Shows the archive for desember, 2014

My Glorious Brothers

Uri Avnery

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.


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 (

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.