Shows the archive for mai, 2015

Uri Avnery: Who will save Israel?

Uri Avnery
May 23, 2015

THE BATTLE is over. The dust has settled. A new government – partly ridiculous, partly terrifying – has been installed.

It is time to take stock.

The net result is that Israel has given up all pretense of desiring peace and that Israeli democracy has suffered a blow from which it may never recover.

ISRAELI GOVERNMENTS – with the possible exception of Yitzhak Rabin’s – have never really desired peace. The peace that is possible.

Peace, of course, means accepting fixed borders. In the founding declaration of the state, which was read out by David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, any mention of borders was deliberately omitted. Ben Gurion was not ready to accept the borders fixed by the UN partition resolution, because they provided only for a tiny Jewish state. Ben-Gurion foresaw that the Arabs would start a war, and he was determined to use this for enlarging the territory of the state.

This indeed happened. When the war ended in early 1949 with armistice agreements based on the final battle lines, Ben-Gurion could have accepted them as final borders. He refused. Israel has remained a state without borders that it recognizes itself – perhaps the only one in the world.

This is one of the reasons for the fact that Israel has no peace agreement with the Palestinian nation. It did sign official peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, based on the internationally recognized borders between the former British government of Palestine and its neighbors. No such borders are accepted by the Israeli government between Israel and the undefined Palestinian entity. All Israeli governments have always refused even to indicate where such borders should run. The much-praised Oslo agreement was no exception. Rabin, too, refused to draw a final line.

This refusal remains government policy. On the eve of the recent elections, Binyamin Netanyahu unequivocally declared that during his term of office – which for him means until his demise – no Palestinian state would come into being. Thus, the occupied territories would remain under Israeli rule.

No peace agreement will ever be signed by this government.

NO PEACE means attempting to keep the territorial status quo frozen forever, except that settlements will continue to grow and multiply.

This is not the situation concerning democracy. It is not frozen.

Israel is famously “the Only Democracy in the Middle East”. That is practically its second official name.

It is debatable how a state that dominates another people, depriving it of all human rights, not to mention citizenship, can be called a democracy. But Jewish Israelis have been used to this for 48 years, and just ignore this fact.

Now the situation inside Israel proper is about to change drastically.

Two facts attest to this.

First of all, Ayelet Shaked has been appointed Minister of Justice. One of the most extreme right-wing Israelis, she has not made a secret of the fact that she wants to destroy the independence of the Supreme Court, the last bastion of human rights.

This court has managed, throughout the years, to become a major force in Israeli life. Since Israel has no written constitution, the Supreme Court has succeeded, under strong and determined leadership, in assuming the role of the guardian of human and civil rights, even annulling democratically adopted Knesset laws that contradict the imagined constitution.

Shaked has announced that she would put an end to this impertinence.

The court has survived many onslaughts because its composition cannot be easily changed. Contrary to the practice in the US, which looks scandalous to us, judges are appointed by a committee, in which politicians are held in check by incumbent judges. Shaked wants to change this practice, stuffing the committee with politicians loyal to the government.

The court is already cowed. Lately it has made a number of ignoble decisions, such as outlawing calls for boycotting the settlements. But this is still heaven compared to what is bound to happen in the near future.

PERHAPS WORSE is Netanyahu’s decision to retain for himself the Ministry of Communication.

This ministry has always been disdained as a low-level office, reserved for political lightweights. Netanyahu’s dogged insistence on retaining it for himself is ominous.

The communication Ministry controls all TV stations, and indirectly newspapers and other media. Since all Israeli media are in very bad shape financially, this control may become deadly.

Netanyahu’s patron – some say owner – Sheldon Adelson, the would-be dictator of the US Republican party, already publishes a give-away newspaper in Israel, which has only one sole aim: to support Netanyahu personally against all enemies, including his competitors in his own Likud party. The paper – “Israel Hayom” (Israel Today) – is already Israel’s widest-circulation newspaper, with the American casino king pouring into it untold millions.

Netanyahu is determined to break all opposition in the electronic and written media. Opposition commentators are well advised to look for jobs elsewhere. Channel 10, considered slightly more critical of Netanyahu than its two competitors, is due to be closed at the end of this month.

One cannot avoid an odious analogy. One of the key terms in the Nazi lexicon was the atrocious German word Gleichschaltung – meaning connecting all media to the same energy source. All newspapers and radio stations (TV did not yet exist) were staffed with Nazis. Every morning, a Propaganda Ministry official by the name of Dr. Dietrich convened the editors and told them what tomorrow’s headlines, editorials etc. were to be.

Netanyahu has already dismissed the chief of the TV department. We don’t yet know the name of our own Dr. Dietrich.

As a humorous counterpoint, Miri Regev has been appointment Minister of Culture. Regev is a loud-mouthed woman, whose vulgar style has become a national symbol. No one can even guess how she had become the army spokesperson. Her style, such as concluding every public utterance with the call “Applause!”, has become a joke.

THE MOST efficient instrument of de-democratization is the education ministry (which is not efficient in anything else.)

Israel has several education systems, all of them financed – and hence controlled – by the Education Ministry.

Two systems belong to the government outright: the general “state” system and the autonomous “religious state” system.

Then there are two orthodox systems, one Ashkenazi and one Oriental. In some of these, only religious subjects are taught – no languages, no mathematics, no non-Jewish history. This makes alumni unfit for any employment. They remain dependent on their religious community’s handouts forever.

Before the state came into being, there was also a leftist system with socialist values, especially in the kibbutzim. This was abolished by David Ben-Gurion in the name of “statism”.

The last government tried in a timid way to compel the orthodox to introduce “core studies” into their schools, such as arithmetic and English. This has been abandoned now, since the orthodox have become members of the government coalition.

The real battle, which is starting now, is about the “general” state schools, which have been free to some extent. My late wife, Rachel, was a teacher in such a school for almost 30 years, and did what she wanted, trying to instill in her pupils’ minds humanist and liberal values.

Not any more. Israel’s most extreme nationalist-religious leader, Naftali Bennett, has now been installed as Minister of Education. He has already announced that his main objective is to imbue the young with a nationalist-Zionist spirit, raising a generation of real Israeli patriots. No mention of humanism, liberalism, human rights, social values or any other such nonsense.

Netanyahu has also retained the Foreign Ministry in his own hands. Many of its functions have been dispersed between six other ministries. The pretext is that Netanyahu is keeping the prestigious ministry open for Labor Party leader Yitzhak Herzog, who he is pretending to invite into the government. Herzog has already loudly refused. (I suppose that the real owner of the government, Sheldon Adelson, would not allow him in anyway.)

Netanyahu’s real aim is to prevent any potential competitor from gaining international and national prestige in this position. He does conduct foreign policy alone anyhow.

ALTOGETHER, A deeply troubling picture for anyone who loves Israel.

It is not so much that the balance of power in Israel has changed (it has not) but that the worst elements of the Right have taken over, pushing out almost all right-wing moderates. Until now, these extreme elements had been subdued, talking loudly but carrying a small stick. This has now changed. The extreme right has found its self-assurance, and is determined to use its power.

The Israeli Left (timidly calling itself “center-left”) has lost its spirit. Its only hope is “foreign pressure”. Especially from the White House. Barack Obama hates Netanyahu. Any time now, American pressure will be applied and save Israel from itself.

That’s a comfortable thought. We don’t have to do anything. Salvation will come from the outside, deus ex machina. Halleluja.

Unfortunately, I am a non-believer. What I see is the US increasing its support of the Netanyahu regime, offering huge new arms deliveries as “compensation” for the budding Iran nuclear deal. John Kerry, humiliated by Netanyahu and treated with open contempt, is groveling somewhere at our feet. Obama boasts that he has done more for “Israel” (meaning the Israeli Right) than any other president.

Salvation will not come from that direction. God will remain in the machine.

THERE IS only one kind of salvation: the one we carry inside us.

Some hope for a catastrophe that will cause people to open their eyes. I don’t wish for catastrophes.

I don’t want Israel to become a replica of al-Sisi’s Egypt, Erdogan’s Turkey or Putin’s Russia.

I believe we can save Israel – but only if we get up from the couch and play our part.

Segregation in Israeli courts

The race segregation in Israeli buses turned out to be a public relations disaster for the government, and PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the arrangement would be suspended. However, the segregation on buses is not cancelled. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, has made it clear that this is a temporary suspension, not a cancellation of segregation.

Much worse discrimination is the segregate judicial system: A civil system for Israeli settlers and their children, and military courts for the Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel.

Since 1967, Israel has colonised these occupied territories, even though to do so, is forbidden according to International law. In these occupied territories; East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, there is one civil law for Israeli settlers, and a military jurisdiction for Palestinians. A child of an Israeli settler throwing stones, and a child of a Palestinian doing the same thing, will therefore face two quite different judicial systems.

There’s a group of lawyers and human rights activists, Military Courts Watch, working to improve the treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military courts, in military and police custody and in the prisons.

They have covered the segregation issue here.

Israeli Government Most Racist, Extremist in History

Israel named its new cabinet (Hebrew) yesterday and the names are a Who’s Who of the most rabid, racist, brutal and cruel politicians in the nation.

by RICHARD SILVERSTEIN

Israel named its new cabinet (Hebrew) yesterday and the names are a Who’s Who of the most rabid, racist, brutal and cruel politicians in the nation. The only one who rivals them and is missing from the show is Avigdor Lieberman, who’s bowed out for political reasons of his own. In the past, nations of the world have isolated individual leaders of nations and refused to visit or meet with them because their ideas are so noxious that they fall outside the consensus of international discourse. Kurt Waldheim and Jorg Haider are examples of this. The time has come to put the Israeli government in herem. You can pick your poison among them as to which deserves special ostracism.Läs mer

Uri Avnery: The War of Fools

May 16, 2015

A FEW days ago, Israeli TV Channel 10 broadcast an investigative story about the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon, known as “Lebanon War II”.

Though not very profound, it provided a good picture of what actually happened. The three main Israeli protagonists talked freely.

The picture was very disturbing, to say the least. One could say that it was alarming.

The main conclusion is that all our leaders at the time behaved with blatant irresponsibility, combined with stupidity.

TO RECAPITULATE: Lebanon II lasted 34 days, from July 7 to August 14, 2006.

It was provoked by a border incident: Hezbollah forces in South Lebanon crossed the border and attacked a routine Israel patrol. The aim was to capture Israeli soldiers in order to effect a prisoner exchange – the only way to get the Israeli government to release Arab prisoners.

In the attack, two Israeli soldiers were dragged to Lebanese territory. All the others were killed. We were told that the captives were assumed to be alive. The film shows that the army command knew immediately that at least one of the captives was dead, and the second was assumed to have died, too. In fact, both were killed in the action.

The usual reaction to such an incident is a retaliatory strike “to restore deterrence”, such as the bombing or shelling of a Hezbollah base or a Lebanese village. Not this time. The Israeli cabinet started a war.

Why?

The TV story does not provide a convincing answer. The decision was taken at once, after a minimum of deliberations. One gets the feeling that emotions and personal ambitions played a major role.

THE TV investigation consists almost exclusively of the testimonies of the three persons who actually took the decision and conducted the war.

The first was the Prime Minister. Ehud Olmert had arrived at his office only a few month earlier, almost by accident. He had been the Deputy Prime Minister under Ariel Sharon, who had given him this empty title as compensation for not giving him a serious ministry. When Sharon suddenly fell into a permanent coma, Olmert adroitly managed to succeed him.

Throughout his adult life, Olmert had been a political functionary, being loyal to nobody, jumping from party to party and from patron to patron, from the Knesset to the Jerusalem municipality and back, until he achieved his lifetime’s ambition: the Prime Minister’s office.

Throughout, he had not gathered any military experience at all. He had shirked real army service, and in the end he did some shortened service in the army’s judicial department.

The Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, had even less military experience. A labor activist by profession, the former Secretary General of the giant Histadrut trade union, he became the leader of the Labor Party. When his party joined Olmert’s new government, Peretz could chose a ministry and took the most prestigious one: Defense.

This combination of two government leaders without any military qualifications is unusual in Israel, a country perpetually at war. The entire country laughed when Peretz was caught by a photographer at an army exercise following the action through binoculars with the lens caps still on.

The third person in the fateful trio, the Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, was supposed to make up for the military deficiencies of his two civilian superiors. He was a professional soldier, an officer in good standing. But, alas, he was an Air force general, a former combat pilot, who had never handled ground troops.

In Israel, all previous Chiefs of Staff had come from the land forces, had been experienced infantry or tank commanders. The appointment of Halutz to this post was highly unusual. Bad tongues insinuated that the former Defense Minister, a person of Jewish-Iranian origin, had preferred Halutz because his father was also an immigrant from Iran.

Be that as it may, the Chief of Staff, less than a year in office, had no qualifications for leading a force on the ground.

It thus happened that the three leaders of Lebanon War II were new in office, quite inexperienced in directing a ground war. Two of the three had no experience whatsoever in military matters.

The Chief of Staff had another misfortune. It appeared later that a few hours after the decision to go to war, and before the first shot was fired, he had instructed his broker to sell his shares. In the TV story he argued that he had meant to give the instruction some days earlier, when no one dreamed of a war, and that for some technical reason there had been a delay. But like Peretz’ photo with the capped binoculars, Halutz’ affair with the shares cast a shadow over both.

Olmert, of course, has in the meantime been convicted of taking bribes and divers other crimes and sentenced to prison, pending appeal.

LEBANON WAR II was preceded 24 years earlier by Lebanon War I, which was led by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon under the auspices of Menachem Begin.

At the time, the purpose was to destroy the Palestinian bases in South Lebanon. There was a definite war aim, a clear operational plan and efficient, military and political leadership. It ended, of course, in disaster, when the Sabra-Shatila massacre shocked the world.

In the wake of the atrocity, a Commission of Inquiry was set up and Sharon was dismissed from the Ministry of Defense (but not from the government). Military commanders were punished.

In spite of this, in Israel the campaign was considered a brilliant military achievement. Only a few realized that it was a military shambles: on the eastern front, opposite Syria, no Israeli unit reached its prescribed objective, while on the western front the Israeli troops reached Beirut only after the prescribed time, and only by breaking the UN-imposed cease-fire. (It was then that I met Yasser Arafat in the besieged western part of the city.)

Lebanon I had one unforeseen and, lasting effect. The Palestinian troops were indeed removed for the country and relocated in Tunis (where Arafat continued to conduct the fight until the Oslo agreement), but instead of the Palestinian threat another, much worse threat grew in Lebanon. The Shiite population, until then an ally of Israel, became a deadly and very efficient enemy. Hezbollah (“Party of Allah”) grew into a potent political and military force, which eventually led to Lebanon War II.

YET LEBANON War I was a strategic masterpiece compared to Lebanon War II.

In Lebanon II there was no operational plan at all. Nor was there a clear war aim – a requisite for any successful military operation.

The war started with a massive bombardment of civilian as well as military targets, power stations, roads and villages, the fulfillment of an Air Force general’s dream. Decision were taken and revoked, operations started and cancelled. Targets were bombed and destroyed without any purpose, except to terrorize the civilian population and “burn into their consciousness” the lesson that it was not worthwhile to provoke Israel.

Hezbollah reacted by terrorizing Israeli towns and villages with missiles. On both sides, casualties and destruction mounted. South and Central Lebanon suffered, of course, the most.

When Hezbollah did not capitulate, pressure in Israel mounted for a ground attack. It led next to nowhere. After the UN decreed a cease-fire, the Israeli leadership decided to make a last effort and launched a ground attack after the deadline. 34 Israeli soldiers were killed for nothing.

A large part of the operation was carried out by reserve soldiers, who were hastily called up. When the reservists arrived at their bases, they found the permanent emergency stores empty of many essential war materials. Being uniformed civilians, they complained loudly. Clearly, the army command had neglected the stores for years. The same with training – many reserve troops had not been through their annual training exercises for years.

When the fire eventually stopped, the achievements of the Israeli army amounted to nothing. A few Lebanese villages right next to the border were conquered, and had to be left again.

THIS TIME, the failures could not be covered up. A civilian Commission of Inquiry was set up. It condemned the leadership. Peretz and Halutz had to resign, Olmert was indicted for corruption soon after and had to resign, too.

From the Israeli government’s point of view, Lebanon II did yield some achievements.

Since then until now the Lebanon-Israel border has been comparatively quiet. If there had been any discernible war aim at all, it was to terrorize the Lebanese civilian population by widespread destruction and killing. This was indeed achieved. Hassan Nasrallah, the outstanding Hezbollah leader (who was appointed after his much less able predecessor was “eliminated” by the Israeli army in a “targeted killing”) publicly admitted with unusual candor that he would not have ordered the prisoner-taking action if he had foreseen that it would result in a war.

However, listening to the three Israeli leaders in the TV stories, one is struck by the glaring incompetence of all three. They started a war in which hundreds of Israelis and Lebanese were killed and houses destroyed without a valid reason, conducted a war without a clear plan, took decisions without the necessary knowledge. Speaking on TV, they showed very little respect for each other.

An Israeli, listening to these testimonies, is compelled to ask himself or herself: is this true for all our wars, past and future? Has this only been covered up until now by censorship and silent agreement?

And the much larger question: has this not been true for most wars in history, from ancient Egypt and Greece until now? We know already that World War I, with its millions of victims, was ignited by political idiots and conducted by military incompetents.

Is humanity condemned to suffer this forever? Is this all that we Israelis can look forward to, another few wars conducted by the same kind of politicians and generals?

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery: -A Netanyahu day- and nightmare!

Uri Avnery
May 9, 2015

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU seems to be detested now by everyone. Almost as much as his meddling wife, Sarah’le.

Six weeks ago, Netanyahu was the great victor. Contrary to all opinion polls, he achieved a surprise victory at the last moment, winning 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, leaving the Labor Party (re-branded “The Zionist Camp”) well behind him.

The extra seats did not come from the Left. They came from his nearest competitors, the Rightist parties.

However, it was a great personal triumph. Netanyahu was on top of his world. Sarah’le was radiant. Netanyahu left no doubt that he was now the master, and that he was determined to order things according to his wishes.

This week he had his comeuppance. On the very last day of the period allotted to him by law to set up his new government, he was near desperation.

AN OLD Hebrew saying puts it succinctly: “Who is a hero? He who turns an enemy into a friend.”

In this sense, Netanyahu is an anti-hero. He has a peculiar talent for turning friends into enemies. Sarah’le is a great help in this.

Winston Churchill once advised that at the moment of victory, one should be magnanimous. Magnanimity is not one of Netanyahu’s outstanding virtues. He made it clear that he, and he alone, was now the master.

Right after the election Netanyahu decreed that the next government would be a narrow coalition of orthodox and rightist parties, which would be able at long last to do the things he really wants to do: put an end to this two-state nonsense, castrate the Supreme Court, muzzle the media and much more.

Everything went just fine. Netanyahu was invited by the President of the State to form the next government, coalition talks went smoothly, and the contours of the coalition were clear: Likud, the Ashkenazi orthodox Torah party, the Oriental orthodox Shas party, Moshe Kahlon’s new economic reform party, Naftali Bennett’s nationalist-religious party and Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-rightist party. Altogether: a comfortable 67 of the 120 Knesset members.

Party chiefs don’t have lo love each other to set up a coalition. They don’t even have to like each other. But it is not really very comfortable to sit together in a government when they hate and despise each other.

THE FIRST to throw a bomb was Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman is not considered a “real” Israeli. He looks different, speaks with a very thick foreign accent, his mind seems to work in a different way. Although he came to Israel decades ago, he is still considered “a Russian”. Actually he came from Soviet Moldavia.

There is a saying that has been attributed to Stalin: Revenge is best served cold. This Tuesday, 48 hours before the end of the time allotted by law to the formation of the new government, Lieberman dropped his bomb.

In the election, Lieberman lost more than half of his strength to Likud, shrinking to six seats. In spite of this, Netanyahu assured him that he could retain his post as Foreign Minister. It was a cheap concession, since Netanyahu makes all important foreign policy decisions himself.

All of a sudden, without any provocation, Lieberman convened a press conference and made a momentous announcement: he was not joining the new government.

Why? All Lieberman’s personal demands had been satisfied. The pretexts were obviously contrived. For example, he wants “terrorists” to be executed, a demand resolutely resisted by all security services, who believe (quite rightly) that creating martyrs is a very bad idea. Lieberman also wants to send to prison orthodox youngsters who refuse to serve in the army, a ridiculous demand from a government in which the orthodox parties play a central role. And so on.

It was a clear and blatant act of revenge. Obviously Lieberman had taken the decision right from the beginning but kept it secret until the very last moment, when there was no time for Netanyahu to change the composition of the government by inviting, for example, the Labor Party.

It was indeed revenge served cold.

WITHOUT THE six members of Lieberman’s party, Netanyahu still has a majority of 61, just enough to present the government to the Knesset and get a vote of confidence. Just.

A 61-member government is a continuous nightmare. I would not wish it on my own worst enemy.

In such a situation, no member of the coalition parties can go abroad, for fear of a sudden opposition motion of no-confidence. For Israelis, that is a fate worse than death. The only way for a coalition MK to travel to Paris would be to make an agreement with a member of the opposition who wants to go, say, to Las Vegas. Hand Washes Hand, as the saying goes.

But there is a much worse day-and-night-mare for Netanyahu: in a 61-member coalition, “every bastard is a king”’ as a Hebrew saying goes. Each and every member can obstruct any bill produced by the government, allow any opposition motion to win, absent himself from any crucial vote.

Every day would be a field day for blackmail of all kinds. Netanyahu would be compelled to accede to every whim of every member. Even in Greek mythology no such torture was ever invented.

THE FIRST example was given already on the very first day after the Lieberman bomb.

Bennett, who had not yet signed the coalition agreement, found himself in a position in which there would be no Netanyahu government without him. He racked his brains on how to exploit the situation and get something more than was already promised to him (and humiliate Netanyahu in the process). He came up with the demand that Ayelet Shaked become Minister of Justice.

Shaked is the beauty queen of the new Knesset. In spite of her 38 years, she has a girlish appearance. She has also a beautiful name: Ayelet means gazelle, Shaked means almonds.

Her mother was a leftist teacher, but her Iraqi-born father was a rightist Likud central committee member. She follows in his footsteps.

This almond-eyed gazelle excels in political activities based on hatred: an intense hatred of Arabs, leftists, homosexuals and foreign refugees. She has authored a steady stream of extreme rightist bills. Among them the atrocious bill that says that the “Jewish character” of Israel takes precedence over democracy and overrides basic laws. Her incitement against the helpless refugees from Sudan and Eritrea, who have somehow succeeded in reaching Israel, is just a part of her untiring efforts. Though the No. 2 of a rabid religious party, she is not religious at all.

The relationship between her and Bennett started when both were employees of Netanyahu’s political office, when he was leader of the opposition. Somehow, they both incurred the wrath of Sara’le, who never forgets or forgives. By the way, the same happened to Lieberman, also a former director of Netanyahu’s office.

So now is payment day. Netanyahu tortured Bennett during the negotiations, letting him sweat for days. Bennett used the opportunity after Lieberman’s desertion and put up a new condition for joining the coalition: Shaked must be Minister of Justice.

Netanyahu, bereft of any practical alternative, gave in to open blackmail. It was that or no government.

So now the gazelle is in charge of the Supreme Court, which she detests. She will choose the next Attorney General (known in Israel as the “judicial advisor”) and stuff the committee that appoints the judges. She will also be in charge of the ministers’ committee that decides which bills will be presented by the government to the Knesset – and which not.

Not a very promising situation for the Only Democracy in the Middle East.

NETANYAHU IS too experienced not to know that he cannot à la longue govern with such a shaky coalition. He needs at least one more partner in the near future. But where to find one?

The Arab party is obviously out. So is Meretz. So is Yair Lapid’s party, for the simple reason that the orthodox will not sit with him in the government. So only the Labor Party (aka Zionist Camp) is left.

Frankly, I believe that Yitzhak Herzog would jump at the opportunity. He must know by now that he is not the popular tribune needed to lead his party to power. He has neither the stature of an Apollo nor the tongue of a Netanyahu. He has never voiced an original idea nor led a successful protest.

Moreover, the Labor Party has never excelled in opposition. It was the party in power for 45 consecutive years before and after the founding of the state. As an opposition party it is pathetic, and so is “Buji” Herzog.

Joining Netanyahu’s government in a few months would be ideal for Herzog. There is never a lack of pretexts – we experience at least once a month a National Emergency that demands National Unity. A little war, trouble with the UN and such. (Though John Kerry this week gave an interview to Israeli TV that was a masterpiece of abject, belly-crawling self-humiliation.)

Getting Herzog won’t be easy. Labor is not a monolithic body. Many of its functionaries do not admire Herzog, consider Bennett a fascist and Netanyahu a habitual liar and cheat. But the allures of government are strong, ministerial chairs are so comfortable.

My bet: Netanyahu, the great survivor, will survive.

Uri Avnery: A boy called Bibi

Uri Avnery
May 2, 2015

THERE ARE two different opinions about Binyamin Netanyahu. It is difficult to believe that they concern the same person.

One is that Netanyahu is a shallow politician, devoid of ideas and convictions, who is led solely by his obsession to remain in power. This Netanyahu has a good voice and a talent for making shallow speeches on television, speeches devoid of any intellectual content – and that’s all.

This Netanyahu is highly “pressurable” (a Hebrew word invented almost solely for him), a man who will change his views according to political expediency, disclaiming in the evening what he has said in the morning. None of his words should be trusted. He will lie and cheat anytime to assure his survival.

The other Netanyahu is almost the exact opposite. A principled patriot, a serious thinker, a statesman who sees danger beyond the horizon. This Netanyahu is a gifted orator, able to move the US Congress and the UN plenum, admired by the great mass of Israelis.

So which of these descriptions is true?

Neither.

IF IT is true that the character of a person is shaped by his early childhood, we must examine the background of Netanyahu in order to understand him.

He grew up in the shadow of a strong father. Benzion Millikowsky, who changed his foreign name to the Hebrew Netanyahu, was a very dominant and very unhappy person. Born in Warsaw, then a provincial town in the Russian Empire, he immigrated to Palestine as a young man, studied history at the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem and expected to become a professor there. He was not accepted.

Benzion was the son of an early adherent of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the extreme rightist Zionist leader. He inherited from his father a very extremist outlook, and passed it on to his three sons. Binyamin was the second one. His elder brother, still a child himself, called him Bibi, and the childish appellation stuck.

Benzion’s rejection by the prestigious young Hebrew University turned him into a bitter man, a bitterness that lasted until his death in 2012, at age 102. He was sure that this rejection had nothing to do with his academic qualification, and everything with his ultra-nationalist opinions.

His extreme Zionism did not stop him leaving Palestine and seeking his academic luck in the United States, where a second-rate university gave him a professorship. His life’s work as a historian concerned the fate of the Jews in medieval Christian Spain – the expulsion and inquisition. It engendered in him a very dark world view: the conviction that Jews will always be persecuted, that all Goyim (non-Jews) hate the Jews, that a straight line connects the auto-da-fé of the Spanish inquisition with the Nazi Holocaust.

During the years, the Netanyahu family went back and forth between the US and Israel. Binyamin grew up in America, acquired perfect American English, essential for his future career, studied and became a salesman. His obvious talent for this profession attracted a Likud foreign minister, who sent him to the UN as Israeli spokesman.

BENZION NETANYAHU was not only a very bitter person, who accused the Zionist and Israeli academic establishment of failing to recognize his academic stature. He was also a very autocratic family man.

The three Netanyahu boys lived in constant awe of Father. They were not allowed to make any noise at home while the Great Man worked in his closed study. They were not allowed to bring other boys home. Their mother was completely devoted to her husband and served him in every way, sacrificing her own personality.

In every family, the second child of three is in a difficult position. He is not admired like the eldest, nor indulged like the youngest. For Binyamin this was especially hard, because of the personality of the eldest.

Yonatan Netanyahu (both names mean “God has given”) seems to have been a specially blessed boy. He was good-looking, gifted, much liked, even admired. In the army, he became the commander of the revered Sayeret Matkal (“General Staff Commando Unit”) – the elite of the army’s elite.

As such he was the ground commander of the daring 1976 Entebbe commando raid in Uganda, which liberated the captive passengers of a flight hijacked by Palestinian and German guerillas on the way to Israel. Yonatan was killed and became a national hero. He was also adored by his father, who never quite accepted the qualities of his second son.

Between his father, the embittered Great Thinker, and his elder brother, the Legendary Hero, Binyamin grew up as a quiet but very ambitious boy, part Israeli, part American. He worked for some time as a furniture salesman, until he was discovered by the far-right Likud foreign minister, Moshe Arens.

Between his obsessive need to be approved by his father and to be found equal to his glorious brother, Netanyahu’s own character was forged. His father never quite appreciated him, once saying that he would make a good foreign minister, but not a prime minister.

Being his father’s son, Netanyahu incited the people against Yitzhak Rabin after the Oslo Agreement and was photographed on the speaker’s balcony during the demonstration in which a symbolic coffin of Rabin was carried around. Soon after, when Rabin was murdered, he denied all responsibility.

Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, failed miserably, and Netanyahu became prime minister. It was a total catastrophe. On the evening after the next elections, when it be came clear that he had lost, multitudes streamed to Tel Aviv’s central square (now named after Rabin) in a spontaneous demonstration of joy like that at the liberation of Paris.

His successor, Labor’s Ehud Barak, had no more luck. A former army Chief of Staff, admired by many and especially by himself, he compelled President Bill Clinton to convene an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference at Camp David. Barak, who was quite ignorant of Palestinian attitudes, came to dictate his terms and was shocked when they were rejected. Coming home, he declared that the Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. Hearing this, the public threw him out and elected the tough far-right general, Ariel Sharon, the founder of Likud.

Netanyahu became Minister of Finance. As such he was quite successful. Applying the neo-liberal ultra-capitalist teaching he had absorbed in the US, he made the poor poorer and the rich richer. The poor seemed to liked it.

Sharon was the father of the settlements in the West Bank. To strengthen these, he decided to give up the Gaza Strip with its few settlements, which were a disproportional drag on the army. But his unilateral retreat from the Gaza Strip shocked the rightist camp. The elder Netanyahu called the move a “crime against humanity”.

Inpatient with opposition, Sharon split the Likud and founded his own Kadima (“Forwards”) party. Netanyahu again became the leader of Likud.

As usual, he was lucky. Sharon suffered a stroke and fell into a coma, from which he never recovered. His successor, Ehud Olmert, was accused of corruption and had to resign. The next in line, Tzipi Livni, was incompetent and unable to form a government, though all the ingredients were there.

Netanyahu, the man who was kicked out just a few years earlier by the cheering masses, came back as an imperator. Again the masses cheered. Shakespeare would have loved it.

SINCE THEN, Netanyahu has been elected again and again. The last time was a clear personal victory. He vanquished all his competitors on the Right.

So who is this Netanyahu? Contrary to popular opinion, he is a man of very strong beliefs – the beliefs of his far-right father. The entire world is out to kill us at all times, we need a powerful state to defend ourselves, all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan has been given us by God (whether he exists or not). Everything else is lies, subterfuges, tactics.

When, in a famous speech at Bar-Ilan university near Tel Aviv, Netanyahu embraced the principle of “Two States for Two Peoples”, those who knew him could only smile. It was as if he had recommended the eating of pork on Yom Kippur.

He dangled this statement before the eyes of the naive Americans and let his Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, lead endless negotiations with the Palestinians, whom he despises. Whenever it seemed that the negotiations were nearing some goal, he quickly put up another condition, such us the ridiculous demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People. He would not dream, of course, of recognizing the Palestinian territories as the Nation State of the Palestinian People – a people he does not really believe exists at all.

On the eve of the last election, just now, Netanyahu announced that there would not be a Palestinian state as long as he was in power. When the Americans remonstrated, he repudiated himself. Why not? As his Likud predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir, famously said, “It is permitted to lie for the Fatherland.”

Netanyahu will lie, cheat, repudiate himself, raise false flags – all for the purpose of achieving his one and only real goal, the Rock of our Existence (as he loves to say), the heritage of his father – the Jewish State from the sea to the river.

THE TROUBLE is that in this area, the Arabs are already the majority, a small majority, but one that is bound to grow steadily.

A Jewish and democratic state in the entire country is impossible. The popular joke has it that this is too much even for God. So He decreed that we have to choose two of the three attributes: a Jewish and democratic state in part of the country, a Jewish state in all of the country that will not be democratic, or a democratic state in all of the country that will not be Jewish.

Netanyahu’s solution to this problem is to ignore it. Just go on, enlarge the settlements, and concentrate on the immediate problem: install his fourth government and plan for his fifth, four years from now.

And, of course, show his father, who is looking down on him from heaven, that after all little Bibi, his second son, is worthy of him.