Shows the archive for mars, 2015

Uri Avnery: Israel´s Salvation Front

Uri Avnery
March 28, 2015

THE 2015 election was a giant step towards the self-destruction of Israel.

The decisive majority has voted for an apartheid state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in which democracy will slowly disappear.

The decision is not yet final. Israeli democracy has lost a battle. It has not yet lost the war.

If it does not draw the lessons, it will lose the war, too.

All the justifications and alibis of the Israeli left are useless. It’s the bottom line that counts.

The country is in existential danger. Not from the outside, but from the inside.

An Israel Salvation Front is needed now.

We have no other country.

FIRST OF ALL, the full extent of the debacle must be acknowledged and full responsibility must be taken.

The leaders who lost must go. In the struggle for the life of the state, there is no second opportunity.

The struggle between Isaac Herzog and Binyamin Netanyahu was a match between a lightweight boxer and a heavyweight.

The idea of a National Union government must be rejected and roundly condemned. In such a government, the Labor Party would again play the contemptible role of a fig leaf for the policy of occupation and oppression.

Now a new generation of leaders is needed, young, energetic and original.

THE ELECTION pitilessly exposed the deep chasms between the different sectors of Israeli society: Orientals, Ashkenazis, Arabs, “Russian”, orthodox, religious and more.

The Salvation Front must encompass all sectors.

Every sector has its own culture, its own traditions, its own faith(s). All must be respected. Mutual; respect is the foundation of the Israeli partnership.

The foundation of the Salvation Front needs a new authentic leadership that must emerge from all sectors.

The State of Israel belongs to all its citizens. No sector has exclusive ownership of the state.

The huge and growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, which which largely parallels the gap between the ethnic communities, is a disaster for all of us.

The salvation of the state must be based on a return to equality as a basic value. A reality in which hundreds of thousands of children live under the poverty line is intolerable.

The income of the upper 0.01%, which reaches to the heavens, must be brought down to a reasonable level. The income of the lowest 10% must be raised to a humane level.

THE ALMOST total separation between the Jewish and the Arab parts of Israeli society is a disaster for both and for the state.

The Salvation Front must be based on both peoples. The chasm between them must be eliminated, for the good of both.

Empty phrases about equality and fraternity are not enough. They lack credibility.

There must come into being a sincere alliance between the democratic forces on both sides, not only in words but in actual daily cooperation in all areas.

This cooperation must find expression in frameworks of political partnership, joint struggles and regular joint meetings in all areas, based on respect for the uniqueness of each partner.

Only a permanent joint struggle can save Israeli democracy and the state itself.

THE HISTORIC conflict between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Arab national movement now threatens both peoples.

The country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is the homeland of the two peoples. No war, oppression or uprising will change this basic fact.

If this conflict continues without end, it will endanger the existence of both peoples.

The one and only solution was and is their co-existence in two sovereign states: a free and independent State of Palestine side by side with the State of Israel.

The two-state solution is not a recipe for separation and divorce. On the contrary, it is a recipe for close co-existence.

The 1967 borders, with mutual agreed changes, are the basis of peace.

The co-existence of the two states in the joint homeland does necessitate frameworks of partnership at the highest level, as well as open borders for the movement of people and goods. It also needs solid security arrangements for the good of both peoples.

Jerusalem, open and unified, must be the capital of both states.

The painful tragedy of the Palestinian refugees must find its just solution, agreed upon by the two sides. This solution will include return to the Palestinian state, a limited symbolic return to Israel and the payment of generous compensation by international funds to all.

Israel and Palestine shall work together so as to achieve a return of Jewish property left in Arab countries or the payment of generous compensation.

The State of Palestine will keep its affinity with the Arab world. The state of Israel will keep its affinity with the Jewish people in the world. Each of the two states will have sole responsibility for its immigration policy.

The problem of the Jewish settlers in Palestine will find its solution in the framework of agreed border changes between the two states, the inclusion of some settlements in the Palestinian state with the agreement of the Palestinian government and the re-settlement of the rest of the settlers in Israel.

Both states shall cooperate in the creation of a democratic regional partnership, in the spirit of the “Arab Spring”, while resisting anarchy, terrorism and religious and nationalistic fanaticism throughout the region.

The masses of Israelis and Palestinians will not believe in the chances of peace and co-existence if there is no real and open partnership between the peace camps of both peoples.

To establish such a partnership, organizations and individuals of both sides must start right now to conduct joint political action, such as constant consultation and joint planning on all levels and in all areas.

THE JEWISH character of the State of Israel finds its expression in its culture and its affinity with the Jews throughout the world. It must not express itself in its interior regime. All citizens and all sectors must be equal.

The democratic forces within the Jewish and the Arab public must join hands and work together in their daily actions.

International pressure by itself will not save Israel from itself. The salvation forces must come from within.

World-wide pressure on Israel can and must assist the democratic forces in Israel, but cannot take their place.

BASIC VALUES do not change. However, the ways of talking about them with the public must change.

The old slogans are ineffective. The values must be re-defined and re-formulated in up-to-date language, in line with the concepts and language of a new generation.

The two-state vision was defined after the 1948 war by a small group of path-blazers. Since than, huge changes have taken place in the world, in the region and within Israeli society. While the vision itself remains the only practical solution of the historic conflict, it must be poured into new vessels.

There is a need for political unity, a unifying salvation front that brings together all the forces of peace, democracy and social justice.

If the Labor Party is able to re-invent itself from the bottom up, it can constitute the basis of this camp. If not, an entirely new political party must be formed, as the core of the Salvation Front.

Within this front, diverse ideological forces must find their place and engage in a fruitful internal debate, while conducting a unified political struggle for the salvation of the state.

The regime within Israel must assure complete equality between all Jewish ethnic communities and between the two peoples, while safeguarding the affinity of the Israeli-Jewish public with the Jews in the world and the affinity of the Israeli-Arab public with the Arab world.

The situation in which most of the resources are in the hands of 1% of the population at the cost of the other 99%, must come to an end. A reasonable equality between all citizens, without connection with their ethnic origin, must be restored.

There is no social message without a political message, and there is no political message without a social message.

The Oriental Jewish public must be full partners in the state, side by side with all other sectors. Their dignity, culture, social status and economic situation must be accorded their proper place.

The religious-secular confrontation must be postponed until after peace is achieved. The beliefs and ceremonies of all religions must be respected, as well as the secular worldview.

The separation of state and religion – such as civil marriage, mass transportation on Shabbat – can wait until the struggle for existence is decided.

The protection of the judicial system, and above all the Supreme Court, is an absolute duty.

The various associations for peace, human rights and social justice, each of which conducts its laudable independent struggle in its chosen field, must enter the political arena and play a central role together in the unified Salvation Front.

Uri Avnery: -If the left wants to win, it must reform itself!

Uri Avnery
March 21, 2015

THE MESSIAH HASN’T COME and Bibi hasn’t gone.

That’s the sad outcome.

Sad, but not the end of the world.

As the American saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

I would say: “Today is the first day of the battle for the next elections!”

The battle for the salvation of Israel must start right now.

SOME PEOPLE say that the best course now is a so-called National Unity Government.

Looks like a nice idea. Unity always sounds nice.

I can muster some good arguments for it. The combination of the two major parties creates a bloc of 54 seats (of 120). Such a coalition needs only one other party to form a majority. There are several possibilities, headed by Moshe Kahlon’s 10 seats.

The advocates of this choice have one good argument: it’s the Lesser Evil. The only other possibility is an extreme right-wing-religious government, which will not only stop any step towards peace, but also expand settlements, enact more laws to choke democracy and impose reactionary religious laws.

It’s a good argument, but it has to be rejected outright.

The Unity Government would be dominated by the Right. At best it would be a government of total immobility. It would be unable and unwilling to make even the slightest move towards ending the historic conflict, terminating the occupation and recognition of Palestine. Settlements would expand at a frantic pace. The chances of an eventual peace would move even further away.

It would do a lot of harm. The Labor Party would be obliged to justify and beautify this disastrous course, disarm the Obama administration and progressive Jewish forces throughout the world. It would be a huge fig leaf for evil.

It would also leave Israel without an effective opposition. If the government coalition broke up somewhere along the way, the Labor party would be too besmirched to constitute a credible alternative. The initial success of Yitzhak Herzog in rousing the old party from its comatose state cannot be repeated a second time. Labor would become a spent force, a vegetable.

Fortunately for the Labor Party, this possibility died almost immediately after the election. Netanyahu killed it with one stroke.

BY THE way, a curious side effect of a National Unity Government would have been that the leader of the (Arab) Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would have become Leader of the Opposition.

By law, the title is bestowed automatically on the chief of the largest opposition party. It confers on its holders many of the privileges of a cabinet minister. The Prime Minister is obliged to confer with them regularly and share government secrets with them.

But even if there is no Unity Government, and Herzog becomes Leader of the Opposition, one outstanding result of the election is the changed situation of the Arabs in the Knesset.

There is a certain humor to this. It was Avigdor Lieberman, the almost pathological Arab-hater, who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum threshold to 3.25%. This was intended to eliminate the three small Arab parties (including the Communists, who also have some Jewish voters), who responded by overcoming their mutual disagreements and animosities and forming the joint list. Lieberman had great difficulties in crossing his own threshold, and Eli Yishai’s party, which includes the heirs of the fascist Meir Kahane, was – thank God – left outside the Knesset.

It is to be hoped that the Joint Arab List will not break up. Odeh represents a new generation of Arab citizens, which is much more willing to integrate in Israeli society. Perhaps next time the old taboos will at long last disappear and the Arab citizens will become a real part of Israel’s political life. This time, Labor did not yet dare to accept it as a full-fledged member of a Leftist coalition.

I DON’T like to say “I told you so”. It does not make one more popular. This time I cannot avoid it, because there is a lesson to be learned.

At the beginning of the election campaign I wrote two articles in Haaretz, suggesting that the initial momentum created by the Herzog-Livni union should be continued and intensified by creating a much larger Unity List, including the “Zionist Camp” (Labor) , Meretz, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and, if possible, even Moshe Kahlon’s new party.

The response? None whatsoever. None of the parties even took official notice.

The idea was that such a united front would create an irresistible momentum and attract voters who would not vote for any of these parties individually (or not vote at all). Together with the joint Arab list they would have created a blocking force that would have made a Likud comeback impossible.

I added that if the proposal was not accepted, all the parties involved may

THE MORNING after the elections, Meretz leader Zehava Galon resigned. It was the honorable thing to do.

Meretz barely overcame the threshold clause and shrunk to four seats, though many voters (including me) rallied to its help at the last moment.

The party has suffered from a long line of lackluster leaders. But its malaise goes much deeper. It is existential.

From its very beginning, Meretz was a party of the Ashkenazi intellectual elite. It says the right things. But it is resented by the masses of the Oriental community, hated by the religious, pushed away by the Russian immigrants. It lives on an isolated island, and its members give the impression of being quite happy to be among themselves, without all the riff-raff.

Zehava Galon is a very good person, honest and well-meaning, and her resignation (immediately after the first results came in and it seemed that Meretz had shrunk to 4 seats) does her credit. But the party has become – well – boring. Nothing new from it for a long, long time. Its message is right, but stale.

Meretz needs a leader – an inspiring person who arouses enthusiasm. But most of all it needs a new attitude – one that allows it to come out of its shell and actively appeal to voters who shun it now. It needs to work very hard to appeal to Orientals, Russians, Arabs and even the moderately religious.

BUT IT is unfair to demand this only of Meretz. It applies to the entire social and liberal part of Israel, the camp for peace and social justice.

The election results have shown that the dark prophecies about a decisive, irreversible shift of Israel to the right are unfounded. The dividing line runs through the middle, and can be shifted.

(The general picture has not changes. The right-wing (Likud, Bennet, Lieberman) has gained only one single seat: from 43 to 44. The center-left (Zionist Camp, Meretz, Lapid has lost 8 seats: from 48 to 40, but most of them went to Kahlon, who gained 10. The orthodox went from 17 to 14. The Arabs gained 2 – from 11 to 13. The false impression of a huge change was created by the advance polls with their artificial dramas.)

But in order to effect this, there must be a readiness to start from the beginning.

The present setup of the Israeli left will not do. That is the simple truth.

The most outstanding fact of this election is that the outcome reflects exactly the demographic composition of Israeli society. Likud won decisively within the Oriental Jewish community, which includes the lower socio-economic strata. Likud also retained its partial foothold in the Ashkenazi community.

The Zionist Camp and Meretz won decisively within the well-situated Ashkenazi public – there, and nowhere else.

The attitude of the Likud people to their party resembles the attitude of football fans to their team. It has a big emotional content.

I was always convinced that election propaganda and all the media hullabaloo of the election carnival have little, if any effect on the outcome. It is the demographic facts that are decisive.

The left must invent itself anew according to this reality. Otherwise it has no future.

IF ONE of the existing parties can do it, fine. If not, a new political force must be formed. Now.

Non-party organizations, with which Israel is lavishly endowed, cannot do the job. They can, and do, try to remedy many existing faults. Their activists fight for human rights, propagate good ideas, highlight abuse. But they cannot do the main job: change the policy of the state. For this we need a political party, one that can win elections and set up a government. That is the most important requirement. Without it, we are heading for disaster.

First of all, our failures must be clearly analyzed and admitted. The fateful failure to win over a large part of the Oriental Jewish community, even the second and third generation. This is not a fact ordained by God. It must be recognized, analyzed and studied. This can be done.

The same, and even more so, goes for the immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They are totally estranged from the Left. There is no reason for that in Israel today. The second and third generation can and must be won over.

The taboo that prevents the Jewish left from uniting with the Arab political forces must be broken. It is an act of self-castration (on both sides) and dooms the left to impotence.

There is no reason for the complete break between the secular left and even moderate religious forces. The provocative anti-religious stand that is typical for some parts of the center and left is plain stupid.

SO WHAT to do?

First of all, a new leadership must be encouraged to emerge. Zehava Galon’s (first) laudable example should be followed by others and by herself. Really new leaders must come forward, who are not a replica of the old.

The greatest danger is that after the first shock, everything will settle down again to the old ways, as if nothing had happened.

A determined effort must be made to pinpoint the frictions between the Left and the estranged sectors. Test groups must be set up in order to get to the roots – conscious and unconscious, practical and emotional – of the estrangement.

Overbearing attitudes must be shed. No one sector has an exclusive right to the state. Everybody has a right to be listened to and to express their deeper feelings and aspirations. Exclusiveness, often unconscious, must be replaced with inclusiveness.

To my mind, it is a mistake to try to hide our convictions. On the contrary, the fact that the words “peace” and “Palestine” were not mentioned at all in the campaign did not help the Left. Honesty is the first requisite for convincing people.

In short, if the Left wants to win next time – which may come much sooner than expected – it must start to reform itself and overcome the reasons for its failure.

It can be done. The time to begin is right now.

Jeff Halper: -The Israeli elections: A game-changer

Jeff Halper
Publication date:
Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dramatic as they were for returning Netanyahu to power, the Israeli elections did not witness a major shift in political forces; in fact, the center-left (albeit Labor now pandering to the right by rebranding itself the “Zionist Camp”) did better than in the 2013 elections, while the right polled considerably less than half the votes. Indeed, with Labor becoming Likud Lite and many of its supporters defecting to Lapid’s neo-liberal Yesh Atid party, right-left differences are hard to specify. Even Shas, whose ultra-orthodox politics have always been extremely hawkish, became the darling of many leftist Mizrahi intellectuals who believe that Aryeh Deri is a closet “bridge” between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians.

Taking a party’s position on the Occupation and achieving a just peace with the Palestinians as our measure of “right-left,” the breakdown is roughly as follows:

Right
2013: 54 seats in the Knesset (of 120) 2015: 51 seats
Likud/Israel Beitenu (Netanyahu/Lieberman) – 31 Likud – 30
Israel Beiteinu – 5
Habayit Hayehudi (Bennett) – 12 Habayit Hayehudi – 8
Shas (Yishai) – 11 Shas (Deri) – 7

Center
2013: 25 seats 2015: 21 seats
Yesh Atid (Lapid) – 19 Yesh Atid – 11
Hatnua (Livni) – 6 Kulanu (Kahlon) – 10

Left-ish:
2013: 32 seats 2015: 42 seats
Labor – 15 Zionist Camp – 24
Meretz (Galon) – 6 Meretz – 4
Hadash (Barakeh) – 4 United Arab List – 14
Ta’al (Tibi) – 4
Balad (Zakhalka) – 3

*Others: *
(agendas unrelated to “right-left”)
2013: 7 seats 2015: 7 seats
United Torah Judaism – 7 United Torah Judaism – 7

Netanyahu managed to pull out a surprise victory – bucking considerable public fatigue with him in general – by effectively exploiting scare-and-fear tactics. He vowed never to allow a Palestinian state (as if that was ever in doubt), warned Israelis that an international conspiracy was plotting against him and accused the “Zionist Camp” of waging an “illegitimate” campaign. On Election Day he texted virtually all the Jews in Israel that “The Arabs are being bussed in to polling booths by Hamas and leftist money. They are voting in droves. You must vote in droves as well – for the Likud.

Save Israel!
No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that the two-state solution is still possible has been removed. It had fallen off long ago, of course, but Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech of 2009 in which he weakly endorsed a two-state solution (Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state; no Right of Return; Jerusalem would remain Israeli; no stop to settlement construction – but “negotiations”) was nevertheless held up as proof that such a solution was still possible. Netanyahu’s repudiation of even that minimalist formulation and his vow that if reelected there will never be a Palestinian state has at least cleared the air. Now that there is no longer a “peace process,” no longer “two sides” to conduct pseudo-negotiations, no longer the illusion of a two-state solution. We are finally free to move on to a genuine and just solution.

Yet another fig-leaf dropped in this election as well, the notion that Israel is genuinely a democratic state – the only democracy in the Middle East – and that, in fact, a “Jewish democracy” is even possible. Netanyahu and the others (including Herzog) have clearly excluded “the Arabs” from the Israeli body-politik. This will soon be followed by formal legislation, begun in the last Knesset, declaring Israel to be a Jewish state. When passed, it means that the Supreme Court will be instructed (possible in a country with no constitution) to privilege “Jewish values” and interests over those of equal rights, human rights and international law when they come into conflict. In fact, as the Supreme Court itself ruled last year, there is no “Israeli” people. There is merely a state ruled by Jews extending from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. In that state, some Palestinians (or “Arabs” as they are called, denying their very status as a people with national rights) may possess formal Israeli citizenship, but are excluded from national life. Other Arabs in that state are denied any fundamental human or civil rights; they are locked up in West Bank cells sealed by a Separation Barrier or inhabit the uninhabitable cage of Gaza.

There is a name for such a state: apartheid, but more precisely, prison. For in “greater” Israel the natives are not even dignified by the pretense of a Bantustan.

The realization that successive Israeli governments have created one state in all of the Land of Israel has finally become as irrefutable as it is irreversible. This is the game-changer of this election. Since Israel itself eliminated the two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We must accept the ultimate “fact on the ground,” the single state imposed by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form. Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens. In addition to ensuring its population’s individual civil rights, it must also ensure the collective rights of each of the country’s national groups: Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews.

Netanyahu’s victor paves the way a one-state solution by making the status quo so untenable. But it is only half of the necessary game-changer. The fall, removal or resignation of the Palestinian Authority is the other half. The PA was established to outsource Israeli control to a sub-contractor, a policeman who would do its dirty work. With the end of the two-state solution the PA becomes nothing more than a collaborationist regime. It must vacate the political space so that the mechanism of change – the inevitable Israeli re-occupation that must follow – may usher in the one-state option. May. Unless progressive Palestinian and Israeli forces come together with a fleshed-out plan for an inclusive bi-national, democratic state, the opportunity may be missed and other, darker, more powerful forces may give rise to something even worse than what we have now.
The Israeli elections brought us one step closer to the collapse of apartheid. Who knows when the PA will collapse? Perhaps sooner than later. We need to formulate our own vision of a just peace – and urgently.

- See more at: http://www.icahd.org/node/571#sthash.86vNgRAq.dpuf

Published here with the permission of Jeff Halper.

Uri Avnery: How to vote in the coming eledtion?

Uri Avnery
March 14, 2015

ONCE A Soviet citizen went to vote. He was given a sealed envelope and told to put it in the ballot box.

“Could I possibly see for whom I am voting?” he asked timidly.

“Of course not!” the official answered indignantly, “in the Soviet Union, we respect the secrecy of the ballot!”

In Israel, elections are also secret. Therefore I shall not tell you for whom I shall vote. Certainly I shall not be so impertinent as to tell my readers how to vote. But I shall set out the reasoning that will guide me.

WE ARE voting for a new government, that will lead Israel for the next four years.

If this were a beauty contest, I would vote for Yair Lapid. He is so very handsome.

If we had to decide who is the most likeable candidate, it would probably be Moshe Kahlon. He seems a very nice guy, the son of a poor, Oriental Jewish family, who as Minister of Communications has broken the monopoly of the cellphone tycoons. But sympathy has nothing to do with it.

If we were seeking a nice, well-mannered guy, Yitzhak Herzog would be the obvious candidate. He is honest, of good family.

And so on. If I were looking for a bar bouncer, Avigdor Lieberman would be my man. If I were looking for a smooth TV performer, both Lapid and Binyamin Netanyahu would be more than adequate.

But I am looking for a person who will at least prevent war (and perhaps bring peace closer), bring back some form of social justice, put an end to the discrimination against Arab and Jewish Oriental citizens, restore our health, education and other social services, and more.

LET ME start with the easy part: for whom I shall not vote under any circumstances.

On the extreme right there is Eli Yishai’s “Beyahad” (Together) party. I never liked Yishai. Before he split from “Shas”, he was Interior Minister and persecuted refugees from Sudan and Eritrea without even a modicum of compassion.

With his new party desperate to overcome the threshold clause, which is now 3.25%, Yishai made a deal with the disciples of the late and unlamented Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was branded as a fascist by the Supreme Court. No. 4 on the list is now Baruch Marzel, who once publicly called for my murder. Even a bottle of the noblest wine is spoiled by a few drops of cyanide. No sell.

Next on the list is Avigdor Lieberman, the center of whose election platform is the proposal to behead with an axe all Arab citizens who are not loyal to the state. (I am not making this up.)

Not far from there is Naftali Bennett, the smooth, baby-faced former high-tech entrepreneur with the smallest kippa on earth. After conquering the Religious-National Party in a hostile takeover, he turned it into an efficient outfit.

The Religious-National Party was once a very moderate political force, which put a brake on David Ben-Gurion’s adventurism. But its semi-autonomous education system has turned out generations of extremists. Now they are the party of the settlers, and Bennett is wooing young Arab-hating, war-loving secular Jews, who otherwise would vote for Likud.

THUS WE come to Likud, the party of “King Bibi”, as Time Magazine admiringly called him.

Binyamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life. A few months ago, when he decided to dismiss the Knesset and call early elections, he certainly did not dream of such a predicament.

It seemed that Israel’s march to the right was inevitable and unstoppable. That Netanyahu’s eternal reign was preordained. That the Left was facing a sordid end. That the Center was evaporating. It was just a matter of Netanyahu changing his horses (or asses, some would say).

And here we are, a few days before election day, with Likud almost desperate.

Why? How?

It seems that people are just fed up with Netanyahu. They seem to be saying: Enough is enough.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a great leader in peace and war, was elected for the fourth time, the American people decided to limit the terms of presidents henceforth to two. Perhaps the Israeli people have decided the same: three terms of Netanyahu are quite sufficient, thank you.

On the internet, a very funny clip is now circulating. Netanyahu is standing on the podium of the Congress, like a gym teacher (or like the trainer of very tame lions in a circus), commanding his pupils “Up! Down! Up! Down!” with congressmen and senators jumping at his command.

The Likud spin doctors had hoped that this sight would improve his fortunes in the election. And indeed, for a few days his numbers in the polls rose from a dismal 21 seats (of 120) to 23. But then they went down again and settled at 21, with Herzog at 24. Perhaps the senators did not jump high enough.

Where do the Likud votes go? First of all, to Bennett’s party. That would not be an unmitigated disaster for Netanyahu, since Bennett, with all the hatred between them, will have to support Netanyahu in the Knesset.

BUT SOME of the votes will go to the two “center” parties of Kahlon and Lapid, whose eventual allegiance is uncertain.

Kahlon comes from the Likud. He was a typical party member, son of immigrants from Tripoli (Libya), the darling of the party’s powerful central committee. A Likud member can vote for him now with a clear conscience, especially if he wants to change the social situation and ameliorate the lot of the poor.

Lapid is much the same, with one great difference: he has already been Finance Minister, while Kahlon only aspires to become one. Though Lapid has an unlimited enthusiasm for explaining his huge success in this job, the general opinion is that he was just so-so, if not a complete failure.

Nobody – not even they themselves – knows the answer to the decisive question: Will they join a Netanyahu or a Herzog government? They can do either. No problem. It may be a matter for a public auction: Who will pay more. More ministries, more budgets, more jobs. It will probably depend on the results of the elections.

The same is true for the two Orthodox parties – the Oriental Shas and the Ashkenazi “Torah Jewry”. They believe in God and Money, and God may instruct them to join the coalition which offers the most money for their institutions.

So there are at least four “center” parties which can decide whether Netanyahu or Herzog will be our next Prime Minister. Lieberman’s shrinking party may be the fifth.

Of course I would not dream of voting for any of them.

WHAT IS LEFT? A choice between three: Labor, now called “the Zionist Camp”, Meretz and the Joint (Arab) list.

The Arab list is composed of four vastly different parties: communist, Islamist and nationalist. It is a shotgun marriage, with Lieberman holding the gun: It was he who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum election threshold, in order to evict the small Arab parties from the Knesset. In response, the four small parties formed the big united list, which now holds third place in the polls after the two large parties.

The Arabs in Israel are second-class citizens, discriminated against and sometimes persecuted. What would be more humane for a progressive Jewish citizen than to vote for such a list?

For me that would be natural, since I was instrumental in creating in 1984 the first completely integrated Arab-Jewish election list (“the Progressive List for Peace”), which won two terms. (The communist party is almost completely Arab, with some Jewish members).

But the Joint List is problematic for me. A few days ago, they upset me with a fateful decision.

It concerns the “leftover” votes. Under our election law, two lists may make an agreement, under which the “leftover” votes of both will be pooled and turned over to one of them. (“Leftover” are votes remaining after the party has been allotted the seats for which it has the full number of votes.)

The Leftist parties devised a plan under which the Joint List was to pool its leftovers with those of Meretz. This might have given to one of them – and thus to the entire leftist bloc – one more seat, which may turn out to be crucial.

The Joint List refused, because Meretz is a Zionist party. The decision may have been logical, since many Arab voters could possibly abstain from voting if they feared that their vote might go to a Jewish “Zionist” list. But it showed that faced with any important decision, the Islamists of the Joint List might bloc a united decision for peace. I have a problem with that.

So I am left with Meretz and the “Zionist Camp”. Meretz is far closer to my views than the larger list. But only the larger list can unseat Netanyahu. The problem would not have existed if my proposal for a joint list including “the Zionist Camp”, Meretz, Lapid and more had been set up in time. All the prospective parts refused.

So now I am faced with a choice: either vote ideologically for Meretz or vote pragmatically for the party whose chances of putting an end to Netanyahu’s reign will be enhanced if it emerges as the largest party in the next Knesset. But this party has many defects, of which I am painfully aware.

Otto von Bismarck, one of the greatest statesmen of all times, famously described politics as "the art of the possible”.

It is now possible to stop the march of the Right and restore some sanity to our country.

So how should I vote?

The Netanyahu speech in Congress

Uri Avnery
March 7, 2015

SUDDENLY IT reminded me of something.

I was watching The Speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the Congress of the United States. Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.

It was the shouting that did it. Where had I heard that before?

And then it came back to me. It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.

Of course, the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout “Heil” but something unintelligible. Yet the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.

But then I returned to the present. The sight was not frightening, but ridiculous. Here were the members of the most powerful parliament in the world behaving like a bunch of nincompoops.

Nothing like this could have happened in the Knesset. I do not have a very high opinion of our parliament, despite having been a member, but compared to this assembly, the Knesset is the fulfillment of Plato’s dream.

ABBA EBAN once compared a speech by Menachem Begin to a French souffle cake: a lot of air and very little dough.

The same could be said about The Speech.

What did it contain? The Holocaust, of course, with that moral impostor, Elie Wiesel, sitting in the gallery right next to the beaming Sarah’le, who visibly relished her husband’s triumph. (A few days before, she had shouted at the wife of a mayor in Israel: “Your man does not reach the ankles of my man!”)

The Speech mentioned the Book of Esther, about the salvation of the Persian Jews from the evil Persian minister Haman, who intended to wipe them out. No one knows how this dubious composition came to be included in the Bible. God is not mentioned in it, it has nothing to do with the Holy Land, and Esther herself is more of a prostitute than a heroine. The book ends with the mass murder committed by the Jews against the Persians.

The Speech, like all speeches by Netanyahu, contained much about the suffering of the Jews throughout the ages, and the intentions of the evil Iranians, the New Nazis, to annihilate us. But this will not happen, because this time we have Binyamin Netanyahu to protect us. And the US Republicans, of course.

It was a good speech. One cannot make a bad speech when hundreds of admirers hang on every word and applaud every second. But it will not make an anthology of the world’s Greatest Speeches.

Netanyahu considers himself a second Churchill. And indeed, Churchill was the only foreign leader before Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress a third time. But Churchill came to cement his alliance with the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who played a big part in the British war effort, while Netanyahu has come to spit in the face of the present president.

WHAT DID the speech not contain?

Not a word about Palestine and the Palestinians. Not a word about peace, the two-state solution, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem. Not a word about apartheid, the occupation, the settlements. Not a word about Israel’s own nuclear capabilities.

Not a word, of course, about the idea of a nuclear-weapon–free region, with mutual inspection.

Indeed, there was no concrete proposal at all. After denouncing the bad deal in the making, and hinting that Barack Obama and John Kerry are dupes and idiots, he offered no alternative.

Why? I assume that the original text of The Speech contained a lot. Devastating new sanctions against Iran. A demand for the total demolition of all Iranian nuclear installations. And in the inevitable end: a US-Israeli military attack.

All this was left out. He was warned by the Obama people in no uncertain terms that disclosure of details of the negotiations would be considered as a betrayal of confidence. He was warned by his Republican hosts that the American public was in no mood to hear about yet another war.

What was left? A dreary recounting of the well-known facts about the negotiations. It was the only tedious part of the speech. For minutes no one jumped up, nobody shouted approval. Elie Wiesel was shown sleeping. The most important person in the hall, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Congress republicans and of Netanyahu, was not shown at all. But he was there, keeping close watch on his servants.

BY THE way, whatever happened to Netanyahu’s war?

Remember when the Israel Defense Forces were about to bomb Iran to smithereens? When the US military might was about to “take out” all Iranian nuclear installations?

Readers of this column might also remember that years ago I assured them that there would be no war. No ifs, no buts. No half-open back door for a retreat. I asserted that there would be no war, period.

Much later, all Israeli former military and intelligence chiefs spoke out against the war. The army Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, who finished his term this week, has disclosed that no draft operation order for attacking Iran’s nuclear capabilities was ever drawn up.

Why? Because such an operation could lead to a world-wide catastrophe. Iran would immediately close the Strait of Hormuz, just a few dozen miles wide, through which some 35% of the world’s sea-borne oil must pass. It would mean an immediate world-wide economic breakdown.

To open the Strait and keep it open, a large part of Iran would have to be occupied in a land war, boots on the ground. Even Republicans shiver at the thought.

Israeli military capabilities fall far short of such an adventure. And, of course, Israel cannot dream of starting a war without express American consent.

That is reality. Not speechifying. Even American senators are capable of seeing the difference.

THE CENTERPIECE of The Speech was the demonization of Iran. Iran is evil incarnate. It leaders are subhuman monsters. All over the world, Iranian terrorists are at work planning monstrous outrages. They are building intercontinental ballistic missiles to destroy the US. Immediately after obtaining nuclear warheads – now or in ten years – they will annihilate Israel.

In reality, Israel’s second-strike capability, based on the submarines supplied by Germany, would annihilate Iran within minutes. One of the most ancient civilizations in world history would come to an abrupt end. The ayatollahs would have to been clinically insane to do such a thing.

Netanyahu pretends to believe they are. Yet for years now, Israel has been conducting an amiable arbitration with the Iranian government about the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline across Israel built by an Iranian-Israeli consortium. Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was Israel’s stoutest ally in the region. Well after the revolution, Israel supplied Iran with arms in order to fight against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (the famous Irangate affair). And if one goes back to Esther and her sexual effort to save the Jews, why not mention Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Judean captives to return to Jerusalem?

Judging by its behavior, the present Iranian leadership has lost some of its initial religious fervor. It is behaving (not always speaking) in a very rational way, conducting tough negotiations as one would expect from Persians, aware of their immense cultural heritage, even more ancient than Judaism. Netanyahu is right in saying that one should not trust them with closed eyes, but his demonization is ridiculous.

Within the wider context, Israel and Iran are already indirect allies. For both, the Islamic State (ISIS) is the mortal enemy. To my mind, ISIS is far more dangerous to Israel, in the long run, than Iran. I imagine that for Tehran, ISIS is a far more dangerous enemy than Israel.

(The only memorable sentence in The Speech was “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy”.)

If the worst comes to the worst, Iran will have its bomb in the end. So what?

I may be an arrogant Israeli, but I refuse to be afraid. I live a mile from the Israeli army high command in the center of Tel Aviv, and in a nuclear exchange I would evaporate. Yet I feel quite safe.

The United States has been exposed for decades (and still is) to thousands of Russian nuclear bombs, which could eradicate millions within minutes. They feel safe under the umbrella of the “balance of terror”. Between us and Iran, in the worst situation, the same balance would come into effect.

WHAT IS Netanyahu’s alternative to Obama’s policy? As Obama was quick to point out, he offered none.

The best possible deal will be struck. The danger will be postponed for ten years or more. And, as Chaim Weizmann once said: “The future will come and take care of the future.”

Within these ten years, many things will happen. Regimes will change, enmities will turn into alliances and vice versa. Anything is possible.

Even – God and the Israeli voters willing – peace between Israel and Palestine, which would take the sting out of Israeli-Muslim relations.

Avnery on the Netanyahu speech in Congress: An Expensive Speech

Uri Avnery
February 28, 2015

WINSTON CHURCHILL famously said that democracy is the worst political system, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Anyone involved with political life knows that that is British understatement.

Churchill also said that the best argument against democracy is a five minute talk with an average voter. How true.

I have witnessed 20 election campaigns for the Knesset. In five of them I was a candidate, in three of them I was elected.

As a child I also witnessed three election campaigns in the dying days of the Weimar republic, and one (the last more or less democratic one) after the Nazi ascent to power.

(The Germans at that time were very good at graphic propaganda, both political and commercial. After more than 80 years, I still remember some of their election posters.)

Elections are a time of great excitement. The streets are plastered with propaganda, politicians talk themselves hoarse, sometimes violent clashes break out.

Not now. Not here. 17 days before the election, there is an eerie silence. A stranger coming to Israel would not notice that there is an election going on. Hardly any posters in the streets. Articles in the newspapers on many other subjects. People shouting at each other on TV as usual. No rousing speeches. No crowded mass meetings.

EVERYBODY KNOWS that this election may be crucial, far more so than most.

It may be the final battle for the future of Israel – between the zealots of Greater Israel and the supporters of a liberal state. Between a mini-empire that dominates and oppresses another people and a decent democracy. Between settlement expansion and a serious search for peace. Between what has been called here “swinish capitalism” and a welfare state.

In short, between two very different kinds of Israel.

So what is being said about this fateful choice?

Nothing.

The word “peace” – shalom in Hebrew – is not mentioned at all. God forbid. It is considered political poison. As we say in Hebrew: “He who wants to save his soul must distance himself”.

All the “professional advisers”, with whom this country is teeming, strongly admonish their clients never ever to utter it. “Say political agreement, if you must. But for Gods sake, do not mention peace!”

Same about occupation, settlements, transfer (of populations) and such. Keep away. Voters may suspect that you have an opinion. Avoid it like the plague.

The Israeli welfare state, once the envy of many countries (remember the kibbutz?) is falling apart. All our social services are crumbling. The money goes to the huge army, big enough for a medium power. So does anyone suggest drastically reducing the military? Of course not. What, stick the knife in the backs of our valiant soldiers? Open the gates to our many enemies? Why, that’s treason!

So what do the politicians and the media talk about? What is exciting the public mind? What reaches the headlines and evening news?

Only the really serious matters. Does the Prime minister’s wife pocket the coins for returned bottles? Does the Prime Minister’s official residence show signs of neglect? Did Sara Netanyahu use public funds to install a private hairdresser’s room in the residence?

SO WHERE is the main opposition party, the Zionist Camp (a.k.a. the Labor Party)?

The party labors (no pun intended) under a great disadvantage: its leader is the Great Absent One of this election.

Yitzhak Herzog does not have a commanding presence. Of slight build, more like a boy than a hardened warrior, with a thin, high voice, he does not seem like a natural leader. Cartoonists have a hard time with him. He does not have any pronounced characteristics that make him easily recognizable.

He reminds me of Clement Attlee. When the British Labor Party could not decide between two conspicuous candidates, they elected Attlee as the compromise candidate.

He, too, had no commanding features. (Churchill again: An empty car approached and Major Attlee got out.) The world gasped when the British, even before the end of World War II, kicked Churchill out and elected Attlee. But Attlee turned out to be a very good Prime Minister. He got out in time from India (and Palestine), set up the welfare state, and much more.

Herzog started out well. By setting up a joint election list with Tzipi Livni he created momentum and put the moribund Labor Party on its feet again. He adopted a popular name for the new list. He showed that he could make decisions. And there it stopped.

The Zionist Camp fell silent. Internal quarrels paralyzed the election staff.

(I published two articles in Haaretz calling for a joint list of the Zionist Camp, Meretz and Ya’ir Lapid’s party. It would have balanced the Left and the Center. It would have generated rousing new momentum. But the initiative could only have come from Herzog. He ignored it. So did Meretz. So did Lapid. I hope they won’t regret it.)

Now Meretz is teetering on the brink of the electoral threshold, and Lapid is slowly recovering from his deep fall in the polls, building mainly on his handsome face.

In spite of everything, Likud and the Zionist camp are running neck and neck. The polls give each 23 seats (of 120), predicting a photo finish and leaving the historic decision to a number of small and tiny parties.

THE ONLY game-changer in sight is the coming speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the two Houses of Congress.

It seems that Netanyahu is pinning all his hopes on this event. And not without reason.

All Israeli TV stations will broadcast the event live. It will show him at his best. The great statesman, addressing the most important parliament in the world, pleading for the very existence of Israel.

Netanyahu is an accomplished TV personality. He is not a great orator in the style of Menachem Begin (not to mention Winston Churchill), but on TV he has few competitors. Every movement of his hands, every expression of his face, every hair on his head is exactly right. His American English is perfect.

The leader of the Jewish ghetto pleading at the court of the Goyish king for his people is a well-known figure in Jewish history. Every Jewish child reads about him in school. Consciously or unconsciously, people will be reminded.

The chorus of senators and congress(wo)men will applaud wildly, jump up and down every few minutes and express their unbounded admiration in every way, except licking his shoes.

Some brave Democrats will absent themselves, but the Israeli viewers will not notice this, since it is the habit on such occasions to fill all empty seats with members of the staff.

No propaganda spectacle could be more effective. The voters will be compelled to ask themselves how Herzog would have looked in the same circumstances.

I cannot imagine any more effective election propaganda. Using the Congress of the United States of America as a propaganda prop is a stroke of genius.

MILTON FRIEDMAN asserted that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and this lunch has a high price indeed.

It means almost literally spitting in the face of President Obama. I don’t think there was ever anything like it. The prime minister of a small vassal country, dependent on the US for practically everything, comes to the capital of the US to openly challenge its President, in effect branding him a cheat and a liar. His host is the opposition party.

Like Abraham, who was ready to slaughter his son to please God, Netanyahu is ready to sacrifice Israel’s most vital interests for election victory.

For many years, Israeli ambassadors and other functionaries have toiled mightily to enlist both the White House and the Congress in the service of Israel. When Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington and found that the support for Israel was centered in the Congress, he made a large – and successful – effort to win over the Nixon White House.

AIPAC and other Jewish organizations have worked for generations to secure the support of both American parties and practically all senators and congress(wo)men. For years now, no politician on Capitol Hill dared to criticize Israel. It was tantamount to political suicide. The few who tried were cast into the wilderness.

And here comes Netanyahu and destroys all of this edifice for one election spectacle. He has declared war on the Democratic Party, cutting the bond that has connected Jews with this party for more than a century. Destroying the bipartisan support. Allowing Democratic politicians for the first time to criticize Israel. Breaking a generations-old taboo that may not be restored.

President Obama, who is being insulted, humiliated and obstructed in his most cherished policy move, the agreement with Iran, would be superhuman if he did not brood on revenge. Even a movement of his little finger could hurt Israel grievously.

Does Netanyahu care? Of course he cares. But he cares more about his reelection.

Much, much more.