion has a huge impact on politicians in democratic countries, and even in dictatorships. Where public opinion leads, governments sooner or later follow. Public sentiments become governing policy. This has diplomatic, economic and even military consequences.

THE UNITED NATIONS is the chosen vessel for voicing the “opinion of mankind”.

After its founding, Israel fought a hard battle for acceptance in the world organization. The declaration of independence, which promised democracy and equality for all inhabitants, played an important role in this struggle.

Yet Ben Gurion used to call the UN “Um-Shmum” (UM is the Hebrew acronym of the United Nations, adding the letters “Shm" is the Yiddish way of expressing contempt.

For more than 40 years now, this contempt has never been shaken. Israeli leaders relied on the US to block each and every Security Council resolution that the Israeli government disapproved of, irrespective of its content. If the UN had been asked to reaffirm the Ten Commandments contrary to Israeli wishes, the US would have vetoed them.

Now, for the first time in UN history, this sword of Damocles may disappear. The US has hinted that it may not veto a Security Council draft resolution that the Israeli government strenuously objects to.

Incredible! No US veto? It’s like saying that the sun may not rise tomorrow.

HOW COME? What has happened?

The simplest answer is that Barack Obama, like so many others, is fed up with Binyamin Netanyahu. Our prime minister has burned one bridge too many.

He has humiliated the US president time and again. He has let loose the hounds of AIPAC against him. And he has done the worst he can do to a politician: he has openly supported his opponents in the last two election campaigns.

The Prime Minister’s support of Mitt Romney was nothing short of scandalous. Netanyahu, following the orders of his owner, the primitive but enormously powerful casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, campaigned for Romney openly and unabashedly. In return, Adelson created and finances the Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”) newspaper, which, being distributed gratis, now has the widest circulation in the country. Its sole editorial policy is to support Netanyahu through thick and thin.

In the recent US mid-term elections, AIPAC assisted the Republicans again, helping them to turn the Senate into an anti-Obama bastion.

Obama has kept quiet. But he would be superhuman if he didn’t plot his revenge. He has done so by secretly encouraging the Europeans to go on with their pro-Palestinian efforts. Now he has come out into the open. The US has announced that it is considering not to use its veto.

At stake is a Palestinian draft that would have the Security Council set a one-year time limit for achieving a peace agreement and a three-year limit for the end of the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian State along the 1967 borders. For right-wing Israelis, that comes near to the end of the world.

At stake is also a French draft, which does not go so far but also sets a two-year time limit to peace negotiations.

These drafts would have been unthinkable just a year ago. They show Israel’s deepening isolation.

NO POLITICIAN likes radical breaks. After 41 years of an unbroken record of American use of the veto on behalf of Israel (and almost nobody else), not vetoing would be a revolutionary step. It may have a profound impact on US domestic politics, including the next presidential elections. It may hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances (perhaps an additional temptation for Obama.)

Also, important US strategic interests are involved. The Arab world may be in chaos, but it still unanimously supports the Palestinian cause diplomatically. America is relying on Arab participation in the coalition that is fighting against the Islamic State (ex-ISIS). An anti-Palestinian veto at this juncture would hurt all Arab governments who are inclined to join. Jordan, for example. Saudi Arabia. Egypt.

John Kerry, poor John Kerry, is rushing around meeting with “everybody and his wife” (as we say in chauvinist Hebrew slang) to find a solution. He is threatening Mahmoud Abbas with cutting off his funds. But Abbas rightly tells him that he has nothing to lose – if he cannot show some achievements very soon, the West Bank may well explode and the Palestinian Authority disintegrate.

In desperation, Netanyahu went to Rome to meet Kerry personally, and had a stormy session with him. It seems that Kerry didn´t promise anything. Sa’eb Erekat had an even stormier session with Kerry, with shouting, table banging and all.

Ex-president Shimon Peres, out of office but still an inveterate spit-licker, went to help Netanyahu with the French. He appealed to the (converted Jewish) Foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and pleaded with him not to hurt Netanyahu on the eve of elections.

Tzipi Livni, forgetting that she was dismissed from the government and is now a leader of the opposition, phoned Kerry to support Netanyahu.

Kerry took up the idea. He asked everybody to do everything to postpone the matter until after the Israeli elections.

Interfering in another country’s internal elections? God forbid! Who would dream of such a dastardly thing!?

YET WHATEVER the US does or does not do is interfering in our elections.

If it uses its veto, that is direct and blatant support of the extreme right-wing in Israel. It would show that Netanyahu was right all along, that America is in our pocket, that Israel’s isolation is a myth, that we can go on doing what we are doing, occupation, settlement and all.

If the US does not use its veto and a pro-Palestinian, pro-peace resolution is adopted, it would prove that the left-wing is right in asserting that the “opinion of mankind” does count, that the not-so-splendid isolation of Israel is growing to dangerous proportions, that a change of government and policy is urgently needed.

This week, Obama threw an international bomb: after 56 years of burning enmity between the US and Cuba, he announced the resumption of diplomatic relations. This shows that he has decided to use the two years left to him in power, without the possibility of being re-elected, in order to do what he reality wanted to so all the time, but was afraid to do. He can spite the Congress and do what his soul desires.

He can decide to act now decisively to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Let’s hope he does.

EU-parliament majority for a Palestinian state

The European Parliament voted today to support Palestinian statehood in principle in a compromise motion. After talks between the main European parties, the motion stated: “(The European Parliament) supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced.”

Read the story in Jerusalem Post

Labour challenge Netanyahu in the coming Israeli elections

Uri Avnery
December 13, 2014

ON MONDAY, the 19th Knesset voted to dissolve itself, less than two years after its election. For many of its members it was a sad day, a kind of political hara-kiri. They have no chance of re-election. Some of them are so forgettable, that I do not recognize their names or faces.

The day after, a political bomb exploded on the TV news. Channel 10 – slightly more liberal than the two others – published the results of a quick public opinion poll by a respected pollster.

They were amazing.

THE FIRST result was that the Labor Party, after its union with Tzipi Livni’s “the Movement”, will be the largest party in the next Knesset.

Israelis gasped. What? Labor? A party seen by many as clinically dead?

Of course, this is only the first of hundreds of polls to come before election day, March 17 2015. Yet the results had their impact. (Two other polls since then confirmed its findings.)

A second result was that Likud, in second place, would get exactly the same number of seats whether led by Binyamin Netanyahu or by his putative challenger, Gideon Sa’ar, an unglamorous party functionary (and a former employee of mine). As Interior Minister, he excelled mainly in persecuting African asylum-seekers. (At the last moment, Sa’ar gave up his challenge to Netanyahu.)

Is it possible? Netanyahu the Great, the “King Bibi” of Time magazine, no longer a vote magnet?

Ya’ir Lapid, the hero of the last elections, shrunk to half his size. Like the gourd in the Book of Jonah, “which came up in a night and perished in a night”.

But the real sensation of the poll was something else: though Netanyahu still headed the list of preferred candidates for Prime Minister, Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of Labor, came so close as to make no difference.

Only a month ago, such a result would have appeared a hilarious hoax. At that time, Netanyahu had an unassailable lead, towering over all the dwarfs around. Conventional wisdom had it that “there is no one else”.

Now there is. Herzog! Herzog?

HERZOG IS the German word for duke. Yitzhak, commonly called Buji (that’s what his mother called him when he was small), is indeed of aristocratic origin.

His grandfather, Yitzhak Herzog (after whom he was named, according to the Jewish tradition), was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. He had such a good reputation that he was called in the 30s to become the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine. He was considered (comparatively) liberal.

His son, Chaim, studied in England, excelled as a boxer and joined the British army in World War II. He was serving as an intelligence officer in Egypt when he met Susan Ambash, the daughter of a rich local Jewish family.

The two Ambash girls were sent on Saturdays to the synagogue to fetch Jewish officers and bring them home for the Shabbat meal. On one Shabbat they caught two – one Chaim Herzog and one Aubrey (Abba) Eban. They married them.

In the 1948 war, Chaim Herzog joined the new Israeli Army as an intelligence officer, eventually becoming a general and chief of army intelligence. On leaving the army he founded what became the largest and richest law firm in the country.

But his real days of glory came on the eve of the Six-day War. For three weeks, Israel fell victim to an attack of acute anxiety. Some spoke of the coming Second Holocaust. During that period, General Herzog had a daily program on the radio and succeeded in soothing the public mind with his sober, sensible analysis, neither belittling nor exaggerating the danger ahead.

The people rewarded him with the presidency of the state. In this post, he was more British than Israeli. An example: at a time when I was boycotted by all the heads of the establishment, I was surprised by an invitation to a private dinner with him at the presidential residence. We had a pleasant talk, without any particular subject. He just wanted to get to know me.

I used the opportunity to plead for his intervention in the security arrangements at Ben Gurion airport, where Arab citizens were (and are) routinely singled out and searched in a humiliating manner. (He promised, but nothing much came of it.)

By the way, I had a similar dinner with his brother, Ya’acov, then the Director General of the Prime Minister’s office. Of the two brothers, Ya’acov was considered the outstanding intellect. Then as now I was preaching the two-state solution, which at the time was totally rejected in Israel and around the world. Over dinner, Ya’acov said he would like to hear my arguments for this solution and cross-examined me – again, a more British than Israeli attitude. Senior Israeli officials do not talk with people of the radical opposition.

YITZHAK HERZOG also served in army intelligence before he was appointed cabinet secretary. Joining the Labor party, like his father, he became a member of the Knesset and minister in several minor ministries.

Slightly built, blue eyed, with a fair complexion, Herzog (54) looks more British than Israeli. He speaks softly, expresses himself in a moderate way and has no enemies. He is the very opposite of the typical Israeli politician.

He surprised everybody when he beat one of these for the chairmanship of the Labor Party. Sheli Yachimovitch is strident, outspoken and belligerent, a resolute socialist who does not hesitate to tread on people’s toes. She antagonized too many colleagues and was voted out. Buji became leader of the party and automatically “Leader of the Opposition”, a title and status accorded by law to the chief of the largest opposition party.

(One of the little jokes of politics: Herzog was about to lose his title and the perks associated with it when Netanyahu dismissed Lapid, whose Knesset faction is larger than Labor. Since the Knesset dissolved itself, Lapid does not inherit the title.)

ASSUMING THE party leadership, Herzog lost no time in declaring himself a candidate for prime minister. This was generally met with a tolerant smile.

Now, for the first time, this seems just possible. Not likely, by any means. But the impossible has become possible. The unthinkable, thinkable.

This in itself is a revolution.

During the last years, Israeli media have been obsessed with the idea that “Israel is moving to the right”. That Netanyahu, bad as he is, is preferable to those who will inevitably succeed him – outright fascists, warmongers, Arab-eaters.

It was almost fashionable to declare that the Left is finished, dead, deceased. Among commentators, it has become de rigeur, especially among leftists, to heap scorn on the Left and the remaining leftists. Poor guys (and gals, of course). Can’t see what’s going on. Harbor illusions. Whistling in the gathering darkness.

And suddenly there is a chance – a remote chance, but a chance nevertheless – for the Left to regain power.

WHY? WHAT has happened?

The easiest explanation is that people just got fed up with “Bibi”. Netanyahu is a person it is easy to get fed up with. In fact, it has happened to him before. His wife, Sarah’le, who is universally disliked, does not help.

But, I believe, it goes much deeper. The poll shows that the Likud will not fare better with another chief candidate. Has the Likud lost its touch?

Two factors have contributed to this:

First, Moshe Kahlon. A former typical Likud stalwart, popular among his peers, he suddenly left his party. No reason given.

As Minister of Communications, a very minor ministry, Kahlon had become immensely popular. He took on the tycoons of the mobile phone industry, broke their monopoly, instituted competition and cut prices by half. Since it is difficult to imagine a young Israeli – male or female – without a mobile phone stuck to their ear, he became a hero.

Now Kahlon, two months younger than Herzog, has announced that he is creating a new party. It is to be called “Kulanu” (“We All”). Though it still has no candidates, it already emerges in the poll with 10 seats – mostly supported by former Likud voters.

This is hugely significant, for several reasons. First, the basic electorate of Likud consists of oriental Jews, though Menachem Begin, Netanyahu and most of their colleagues were and are Ashkenazi. Kahlon is as oriental as you get: His parents came from Tripoli in Libya, they have seven children, Moshe grew up in a poor immigrant township.

Breaking the Likud hold on the oriental community is extremely important. Especially as Kahlon cites Begin as the leader who gave up the entire Sinai peninsula for peace with Egypt. His “moderate Likud” could change the entire balance between Right and Center-Left in the next Knesset. And that, after all, is what counts.

The second reason : Bennett’s extreme right-wing religious-nationalist (some say fascist) “Jewish Home” party is gaining strength – also gaining votes from Likud. Naftali Bennett, smooth, amiable, with the smallest kippah on earth on his head, is appealing to secular voters too.

Traditionally, the Orthodox parties hold the key. Since they care neither for Left or Right and are beholden to no one but themselves, they can choose.

For a long time, they were the allies of Labor. For the last few decades, they were automatic allies of the Right. After the last elections, Netanyahu dropped them for the ultra-secular Lapid. Now they are ready for revenge. Since Herzog is the grandson of a chief Rabbi, he is kosher.

HERZOG WON his first success of the current campaign by forming a common list with Tzipi Livni. It is now up to him to keep up the momentum and make alliances with – possibly – Lapid, Kahlon and Meretz. If successful in the elections, he must stretch out his hands to the Orthodox and the Arabs.

Last week I sketched out this vision. This week it has advanced by a small but significant step towards realization.

Can the duke become king? Well, that’s what the history books tell us.

-ISRAELIS fed up with Netanyahu

Uri Avnery

December 6, 2014

The Plebiscite

ISRAELIS ARE fed up with Binyamin Netanyahu. They are fed up with the government. They are fed up with all political parties. They are fed up with themselves. They are fed up.

That is the reason for the disintegration of the government this week. It did not fall because of any particular issue. Certainly not because of irrelevant matters like peace and war, occupation, racism, democracy and nonsense like that.

Curiously enough, this has happened to Netanyahu once before. His first government disintegrated in 1999, and the whole country breathed an audible sigh of relief. Indeed, the general feeling was of liberation, as if a foreign invader had finally been expelled. Like Paris in 1944.

In 2000, In the evening after the election, when it was announced that Netanyahu had been defeated, there was an explosion of enthusiasm. Tens of thousands of delirious citizens streamed spontaneously to Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square and cheered the savior, Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party. He announced the Dawn of Another Day.

Unfortunately, Barak turned out to be a sociopath and an egomaniac, if not a megalomaniac. He missed the chance of peace at the Camp David conference and in the process almost completely destroyed the Israeli peace movement. The Right, this time under Ariel Sharon, came back. Then under Ehud Olmert. Then under Netanyahu again. And Again.

And now again?

God forbid!

SO WHY did the government break up this week?

No special reason. The ministers were just fed up with each other, and all were fed up with “Bibi”.

Ministers started to besmirch each other, and Netanyahu. The Prime Minister, in his turn, accused his ministers, one by one, of incompetence and sinister conspiracies against him. In his parting speech, Netanyahu accused his finance minister, Yair Lapid, of failure – as if he, the prime minister, had nothing to do with it.

The public looked on as an amused or bemused bystander. As if the whole mess did not concern it.

Now we have new elections.

At this moment it looks as if we are doomed to have a fourth Netanyahu government, even worse than the third, more racist, more anti-democratic, more anti-peace.

Unless.

THREE WEEKS ago, when nobody yet anticipated the imminent breakup, I wrote an article in Haaretz. The title was “A National Emergency Government”.

My argument is that the Netanyahu government is leading the country towards disaster. It is systematically destroying all chances for peace, enlarging settlements in the West Bank and especially East Jerusalem, stoking the fires of a religious war on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, denouncing both Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas at the same time. All this after the superfluous Gaza War, which ended in a military draw and a human disaster that continues unabated to this day.

At the same time, the government is bombarding the Knesset with an endless stream of racist and anti-democratic bills, each worse than the last, culminating in the bill called “Israel: the Nation-State of the Jewish People”, which eliminates the term “Jewish and Democratic State” as well as the word “Equality”.

At the same time, Netanyahu is quarreling with the US administration, severely damaging a relationship that is the lifeline of Israel in all matters, while Europe is slowly but surely approaching sanctions against Israel.

At the same time, social inequality in Israel, already enormous keeps on widening; prices in Israel are higher than in Europe, housing almost unaffordable.

With this government we are galloping towards a racist apartheid state, both in Israel proper and the occupied territories, heading towards disaster.

IN THIS emergency, I wrote, we cannot afford the usual squabbling between little left-wing and centrist parties, each of which does not even come near to endangering the right-wing coalition in power. In a national emergency, we need emergency measures.

We need to create a united election bloc of all centrist and leftist parties, leaving nobody out, if possible including the Arab parties.

I KNOW that that this is a Herculean task. There are large ideological differences between these parties, not to mention party interests and the egos of leaders, which play a huge role in ordinary times. But these are not ordinary times.

I did not propose that the parties dissolve and merge into one big party. That, I am afraid, is impossible at this point in time. It is, at least, premature. What is proposed is a temporary alliance, based on a general platform of peace, democracy, equality and social justice.

If the Arab political forces can join this alignment, that would be wonderful. If the time is not yet ripe, the Arab citizens could create a parallel unified bloc, linked to the Jewish one.

The declared purpose of the bloc should be to put an end to the catastrophic drift of the country towards the abyss and to oust not just Netanyahu, but the whole bunch of settlers, nationalist and racist demagogues, war-mongers and religious zealots. It should appeal to all sectors of Israeli society, women and men, Jews and Arabs, Orientals and Ashkenazis, secular and religious, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. All those who fear for the future of Israel and are resolved to save it.

The call should be addressed first of all to the existing parties – the Labor Party and Meretz, Yair Lapid’s “There is a Future” and Tzipi Livni’s “The Movement”, as well as the new party-in-the-making of Moshe Kahlon, the communist Hadash and the Arab parties. It should also ask for the support of all the peace and human rights organizations.

In the political annals of Israel there is an example. When Ariel Sharon left the army in 1973 (after concluding that his peers would never allow him to become Chief of Staff) he created the Likud by uniting Menachem Begin’s Freedom Party, the Liberals and two small splinter parties.

I asked him about the sense of this. The Freedom and Liberal parties were already united in a joint Knesset faction, the two tiny parties were doomed anyhow.

“You don’t understand,” he replied. “The important thing is to convince the voters that the entire right-wing is now united, with nobody left out.”

Begin was far from enthusiastic. But strong public pressure was exerted on him, and he became the leader. In 1977, after eight straight election defeats, he became prime minister.

DOES A center-left alignment now have a chance of success? I strongly believe that it does.

Very large numbers of Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, have despaired of the political process altogether. They despise all politicians and parties, seeing only corruption, cynicism and self-interest. Others believe that the victory of the right-wing is inevitable. The dominant sentiment is of fatalism, apathy, What Can We Do?

A big new alignment carries the message: Yes, We Can. All together, we can halt the carriage and turn it around, before it reaches the cliff. We can turn bystanders into activists. We can turn non-voters into voters. Masses of them.

REMAINS THE question: who will be No. 1 on the joint election list?

This is a huge problem. Politicians have large egos. None of them will easily give up his or her ambition. I know. I have been through this three times in my life, and I had to contend with my own ego.

Also, the personality of No. 1 has a disproportional impact on the voting public.

Let’s face it: at the moment there is no outstanding personality around who would be the natural choice.

A simple and democratic way is to establish the priority by public opinion polls. Let the most popular win.

Another method is to hold open, public primaries. Anyone who declares that they are going to vote for the list will cast a ballot. There are other ways, too.

It would be a tragedy of historic dimensions if petty ambitions were to to cost us victory.

IN THE last few days, identical and similar calls have been published. There is a growing demand for a united National Salvation Front.

In order for this vision to come true, public pressure is needed. We have to overcome the hesitation of the politicians. We need a steady stream of public demands, petitions by well-known and respected cultural, political, economic and military personalities, as well as by citizens from all walks of life. Hundreds. Thousands.

These coming elections must turn into a national plebiscite, a clear choice between two very different Israeli states:

A racist Israel of inequality, engaged in an endless war and increasingly subject to the rule of fundamentalist rabbis.

Or a democratic Israel that seeks peace with Palestine and the entire Arab and Muslim world and equality between all citizens, irrespective of sex, nation, religion, language and community.

In such a contest, I believe that we shall win.

Belgium tries to have EU recognize Palestine

A number of EU member countries are searching for recognition of Palestina as a new way of balancing the assymetric negotiating positions of Israel and the Palestinian Administration.

The Belgian federal parliament is expected to vote on a draft motion asking the Belgian government to recognise Palestine at a future point. It is legally non-binding and doesn’t indicate a deadline.

The four of the biggest political parties back the project.

There is a lot of frustration in Europe with the lack of good will in Israel, a Belgian diplomat told EUobserver (http://euobserver.com/foreign/126805).

In Britain, France, Ireland, and Spain – the respective parliaments have passed pro-recognition motions. The parliaments of Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Portugal will possibly come to the same conclusion.

Avnery on how Israeli police shot and killed a young Palestinian

Uri Avnery
November 15, 2014

Wine, Blood and Gasoline

KAFR KANNA, a village near Nazareth, is probably the place where Jesus – according to the New Testament – turned water into wine. Now it is the Arab village where the Israeli police is turning stones into blood.

On the fateful day, the police was confronting a group of young Arabs protesting against the Israeli efforts to change the status quo on the Temple Mount (known to Muslims as “the Noble Sanctuary”). Such demonstrations were taking place that day in many Arab towns and villages all over Israel, and especially in occupied East Jerusalem.

According to the first police statement, the 22-year old Arab, Kheir a-Din Hamdan, attacked the police with a knife. In self defense, they had no choice but to shoot and kill him.

As so often with police reports, this was a pack of lies.

UNFORTUNATELY (for the police), the incident was recorded by security cameras. The pictures clearly showed Hamdan approaching a police car and beating on its windows with something, possibly a knife. When he saw that this had no effect, Hamdan turned around and started to walk away.

At that moment, the policemen got out of the car and immediately started to shoot at the back of Hamdan, who was hit and fell to the ground. The officers surrounded him and, after some hesitation, obviously a consultation between them, started to drag the wounded youngster on the ground towards the patrol car, as if he were a sack of potatoes. They dumped him on the floor of the car and drove away (to a hospital, it appears), with their feet on or near the dying man.

The pictures show clearly, for everyone to see, that the policemen violated the standing police orders for opening fire: they were in no immediate mortal danger, they did not shout a warning, they did not shoot first in the air, they did not aim at the lower part of his body. They did not call an ambulance. The youngster bled to death. It was a cold-blooded execution.

There was an outcry. Arab citizens rioted in many places. Under pressure, the Police Investigation board (which belongs to the Ministry of Justice) started an investigation. The first investigation already uncovered several facts which put an even more severe face on the incident.

It appeared that before the cameras caught the scene, the police had arrested Hamdan’s cousin and put him into the car. Obviously, Kheir a-Din wanted to release the cousin and therefore beat on the car. The cousin saw him being shot and dumped on the floor of the car in which he was sitting.

The first reaction of the police command was to justify the behavior of the policemen, whose names and faces were withheld. They were spirited away to some other police unit.

I DESCRIBE the incident at length, not because it is unique but on the contrary – because it is so typical. What was special about it was only the unnoticed presence of the camera.

Several cabinet ministers lauded the exemplary behavior of the police in this incident. This can be dismissed as the publicity-hunting of extreme right-wing demagogues, who believe that their voters approve of all and any shooting of Arabs. They should know.

However, one statement cannot be ignored: the one made by the Minister of Home Security.

A few days before the incident, Minister Yitzhak Aharonowitz, a protégé of Avigdor Lieberman and himself a former police officer, declared publicly that he did not want any terrorist to survive after an attack.

That is a manifestly illegal statement. Indeed, it is a call for crimes. Under the law, policemen are not allowed to shoot “terrorists” or anybody else after they are taken prisoner, especially when they are wounded and do not present any “mortal danger”.

Aharonowitz always seems a nice guy. He has a knack of popping up before the cameras after every newsworthy incident – whether a severe road accident, a political crime or a fire. God knows how he manages that.

In actual fact, the Minister for Home Security (formerly known as Minister of Police) has practically no function. Since the days of the British Mandate, the commander of the police force has been the Inspector General, a uniformed professional officer. The sole police function of the minister is to recommend to the government the appointment of a new commander.

But for ordinary policemen, a statement by the minister sounds like an order. Quite probably, the irresponsible utterance of the minister was a direct incitement to the crime of Kafr Kanna. Especially since neither the Inspector General nor the Prime Minister denounced it.

All this reminds one of the fateful 1984 utterance of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who also declared that no terrorist should stay alive after an attack. The direct result was the “Bus Line 300” affair, in which four Arab boys, without any weapons, hijacked an Israeli bus. They were stopped, two were shot during the recapture, and two were taken alive. One of them was murdered by the chief of the Shin Bet himself, Avraham Shalom, who crushed his skull with a rock. When the pictures were published (first by me), Shalom and his colleagues were pardoned. Shamir denied any responsibility.

BACK TO today’s events. Is this the long-awaited Third Intifada? Yes? No?

Army and police officers, politicians and especially media commentators are busy trying to answer this question. (Intifada means literally “shaking off”.)

This is not just a mere semantic game. The definition carries with it operational consequences.

As a matter of fact, the entire country is now aflame. East Jerusalem is already a war zone, with daily demonstrations, riots and bloodshed. In Israel proper, since the Kafr Kanna killing Arab citizens are also mounting daily strikes and demonstrations. In the West Bank, there were some demonstrations and a fatal stabbing, after which an Arab was shot and killed.

Mahmoud Abbas is doing everything in his power to prevent a general uprising, which might quite well endanger his regime. But pressure from below is mounting. Abbas refused to meet Netanyahu in Amman.

Popular wisdom in Israel has already found a name for the situation: “Intifada of Individuals”. For the Israeli security chiefs, that is a nightmare. They are ready for an organized Intifada. They know how to quash it by force, and, if necessary, by more force. But what to do with an Intifada which is entirely made by isolated individuals, with no orders from any organization, with no grouping that can be infiltrated by the collaborators of the Shin Bet net of informers?

An individual Arab listens to the news, is incensed by the latest outrage against the Holy Shrines and drives his car into the nearest group of Israeli soldiers or civilians. Or takes a knife from the kitchen of the Israeli restaurant where he washes the dishes and stabs people in the street. No prior information. No network to be infiltrated. Quite frustrating.

The center of the storm is the Temple Mount. The al-Aqsa (“far away”) Mosque, the third holiest place of Islam, is under siege. At one point, Israeli soldiers entered the mosque (with their boots on) in pursuit of stone-throwing demonstrators.

WHERE ARE we going?

For decades now, a group of Israeli zealots has been busy planning for a new Jewish Temple to be built in place of the al-Aqsa and the magnificent Dome of the Rock. They are stitching garments for priests and making the necessary preparations for animal sacrifices.

Until recently, they were considered simply a curiosity. Not anymore.

Several cabinet ministers and Knesset members have entered the holy enclosure to pray, contrary to the status quo. Throughout the Islamic world, this has aroused alarm. Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in Israel proper are furious.

Netanyahu promised King Abdallah II to restore quiet. But he is doing the opposite.

Jesus turned water into wine. Netanyahu is turning water into gasoline and pouring it on the flames.

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