Viser arkivet for stikkord knesset

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?

In memory of Pete Seeger and Shulamit Aloni

PETE SEEGER touched my life only once. But what a touch.

It was a few days before the 1967 Six-Day War. After almost three weeks of mounting tension, the war fever was nearing breaking point. I knew that the war was only days, perhaps hours, away.

Dina Dinur, the wife of the Holocaust-writer K. Zetnik, called to invite me to meet Pete Seeger. Dina, a huge woman, had for years gathered a small group of Jewish and Arab intellectuals who met regularly in her home to discuss peace.

The meeting took place in Tel Aviv’s Hilton hotel. It was sad, depressed, but also uplifting in a strange way. We were thinking about all the young men, ours and theirs, still alive and breathing, who were going to die in the next few days.

We were a group of two or three dozen people, Jews and Arabs. Pete sang for us, accompanying himself on the guitar, songs about peace, humanity, rebellion. We were all deeply stirred.

I never met Pete Seeger again. But 19 years later, out of the blue, I received a postcard from him. It said in clear handwriting: “Dear Uri Avnery – Just a note of deep thanks to you for continuing to reach out, and take action. I hope next time you are in USA my family and I can get to hear you. Pete Seeger.” Then three Chinese characters and a sketch of what seems to be a banjo.

TWO DAYS before Pete passed away, we buried Shulamit Aloni. Perhaps some of those who took part in that earlier sad meeting were present this time, too.

Shula, as we called her, was one of the few leaders of the Israeli Left who made a lasting imprint on Israeli society.

Though she was five years younger than I, we belonged to the same generation, the one which fought in the 1948 war. Our lives ran on parallel lines – lines which, as we learnt at school, can be very close but never touch.

We were both elected to the Knesset at the same time. Before that, we were active in the same field. I was the editor of a magazine that was prominent, among other things, in the fight for human rights. She was a teacher and lawyer, already famous for defending citizen’s rights in the press and on radio.

That sounds easy, but at the time it was revolutionary. Post-1948 Israel was still a country where The State was everything, citizens were there merely to serve the state, and especially the army. The collective was everything, the individual next to nothing.

Shula was preaching the opposite: the state was there to serve its citizens. Citizens have rights that cannot be taken away or diminished. This has become part of the Israeli consensus.

HOWEVER, THERE was a great difference between our situations. Shula came from the heart of the establishment, which hated my guts. She was born in a poor part of Tel Aviv, and when both her parents enlisted in the British army during World War II, she was sent to the youth village Ben Shemen, a center of Zionist indoctrination. One of her schoolmates was Shimon Peres. At the same time I was a member of the Irgun, in stark opposition to the Zionist leadership.

After Ben Shemen, Shula joined Kibbutz Alonim – hence her adopted family name – where she met and married Reuven, who became prominent as a senior government official in charge of judaizing Galilee.

Apart from writing articles and dealing with citizens’ complaints on the radio, she performed illegal wedding ceremonies. In Israel, weddings are the exclusive province of the Rabbinate, which does not recognize women’s equality.

In the Knesset she was a member of the ruling Labor Party (then called Mapai) and subject to strict party discipline. I was a one-man faction, free to do as I pleased. So I could do many things she couldn’t, such as submitting bills to allow to legalize abortions, to allow harvesting organs for transplantation, annulling the old British law against homosexual relations between consenting adults, and such.

I also demanded a total separation between the state and religion. Shula was known for her attacks on religious coercion concerning civil rights. Therefore I was utterly surprised when in one of our first conversations she strenuously objected to such separation. “I am a Zionist,” she said, “The only thing that unites all Jews around the world is the Jewish religion. That is why there can be no separation between the state and the Jewish religion in Israel.”

From there on, her outlook widened from year to year. To my mind, she followed the inescapable logic of the Left.

From her original concentration on citizens’ rights, she moved to human rights in general. From there to the separation of state and synagogue. From there to feminism. From there to social justice. And, in the end, to peace and the fight against the occupation. Throughout she remained a Zionist.

This was no easy path. In early 1974, when she was elected to the Knesset again, this time as the leader of a small party, while I lost my seat, I took her in my car to a meeting in Haifa. On the way, which took about an hour, I told her that now, as a party leader, she must get active in the fight for peace. “Let’s divide the task between us,” she answered, “You deal with peace and I deal with civil rights.”

But 20 years later, Shula was already a leading voice for peace, for a Palestinian state, against the occupation.

WE HAD another thing in common. Golda Meir hated our guts.

Shula could disregard the party line as long as the benevolent Levy Eshkol was prime minister. When he suddenly died and the scepter passed to Golda, the rules changed abruptly.

Golda had a domineering personality, and, as David Ben-Gurion once said about her, the only thing she was good at was hate. Shula, a young and good-looking woman, with unorthodox ideas, aroused her ire. In 1969 she removed Shula from the party list. In 1973, when Shula tried again, Golda showed the full force of her spite: at the very last minute she removed Shula again.

It was too late for Shula to go through the lengthy procedure of setting up a new party list. But a miracle happened. A group of feminists had prepared a list of their own, with all the necessary requirements already completed, but without a chance of passing the minimum threshold. It was an ideal combination: a leader without a list for a list without a leader.

During the last hours of the time allocated for the submission of the lists, I saw Shula struggling with a huge pile of papers, trying to bring some order to the hundreds of signatures. I helped her to do the job.

Thus the new party, now called Meretz, came into being and won three seats on its first attempt.

HER HOUR of glory came in 1992. Meretz won 250,667 votes and became a political force. The new Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, needed her for his new government. Shula became Minister of Education, a job she coveted.

The trouble was that the 44 seats of the Labor Party and the 12 seats of Meretz were not enough. Rabin needed a religious party to form a government.

The transition from opposition fighter to cabinet minister is not always easy. It was especially hard for Shula, who was more of a preacher than a politician. Politics – as Bismarck famously remarked – is the art of the possible, and compromise came hard to Shula.

Nonetheless, right at the beginning, when Rabin decided to expel 415 radical Islamic citizens from the country, Shula voted in favor. During the protest against this outrage, my friends and I founded Gush Shalom. Shula later admitted that her support for the expulsion was an “eclipse of the sun”.

But the main trouble was to come. Shula never believed in hiding her opinions. She was totally honest. Perhaps too honest.

As Minister of Education she dispensed her opinions freely. Too freely. Every time she said what she thought about some chapter of the Bible and such, the religious coalition partners exploded.

The climax came when she announced that in all schools, the theories of Charles Darwin would replace the Biblical creation story. That was just too much. The religious demanded that Rabin remove Shula from the education ministry. Rabin was occupied with the Oslo peace process and needed the religious parties. Shula was removed from the ministry.

AT HER funeral, one of her two sons, in a brilliant eulogy, hinted darkly at the “treachery” which was the hardest moment of her life. All those present understood what he meant, though he did not elaborate.

When Rabin dismissed Shula from her beloved job as Education Minister, her party colleagues did not come to her aid. Among themselves they accused her of acting foolishly. She should have known that joining a coalition with the religious parties would demand a price. If she was not ready to shut her mouth, she should not have joined in the first place.

Meretz was the creation of Shula. Party founders are generally strong personalities, with whom it is not easy to cooperate. Shula’s party colleagues conspired against her, and eventually she was replaced as party leader by Yossi Sarid, a sharp-tongued Labor Party politician who had lately joined Meretz. In the next election, Meretz crashed from 12 seats to 3.

During the last few years, she was rarely in the public eye. I never saw her at demonstrations in the occupied territories, but she lectured incessantly to anyone, anywhere, when invited.

IN ONE of his frequent outbursts of vulgarity, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of the Shas party said: “When Shulamit Aloni dies, there will be a feast!”

There was no feast this week. Even the Right acknowledges her contribution to Israel. The Meretz party, now with six members in the Knesset, is doing well in the polls.

The sixth chapter of the Song of Songs ends with the call: “Return, return oh Shulamite, return, return!” No chance of that. Not much chance of another Shulamit Aloni, either. They don’t make them like that anymore.

Uri Avnery
February 1, 2014

The Fascist Zeitgeist in Israel

Uri Avnery
December 21, 2013

SEEING HER face on the TV screen, one is struck by her beauty. It is the face of an angel, pure and innocent.

Then she opens her mouth, and what pours out is vile and ugly, the racist message of the extreme right. Like seeing a cherub parting its lips and revealing the teeth of a vampire.

Ayelet Shaked may be the beauty queen of the present Knesset. Her name is enticing: Ayelet means gazelle, Shaked means almond. But she is the instigator of some of the most outrageous right-wing initiatives in this Knesset. She is also the chairwoman of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home faction, the nationalist-religious party of the settlers, the most radical rightist party of the current government coalition.

Her latest exploit is a bill which is now being debated in the Knesset, which would levy a huge tax on donations given by foreign “political entities” to Israeli human rights associations, those who advocate a boycott of Israel (or of the settlements only), the indictment of Israeli officers accused of war crimes in international courts, and more.

All this while immense sums of money are flowing from abroad to the settlements and their supporters. A large share of these sums is practically donated by the US government, which allows their exemption from US income tax as philanthropic. Much of it comes from American Jewish billionaires of dubious repute.

IN A way, this Gazelle is the face of an international phenomenon. All over Europe, extreme fascistic parties are flourishing. Small despised fringe groups suddenly expand into large parties with a national impact. From Holland to Greece, from France to Russia, these parties propagate a mixture of super-nationalism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and immigrant-hatred. A deadly witches’ brew.

The explanation seems to be simple. All over the place, the economic crisis has hit the people hard. Unemployment is high. Young people cannot find jobs. The victims look for a scapegoat on which to vent their anger. They choose the foreigner, the minority, the helpless. That has been so since antiquity. That’s how a failed painter named Adolf Hitler became a historic figure.

For politicians without vision or values, this is the easiest way to success and prominence. It is also the most despicable.

An Austrian socialist said more than a century ago: “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of the fools”.

Social reformers may believe that the whole thing is instigated by the world’s billionaires, who are concentrating an ever larger part of the world’s assets in their hands. The gap between the upper 1% and everybody else is growing relentlessly, and the beneficiaries are financing radical right-wingers to divert the anger of the masses in other directions. Stands to reason.

HOWEVER, TO my mind the economic explanation is too simple. If the same phenomenon appears at the same time in so many different countries, with different economic situations, there must be more profound reasons. There must be some elements of Zeitgeist in it.

I think that we are witnessing a basic cultural breakdown, a crisis of accepted values. This kind of upheaval generally accompanies social changes, often caused by economic and technological breakthroughs. It is a sign of social dissonance, of disorientation. On the eve of the Nazi revolt, the German writer Hans Fallada wrote an immensely successful book called “Kleiner Mann was nun?” (Little Man, What Now?), expressing the despair of the newly disinherited masses. Many little men and women around the world are in the same situation now.

In Israel, too.

LAST WEEK, we saw a spectacle that would have shaken our grandparents to the core.

Some 300 black people, many of them barefoot in the biting cold of an exceptionally severe winter, were walking dozens of kilometers on a central road. They were refugees who had managed to flee from Sudan and Eritrea, to walk all the way through Egypt and the Sinai and had crossed the border into Israel. (Since then, a wall has been erected along the Sinai border, and this stream has practically stopped.)

There are now about 60,000 such African refugees in Israel. Thousands of them are crowded in the most run-down slums of Tel Aviv and other cities, causing deep resentment among the locals. This has proved a fertile breeding ground for racism. The most successful agitator is another beautiful member of the Knesset, the Likud’s Miri Regev, a former army chief spokeswoman, who is inciting the inhabitants and the country in the most primitive and vulgar manner.

Looking for a solution to the problem, the government built a large prison in the middle of the desolate Negev desert, unbearably hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter. Thousands of black refugees have been crowded there without trial for three years. Some called it a concentration camp.

Israeli human rights associations – the same as above – applied to the Supreme Court, and the imprisonment of the refugees was declared unconstitutional. The government thought again (if thinking is the right word) and decided to circumvent the decision. Not far from the forbidden prison a new prison was built, and the refugees were put there for one year each.

No, not a prison. Something called “Open Live-in Facility”. We are good at naming things. We call that “verbal laundry”.

This “open” desert prison is closed during the night, but inmates are free during the day. However, it is far from anywhere. The inmates must register three times during daytime – thus making it impossible to go anywhere, not to mention finding work.

It is from this “open” prison that the valiant 300 have walked out and marched all the way to Jerusalem, some 150 kilometers, in order to demonstrate in front of the Knesset. It took them three days. They were accompanied by a few Israeli human rights activists, mostly female, their light faces very conspicuous among all the black heads.

In front of the Knesset they were brutally attacked by specially trained riot police. Each demonstrator was surrounded by half a dozen bullies and violently thrown into a bus, which brought them to the old non-open prison.

I AM dwelling on this incident because I am profoundly ashamed.

Racism is not a new thing in Israel. Far from it. But whenever we accuse
our gazelles of racism, they answer that this is pure libel. There is a conflict between us and the Palestinians, strict security measures are called for, this has nothing to do with racism, God forbid.

This is a very dubious argument, but at least it has some plausibility.

But we have no national conflict with the refugees. No security considerations are involved.

It is racism, pure and simple.

Let’s imagine that suddenly, in a remote corner between Eritrea and the Sudan, a Jewish tribe had been discovered. Its 60,000 members want to come to Israel.

The country would be in a delirium. The red carpet would be rolled out in Ben-Gurion airport. Both the President and the Prime Minister would be there, ready with their most banal speeches. They would receive an “absorption subsidy”, free housing and work.

So it’s not an economic problem, nor a question of absorption, housing or employment. It’s not even a question of skin color. Black Jews from Ethiopia are readily welcomed.

It’s simply THAT THEY ARE NOT JEWISH.

No room here for other people. They would take away our jobs. They would change the demographic balance. This, after all, is a Jewish State!

OR IS it?

If this were a Jewish State, would it treat refugees this way?

A hundred memories float into our minds. Of Jews being hounded from country to country. Of the mighty United States of America rejecting Jewish refugees on a German ship, fleeing from Nazi persecution. And later exterminated in the death camps. Of the Swiss pushing back Jews escaping from the concentration camps who had made it to their border.

Remember “The Boat Is Full?”

If this really were a Jewish state, would it try to bribe African states to accept these refugees without asking what would happen to them there? For a refugee from the hell of Darfur, Zimbabwe is as foreign as New Zealand (unless one subscribes to the theory that “all blacks are the same”.)

If this really were a Jewish state, would the Minister of the Interior, a Likud functionary, send his force of goons to go hunting for refugees in the streets?

No, this is not a Jewish state. The Bible commands us to treat the stranger in our midst as we would want to be treated ourselves. “Also, thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 23:9).

Amen!

Israeli MP: EU action shows Israel is becoming 'pariah'

Ofer Shelah, a Knesset deputy from the centrist Yesh Atid party, a key member of Israel’s ruling coalition, made the statement on his Facebook page on last week.

He referred to EU guidelines that block funding for Israeli organisations operating on occupied Palestinian land, and said that the settlement-building “will make us the pariahs of the world.”

Read more in EU observer.

-Israel can become a Scandinavian welfare state, only if there's a peace settlement

Dogs of War

Such terrifying dogs have not been seen since the Hound of the Baskervilles.

They have been bred by an ardent admirer of the late “Rabbi” Meir Kahane, who was branded by the Israeli Supreme Court as a fascist. Their task is to protect the settlements and attack Palestinians. They are settler-dogs, or, rather, dog-settlers.

All our TV stations have reported on them at length and lauded their effectiveness and ardor.

All in preparation for “September”.

SEPTEMBER IS not just the name of a month, the seventh in the old Roman calendar. It is the symbol of a terrible danger, an unspeakable existential menace.

In the next few weeks, the Palestinians will ask the UN to recognize the State of Palestine. They have already mustered a large majority in the General Assembly. After that, according to the official assessment of our army, all hell will break loose. Multitudes of Palestinians will rise, attack the “Separation” Wall, storm the settlements, confront the army, create chaos.

“The Palestinian Authority is planning a bloodbath,” Avigdor Lieberman cheerfully asserted. And when Lieberman predicts violence, it would be unwise to ignore him.

For months now, our army has been preparing for just such an eventuality. This week it announced that it is training the settlers, too, and telling them exactly when they are allowed to shoot to kill. Thus it confirms what we all know: that there is no clear distinction between the army and the settlers – many settlers are officers in the army, and many officers live in settlements. “The army defends all Israelis, wherever they are,” is the official line.

One of the scenarios the army is preparing for, it was stated, is for Palestinians shooting at soldiers and settlers “from inside the mass demonstrations”. That is an ominous statement. I have been at hundreds of demonstrations and never witnessed anyone shooting “from inside the demonstration”. Such a person would have to be insanely irresponsible, since he would expose all the people around him to deadly retaliation. But it is a handy pretext for shooting at non-violent protesters.

It sounds so ominous, because it has happened already in the past. After the first intifada, which was considered a Palestinian success story (and brought about the Oslo agreement), our army diligently prepared for the second one. The chosen instruments were sharpshooters.

The second (“al-Aqsa”) intifada started after the breakdown of the 2000 Camp David conference and Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative “visit” to the Temple Mount. The Palestinians held non-violent mass demonstrations. The army responded with selective killings. A sharpshooter accompanied by an officer would take position in the path of the protest, and the officer would point out selected targets – protesters who looked like “ringleaders”. They were killed.

This was highly effective. Soon the non-violent demonstrations ceased and were replaced by very violent (“terrorist”) actions. With those the army was back on familiar ground.

All in all, during the second intifada 4546 Palestinians were killed, of whom 882 were children, as against 1044 Israelis, 716 of them civilians, including 124 children.

I am afraid that the preparations for the third intifada, which is anticipated to start next month, are proceeding on the same lines. But the circumstances would be quite different. After the events in Egypt and Syria, Palestinian protesters may react differently this time, and the “bloodbath” may be much more severe. So will international and Arab reactions. I imagine posters condemning Binyamin al-Assad and Bashar Netanyahu.

But most Israelis are not worried. They believe that the entire scenario has been invented by Netanyahu as a trick to end the huge social protest movement that is rocking Israel. “The young protesters demand Social Justice and a Welfare State, like children demanding ice cream while disaster is lurking around the corner,” as one of the colonels (ret.) put it.

THE SETTLERS and their dogs loom large in the upcoming scenarios.

That is quite logical, since the settlers now play a pivotal role in the conflict. It is they who prevent any peace agreement, or even meaningful peace negotiations.

It is quite simple: any peace between Israel and the Palestinian people will necessarily be based on ceding the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to the future State of Palestine. A world-wide consensus on this is now in place. The only question is where exactly the border will run, since there is also a consensus about minor mutually agreed swaps of territory.

This means that peace would necessarily entail the removal of a large number of settlements and the evacuation of the settlers throughout the West Bank.

The Settlers and their allies dominate the present Israeli government coalition. They object to giving up even one square inch of occupied territory of the country God has promised us. (Even settlers who do not believe in God do believe that God has promised us the land.) Because of this, there are no peace negotiations, no freeze on building activities in the settlements, no move of any kind towards peace.

The settlers went to their locations in the West Bank specifically for this purpose: to create “facts on the ground” that would prevent any possibility of the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Therefore it is quite immaterial whether it is the settlers who prevent the return of the occupied territories for peace, or whether the government uses the settlers for this purpose. It comes to the same: the settlers block any peace effort.

As the Americans would put it: It’s the settlers, stupid.

SOME NICE Israelis are indeed playing stupid, or really are.

It is now the fashion in certain circles to “embrace” the settlers in the name of national unity. Jews should not quarrel among themselves, they say, drawing on ancient Ghetto wisdom. Settlers are people like us.

Prominent among those who say so is Shelly Yachimovitch, a member of the Knesset and one of six candidates for the chair(wo)manship of the moribund Labor Party. For years she has done a good job as an advocate of social justice, never wasting a word on peace, occupation, settlements, Palestine and such trifles. Now, as part of her campaign, she has come all out for loving the settlers. As she put it: “I certainly do not see the settlement enterprise as a sin and crime. At the time, it was completely consensual. It was the Labor Party which promoted the settlement in the territories. That is a fact, a historical fact. “

Some believe that Yachimovitch is only pretending to feel this way, in order to garner mainstream votes for a takeover of the party, and that she intends to merge what remains of the party with Kadima, where she would try to displace Tzipi Livni and perhaps even become Prime Minister.

Perhaps. But I have a lurking suspicion that she really believes what she is saying – and that is an awful thing to say about any politician, male or female, of course.

BUT SERIOUSLY, there is no way to embrace the settlers and fight for social justice at the same time. It just can’t be done, even though some of the leaders of the social protest movement advocate this on tactical grounds.

There can be no Israeli welfare state while the war goes on. The border incidents of the last two weeks show how easy it is to divert public opinion and silence the protests when the banner of security is unfurled. And how easy it is for the government to prolong any incident.

Sowing the fear of “September” is yet another example.

But the reasons for the impossibility of separating social justice from security go deeper. Serious social reforms need money, lots of money. Even after reforming the tax system – more “progressive” direct taxes, less “regressive” indirect taxes – and breaking the cartels of the “tycoons”, tens of billion of dollars will be needed to rescue our schools, our hospitals and our social services.

These billions can only come from the military budget and the settlements. Huge sums are invested in the settlements – not just in heavily subsidized housing for the settlers, government salaries for many settlers (a far higher percentage that in the general population), but also for the infrastructure (roads, electricity and water supply etc.) and the large number of troops needed to defend them. The preparations for “September” show again how much this costs.

BUT EVEN this is not the full story. Beyond all these facts there is the main reason for the deformation of Israel: the conflict itself.

Because of the conflict, we are obliged to keep a huge military establishment. We pay for the armed forces, per capita, far more than the citizens of any Western country. Israel, a country of a mere 7.5 million people, maintains the fourth or fifth largest military establishment in the world. US military aid pays for only a small part of this.

Therefore, putting an end to the war is a necessary precondition for any real effort to turn Israel into a “Scandinavian” welfare state, with a maximum of social justice. The conflict is not just one item among many that must be considered. It is the main item.

You can love the settlers or hate them, oppose them or embrace them as much as you like – the fact remains that the settlements are by far the main obstacle to peace and the welfare state. Not just because of their cost, not just because of the pogroms their inhabitants carry out from time to time, not just because of the way they dominate the political system. But because of their very existence.

Unlike the hound of the Baskervilles, the dogs of the settlements are barking loudly. It is the sound of war.

Uri Avnery
September 3, 2011

Labour Party leader Ehud Barak breaks with Labour and creates new party

Defense minister and Labour Party chairman, Ehud Barak, breaks with his party, to establish a new political party. He will stay on in the coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the government still has a majority in the Knesset.

Disagreement of how to handle the stalled US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians in the government, is supposed to be the main reason for the fragmentation of the Labour Party.

You’ll find the Haaretz story here.

Knesset strippet arabisk parlamentariker for rettigheter

Knesset, den israelske nasjonalforsamlingen, vedtok i dag med 34 mot 16 stemmer å frata Hamin Zuabi tre privilegier som følger med det å være folkevalgt medlem av nasjonalforsamlingen: Utreisetillatelse fra Israel, retten til å få dekket advokatutgifter hvis hun blir saksøkt som folkevalgt, og retten til et diplomatisk pass.

Bakgrunnen for at Zuabi er blitt fratatt disse rettighetene, er at hun deltok på den humanitære konvoien som forsøkte å bryte blokaden mot Gaza tidligere i sommer, der ni hjelpearbeidere ble skutt av israelske soldater.

Haaretz omtaler saken i sin nettutgave i dag, her

Zuabi representerer partiet Balad.

Avnery on Shimon Peres

Uri Avnery
9.5.09

Sir Winston Peres

First of all, I want to apologize to all the good women who are engaged in the world’s oldest profession.

I recently described Shimon Peres as a political prostitute. One of my female readers has protested vigorously. Prostitutes, she pointed out, earn their money honestly. They deliver what they promise.

Our president, on the other hand, only tells the truth by accident. He is a political impostor and a political sham. To him, too, apply Winston Churchill’s words about a former Prime Minister: “The Right Honorable gentleman sometimes stumbles upon the truth, but he always hurries on as if nothing has happened.” Or the words of former minister Amnon Rubinstein about Ariel Sharon: “He blushes when he tells the truth.”

Like a traveling salesman offering a counterfeit product, Peres is now peddling the merchandise called Binyamin Netanyahu. He presents to the world a Netanyahu we have never known: a peacemaker, the epitome of truthfulness, a man with no other ambition than to go down in history as the founder of the State of Palestine. A Righteous Jew to outshine all Righteous Gentiles.

HOWEVER, ALL these lies are nothing compared to trivializing the Holocaust.

In some countries, that is a criminal offense, punishable by prison. The trivializing has many guises. For example: the assertion that the gas chambers never existed. Or: that not six million Jews were killed, but only six hundred thousand. But the most dangerous form of minimizing is the comparison of the Holocaust to passing events, thus turning it into “a detail of history”, as Jean-Marie Le-Pen infamously put it.

This week, Shimon Peres committed exactly this crime.

Like a lackey walking in front of the king, strewing flowers on the road, Peres flew to the US to prepare the ground for Netanyahu’s coming visit. He imposed himself on a reluctant Barack Obama, who had no choice but to receive him.

Posing as a new Winston Churchill, the man who warned the world against the rise of Nazi Germany, he informed Obama with solemn bombast: “As Jews we cannot but compare Iran to Nazi Germany.”

About this sentence at least three things must be said: (a) it is untrue, (b) it trivializes the Holocaust, and © it reflects a catastrophic policy.

DOES IRAN really resemble Nazi Germany?

I don’t like the regime there. As a committed atheist who insists on total separation between state and religion, I oppose any regime based on religion – in Iran, in Israel or in any other country.

Also, I don’t like politicians like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I am allergic to leaders who stand on balconies and declaim to the masses below. I detest demagogues who appeal to the base instincts of hatred and fear.

Alas, Ahmadinejad is not the only leader of this type. Indeed, the world is full of them, some are among the staunchest supporters of the Israeli government. In Israel, too, we do not lack this sort.

But Iran is not a fascist state. According to the evidence, there is quite a lot of freedom there, including freedom of expression. Ahmadinejad is not the only candidate for president in the present election campaign. There are a number of others, some more radical, some less.

Nor is Iran an anti-Semitic state. A Jewish community, whose members are refusing to emigrate, is living there comfortably enough. It enjoys religious freedom and has a representative in parliament. Even if we take such reports with a grain of salt, it is clear that the Jews in Iran are not being persecuted like the Jews in Nazi Germany.

And, most important: Iran is not an aggressive country. It has not attacked its neighbors for centuries. The long and bloody Iraq-Iran war was started by Saddam Hussein. It may be remembered that at the time Israel (contrary to the US) supported the Iranian side and supplied it with arms. (One such transaction was accidentally disclosed in the Irangate affair.) Before the Khomeini revolution, Iran was our most important ally in the region.

Ahmadinejad hates Israel. But it has been denied that he has threatened to annihilate Israel. It appears that the crucial sentence in his famous speech was mistranslated: he did not declare his determination to wipe Israel off the map, but expressed the opinion that Israel will disappear from the map.

Frankly, I don’t think that there is such a great difference between the two versions. When the leader of a big country predicts that my state will disappear, that makes me worry. When that country appears to do everything possible to produce a nuclear bomb, that worries me even more. I draw conclusions, but about that later.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad – unlike Hitler – is not the supreme leader of his country. He is subject to the real leadership, composed of clerics. All the signs indicate that this is not a group of adventurers. On the contrary, they are very balanced, sophisticated and prudent. Now they are cautiously feeling their way towards dialogue with the US, trying to reach an accord without sacrificing their regional ambitions, which are quite normal.

In brief, the speeches of one demagogic leader do not turn a country into Nazi Germany. Iran is not a mad country. It has no real interests in Israel/Palestine. Its interests are focused on the Persian Gulf area, and it wants to increase its influence throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Its relations with Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas mostly serve this purpose, and so does the anti-Israeli incitement of Ahmadinejad.

In brief, the comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany lacks a factual basis.

FOM THE Jewish point of view, the comparison is even more objectionable.

The Holocaust was a unique crime. True, the 20th century has seen other terrible acts of genocide, but they did not resemble the Shoa. In the Ottoman empire, a horrifying massacre of the Armenian citizens took place, which amounted to genocide. Hitler himself mentioned it, saying that the annihilation of the Jews would similarly be forgotten. Stalin killed millions of Soviet citizens in the name of a monstrous ideology, which had started as a humanist creed. So did Pot Pol, who killed millions in order to change society for the better. In Rwanda, members of one tribe slaughtered the members of another. And, alas, the list goes on.

But Nazi Germany was unique in employing the instruments of a modern industrial society in order to eliminate helpless minorities (let’s not forget the Roma, those with disabilities and the homosexuals) in a prolonged, planned and highly organized process, with the participation of all the organs of the state. If the Nazi regime had not been overthrown by war, Hitler would have continued with the annihilation of many more millions of Poles, Ukrainians and Russians.

Nothing like that can reasonably be expected to happen in Iran. Neither the ideology, nor the composition of the regime nor any other indication leads in that direction. As far as its growing nuclear capabilities are concerned – the Israeli deterrent power will prevent any such thought from arising. (Let’s not forget that the only country ever to use nuclear bombs in war was our friend, the USA.)

Nothing that is happening in the world today resembles the Shoa, in which six million Jews were wiped out. The Palestinians did not kill six million Israelis, and we did not kill six million Palestinians. Comparing the Arabs to the Nazis is no less odious than comparing the Israelis to the Nazis. Many terrible things have been and are being committed in our name – but they are as far from the deeds of the Nazis as the earth is from distant galaxies.

Any such comparison for the sake of some fleeting propaganda advantage is trivializing the Holocaust and its perpetrators. If the Nazis were not worse than the Ayatollahs, then the Shoa was not so terrible, after all.

In all my contacts with Palestinian leaders, including Yasser Arafat, I have always advised them to avoid this upsetting comparison. This would also be good advice for our own leaders.

DOES THE comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany serve Israeli interests?

Iran is there. It was our ally in the past, and may be our ally again in the future. Leaders come and go, but geopolitical interests are more or less constant. Ahmadinejad may be replaced by a leader who will see Iranian interests in a different light.

The nuclear threat to Israel will not disappear – not after a (bad) speech by Peres nor after a (good) speech by Netanyahu. All over the region, nuclear installations will pop up. This process cannot be stopped. We all need nuclear energy to desalinate water and to produce electricity without destroying the environment. As an Israeli professor, a former employee in the nuclear center at Dimona, said this week: we must reconsider our nuclear policy. It may well be to our advantage to accept the demand of the American spokeswoman that Israel (as well as India and Pakistan) join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and a regime of strict supervision.

President Barack Obama is now saying to Israel: Put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is a precondition for the elimination of the threat to Israel. When the Palestinians, and the entire Arab world, make peace with Israel – Iran will not be able to exploit the conflict for the furthering of its interests. We were saying this, by the way, many years ago.

The refusal of Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak to accept this demand shows the insincerity of their arguments about Iran. If they really believed that Iran posed an existential menace, they would hurry to dismantle the settlements, demolish the outposts and make peace. That would, after all, be a small price to pay for the elimination of an existential danger. Their refusal proves that the entire existential story is a bluff.

And concerning the comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany – it is as convincing as the comparison of Shimon Peres to Sir Winston.

Uri Avnery: The Great Gamble

Uri Avnery
21.2.09

The Great Gamble

“IACTA ALEA EST” – the die is cast – said Julius Caesar and crossed the River Rubicon on his way to conquer Rome. That was the end of Roman democracy.

We don’t have a Julius Caesar. But we do have an Avigdor Liberman. When he announced his support the other day for the setting up of a government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, it was the crossing of his Rubicon.

I hope that this is not the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy.

UNTIL THE last moment, Liberman held the Israeli public in suspense. Will he join Netanyahu? Will he join Tzipi Livni?

Those who participated in the guessing game were divided in their view of Liberman.

Some of them said: Liberman is indeed what he pretends to be: an extreme nationalist racist. His aim is really to turn Israel into a Jewish state cleansed of Arabs – Araberrein, in German. He has only contempt for democracy, both in the country and in his own party, which consists of yesmen and yeswomen devoid of any identity of their own. Like similar parties in the past, it is based on a cult of (his) personality, the worship of brute force, contempt for democracy and disdain for the judicial system. In other countries this is called fascism.

Others say: that is all a façade. Liberman is no Israeli Fuehrer, because he is nothing but a cheat and a cynic. The police investigations against him and his business dealings with Palestinians show him to be a corrupt opportunist. He is also a friend of Tzipi. He cultivates a fascist image in order to pave his way to power. He will sell all his slogans for a piece of government.

The first Liberman would support the setting up of an extreme Right government by Netanyahu. The second Liberman could support a Livni government. For a whole week he juggled the balls. Now he has decided: he is indeed an extreme nationalist racist. As the Americans say: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

For appearances’ sake he told the President that his proposal to entrust Netanyahu with the setting up of a government applies only to a broad-based coalition encompassing Likud, Kadima and his own party. But that is just a gimmick: probably such a government will not come into being, and the next government will be a coalition of Likud, Liberman, the disciples of Meir Kahane and the religious parties.

SOME ON the Left say: Excellent. The voters will get exactly what they deserve. At long last, there will be an exclusively rightist government.

One of the proponents of this attitude is Gideon Levy, a consistent advocate of peace, democracy and civil equality.

He and those who think like him say: Israel simply has to pass through this phase before it can recover. The Right must get unlimited power to realize its program, without the pretext of being hindered by leftist or centrist members of the coalition. Let them try, in full view of the world, to pursue a policy of war, the overthrow of Hamas in Gaza, the avoidance of any peace negotiations, unfettered settlement, spitting in the face of world public opinion and collision with the United States.

In this view, such a government cannot last for long. The new American administration of Barack Obama will not allow it. The world will boycott it. American Jewry will be shocked. And if Netanyahu strays – even slightly – from the Right and narrow path, his government will fall apart. The Kahanists, up to then his full partners, will divorce him on the spot. After all, the last Netanyahu government was overthrown ten years ago by the extreme right after he sat down with Yasser Arafat and signed an agreement that gave (pro forma) a part of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority.

After the fall of the government, according to this prognosis, the public will understand that there is no rightist option, that the slogans of the Right are nothing but nonsense. Only thus will they arrive at the conclusion that there is no alternative to the path of peace. The voters will elect a government that will end the occupation, clear the way for a free Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and withdraw to the Green Line borders (with slight, mutually acceptable, adjustments).

For the public to accept this, a shock is needed. The fall of the deep-Right government can supply such a shock. According to a saying attributed (mistakenly, it appears) to Lenin: The worse, the better. Or, put in another way: it must become much worse before it can get any better.

THIS IS a seductive theory. But it is also very frightening.

How can we be sure that the Obama administration will indeed put irresistible pressure on Netanyahu? That is possible. Let’s hope that it happens. But it is not certain at all.

Obama has not yet passed a real test on any issue. It is already clear that there is a marked difference between what he promised in the election campaign and what he is doing in practice. In several matters he is continuing the policies of George Bush with slight alterations. That was, of course, to be expected. But Obama has not yet shown how he would act under real pressure. When Netanyahu mobilizes the full might of the pro-Israel lobby, will Obama surrender, like all preceding presidents?

And world public opinion – how united will it be? How much pressure can it exert? When Netanyahu declares that all criticism of his government is “anti-Semitic” and that every boycott call is an echo of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden” (“Don’t buy from Jews”) – how many of the critics will stand up to the pressure? How much courage will Merkel, Sarkozy, Berlusconi et al be able to muster? And on the other side: will a world-wide boycott not intensify the paranoia in Israel and push all the Israeli public into the arms of the extreme Right, under the time-worn slogan ”All the World is against us?”

IN THE best of circumstances, if all the pressures materialize and have a maximum impact – how long will it take? What disasters can such a government bring about before the pressure starts to take effect? How many human beings will be killed and injured in attacks and acts of revenge by both sides? Such a government would be dominated by the settlers. How many new settlements will spring up? How many existing settlements will be extended at a hectic pace? And in the meantime, won’t the settlers intensify their harassment of the Palestinian population with the aim of bringing about ethnic cleansing?

The components of the Rightist coalition have already declared that they do not agree to a cease-fire in Gaza because it would consolidate the rule of Hamas there. They seek to renew the Gaza War under an even more brutal leadership, to re-conquer the Strip and to return the settlers there.

Netanyahu’s talk about an “economic peace” is complete nonsense, because no economy can develop under an occupation regime and hundreds of roadblocks. Any peace process – real or virtual – will grind to a halt. The result: the Palestinian authority will collapse. Out of desperation, the West Bank population will turn further towards Hamas, or the Fatah movement will become Hamas 2.

Inside Israel, the government will have to confront the deepening depression and perhaps cause economic chaos. All the sections of the government are united in their hatred of the Supreme Court, and the crazy manipulations of Justice Minister Daniel Friedman will give way to even crazier ones. Under the catchy slogan of “regime change”, targeted assaults against the democratic system will take place.

All these things are possible. One or two years of a Bibi-Liberman-Kahane government can cause irreparable damage to Israel’s standing in the world, Israeli-American relations, the judicial system, Israeli democracy, national morale and national sanity.

THE POSITIVE side of this situation is that the Knesset will once again include a large opposition. Perhaps even an effective opposition.

Kadima came into being as a government party. It will not be easy for it to adapt to the role of opposition. That will require an emotional and intellectual transformation. For ten years I myself conducted an uncompromising oppositional struggle in the Knesset, and I know how difficult it is. But if Kadima manages to undergo such a transformation successfully – which is very doubtful – it may become an effective opposition. The necessity to present a clear alternative to the rightist government may lead it to discover unsuspected strengths within itself. Tzipi Livni’s games with the Palestinians may turn into a serious program for a Two-State solution, a program that will be strengthened and deepened by the daily parliamentary struggle vis-à-vis a government with an opposite program.

Labor, too, will have to undergo a profound transformation. Ehud Barak is certainly not the person to wage an oppositional fight – especially as he will not be the “head of the opposition”, a title officially conferred by law on the leader of the largest opposition faction. He will be second fiddle even in opposition. Labor will have to compete, and perhaps-perhaps this will lead to its recovery. The Bible tells us of the miracle of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37).

That is true even more for Meretz. It will have to compete with both Kadima and Labor to justify its place in the struggle for peace and social recovery.

A real optimist can even hope for the narrowing of the gap between the “Jewish Left” and the “Arab parties”, which the Left has until now boycotted and left out of all coalition calculations. The common struggle and the joint votes in the Knesset may bring about a positive development there too.

And beyond the parliamentary arena, the government of the extreme Right may change the atmosphere in the country and stimulate many well-intentioned people to leave the security of their ivory towers and start a process of intellectual rejuvenation in the circles from which a new, open and different Left must spring.

ALL THESE are theoretical possibilities. What will happen in reality? What will be the consequences of a “pure” rightist regime, if Tzipi Livni maintains her determination not to join a Netanyahu government? Will Israel set off down a suicidal road from which there is no return, or will this be a passing phase before the wake-up call?

It is a great gamble, and like every gamble, it arouses both fear and hope.

(Copyright Uri Avnery)

Uri Avnery on the post election process in Israel

Uri Avnery
14.2.09
Ms Tantalus

TANTALUS IS punished by the Gods for reasons that are not entirely clear. He is hungry and thirsty, but the water in which he stands recedes when he bends down to drink from it and the fruit above his head continually evades his hand.

Tzipi Livni is now undergoing a similar torture. After winning an impressive personal victory at the polls, the political fruit keeps slipping from her grasp when she stretches out her hand.

Why should she deserve that? What has she done, after all? Supported the war, called for a boycott of Hamas, played around with empty negotiations with the Palestinian Authority? OK, she has indeed.. But such a terrible punishment?

HOWEVER, THE results of the elections are not as clear as they might seem. The victory of the Right is not so unambiguous.

Central to the election campaign was the personal competition between the two contenders for the Prime Minister’s office: Livni and Netanyahu (or, as they call themselves, as if they were still at kindergarten, Tzipi and Bibi.)

Contrary to all expectations and all polls, Livni beat Netanyahu. Several factors were involved in this. Among others: the masses of the Left were terrified by the possibility of Netanyahu winning, and flocked to Livni’s camp in order to “Stop Bibi!” Also, Livni – who was never identified with feminism – remembered at the last moment to call Israel’s women to her banner, and they hearkened to her call.

But it is impossible to ignore the main significance of this choice: Netanyahu symbolizes total opposition to peace, opposition to giving back the occupied territories, to the freezing of the settlements and to a Palestinian state. Livni, on the other hand, has declared more than once her total support for the “Two-Nation-States” solution. Her voters opted for the more moderate line.

True, the big winner in the elections was Avigdor Liberman. But his triumph is far from the fateful breakthrough everyone foresaw. He did not win the 20 seats he had promised. His ascent from 11 to 15 seats is not so dramatic. His party is indeed now the third largest in the Knesset, but that is less due to its own rise than to the collapse of Labor, which fell from 19 to 13. By the way, not one of the parties won even 25% of the vote. Israeli democracy is now very fragile indeed.

The Liberman phenomenon is ominous, but not (yet?) disastrous.

HOWEVER, THERE is no way to deny the most significant message of these elections: the Israeli public has moved to the right. From Likud to the right there are now 65 seats, from Kadima to the left only 55. One cannot argue with numbers.

What has caused this shift?

There are several explanations, all of them valid.

One can consider it as a passing phase after the war. A war arouses strong emotions – nationalist intoxication, hatred of the enemy, fear of the Other, longing for unity and for revenge. All these naturally serve the Right – a lesson sometimes forgotten by the left when it starts a war.

Others see in it a continuation of a historical process: the Zionist-Palestinian confrontation is becoming wider and more complex, and such a situation feeds the Right.

And then there is, of course, the demographic factor. The rightist bloc attracts the votes of three sectors: the Oriental Jews (a majority of whom vote for Likud), the religious (who mostly vote for the fundamentalists) and the Russians (most of whom vote for Liberman). This is a group vote, almost automatic.

Two sectors in Israel have an especially high birth-rate: the religious Jews and the Arabs. The religious vote almost unanimously for the Right. True, the Orthodox and the National-Religious parties have not increased their strength in the elections, probably because many of their natural voters chose Likud, Liberman or the even more extreme National Union. The Arab citizens almost completely abstained from voting for Jewish parties, as many of them used to in the past, and the three Arab parties together gained one more seat.

The demographic development is ominous. Kadima, Labor and Meretz are identified with the old-established Ashkenazi sector, whose demographic strength is in steady decline. Also, many young Ashkenazis gave their votes – at least four seats worth – to Liberman, who preaches a secular fascism. They hate the Arabs, but they also hate the religious Jews.

The conclusion is quite clear: if the “center-left” does not succeed in breaking out of its elitist ghetto and striking roots within the Oriental and Russian sectors, its decline will continue from election to election.

NOW MS TANTALUS must choose between two bitter options: to retire to the desert where there is neither water nor fruit, or to serve as a fig-leaf for an obnoxious coalition.

Option No. 1: to refuse to join Netanyahu’s coalition and to go into opposition. That is not so simple. The Kadima party came into being when Ariel Sharon promised its members – refugees from right and left – power. It will be very hard for Livni to hold the lot together in opposition, far from the seat of power, far from the posh ministers’ offices and from luxurious official cars.

That would give us a rightist government which includes open fascists, pupils of Meir Kahane (whose party was banned because of his racist teachings), the advocates of ethnic cleansing, of the expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens and the liquidation of any chance for peace. Such a government would inevitably find itself in confrontation with the United States and in worldwide isolation.

Some people say: that’s good. Such a government will necessarily fall soon and break apart. Thus the public will be persuaded that there is no viable rightist option. Kadima, Labor and Meretz will stew in opposition, and perhaps a real center-left alternative will come into being.

Others say: Too risky. There is no limit to the disasters that a Netanyahu-Liberman-Kahanist government can bring upon the state, from the enlargement of the settlements that will torpedo any future peace, to outright war. We can’t stake everything on one card, when the chip is the State of Israel.

Livni’s option No. 2: To swallow the bitter pill, give in and join the Netanyahu government as a second, third or fourth wheel. In that case, she must decide at once, before Netanyahu establishes a fait accompli with an extreme-right coalition which Livni would then be invited to join as a junior partner.

I shall not be surprised if president Shimon Peres takes the initiative unofficially and promotes this option – before starting, in a week’s time, the official process of consulting with the Knesset factions and entrusting one of the candidates with the task of forming a government.

Could such a government move towards peace? Conduct real negotiations? Agree to the dismantling of settlements? Accept a Palestinian state? Recognize a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas?

Hard to imagine. In the best case, it will go on with the charade of meaningless negotiations, quietly enlarge the settlements, lead Barack Obama by the nose and mobilize the pro-Israel lobby in order to obstruct any real American moves towards peace. What was will be.

CAN ISRAEL change course? Can a real peace-oriented alternative arise?

The two “Zionist Left” parties have been decisively beaten. Both Labor and Meretz have collapsed. Their two leaders who called for the Gaza War and supported it – Ehud Barak of Labor and Haim Oron of Meretz – have received the punishment they richly deserve. In a normal democracy, both would have resigned the day after the elections. But our democracy is not normal, and both leaders insist on staying on and leading their party to the next disaster.

Labor is a walking corpse – the only “social-democratic” party in the world whose leader’s sole aim is to stay on as war minister. When Barak spread the mantra “there is no one to talk with” he overlooked the logical conclusion “therefore we don’t need anyone to talk with them”.

The Labor Party has no party, no members, no political program, no alternative leadership. It will fail in opposition as it failed in government. Barring a miracle, it will end up in the junkyard of history.

It will find Meretz already there. A socialist party that lost its way a long time ago: a party without any roots in the classes at the foot of the socioeconomic ladder, a party that has supported all our wars.

Some believe in easy solutions: a union of Labor and Meretz, for example. That is a union of the lame and the blind. No reason to expect that they would win the race.

THE REAL task is far more difficult. A completely new building must be erected in place of the one which has collapsed.

The need is for a new Left that will include new leaders from the sectors that have been discriminated against: the Orientals, the Russians and the Arabs. A new Left that will express the ideals of a new generation, people of peace, advocates of social change, feminists and greens, who will all understand that one cannot realize one ideal without realizing all of them. There can be no social justice in a military state; no one is interested in the environment while the cannons are roaring, feminism is incompatible with a society of machos riding on tanks, there can be no respect for Oriental Jews in a society that despises the culture of the Orient.

The Arab citizens will have to leave the ghetto in which they are confined and start to talk with the Jewish public, and the Jewish public must talk with the Arabs on equal terms. The Liberman slogan “No Citizenship Without Loyalty” must be turned around: “No Loyalty Without Real Citizenship”.

As Obama has done in the US, a new language, a new lexicon must be created, to replace the old and tired phrases.

Much, much must be changed if we want to save the state.

AS FOR Ms. Tantalus: she can contribute to this process of change, or her torture will continue.

Echoing Pyrrhus, king of Epirus and Macedon, she can well say: Another such victory and we are undone.

Published with the permission of Uri Avnery.