Viser arkivet for stikkord bengurion

Uri Avnery: -There Are Still Judges...

April 18, 2015

THIS WEEK I won a dubious distinction: a groundbreaking Supreme Court judgment has been named after me.

It is an honor I would have gladly dispensed with.

MY NAME appeared at the head of a list of applicants, associations and individuals, which asked the court to cancel a law enacted by the Knesset.

Israel has no written constitution. This unusual situation arose right from the beginning of the state because David Ben-Gurion, a fierce secularist, could not achieve a compromise with the orthodox parties, which insisted that the Torah already is a constitution.

So, instead of a constitution, we have a number of Basic Laws which cover only a part of the ground, and a mass of Supreme Court precedents. This court slowly arrogated to itself the right to abolish Laws enacted by the Knesset which contradict the nonexistent constitution.

STARTING FROM the last Knesset, extreme right-wing Likud Members have been competing with each other in their efforts to castrate the Supreme Court one way or another. Some would stuff the court with right-wing judges, others would radically limit its jurisdiction.

Things came to a head when a group of far-right Likud members launched a veritable avalanche of bills which were clearly unconstitutional. One of them, and the most dangerous one, was a law that forbade people to call for a boycott of the State of Israel and, in a sinister way, added the words “and of territories held by it”.

This revealed the real aim of the operation. Some years before, our Gush Shalom peace organization had called on the public to boycott the products of the settlements in the occupied territories. We also published on our website a list of these products. Several other peace organizations joined the campaign.

Simultaneously, we tried to convince the European Union to do something similar. Israel’s agreement with the EU, which exempts Israeli wares from customs, does not include the settlements. But the EU was used to closing its eyes. It took us a lot of time and effort to open them again. In recent years, the EU has excluded these goods. They have demanded that on all merchandise “made in Israel”, the actual place of origin be stated. This week, 16 European foreign ministers called upon the EU foreign affairs chief to demand that all products from the settlements be clearly marked.

The law passed by the Knesset not only has criminal aspects, but also civil ones. Persons calling for a boycott could not only be sent to prison. They could also be ordered to pay huge damages without the plaintiff having to prove that any actual damage had been caused to him or her by the call.

Also, associations which receive government subsidies or other governmental assistance under existing laws would be deprived of them from then on, making their work for peace and social justice even more difficult.

WITHIN MINUTES after the enactment of this law, Gush Shalom and I personally submitted our applications to the Supreme Court. They had been prepared well in advance by advocate Gaby Lasky, a talented young lawyer and dedicated peace activist. My name was the first in the list of petitioners, and so the case is called: “Avnery v. the State of Israel”.

The case laid out by Lasky was logical and sound. The right of free speech is not guaranteed in Israel by any specific law, but is derived from several Basic Laws. A boycott is a legitimate democratic action. Any individual can decide to buy or not to buy something. Indeed, Israel is full of boycotts. Shops selling non-kosher food, for example, are routinely boycotted by the religious, and posters calling for such boycotts of a specific shop are widely distributed in religious neighborhoods.

The new law does not prohibit boycotts in general. It singles out political boycotts of a certain kind. Yet political boycotts are commonplace in any democracy. They are part of the exercise of freedom of speech.

Indeed, the most famous modern boycott was launched by the Jewish community in the United States in 1933, after the Nazis came to power in Germany. In response, the Nazis called for a boycott of all Jewish enterprises in Germany. I remember the date, April 1, because my father did not allow me to go to school on that day (I was 9 years old and the only Jew in my school.)

Later, all progressive countries joined in a boycott of the racist regime in South Africa. That boycott played a large (though not decisive) role in bringing it down.

A law cannot generally compel a person to buy a normal commodity, nor can it generally forbid them to buy it. Even the framers of this new Israeli law understood this. Therefore, their law does not punish anybody for buying or not buying. It punishes those who call on others to abstain from buying.

Thus the law is clearly an attack on the freedom of speech and on non-violent democratic action. In short, it is a basically flawed anti-democratic law.

THE COURT which judged our case consisted of nine judges, almost the entire Supreme Court. Such a composition is very rare, and only summoned when a fateful decision has to be made.

The court was headed by its president, Judge Asher Gronis. That in itself was significant, since Gronis already left the court and went into compulsory retirement in January, when he reached the age of 70. When the seat became vacant, Gronis was already too old to become the court president. Under the then existing Israeli law, a Supreme Court judge cannot become the court’s president when the time for his final retirement is too close. But the Likud was so eager to have him that a special enabling law was passed to allow him to become the president.

Moreover, a judge who has been on a case but did not finish his judgment in time before retiring, is given an extra three months to finish the job. It seems that even Gronis, the Likud’s protégé, had qualms about this specific decision. He signed it literally at the very last moment – at 17.30 hours of the last day, just before Israel went into mourning at the start of Holocaust Day.

His signature was decisive. The court was split – 4 to 4 – between those who wanted to annul the law and those who wanted to uphold it. Gronis joined the pro-law section and the law was approved. It is now the Law of the Land.

One section of the original law was, unanimously, stricken from the text. The original text said that any person – i.e. settler – who claims that they have been harmed by the boycott, can claim unlimited indemnities from anyone who has called for this boycott, without having to prove that they were actually hurt. From now on, a claimant has to prove the damage.

At the public hearing of our case, we were asked by the judges if we would be satisfied if they strike out the words “territories held by Israel”, thus leaving the boycott of the settlements intact. We answered that in principle we insist on annulling the entire law, but would welcome the striking out of these words. But in the final judgment, even this was not done.

This, by the way, creates an absurd situation. If a professor in Ariel University, deep in the occupied territories, claims that I have called to boycott him, he can sue me. Then my lawyer will try to prove that my call went quite unheeded and therefore caused no damage, while the professor will have to prove that my voice was so influential that multitudes were induced to boycott him.
YEARS AGO, when I was still Editor-in-Chief of Haolam Hazeh, the news-magazine, I decided to choose Aharon Barak as our Man of the Year.

When I interviewed him, he told me how his life was saved during the Holocaust. He was a child in the Kovno ghetto, when a Lithuanian farmer decided to smuggle him out. This simple man risked his own life and the lives of his family when he hid him under a load of potatoes to save his life.

In Israel, Barak rose to eminence as a jurist, and eventually became the president of the Supreme Court. He led a revolution called “Juristic Activism”, asserting, among other things, that the Supreme Court is entitled to strike out any law that negates the (unwritten) Israeli constitution.

It is impossible to overrate the importance of this doctrine. Barak did for Israeli democracy perhaps more than any other person. His immediate successors – two women – abided by this rule. That’s why the Likud was so eager to put Gronis in his place. Gronis’ doctrine can be called “Juristic Passivism”.

During my interview with him, Barak told me: “Look, the Supreme Court has no legions to enforce its decisions. It is entirely dependent on the attitude of the people. It can go no further than the people are ready to accept!”

I constantly remember this injunction. Therefore I was not too surprised by the judgment of the Supreme Court in the boycott case.

The Court was afraid. It’s as simple as that. And as understandable.

The fight between the Supreme Court and the Likud’s far-right is nearing a climax. The Likud has just won a decisive election victory. Its leaders are not hiding their intention to finally implement their sinister designs on the independence of the Court.

They want to allow politicians to dominate the appointment committee for Supreme Court judges and to abolish altogether the right of the court to annul unconstitutional laws enacted by the Knesset.

MENACHEM BEGIN used to quote the miller of Potsdam who, when involved with the King in a private dispute, exclaimed: “There are still judges in Berlin!”

Begin said: “There are still judges in Jerusalem!”

For how long?

The partition of Palestine 29th November 1947

THIS TUESDAY will be the 64th anniversary of a fateful day for our lives.

A day in November. A day to remember.

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted, by 33 votes against 13 (with 10 abstentions), the Palestine Partition Plan.

This event has become a subject of endless debates, misinterpretations and outright falsifications. It may be worthwhile to peel away the myths and see it as it was.

BY THE end of 1947, there were in the country – then officially named Palestine – about 1.2 million Arabs and 635 000 Jews. The gap between the two population groups had turned into an abyss. Though geographically intertwined, they lived on two different planets. With very few exceptions, they considered each other as mortal enemies.

This was the reality that the UN commission, charged with proposing a solution, found on the ground when it visited the country.

One of the great moments of my life is connected with this UNSCOP (“United Nations Special Committee on Palestine”). On the Carmel mountain chain, near kibbutz Daliah, I was attending the annual folk dance festival. Folk dances played a major role in the new Hebrew culture we were consciously striving to create. Most of these dances were somewhat contrived, even artificial, like many of our efforts, but they reflected the will to create something new, fresh, rooted in the country, entirely different from the Jewish culture of our parents. Some of us spoke about a new “Hebrew nation”.

In a huge natural amphitheater, under a canopy of twinkling summer stars, tens of thousands of young people, boys and girls, had gathered to cheer on the many amateur groups performing on the stage. It was a joyous affair, imbued with camaraderie, radiating feelings of strength and self-confidence.

No one of us could have guessed that within a few months we would meet again in the fields of a deadly war.

In the middle of the performance, an excited voice announced on the loudspeaker that several members of UNSCOP had come to visit. As one, the huge crowd stood up and started to sing the national anthem, Hatikvah (“the Hope”). I never liked this song very much, but at that moment it sounded like a fervent prayer, filling the space, rebounding from the hills of the Carmel. I suppose that almost all of the 6000 Jewish youngsters who gave their lives in the war were assembled for the last time on that evening, singing with profound emotion.

IT WAS in this atmosphere that the members of UNSCOP, representing many different nations, had to find a solution.

As everybody knows, the commission adopted a plan to partition Palestine between an independent “Arab” and an independent “Jewish” state. But that is not the whole story.

Looking at the map of the 1947 partition resolution, one must wonder at the borders. They resemble a puzzle, with Arab pieces and Jewish pieces put together in an impossible patchwork, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a separate unit. The borders look crazy. Both states would have been totally indefensible.

The explanation is that the committee did not really envision two totally independent and separate states. The plan explicitly included an economic union. That would have necessitated a very close relationship between the two political entities, something akin to a federation, with open borders and free movement of people and goods. Without it, the borders would have been impossible.

That was a very optimistic scenario. Immediately after the committee’s plan was adopted by the General Assembly, after much cajoling by the Zionist leadership, war broke out with sporadic Arab attacks on Jewish traffic on the vital roads.

When the first shot was fired, the partition plan was dead. The foundation, on which the whole edifice rested, broke apart. No open borders, no economic union, no chance for a union of any kind. Only abyssal, deadly, enmity.

THE PARTITION plan would never have been adopted in the first place if it had not been preceded by a historical event that seemed at the time beyond belief.

The Soviet delegate to the UN, Andrei Gromyko, suddenly made what can only be described as a fiery Zionist speech. He contended that after the terrible suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust, they deserved a state of their own.

To appreciate the utter amazement with which this speech was received, one must remember that until that very moment, Communists and Zionists had been irreconcilable foes. It was not only a clash of ideologies, but also a family affair. In Tzarist Russia, Jews were persecuted by an anti-Semitic government, and young Jews, both male and female, were in the vanguard of all the revolutionary movements.

An idealistic young Jew had the choice between joining the Bolsheviks, the social-democratic Jewish Bund or the Zionists. The competition was fierce and engendered intense mutual hatred. Later, in the Soviet Union, Zionists were mercilessly persecuted. In Palestine, local Communists, Jewish and Arab, were accused of collaborating with the Arab militants who attacked Jewish neighborhoods.

What had brought about this sudden change in Soviet policy? Stalin did not turn from an anti-Semite into a philo-Semite. Far from it. But he was a pragmatist. It was the era of medium-range missiles, which threatened Soviet territory from all sides. Palestine was in practice a British colony and could easily have become a Western missile base, threatening Odessa and beyond. Better a Jewish and an Arab state, than that.

In the following war, almost all my weapons came from the Soviet bloc, mainly from Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union recognized Israel de jure long before the United States.

The end of this unnatural honeymoon came in the early fifties, when David Ben-Gurion decided to turn Israel into an inseparable part of the Western bloc. At the same time, Stalin recognized the importance of the new pan-Arab nationalism of Gamal Abd-al-Nasser and decided to ride on that wave. His paranoid anti-Semitism came again to the fore. All over Eastern Europe Communist veterans were executed as Zionist-imperialist-Trotskyite spies, and his Jewish doctors were accused of attempting to poison him. (Luckily for them, Stalin died just in time and they were saved.)

TODAY, THE partition resolution is remembered in Israel mainly because of two words: “Jewish state”.

No one in Israel wants to be reminded of the borders of 1947, which gave the Jewish minority in Palestine “only” 55% of the country. (Though half of this consisted of the Negev desert, most of which is almost empty even now.) Nor do Jewish Israelis like to be reminded that almost half the population of the territory allotted to them was Arab.

At the time, the UN resolution was accepted by the Jewish population with overflowing enthusiasm. The photos of the people dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv belong to this day, and not – as is often falsely claimed, to the day the State of Israel was officially founded. (At that time we were in middle of a bloody war and nobody was in the mood for dancing.)

We know now that Ben-Gurion did not dream of accepting the partition plan borders, and even less the Arab population within them. The famous army “Plan Dalet” early in the war was a strategic necessity, but it was also a solution to the two problems: it added to Israel another 22% of the country and it drove the Arab population out. Only a small remnant of the Arab population remained – and by now it has grown to 1.5 million.

But all that is history. What concerned the future are the words “Jewish state”. Israeli rightists, who abhor the partition resolution in any other context, insist that it provides the legal basis to Israel’s right to be recognized as a “Jewish state” – meaning in practice, that the state belongs to all the Jews around the world, but not to its Arab citizens, whose families have been living here for at least 13 centuries, if not far longer (depends who does the counting).

But the UN used the word “Jewish” only for lack of any other definition. During the British Mandate, the two peoples in the country were called in English “Jews” and “Arabs”. But we ourselves spoke about a “Hebrew” State (medina Ivrit). In newspaper clippings of the time, only this term can be seen. People of my age-group remember dozens of demonstrations in which we invariably chanted “Free Immigration – Hebrew State”. The sound of it still rings in our ears.

The UN did not deal with the ideological makeup of the future states. It certainly assumed that they would be democratic, belonging to all their inhabitants. Otherwise they would hardly have drawn borders that left a substantial Arab population in the “Jewish” state.

Israel’s declaration of independence bases itself on the UN resolution. The relevant sentence reads: “…AND ON THE STRENGTH OF THE RESOLUTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY, (WE) HEREBY DECLARE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE IN ERETZ-ISRAEL, TO BE KNOWN AS THE STATE OF ISRAEL.”

The ultra-rightists who now dominate the Knesset want to use these words as a pretext for replacing democracy with a doctrine of Jewish nationalist-religious supremacy. A former Shin-Bet chief and present Kadima party MK has submitted a bill that would abolish the equality of the two terms “Jewish” and “democratic” in the official legal doctrine, and state clearly that the “Jewishness” of the state has precedence over its “democratic” character. This would deprive the Arab citizens of any remnant of equality. (At the last moment, in face of the public reaction, the Kadima party compelled him to withdraw the bill.)

THE 1947 partition plan was an exceptionally intelligent document. Its details are obsolete now, but its basic idea is as relevant today as it was 64 years ago: two nations are living in this country, they cannot live together in one state without a continuous civil war, they can live together in two states, the two states must establish close ties between each other.

Ben-Gurion was determined to prevent the founding of the Arab Palestinian state, and with the help of King Abdallah of Transjordan he succeeded in this. All his successors, with the possible exception of Yitzhak Rabin, have followed this line, now more than ever. We have paid – and are still paying – a heavy price for this folly.

On the 64th anniversary of this historic event, we must go back to its basic principle: Israel and Palestine, Two States for Two Peoples.

Uri Avnery
November 26, 2011

Uri Avnery on Israel's flash of insight in the world opinion

A Flash of Lightning

NIGHT. UTTER darkness. Heavy rain. Visibility close to nil.

And suddenly – a flash of lightning. For a fraction of a second, the landscape is lit up. For this split second, the terrain surrounding us can be seen. It is not the way it used to be.

OUR GOVERNMENT’ action against the Gaza aid flotilla was such a lightning flash.

Israelis normally live in darkness as far as seeing the world is concerned. But for that instant, the real landscape around us could be seen, and it looked frightening. Then the darkness settled down over us, Israel returned to its bubble, the world disappeared from view.

This split second was enough to reveal a dismal scene. On almost all fronts, the situation of the State of Israel has worsened since the last flash of lightning.

The flotilla and the attack on it did not create this landscape. It has been there since our present government was set up. But the deterioration did not start even then. It began a long time before.

The action of Ehud Barak & Co. only lit up the situation as it is now, and gave it yet another push in the wrong direction.

How does the new landscape look in the light of Barak’s barak? (“barak” means lightning in Hebrew.)

THE LIST is headed by a fact that nobody seems to have noticed until now: the death of the Holocaust.

In all the tumult this affair has caused throughout the world, the Holocaust was not even mentioned. True, in Israel there were some who called Recep Tayyip Erdogan “a new Hitler”, and some Israel-haters talked about the “Nazi attack”, but the Holocaust has practically disappeared.

For two generations, our foreign policy used the Holocaust as its main instrument. The bad conscience of the world determined its attitude towards Israel. The (justified) guilt feelings – either for atrocities committed or for looking the other way – caused Europe and America to treat Israel differently than any other nation – from nuclear armaments to the settlements. All criticism of our governments’ actions was branded automatically as anti-Semitism and silenced.

But time does its work. New tragedies have blunted the world’s senses. For a new generation, the Holocaust is a thing of the remote past, a chapter of history. The sense of guilt has disappeared in all countries, except Germany.

The Israeli public did not notice this, because in Israel itself the Shoah is alive and present. Many Israelis are children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and the Holocaust has been imprinted on their childhood. Moreover, a huge apparatus ensures that the Holocaust will not disappear from our memory, starting from kindergarten, through ceremonies and memorial days, to organized tours “there”.

Therefore, the Israeli public is shocked to see that the Holocaust has lost its power as a political instrument. Our most valuable weapon has become blunt.

THE CENTRAL pillar of our policy is our alliance with the United States. To use a phrase dear to Binyamin Netanyahu (in another context): it’s “the rock of our existence”.

For many years, this alliance has kept us safe from all trouble. We knew that we could always get from the US all we needed: advanced arms to retain our superiority over all Arab armies combined, munitions in times of war, money for our economy, the veto on all UN Security Council resolutions against us, automatic support for all the actions of our successive governments. Every small and medium country in the world knew that in order to gain entrance to the palaces of Washington, the Israeli doorkeeper had to be bribed.

But during the last year, cracks have appeared in this pillar. Not the small scratches and chips of wear and tear, but cracks caused by shifts of the ground. The mutual aversion between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu is only one symptom of a much deeper problem,

The Chief of the Mossad told the Knesset last week: “For the US, we have ceased to be an asset and become a burden.”

This fact was put into incisive words by General David Petraeus, when he said that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is endangering the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The later soothing messages did not erase the significance of this warning. (When Petraeus fainted this week at a Senate hearing, some religious Jews viewed it as divine punishment.)

IT IS not only the Israeli-American relationship that has undergone a fateful change, but the standing of the US itself is changing for the worse, a bad omen indeed for the future of Israeli policy.

The world is changing, slowly and quietly. The US is still by far the most powerful country, but it is no longer the almighty superpower it had been since 1989. China is flexing its muscles, countries like India and Brazil are getting stronger, countries like Turkey – yes, Turkey! – are beginning to play a role.

This is not a matter of one or two years, but anyone who is thinking about the future of Israel in ten, twenty years must understand that unless there is a basic change in our position, our position, too, will decline.

IF OUR alliance with the US is one central pillar of Israeli policy, the support of the vast majority of world Jewry is the second.

For 62 years, we could count on it with our eyes shut. Whatever we did – almost all the world’s Jews stood at attention and saluted. In fire and water, victory or defeat, glorious or dark chapters – the world’s Jews did support us, giving money, demonstrating, pressuring their governments. Without second thoughts, without criticism.

Not anymore. Quietly, almost silently, cracks have appeared in this pillar, too. Opinion polls show that most American Jewish young people are turning away from Israel. Not shifting their loyalty from the Israeli establishment to Israel’s liberal camp – but turning away from Israel altogether.

This will not be felt immediately either. AIPAC continues to strike fear into Washingtonian hearts, Congress will continue to dance to its tune. But when the new generation comes to man key positions, the support for Israel will erode, American politicians will stop crawling on their bellies and the US administration will gradually change its relations with us.

IN OUR immediate neighborhood, too, profound changes are underway, some of them beneath the surface. The flotilla incident has exposed them.

The influence of our allies is decreasing constantly. They are losing height, and an old-new power is on the rise: Turkey.

Hosni Mubarak is busy with his efforts to pass power to his son, Gamal. The Islamic opposition in Egypt is raising its head. Saudi money is trumped by the new attraction of Turkey. The Jordanian king is compelled to adapt himself. The axis of Turkey-Iran-Syria-Hisbollah-Hamas is the rising power, the axis of Egypt-Saudi Arabia-Jordan-Fatah is in decline.

BUT THE most important change is the one that is taking place in international public opinion. Any derision of this reminds one of Stalin’s famous sneer (“How many divisions has the pope?”)

Recently, an Israeli TV station showed a fascinating film about the German and Scandinavian female volunteers who flooded Israel in the 50s and 60s to live and work (and sometimes marry) in the kibbutzim. Israel was then seen as a plucky little nation surrounded by hateful enemies, a state risen from the ashes of the Holocaust to become a haven of freedom, equality and democracy, which found their most sublime expression in that unique creation, the kibbutz.

The present generation of idealistic youngsters from all over the world, male and female, who would once have volunteered for the kibbutzim, can now be found on the decks of the ships sailing for downtrodden, choked and starved Gaza, which touches the hearts of many young people. The pioneering Israeli David has turned into a brutish Israeli Goliath.

Even a genius of spin could not change this. For years, now, the world sees the State of Israel every day on the TV screen and on the front pages in the image of heavily armed soldiers shooting at stone-throwing children, guns firing phosphorus shells into residential quarters, helicopters executing “targeted eliminations”, and now pirates attacking civilian ships on the open seas. Terrified women with wounded babies in their arms, men with amputated limbs, demolished homes. When one sees a hundred pictures like that for every picture that shows another Israel, Israel becomes a monster. The more so since the Israeli propaganda machine is successfully suppressing any news about the Israeli peace camp.

MANY YEARS ago, when I wanted to ridicule the addiction of our leaders to the use of force, I paraphrased a saying that reflects much of Jewish wisdom: “if force does not work, use brains.” In order to show how far we, the Israelis, are different from the Jews, I changed the words: “If force doesn’t work, use more force.”

I thought of it as a joke. But, as happens to many jokes in our country, it has become reality. It is now the credo of many primitive Israelis, headed by Ehud Barak.

In practice, the security of a state depends on many factors, and military force is but one of them. In the long run, world public opinion is stronger. The pope has many divisions.

In many respects, Israel is still a strong country. But, as the sudden illumination of the flotilla affair has shown, time is not working in our favor. We should deepen our roots in the world and in the region – which means making peace with our neighbors – as long as we are as strong as we are now.

If force doesn’t work, more force will not necessarily work either.

If force doesn’t work, force doesn’t work. Period.

Uri Avnery
June 19, 2010

Uri Avnery on the Gaza flotilla

Kill a Turk and Rest

ON THE high seas, outside territorial waters, the ship was stopped by the navy. The commandos stormed it. Hundreds of people on the deck resisted, the soldiers used force. Some of the passengers were killed, scores injured. The ship was brought into harbor, the passengers were taken off by force. The world saw them walking on the quay, men and women, young and old, all of them worn out, one after another, each being marched between two soldiers…

The ship was called “Exodus 1947”. It left France in the hope of breaking the British blockade, which was imposed to prevent ships loaded with Holocaust survivors from reaching the shores of Palestine. If it had been allowed to reach the country, the illegal immigrants would have come ashore and the British would have sent them to detention camps in Cyprus, as they had done before. Nobody would have taken any notice of the episode for more than two days.

But the person in charge was Ernest Bevin, a Labour Party leader, an arrogant, rude and power-loving British minister. He was not about to let a bunch of Jews dictate to him. He decided to teach them a lesson the entire world would witness. “This is a provocation!” he exclaimed, and of course he was right. The main aim was indeed to create a provocation, in order to draw the eyes of the world to the British blockade.

What followed is well known: the episode dragged on and on, one stupidity led to another, the whole world sympathized with the passengers. But the British did not give in and paid the price. A heavy price.

Many believe that the “Exodus” incident was the turning point in the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel. Britain collapsed under the weight of international condemnation and decided to give up its mandate over Palestine. There were, of course, many more weighty reasons for this decision, but the “Exodus” proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I AM not the only one who was reminded of this episode this week. Actually, it was almost impossible not to be reminded of it, especially for those of us who lived in Palestine at the time and witnessed it.

There are, of course, important differences. Then the passengers were Holocaust survivors, this time they were peace activists from all over the world. But then and now the world saw heavily armed soldiers brutally attack unarmed passengers, who resist with everything that comes to hand, sticks and bare hands. Then and now it happened on the high seas – 40 km from the shore then, 65 km now.

In retrospect, the British behavior throughout the affair seems incredibly stupid. But Bevin was no fool, and the British officers who commanded the action were not nincompoops. After all, they had just finished a World War on the winning side.

If they behaved with complete folly from beginning to end, it was the result of arrogance, insensitivity and boundless contempt for world public opinion.

Ehud Barak is the Israeli Bevin. He is not a fool, either, nor are our top brass. But they are responsible for a chain of acts of folly, the disastrous implications of which are hard to assess. Former minister and present commentator Yossi Sarid called the ministerial “committee of seven”, which decides on security matters, “seven idiots” – and I must protest. It is an insult to idiots.

THE PREPARATIONS for the flotilla went on for more than a year. Hundreds of e-mail messages went back and forth. I myself received many dozens. There was no secret. Everything was out in the open.

There was a lot of time for all our political and military institutions to prepare for the approach of the ships. The politician consulted. The soldiers trained. The diplomats reported. The intelligence people did their job.

Nothing helped. All the decisions were wrong from the first moment to this moment. And it’s not yet the end.

The idea of a flotilla as a means to break the blockade borders on genius. It placed the Israeli government on the horns of a dilemma – the choice between several alternatives, all of them bad. Every general hopes to get his opponent into such a situation.

The alternatives were:

(a) To let the flotilla reach Gaza without hindrance. The cabinet secretary supported this option. That would have led to the end of the blockade, because after this flotilla more and larger ones would have come.

(b) To stop the ships in territorial waters, inspect their cargo and make sure they were not carrying weapons or “terrorists”, then let them continue on their way. That would have aroused some vague protests in the world but upheld the principle of a blockade.

© To capture them on the high seas and bring them to Ashdod, risking a face-to-face battle with activists on board.

As our governments have always done, when faced with the choice between several bad alternatives, the Netanyahu government chose the worst.

Anyone who followed the preparations as reported in the media could have foreseen that they would lead to people being killed and injured. One does not storm a Turkish ship and expect cute little girls to present one with flowers. The Turks are not known as people who give in easily.

The orders given to the forces and made public included the three fateful words: “at any cost”. Every soldier knows what these three terrible words mean. Moreover, on the list of objectives, the consideration for the passengers appeared only in third place, after safeguarding the safety of the soldiers and fulfilling the task.

If Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, the Chief of Staff and the commander of the navy did not understand that this would lead to killing and wounding people, then it must be concluded – even by those who were reluctant to consider this until now – that they are grossly incompetent. They must be told, in the immortal words of Oliver Cromwell to Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

THIS EVENT points again to one of the most serious aspects of the situation: we live in a bubble, in a kind of mental ghetto, which cuts us off and prevents us from seeing another reality, the one perceived by the rest of the world. A psychiatrist might judge this to be the symptom of a severe mental problem.

The propaganda of the government and the army tells a simple story: our heroic soldiers, determined and sensitive, the elite of the elite, descended on the ship in order “to talk” and were attacked by a wild and violent crowd. Official spokesmen repeated again and again the word “lynching”.

On the first day, almost all the Israeli media accepted this. After all, it is clear that we, the Jews, are the victims. Always. That applies to Jewish soldiers, too. True, we storm a foreign ship at sea, but turn at once into victims who have no choice but to defend ourselves against violent and incited anti-Semites.

It is impossible not to be reminded of the classic Jewish joke about the Jewish mother in Russia taking leave of her son, who has been called up to serve the Czar in the war against Turkey. “Don’t overexert yourself’” she implores him, “Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…”

“But mother,” the son interrupts, “What if the Turk kills me?”

“You?” exclaims the mother, “But why? What have you done to him?”

To any normal person, this may sound crazy. Heavily armed soldiers of an elite commando unit board a ship on the high seas in the middle of the night, from the sea and from the air – and they are the victims?

But there is a grain of truth there: they are the victims of arrogant and incompetent commanders, irresponsible politicians and the media fed by them. And, actually, of the Israeli public, since most of the people voted for this government or for the opposition, which is no different.

The “Exodus” affair was repeated, but with a change of roles. Now we are the British.

Somewhere, a new Leon Uris is planning to write his next book, “Exodus 2010”. A new Otto Preminger is planning a film that will become a blockbuster. A new Paul Newman will star in it – after all, there is no shortage of talented Turkish actors.

MORE THAN 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson declared that every nation must act with a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. Israeli leaders have never accepted the wisdom of this maxim. They adhere to the dictum of David Ben-Gurion: “It is not important what the Gentiles say, it is important what the Jews do.” Perhaps he assumed that the Jews would not act foolishly.

Making enemies of the Turks is more than foolish. For decades, Turkey has been our closest ally in the region, much more close than is generally known. Turkey could play, in the future, an important role as a mediator between Israel and the Arab-Muslim world, between Israel and Syria, and, yes, even between Israel and Iran. Perhaps we have succeeded now in uniting the Turkish people against us – and some say that this is the only matter on which the Turks are now united.

This is Chapter 2 of “Cast Lead”. Then we aroused most countries in the world against us, shocked our few friends and gladdened our enemies. Now we have done it again, and perhaps with even greater success. World public opinion is turning against us.

This is a slow process. It resembles the accumulation of water behind a dam. The water rises slowly, quietly, and the change is hardly noticeable. But when it reaches a critical level, the dam bursts and the disaster is upon us. We are steadily approaching this point.

“Kill a Turk and rest,” the mother says in the joke. Our government does not even rest. It seems that they will not stop until they have made enemies of the last of our friends.

Uri Avnery
June 5, 2010

(Parts of this article were published in Ma’ariv, Israel’s second largest newspaper.)

Uri Avnery: -Obama blackmailed by Netanyahu

A Day in November

RAHM EMANUEL is, so it seems, the American most hated by the leaders of Israel. He is considered the most dangerous opponent of the Netanyahu government in the White House. Behind closed doors, they shower him – if one is to believe the media – with anti-Semitic epithets. “Jewboy” is one of them. In Zionist usage, he is a “self-hating Jew”.

And lo and behold, here he is strolling around the Galilee in shorts. He visits the occupied Golan Heights, which foreign diplomats normally take great pains to avoid. The IDF flies him between its installations. He prays at the Western Wall. A good Jewish tourist from America.

Emanuel’s son has reached the age of Bar Mitzva; where better to celebrate than the Land of Israel, where his grandfather was a member of the Irgun – an outfit that the US administration would have branded a terrorist organization, like Hamas today.

In short, the self-hating Jewboy has revealed himself as a Zionist with a warm Jewish heart, an admirer of the IDF and a supporter of the annexation of the Golan Heights.

THE VISIT was not, of course, a passing whim. It joined a long series of gestures by Barack Obama designed to win the hearts of the Jews before the upcoming congressional elections.

It seems that at some stage, months ago, Obama came to the conclusion that he had lost the first round of his contest with Binyamin Netanyahu, and that it would be better to live and fight another day.

He himself spelled it out in a conversation with Jewish leaders: at the beginning of his path in the Middle East he stepped on some landmines. He has learned his lesson.

The result was a campaign of sweet-talk and flattery:

He invited Elie Wiesel, Mr. Holocaust in person, to a private lunch at the White House. Perhaps they exchanged memories about some common experiences, like “How to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and keep a straight face.” Wiesel’s contribution to peace is one of the great mysteries of the universe. (My own opinion of Wiesel found its expression in a Hebrew word I invented especially for him: “Shoan” (something like “Holocauster’.)

After that, Obama met with several sets of “Jewish leaders” and told them about his unwavering support for the security of Israel, his admiration for Netanyahu and love for Israel in general. Never mind that just recently a major opinion poll has shown that these “leaders” represent mostly themselves – the great majority of the younger Jewish generation in the US opposes the policies of the Israeli government and is becoming more and more alienated from Israel.

Sending his No. 1 confidante to Israel in the guise of an ardent Zionist and extending an invitation to Netanyahu to come and visit him in the White House are further stages in this campaign.

WHAT IS the aim? Well, that is as clear as the mid-day sun.

On November 2, the 93rd anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, elections will be held in the US. All the seats in the House of Representatives and 34 in the senate will be up for grabs.

For Obama, these elections are hugely important. In the worst case, the Democrats will lose control of one of the houses of Congress, making it impossible for Obama to get most of the laws he desires passed. The best he can realistically hope for is that the Democratic majority in both houses will be reduced, making the life of the President much more difficult.

AIPAC has already shown that it can have a big impact on election results. When the lobby decides to topple a member of Congress, that is the end of his political life. When the lobby concentrates its financial and political might on a certain spot, it is almost invincible.

Obama now needs all the support he can get in both houses. Therefore, he must neutralize the pro-Israel lobby. The expense of the Bar Mitzva party of the Emanuel family was a negligible price to pay for this.

When Obama says that he stepped on a landmine, he means the mine called AIPAC.

THE PHENOMENON itself is nothing new. It repeats itself every fours years, and sometimes every two.

Since the first day of the State of Israel, all Israeli governments have been aware that an election year in the US provides them with unparalleled political opportunities.

Israel was founded in May 1948, half a year before the US elections. Harry Truman was in a critical situation. Many believed that he would be roundly defeated. He was in desperate need of money. Some rich Jews dug into their pockets and saved Truman, who won by the skin of his teeth.

All of Truman’s political and military aides advised him not to support Israel’s independence. But Truman recognized the new state (de facto at least) immediately after it was established.

From that day on, whenever the Israeli government needs US support for a controversial act, it waits for an American election year. This has almost always succeeded. The exception: a week before the 1956 elections, the Ben-Gurion government (urged on by Shimon Peres) invaded Sinai in cahoots with France and the UK. The Israeli leaders believed that no American politician would dare to oppose Israel on the eve of elections.

They were wrong. President Dwight Eisenhower, a former supreme allied commander, was supremely confident of his election victory. Therefore he ignored the Jewish lobby and, together with his Soviet colleague, presented Israel with an ultimatum. That got David Ben-Gurion out of Sinai and Gaza in a jiffy.

Those who hoped that Obama would prove to be a second Eisenhower were wrong. In spite of some resounding successes, his political situation is far from impressive. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has not improved his political health. As a realistic politician, he has decided that this is not the right time to take on the Jewish establishment.

Perhaps he remembered the sober advice of Niccolo Machiavelli: If you can’t kill the lion, don’t provoke it.

HOWEVER, THERE is a huge landmine buried on the road to election day: the settlement freeze.

When Obama compelled Netanyahu to freeze the settlements officially in the West Bank (and unofficially in East Jerusalem, too), a ten-month period was agreed upon. This will come to an end in September.

When the time comes, Netanyahu will face immense pressures from the settlers and their allies to start building again. “What are you afraid of?” they will say, “two months before the elections Obama will not dare to lift a finger! And (quoting a Jewish sage) if not now, when?”

The situation in Israel will increase the temptation. It seems that “we have never had it so good”. There are no attacks. Our economy is booming. In spite of the criticism echoing around the world, Israel’s political standing is robust. Just last week Israel was accepted as a member of the OECD, the world’s most prestigious economic club. Obama has capitulated. When the army’s Homeland Command held extensive exercises this week, the people just winked and did not bother to run to the shelters.

The temptation to renew the building in the settlements will be strong. But Netanyahu will think about the day after. And so will Obama.

AND INDEED, what will happen the day after the elections?

Optimists believe that on that morning, a new era will start. No further elections are planned before November 2012, when Obama’s first term expires. For an entire year, at least, he will be free to act.

That is a “window of opportunities”. A wide-open window. During this time Obama can realize his hope of bringing peace and retrieve the position of the US in the Middle East. As an added bonus, he will also be able to vent his accumulated fury against Netanyahu.

According to this forecast, in this one year, from the end of 2010 to the end of 2011, the final act of the drama will be enacted. Obama will present an American peace plan, the pressure on the Israeli government will intensify, Israel will finally have to choose between peace and territories, peace will at long last be on its way.

But there is also an opposite forecast: Obama will continue to disappoint, as he has disappointed until now. He will already be thinking about the next presidential election and continue to be afraid of AIPAC.

This forecast has a lot going for it. When I was very young, my father admonished me never, but never, to yield to blackmail. He who pays a blackmailer once will continue to pay to his last day. A blackmailer never lets go of his victim.

(In the course of my life I have tried to adhere to this advice. My technique is this: when somebody tries to blackmail me, threatening to do me some harm, I imagine that he has already done so. This way, the threat loses its sting.)

AIPAC is blackmailing Obama, and until now it has been successful. It will go on doing so after November. Obama should face up to the idea and decide: no more.

Will he have the courage to do so? I don’t know. I hope.

Uri Avnery
May 29, 2010