Viser arkivet for stikkord iran

Uri Avnery: Israel and The Treaty with Iran

Uri Avnery
July 18, 2015

AND WHAT if the whole drama was only an exercise of deception?

What if the wily Persians did not even dream of building an atomic bomb, but used the threat to further their real aims?

What if Binyamin Netanyahu was duped to become unwittingly the main collaborator of Iranian ambitions?

Sounds crazy? Not really. Let’s have a look at the facts.

IRAN IS one of the oldest powers in the world, with thousands of years of political experience. Once they possessed an empire that spanned the civilized world, including our little country. Their reputation for clever trade practices is unequaled.

They are much too clever to build a nuclear weapon. What for? It would devour huge amounts of money. They know that they would never be able to use it. Same as Israel, with its large stockpile.

Netanyahu’s nightmare of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel is just that – a nightmare (or daymare) of an ignorant dilettante. Israel is a nuclear power with a solid second-strike capability. As we see, the Iranian leaders are hard-boiled realists. Would they even dream of inviting an inevitable Israeli retaliation that would wipe from the face of the earth their three-millennia-old civilization?

(If this capability is defective, Netanyahu should be charged and convicted for criminal negligence.)

Even if the Iranians did deceive the whole world and build a nuclear bomb, nothing would happen except the creation of a “balance of terror”, such as saved the world at the height of the cold war between America and Russia.

The people around Netanyahu pretend to believe that, unlike the then Soviets, the Iranian mullahs are crazy people. There is absolutely no evidence for that. Since their 1979 revolution, the Iranian leadership has not made one single important step that was not absolutely rational. Compared to American missteps in the region (not to mention the Israeli ones), the Iranian leadership has been thoroughly logical.

So perhaps they traded their nonexistent nuclear designs for their very real political design: to become the hegemon of the Muslim world.

If so, they owe a lot to Netanyahu.

WHAT HAS the Islamic Republic ever done in its 45 years of existence to harm Israel?

Sure. Tehran crowds can be seen on television burning Israeli flags and shouting “Death to Israel”. They call us, not flatteringly, “the Little Satan”, as compared to the American “Great Satan”.

Terrible. But what else?

Not much. Perhaps some support for Hezbollah and Hamas, which were not their creation. Iran’s real fight is against the powers that be in the Muslim world. They want to turn the region’s countries into Iranian vassals, as they were 2400 years ago.

This has very little to do with Islam. Iran uses Islam as Israel uses Zionism and the Jewish Diaspora (and as Russia in the past used communism) as a tool for its imperial ambitions.

What is happening now in this region resembles the “religious wars” in 17th century Europe. A dozen countries fought each other in the name of religion, under the flags of Catholicism and Protestantism, but in reality using religion to further their very earthly imperial designs.

The US, led by a bunch of neocon fools, destroyed Iraq, which for many centuries had served as the bulwark of the Arab world against Iranian expansion. Now, under the banner of the Shia, Iran is expanding its power all over the Region.

Shiite Iraq is now to a large extent an Iranian vassal (we’ll come back to Daesh). The leaders of Syria, a Sunni country ruled by a small semi-Shiite sect, depend on Iran for their survival. In Lebanon, the Shiite Hezbollah is a close ally with growing power and prestige. So is Hamas in Gaza, which is entirely Sunni. And the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are Zaidis (a school of the Shia.)

The status quo in the Arab world is defended by a corrupt bunch of dictators and medieval sheiks, such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf oil potentates.

Clearly, Iran and its allies are the wave of the future, Saudi Arabia and its allies belong to the past.

That leaves Daesh, the Sunni “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq. That is also a rising power. Unlike Iran, whose revolutionary élan long ago exhausted itself, Daesh is radiating revolutionary fervor, attracting adherents from all over the world.

Daesh is the real enemy of Iran – and of Israel.

PRESIDENT OBAMA and his advisors realized this some time ago. Their new alliance with Iran is partly based on this reality.

With the advent of Daesh, realities on the ground have changed completely. The shift reaffirms the old British maxim that one’s enemies in one war can well become one’s allies in the next, and vice versa. Far from being naïve, Obama is building an alliance against the new and very dangerous enemy. This alliance should logically include Bashar Assad’s Syria, but Obama is still afraid of saying so aloud.

Obama and his advisors also believe that with the lifting of the crippling sanctions, Iranians will concentrate on making money, lessening their nationalist and religious fervor even more. That sounds reasonable enough.

(Netanyahu thinks the American people are “naïve”. Well, for a naïve nation the US has done quite well in becoming the world’s only super-power.)

One by-product of the situation is that Israel is again at loggerheads with the entire political world. The Vienna treaty was signed not just by the US, but by all leading world powers. This seems to create the situation described by a jolly popular Israeli song: “The whole world is against us / But we don’t give a damn…”

Unfortunately, unlike Obama, Netanyahu is stuck in the past. He continues demonizing Iran, instead of joining it in the fight against Daesh, which is far, far more dangerous to Israel.

One does not have to go back to Cyrus the Great (6th century B.C.) to realize that Iran can be a close ally. In the relations between nations, geography trumps religion. Not so long ago, Iran was Israel’s closest ally in the region. We even sent Khomeini arms to fight Iraq. The Mullahs hate Israel not so much because of their religion, but because of our alliance with the Shah.

The present Iranian regime has long since lost its revolutionary religious fervor. It is acting according to its national interests. Geography still counts. A wise Israeli government would use the next ten-or-more years of a guaranteed nuclear-free Iran in order to renew the alliance – especially against Daesh.

This could mean new relations with Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas too.

BUT SUCH far-reaching considerations are far from the mind of Netanyahu, the son of a historian, who is devoid of any historical knowledge or intuition.

The fight is now going to Washington DC, where Netanyahu will be fully committed as a mercenary of Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Republican Party.

It is a sorry sight: the State of Israel, which has always enjoyed the full unblinking support of both American parties, has become an appendix of the reactionary Republican leadership.

One victim of this is the legend of the “invincible” pro-Israeli lobby. This crucial asset has now been lost. From now on, AIPAC will be just one of the many lobbies on Capitol Hill.

AN EVEN sorrier sight is Israel’s political and media elite on the morrow of the signing of the Vienna treaty. It was almost incredible.

Almost all political parties fell in line with Netanyahu’s policy, competing with each other in their demonstrations of abject loyalty. From the “leader of the opposition”, the pitiful Yitzhak Herzog, to the voluble Yair Lapid, everybody rushed to support the Prime Minister at this crucial hour.

The media were even worse. Almost all prominent commentators, left and right, ran amok against the ’disastrous" treaty and heaped their uniform disgust and contempt on poor Obama, as if reading from a prepared government “list of arguments” (as indeed they were).

Not the finest hour of Israeli democracy and the much lauded “Jewish brain”. Just a despicable example of all-too-common brain-washing. Some would call it presstitution.

One of Netanyahu’s arguments is that the Iranians can and will cheat the naive Americans and build the bomb. He is sure that this is possible. Well, he should know. We did it, didn’t we?

Uri Avnery: Isratin og Palestrael?

Uri Avnery
June 20, 2015

THERE WAS this guy who had an earth-shaking invention: an airplane that flies on water.

No more gas. No more pollution. No more astronomical prices. Just fill it up with water, and it will fly to the end of the world.

“Wonderful!” people cried out. “Show us the plans!”

“Plans?” the man said. “I have had the great idea. I leave it to the engineers to work out the technical details.”

The inventors of the “One-State Solution” remind me of this genius. They have a wonderful idea. But there are a few questions left open.

FIRST QUESTION: how can it be achieved?

The obvious answer is: by war.

The Arab world will mobilize its armies. Israel will be conquered. The victors will impose their will.

This may be possible within a few generations. I rather doubt it. In a world of nuclear arms, wars may end with mutual annihilation.

Well, if not war, then “outside pressure”.

I doubt this, too. The international boycott movement is quite effective, in its way. But it is far, far from being able to compel Israelis to do something that is opposed by every fiber of their being: to give up their sovereignty. The same goes for political pressure. It may hurt Israel, it may isolate it – though I don’t believe this is possible in this or the next generation – but this, too, won’t be enough to bring Israel to its knees.

Convince the majority in Israel? One has to be very remote from Israeli reality to believe that this can happen in the foreseeable future. For more than 130 years, now, the core of the Zionist and Israeli raison d’etre has been Israeli (or “Jewish”) statehood. Many people have died for it. Every child in Israel is indoctrinated from kindergarten on, through school and the army, to see the state as the highest of all ideals. Give it up voluntarily? Not likely.

But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that one way or another, the One-State Solution becomes possible. Perhaps by divine intervention.

How would it function?

In all my dozens of debates with One-Staters of all kinds, I have never, not even once, received an answer to this simple question. Not once. Like the inventor of the water-fueled plane, they leave that to the engineers.

Let’s try.

HOW WILL the state be named? Not an easy question.

The late Muammar Gadddafi proposed “Isratin” (why not Palesrael"?) I can think of “Holyland”, “State of Jerusalem” and other names. Perhaps just “The United State of Israel and Palestine” (let’s call it USIP).

Various flags and national anthems have been proposed., some of them really inventive. Will anyone sacrifice their blood for them?

But that, too, is not the real problem. It’s when we approach the realities of the state the questions multiply.

How will the state function on a day-to-day basis?

How difficult that may be is illustrated by a simple historical fact: since World War II, there is not a single instance of two states or two peoples voluntarily coming together in one state. But there are ample instances of multinational states breaking apart.

Let’s start with the Soviet Union, a mighty world power. Then Yugoslavia. Then Serbia. Czechoslovakia. Sudan.

Other countries are threatened with breakup. Who would have thought that the venerable United Kingdom might become Disunited? Scots, Catalans, Basques, Quebecois, East Ukrainians are waiting in line. Only the Swiss, united by centuries of history, seem immune. And also Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Be that as it may, let’s look more closely at the thing itself.

THE STATE must have a united army. How will it function?

Will Jews and Arabs serve in the same squad? Or will there be separate battalions or separate brigades? If there is trouble in Jewish neighborhoods, will Jewish units follow orders against their brethren? In a war against an Arab state, how will Arab units act?

Will the Chief of Staff be a Jew or an Arab? Perhaps by rotation? And the General Staff – half and half?

That’s easy, compared to the police. Will Jews and Arabs serve side by side, as they did during the British Mandate, when practically all local policemen belonged to secret nationalist organizations?

How will this police force investigate nationalist crimes? Who will be the Inspector General?

Then there is the question of taxes. As of now, the average income of Jews in Israel is 25 times higher than that of Arabs in occupied Palestine. No, that is not a typo. Not 25% higher. 25 times higher!

Will they pay the same taxes? Very soon, Jewish citizens would complain that they pay for nearly all the welfare and education of the Palestinian citizens. Trouble.

THEN THERE are the problems of the political structure.

Of course, there will be universal and free elections. How will citizens vote – according to their class interests or along ethnic lines?

Experience in many countries indicates that the ethnic identity will take precedence. In today’s Israel, that is the rule. During the British Mandate, there was only one joint party: the Moscow-line Communist one. On the eve of the 1948 war, it split between Jews and Arabs. In the new State of Israel, they reunited (as ordered by Moscow) but then split again. Now it is in practice an Arab party, with a few Jewish followers.

In 1984 I took part in the foundation of a new party, the Progressive List for Peace, based on strict parity: our Knesset list was Arab, Jew, Arab, Jew, up to 120.

In two successive election campaigns we entered the Knesset. But a curious thing happened: almost all our voters were Arabs. Soon after, the party disappeared.

I strongly suspect that in USIP the same will happen. In Parliament, two blocs will face each other in a climate of perpetual mutual animosity. It will be extremely difficult to form a working government coalition composed of elements of both sides. Look at Belgium, another problematic bi-national state.

Some One-Staters admit that the project is only feasible if both peoples change their basic attitudes completely, and a spirit of mutual love and respect displaces the present nationalistic hatred and contempt.

Some 50 years ago I had a conversation with the then Indian ambassador in Paris, Kavalam Madhava Panikkar, a very respected statesman and scholar. We talked, of course, about Israeli-Palestinian peace, and he said: “It will take 51 years!”

Why exactly 51, I asked, surprised. “Because we need a new generation of teachers,” he said. “That will take 25 years. These new teachers will educate a new generation of pupils, who will be able to make peace, That will take another 25 years. Making peace will take one more year.”

Well, 51 years have passed, and peace is further off than ever.

Matchmakers tend to say: “They don’t love yet, but once married and having children, they will come to love each other.”

Perhaps. How long will it take? A hundred years? Two hundred years? Long before that, we shall all be dead.

The main argument against the One-State vision is that it will soon become the battlefield of a perpetual conflict, like Lebanon. There will not be a day of internal peace.

The greatest danger is that in such a state, with a growing Arab majority, affluent and highly educated Jewish citizens will slowly leave (as some are already doing now). In the end, only the poor and ill-educated will be left –a small Jewish community in another Arab state.

I have a lurking suspicion that some of the Arab One-Staters embrace the idea for this reason alone: to put an end to Israel.

Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are two of the most nationalist nations in the world. One has to be an extreme optimist – even more extreme than I – to believe that it will work.

Honest disclosure: I did once believe in the “One-State solution”, long before the term was invented. In 1945, when I was just 22 years old, I founded a group that was devoted to the idea that the new Hebrew nation in Palestine and the Arab nation in Palestine, bound by common love for the country, could become one joint nation and live in one common state.

Our ideology caused an uproar in the Zionist community in the country. We were universally condemned. But during the 1948 war, when I came into immediate contact with the Palestinian reality, I gave up this beautiful idea forever and from 1949 on was one of the creators of the concept of the Two-State Solution.

I have a great respect for the adherents of the One-State Solution. Their motives are admirable. Their vision lofty. But it is disconnected from reality.

I WOULD like to make one point quite clear: for me, the Two-State Solution is not a recipe for separation and divorce, but on the contrary, a kind of wedding.

From the first day on, 66 years ago, when we, a tiny group, raised the banner of the Two-State Solution, it was clear to us that the two states, living close together in one small country, must live in close cooperation. Borders must be open for the movement of people and goods, the economies closely intertwined. Some kind of federation is inevitable. Attitudes will slowly change on both sides.

Connections will be formed. Friendships will be established. Business interests will convince people. People will work together and come to like each other. As the Arabs say: Inshallah.

When I am asked whether this is the best solution, my answer is: “It is the only solution.”

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.

The unholy Jordan river

Uri Avnery
December 7, 2013

SO HERE comes John Kerry again, for the umpteenth time (but who is counting?) to make peace between us and the Palestinians.

It is a highly laudable effort. Unfortunately, it is based on a false premise. To wit: that the Israeli government wants peace based on the two-state solution.

Unwilling – or unable – to recognize this simple truth, Kerry looks for a way around. He tries approaches from different directions, in the hope of convincing Binyamin Netanyahu. In his imagination he hears Netanyahu exclaim: “Now, why didn’t I think of that?!”

So here he comes with a new idea: to start by solving Israel’s security problems and doing away with its worries.

Let’s not talk for now about the other “core problems”, he says. Let’s look at your concerns and see how to meet them. I have brought with me an honest-to-goodness combat general with an honest-to-goodness security plan. Have a look at it!

This approach is based on the false premise – the offspring of the overall premise – that the “security concerns” cited by our government are genuine. Kerry is expressing the basic American belief that if reasonable people sit around a table and analyze a problem, they will find a solution.

So there is a plan. General John Allen, a former commander of the war in Afghanistan, puts it on the table and explains its merits. It addresses many worries. The main subject is the insistence of the Israeli army that whatever the borders of the future State of Palestine, Israel must continue for a long, long time to control the Jordan valley.

Since the Jordan valley constitutes about 20% of the West Bank, which together with the Gaza Strip constitutes altogether about 22% of the former country of Palestine, this is a non-starter.

For our government, that is its main value.

THE JORDAN, one of the most celebrated rivers in world history, is actually a smallish creek about 250 km long and a few dozen meters wide. Its sources are on the Syrian highlands (a.k.a. the Golan Heights) and it ends ingloriously in the Dead Sea, which is actually an inland lake. Not much of a river.

How did it attain its present strategic importance?

The following account is simplified, but not far removed from what actually happened.

Immediately after the June 1967 war, when all the Palestinian lands had fallen into Israel’s hands, groups of agricultural experts swarmed over the West Bank to see what could be exploited.

Most of the West Bank consists of stony hills, very picturesque but hardly suited to modern agricultural methods. Every inch of arable land was used by the Palestinian villages, using terraces and other ancient methods. No good for new kibbutzim. Except the Jordan valley.

This valley, part of the huge Syrian-African rift, is flat. Lodged between the river and the central Palestinian mountain ridge, it also has ample water. For the trained eye of a kibbutznik, it was ideal for agricultural machinery. It was also sparsely populated.

Almost all important Israeli leaders at the time had an agricultural background. Levy Eshkol, the Prime Minister, had been responsible for many years, before the establishment of the state, for the Jewish settlement effort. The Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, was born in a kibbutz and grew up in a Moshav (cooperative village). The Minister of Labor, Yigal Allon, was not only a renowned general of the 1948 war, but also a leader of the largest kibbutz movement. His mentor was Israel Galili, another kibbutz leader, the éminence grise of Golda Meir.

IT WAS Allon who provided the military pretext for keeping possession of the Jordan valley.

He devised a security plan for the post-1967 Israel. Its central plank was the annexation of the valley.

Known as the “Allon Plan”, it had – and still has – a strong hold on Israeli political thinking. It was never officially adopted by the Israeli government. Nor does there exist an authorized map of the plan. But it has been endlessly discussed.

The Allon Plan provides for the annexation of the entire Jordan valley, the shore of the Dead Sea and the Gaza Strip. In order not to cut off the rest of the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (also named for the river), the Plan left open a corridor between the two territories, near Jericho.

It was generally assumed that Allon intended to return the West Bank to the kingdom. But he did not really care. When I accused him from the Knesset rostrum of foiling the establishment of a Palestinian state, he sent me a note saying: “I am ready for a Palestinian state in the West Bank. So why am I less of a dove than you?”

THE MILITARY foundations of the Allon Plan were not entirely ridiculous – at the time.

One must remember the situation in, say, 1968. The Kingdom of Jordan was officially an “enemy country”, though there was always a secret alliance with its kings. Iraq was a strong state, and its army was highly respected by our military. Syria had been beaten in the 1967 war, but their army was still intact. Saudi Arabia, with its enormous wealth, stood behind them. (Who could have even imagined that the Saudis would some day become our allies against Iran?)

The Israeli military nightmare was that all these military forces would suddenly come together on Jordanian soil and attack Israel, cross the river, unite with the West Bank Palestinians and invade Israel proper. At a certain point, between the West Bank town of Tulkarm and the Mediterranean Sea, Israel is only 14 (fourteen) kilometers wide.

That was 55 years ago. Today this picture is indeed ridiculous. The only possible military threat facing Israel comes from Iran, and it does not include an attack by massed troops on land. If Iranian missiles come flying towards us, Israeli troops on the Jordan river will be mere onlookers. They will have nothing to look at. The challenge will be met long before the missiles come near.

As for warning stations, they can be located in my apartment in Tel Aviv. The 100 or so kilometers from here to the Jordan will make no difference.

The same goes for other “security concerns”, such as keeping warning stations in the West Bank.

The American general will listen politely and be hard put not to burst out laughing.

TODAY, THE Jordan valley is practically Arab-free. From time to time the few remaining Palestinians are mistreated by the army, in order to convince them to go away.

There are several Jewish settlements along the valley, put there by the Labor Party when it was still in power. The inhabitants don’t employ labor from the neighboring Palestinian villages, but cheaper and more efficient workers from Thailand. The very hot climate – the entire valley lies below sea level – allows for the growing of tropical fruit.

The only remaining Palestinian township is Jericho, a green oasis, the lowest town on earth. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Sa’eb Erekat, lives there (though in 1948 his father was the leader of the Palestinian fighters of Abu Dis, now a suburb in annexed East Jerusalem.) Sometimes the participants in Kerry’s “peace negotiations” meet there. Erekat, a nice person I used to meet at demonstrations, is in a state of resignation – in both senses.

ASSUMING FOR a moment that the general convinces Netanyahu that his security plan is wonderful and solves all our military problems, what difference would it make?

None whatsoever.

Instead, other “concerns” would come to the fore. There is an inexhaustible supply.

The same goes for the other story that fills Israel’s newspapers and TV programs these days: The expulsion of the Bedouins in the Negev.

The Bedouins have inhabited that Sinai-Negev desert since times immemorial. Ancient Egyptian stone paintings show their characteristic beards (the same beard I brought home from the 1948 war, after fighting in the Negev).

During the first years of Israel, entire Bedouin tribes were displaced and expelled. The pretexts sound eerily familiar: To forestall an Egyptian attack from the south.

The real reason was, of course, to get them off their land and replace them with Jewish settlers. US history buffs will be reminded of the treatment of the native Americans. The Army (our army) conducted several major operations, but the Bedouins are multiplying at a ferocious rate, and now they are back up to a quarter of a million.

Being Bedouins, they live dispersed with their goats over large areas. The government is trying (again) to get them out. The bureaucrats want to “Judaize” the Negev (while trying at the same time to “Judaize” the Galilee). But they are also inimical to the idea that such a relatively small number of people is occupying such large tracts of land, even barren land.

Planners in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are drawing up all kinds of schemes to concentrate the Bedouins in townships, contrary to their traditional way of life. On paper, the plans look reasonable. In reality, they are designed to achieve the same as the plans for the Jordan valley: Take land away from the Arabs and turn it over to Jewish settlers.

Call it Zionist, nationalist or racist, it is hardly an attitude conducive to peace. That should be the real concern of John Kerry and John Allen.

Israel, the great promoter of Islamist movements

IF ISLAMIST movements come to power all over the region, they should express their debt of gratitude to their bete noire, Israel.

Without the active or passive help of successive Israeli governments, they may not have been able to realize their dreams.

That is true in Gaza, in Beirut, in Cairo and even in Tehran.

LET’S TAKE the example of Hamas.

All over the Arab lands, dictators have been faced with a dilemma. They
could easily close down all political and civic activities, but they could not close the mosques. In the mosques people could congregate in order to pray, organize charities and, secretly, set up political organizations. Before the days of Twitter and Facebook, that was the only way to reach masses of people.

One of the dictators faced with this dilemma was the Israel military governor in the occupied Palestinian territories. Right from the beginning, he forbade any political activity. Even peace activists went to prison. Advocates of non-violence were deported. Civic centers were closed down. Only the mosques remained open. There people could meet.

But this went beyond tolerance. The General Security Service (known as Shin Bet or Shabak) had an active interest in the flourishing of the mosques. People who pray five times a day, they thought, have no time to build bombs.

The main enemy, as laid down by Shabak, was the dreadful PLO, led by that monster, Yasser Arafat. The PLO was a secular organization, with many prominent Christian members, aiming at a “nonsectarian” Palestinian state. They were the enemies of the Islamists, who were talking about a pan-Islamic Caliphate.

Turning the Palestinians towards Islam, it was thought, would weaken the PLO and its main faction, Fatah. So everything was done to help the Islamic movement discreetly.

It was a very successful policy, and the Security people congratulated themselves on their cleverness, when something untoward happened. In December 1987, the first intifada broke out. The mainstream Islamists had to compete with more radical groupings. Within days, they transformed themselves into the Islamic Resistance Movement (acronym Hamas) and became the most dangerous foes of Israel. Yet it took Shabak more than a year before they arrested Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the Hamas leader. In order to fight this new menace, Israel came to an agreement with the PLO in Oslo.

And now, irony of ironies, Hamas is about to join the PLO and take part in a Palestinian National Unity government. They really should send us a message of Shukran (“thanks”).

OUR PART in the rise of Hizbollah is less direct, but no less effective.

When Ariel Sharon rolled into Lebanon in 1982, his troops had to cross the mainly Shiite South. The Israeli soldiers were received as liberators. Liberators from the PLO, which had turned this area into a state within a state.

Following the troops in my private car, trying to reach the front, I had to traverse about a dozen Shiite villages. In each one I was detained by the villagers, who insisted that I have coffee in their homes.

Neither Sharon nor anyone else paid much attention to the Shiites. In the federation of autonomous ethnic-religious communities that is called Lebanon, the Shiites were the most downtrodden and powerless.

However, the Israelis outstayed their welcome. It took the Shiites just a few weeks to realize that they had no intention of leaving. So, for the first time in their history, they rebelled. The main political group, Amal (“hope”), started small armed actions. When the Israelis did not take the hint, operations multiplied and turned into a full-fledged guerrilla war.

To outflank Amal, Israel encouraged a small, more radical, rival: God’s Party, Hizbollah.

If Israel had got out then (as Haolam Hazeh demanded), not much harm would have been done. But they remained for a full 18 years, ample time for Hizbollah to turn into an efficient fighting machine, earn the admiration of the Arab masses everywhere, take over the leadership of the Shiite community and become the most powerful force in Lebanese politics.

They, too, owe us a big Shukran.

THE CASE of the Muslim Brotherhood is even more complex.

The organization was founded in 1928, twenty years before the State of Israel. Its members volunteered to fight us in 1948. They are passionately pan-Islamic, and the Palestinian plight is close to their hearts.

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened, the popularity of the Brothers grew. Since the 1967 war, in which Egypt lost Sinai, and even more after the separate peace agreement with Israel, they stoked the deep-seated resentment of the masses in Egypt and all over the Arab world. The assassination of Anwar al-Sadat was not of their doing, but they rejoiced.

Their opposition to the peace agreement with Israel was not only an Islamist, but also an authentic Egyptian reaction. Most Egyptians felt cheated and betrayed by Israel. The Camp David agreement had an important Palestinian component, without which the agreement would have been impossible for Egypt. Sadat, a visionary, looked at the big picture and believed that the agreement would quickly lead to a Palestinian state. Menachem Begin, a lawyer, saw to the fine print. Generations of Jews have been brought up on the Talmud, which is mainly a compilation of legal precedents, and their mind has been honed by legalistic arguments. Not for nothing are Jewish lawyers in demand the world over.

Actually, the agreement made no mention of a Palestinian state, only of autonomy, phrased in a way that allowed Israel to continue the occupation. That was not what the Egyptians had been led to believe, and their resentment was palpable. Egyptians are convinced that their country is the leader of the Arab world, and bears a special responsibility for every part of it. They cannot bear to be seen as the betrayers of their poor, helpless Palestinian cousins.

Long before he was overthrown, Hosni Mubarak was despised as an Israeli lackey, paid by the US. For Egyptians, his despicable role in the Israeli blockade of a million and a half Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was particularly shameful.

Since their beginnings in the 1920s, Brotherhood leaders and activists have been hanged, imprisoned, tortured and otherwise persecuted. Their anti-regime credentials are impeccable. Their stand for the Palestinians contributed a lot to this image.

Had Israel made peace with the Palestinian people somewhere along the line, the Brotherhood would have lost much of its luster. As it is, they are emerging from the present democratic elections as the central force in Egyptian politics.

Shukran, Israel.

LET’S NOT forget the Islamic Republic of Iran.

They owe us something, too. Quite a lot, actually.

In 1951, in the first democratic elections in an Islamic country in the region, Muhammad Mossadeq was elected Prime Minister. The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been installed by the British during World War II, was thrown out, and Mossadeq nationalized the country’s vital oil industry. Until then, the British had robbed the Iranian people, paying a pittance for the Black Gold.

Two years later, in a coup organized by the British MI6 and the American CIA, the Shah was brought back and returned the oil to the hated British and their partners. Israel had probably no part in the coup, but under the restored regime of the Shah, Israel prospered. Israelis made fortunes selling weapons to the Iranian army. Israeli Shabak agents trained the Shah’s dreaded secret police, Savak. It was widely believed that they also taught them torture techniques. The Shah helped to build and pay for a pipeline for Iranian oil from Eilat to Ashkelon. Israeli generals traveled through Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they helped the rebellion against Baghdad.

At the time, the Israeli leadership was cooperating with the South African apartheid regime in developing nuclear arms. The two offered the Shah partnership in the effort, so that Iran, too, would become a nuclear power.

Before that partnership became effective, the detested ruler was overthrown by the Islamic revolution of February 1979. Since then, the hatred of the Great Satan (the US) and the Little Satan (us) has played a major role in the propaganda of the Islamic regime. It has helped to keep the loyalty of the masses, and now Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using it to bolster his rule.

It seems that all Iranian factions – including the opposition – now support the Iranian effort to obtain a nuclear bomb of their own, ostensibly to deter an Israeli nuclear attack. (This week, the chief of the Mossad pronounced that an Iranian nuclear bomb would not constitute an “existential danger” to Israel.)

Where would the Islamic Republic be without Israel? So they owe us a big “Thank you”, too.
HOWEVER, LET us not be too megalomaniac. Israel has contributed a lot to the Islamist awakening. But it is not the only – or even the main – contributor.

Strange as it may appear, obscurantist religious fundamentalism seems to express the Zeitgeist. An American nun-turned-historian, Karen Armstrong, has written an interesting book following the three fundamentalist movements in the Muslim world, in the US and in Israel. It shows a clear pattern: All these divergent movements – Muslim, Christian and Jewish – have passed through almost identical and simultaneous stages.

At present, all Israel is in turmoil because the powerful Orthodox community is compelling women in many parts of the country to sit separately in the back of buses, like blacks in the good old days in Alabama, and use separate sidewalks on one side of the streets. Male religious soldiers are forbidden by their rabbis to listen to women soldiers singing. In orthodox neighborhoods, women are compelled to swathe their bodies in garments that reveal nothing but their faces and hands, even in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and above. An 8-year old girl from a religious family was spat upon in the street because her clothes were not “modest” enough. In counter-demonstrations, secular women waved posters saying “Tehran is Here!”

Perhaps some day a fundamentalist Israel will make peace with a fundamentalist Muslim world, under the auspices of a fundamentalist American president.

Unless we do something to stop the process before it is too late.

Uri Avnery
December 31, 2011

Neda

One year has gone!!!

A chilling analysis of the coming war in the Middle East

Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit analyses the escalating risque of yet another, more widespread war in the Middle East, with Israel and Iran as the main antagonists. You’ll find the article here.

Uri Avnery: Between Tel Aviv and Tehran

Uri Avnery
27.6.09

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Iranian citizens pour into the streets in order to protest against their government! What a wonderful sight! Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz that he envies the Iranians.

And indeed, anyone who tries these days to get Israelis in any numbers into the streets could die of envy. It is very difficult to get even hundreds of people to protest against the evil deeds or policies of our government – and not because everybody supports it. At the height of the war against Gaza, half a year ago, it was not easy to mobilize ten thousand protesters. Only once a year does the peace camp succeed in bringing a hundred thousand people to the square – and then only to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

The atmosphere in Israel is a mixture of indifference, fatigue and a “loss of the belief in the ability to change reality”, as a Supreme Court justice put it this week. A very dramatic change is needed in order to get masses of people to demonstrate for peace.

FOR MIR-HOSSEIN MOUSAVI hundreds of thousands have demonstrated, and hundreds of thousands have demonstrated for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That says something about the people and about the regime.

Can anyone imagine a hundred thousand people gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against the official election results? The police would open fire before a thousand had assembled there.

Would even a thousand people be allowed to demonstrate in Amman against His Majesty? The very idea is absurd.

Some years ago, the Saudi security forces in Mecca opened fire on unruly pilgrims. In Saudi Arabia, there are never protests against election results – simply because there are no elections.

In Iran, however, there are elections, and how! They are more frequent than elections in the US, and Iranian presidents change more often than American ones. Indeed, the very protests and riots show how seriously the citizens there treat election results.

OF COURSE, the Iranian regime is not democratic in the way we understand democracy. There is a Supreme Guide who fixes the rules of the game. Religious bodies rule out candidates they do not like. Parliament cannot adopt laws that contradict religious law. And the laws of God are unchangeable – at most, their interpretation can change.

All this is not entirely foreign to Israelis. From the very beginning the religious camp has been trying to turn Israel into a religious state, in which religious law (called Halakha) would be above the civil law. Laws “revealed” thousands of years ago and regarded as unchangeable would take precedence over laws enacted by the democratically elected Knesset.

To understand Iran, we have only to look at one of the important Israeli parties: Shas. They, too, have a Supreme Guide, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who decides everything. He appoints the party leadership, he selects the party’s Knesset candidates, he directs the party faction how to vote on every single issue. There are no elections in Shas. And in comparison with the frequent outbursts of Rabbi Ovadia, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a model of moderation.

ELECTIONS DIFFER from country to country. It is very difficult to compare the fairness of elections in one country with those in another.

At one end of the scale were the elections in the good old Soviet Union. There it was joked that a voter entered the ballot room, received a closed envelope from an official and was politely requested to put it into the ballot box.

“What, can’t I know who I am voting for?” the voter demanded.

The official was shocked. “Of course not! In the Soviet Union we have secret elections!”

At the other end of the scale there should stand that bastion of democracy, the USA. But in elections there, only nine years ago, the results were decided by the Supreme Court. The losers, who had voted for Al Gore, are convinced to this very day that the results were fraudulent.

In Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and now, apparently, also in Egypt, rule is passed from father to son or from brother to brother. A family affair.

Our own elections are clean, more or less, even if after every election people claim that in the Orthodox Jewish quarters the dead also voted. Three and a half million inhabitants of the occupied Palestinian territories also held democratic elections in 2006, which former President Jimmy Carter described as exemplary, but Israel, the US and Europe refused to accept the results, because they did not like them.

So it seems that democracy is a matter of geography.

WERE THE election results in Iran falsified? Practically no one of us – in Tel Aviv, Washington or London – can know. We have no idea, because none of us – and that includes the chiefs of all intelligence agencies – really knows what is happening in that country. We can only try to apply our common sense, based on the little information we have.

Clearly, hundreds of thousands of voters honestly believe that the results were faked. Otherwise, they would not have taken to the streets. But this is a quite normal among losers. During the intoxication of an election campaign, every party believes that it is about to win. When this does not happen, it is quite sure that the results are forged.

Some time ago, Germany’s excellent 3Sat television channel broadcast an arresting report about Tehran. The crew drove through the main street from the North of the city to the South, stopping frequently along the way, entering people’s homes, visiting mosques and nightclubs.

I learned that Tehran is largely similar to Tel Aviv at least in one respect: in the North there reside the rich and the well-to-do, in the South the poor and underprivileged. The Northerners imitate the US, go to prestigious universities and dance in the clubs. The women are liberated. The Southerners stick to tradition, revere the ayatollahs or the rabbis, and detest the shameless and corrupt North.

Mousavi is the candidate of the North, Ahmadinejad of the South. The villages and small towns – which we call the “periphery” – identify with the south and are alienated from the north.

In Tel Aviv, the South voted for Likud, Shas and the other right-wing parties. The North voted for Labor and Kadima. In our elections, a few months ago, the Right thus won a resounding victory.

It seems that something very similar happened in Iran. It is reasonable to assume that Ahmadinejad genuinely won.

The sole Western outfit that conducted a serious public opinion poll in Iran prior to the elections came up with figures that proved very close to the official results. It is hard to imagine huge forgeries, concerning many millions of votes, when thousands of polling station personnel are involved. In other words: it is entirely plausible that Ahmadinejad really won. If there were forgeries – and there is no reason to believe that there were not – they probably did not reach proportions that could sway the end result.

There is a simple test for the success of a revolution: has the revolutionary spirit penetrated the army? Since the French Revolution, no revolution has succeeded when the army was steadfast in support of the existing regime. Both the 1917 February and October revolutions in Russia succeeded because the army was in a state of dissolution. In 1918, much the same happened in Germany. Mussolini and Hitler took great pains not to challenge the army, and came to power with its support.

In many revolutions, the decisive moment arrives when the crowds in the street confront the soldiers and policemen, and the question arises: will they open fire on their own people? When the soldiers refuse, the revolution wins. When they shoot, that is the end of the matter.

When Boris Yeltsin climbed on the tank, the solders refused to shoot and he won. The Berlin wall fell because one East-German police officer refused at the decisive moment to give the order to open fire. In Iran, Khomeini won when, in the final test, the soldiers of the Shah refused to shoot. That did not happen this time. The security forces were ready to shoot. They were not infected by the revolutionary spirit. The way it looks now, that was the end of the affair.

I AM not an admirer of Ahmadinejad. Mousavi appeals to me much more.

I do not like leaders who are in direct contact with God, who make speeches to the masses from a balcony, who use demagogic and provocative language, who ride on the waves of hatred and fear. His denial of the holocaust – an idiotic exercise in itself – only adds to Ahmadinejad’s image as a primitive or cynical leader.

No doubt, he is a sworn enemy of the state of Israel or – as he prefers to call it – the “Zionist regime”. Even if he did not promise to wipe it out himself, as erroneously reported, but only expressed his belief that it would “disappear from the map”, this does not set my mind at rest.

It is an open question whether Mousavi, if elected, would have made a difference as far as we are concerned. Would Iran have abandoned its efforts to produce nuclear weapons? Would it have reduced its support of the Palestinian resistance? The answer is negative.

It is an open secret that our leaders hoped that Ahmadinejad would win, exacerbate the hatred of the Western world against himself and make reconciliation with America more difficult.

All through the crisis, Barack Obama has behaved with admirable restraint. American and Western public opinion, as well as the supporters of the Israeli government, called upon him to raise his voice, identify with the protesters, wear a green tie in their honor, condemn the Ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad in no uncertain terms. But except for minimal criticism, he did not do so, displaying both wisdom and political courage.

Iran is what it is. The US must negotiate with it, for its own sake and for our sake, too. Only this way – if at all – is it possible to prevent or hold up its development of nuclear weapons. And if we are condemned to live under the shadow of an Iranian nuclear bomb, in a classic situation of a balance of terror, it would be better if the bomb were in the hands of an Iranian leadership that keeps up a dialogue with the American president. And of course, it would be good for us if – before reaching that point – we could achieve, with the friendly support of Obama, full peace with the Palestinian people, thus removing the main justification for Iran’s hostility towards Israel.

The revolt of the Northerners in Iran will remain, so it seems, a passing episode. It may, hopefully, have an impact in the long run, beneath the surface. But in the meantime, it makes no sense to deny the victory of the Iranian denier.

Published here in cooperation with Uri Avnery.

Humanistisk jødedom

Eg leitar og undrast
Er det rom for humanismen innan jødedommen? Her er litt og fleire linka om det spørsmålet. Eg undrast om, ikkje det skall kunne gå an å bygge verden, med ein forstand som er verdsleg. Det er ein person eg er i gang med å kike på. Er det ein eller annan med saklig meining, om hann og organisasjonen hann starta?

Humanistisk jødedom

The New York Times
Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of a movement in Judaism that says there is no reason to believe in God but that the religion’s highest ethical traditions and the value of each person should be revered, died on Saturday in Essaouira

Na-eh ha-or ba-olam.
Na-eh ha-or ba-shalom.
Na-eh ha-or ba-shabbat.
How wonderful is the light of the world.
How radiant are the candles of peace.
How beautiful are the lights of Shabbat.
Wine composed a poem that is considered to be the central expression of the outlook of Humanistic Judaism:
Ayfo oree? Oree bee.
Ayfo tikvatee? Tikvatee bee.
Ayfo kokhee? Kokhee bee v’gam bakh.
Where is my light? My light is in me.
Where is my hope? My hope is in me.
Where is my strength? My strength is in me
– and in you.

Sherwin Wine
Sherwin Theodore Wine (January 25, 1928– July 21, 2007) was a rabbi and a founding figure in Humanistic Judaism. Originally ordained a Reform Jewish rabbi, Wine founded the Birmingham Temple, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism in 1963, in Birmingham, Michigan, outside Detroit, Michigan (the temple later relocated to its current location in Farmington Hills, Michigan).

Memorial for Rabbi Sherwin Wine