+972 Magazine » Larry Derfner http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:56:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 A dark tale from Netanyahu Nation http://972mag.com/a-dark-tale-from-netanyahu-nation/106919/ http://972mag.com/a-dark-tale-from-netanyahu-nation/106919/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:20:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106919 Assassinations, lies and conspiracy theories. 

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the infamous "Rabin the Traitor" rally in Jerusalem, October 1995. (Screenshot)

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the infamous “Rabin the Traitor” rally in Jerusalem, October 1995. (Screenshot)

If you want to know about the right-wing culture that rules Israel today, the following isn’t a bad illustration. Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday that Netanyahu’s pick for director-general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, wrote an article in the settler publication Nekuda after the Rabin assassination blaming the Shin Bet for the murder, which is sort of the Israeli right’s answer to Holocaust denial, that’s how popular a conspiracy theory it is. (Filber, along the way, was Netanyahu’s chief of staff in his first term, and headed the Likud campaign in the last election.)

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Filber’s response in Yedioth: he always believed, then and now, that Yigal Amir and no one else killed Rabin, but agreed, as a junior employee of the Yesha settlers council following the assassination, to sign his name to the article because the true author, Uri Elitzur, then Nekuda editor and a senior figure in the Yesha Council, thought it would hurt his standing as an opinion writer to have his name signed on to it. Filber says that “out of regard for Elitzur and desire to help put down the incitement campaign against settlers, I agreed to sign in his place. Since then, I have expressed myself forthrightly that the conspiracy theory is delusional and illogical.”

Let’s look at this. First of all, it’s very convenient for Filber to say the article was written by Elitzur because Elitzur can’t deny it, being dead. Elitzur, by the way, wrote the infamous article posted on Facebook by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked last summer calling for the killing of not only Palestinian terrorists, but also their mothers, the people who write Palestinian textbooks, people who give terrorists “moral support” — basically all Palestinians except collaborators.

Here’s the thing: what sort of person agrees to sign his name to a long article making a very controversial claim, one that he considers “delusional and illogical,” when he didn’t even write it? And what kind of writer would write such an article and ask somebody else to take responsibility for it?

Setting aside the issue of Elitzur, who is not relevant and cannot defend himself, Filber is a liar any way you look at it — either he is lying about not having written the article (and is slandering a dead man, not to mention being a believer in vicious nonsense), or he is telling the truth now and agreed then to sign his name to a major article he never wrote. Either way, it’s a dark tale about the kinds of people Netanyahu raises up, about the character of the powers that be in contemporary Israel.

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Beyond racism: What’s keeping Ethiopian-Israelis down? http://972mag.com/beyond-racism-ethiopian-israelis-struggle-for-equality/106408/ http://972mag.com/beyond-racism-ethiopian-israelis-struggle-for-equality/106408/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 15:16:48 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106408 Racism is a severe problem for the community — and the country — but that doesn’t fully explain the difficulties faced by Ethiopian-Israelis.

To the extent that they were protesting against face-to-face racism from “white” Israelis, the thousands of Ethiopian Israelis who raised hell in Tel Aviv Sunday night had more than a legitimate gripe. When I was in the army 25 years ago, I saw such insulting patronization toward Ethiopian immigrant soldiers it was hard to believe; from what one hears, such treatment hasn’t disappeared from Israeli life by any means. I don’t know if Israeli cops harass them and treat them more roughly – a videotape of police manhandling an Ethiopian soldier on suspicion of some crime is what set off the recent protests – but I wouldn’t be surprised.

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However, to the extent that the demonstrations are aimed at the state for discriminating against Ethiopian immigrants and native-born, I don’t think they’ve got the right address. The State of Israel may have done more for Ethiopian Jews, between the effort to bring them over and the investment in them after they arrived, than any state has ever done for any group of immigrants. In the early 90s, after Operation Solomon airlifted nearly 15,000 of them to Israel, the state gave each of the families an apartment, paying off 98 percent of the cost, leaving them to pay the remaining 2 percent in monthly payments and the apartment was theirs to own. Between the state and diaspora Jewish philanthropic organizations, there are more programs to help Ethiopian Israelis than can ever be imagined.

And yet they are a well-entrenched Jewish underclass, as seen in the completely disproportionate number of Ethiopian youths living in state boarding schools or being held in juvenile prisons; dropping out of school; going AWOL and/or to army prison; and later being unemployed or working at the lowest-paid, lowest-skilled jobs.

Is that because of discrimination against them by the state, or by police or by Israelis on the street? No, it’s in spite of the extraordinary amount of help the state and diaspora Jewry have given them. There is a class of Ethiopian-Israeli achievers, of course; the 20 or so I lived with in an immigrant absorption center in 1985 all went directly to university after finishing the course in Hebrew; I imagine they’re doing fine now. Not coincidentally, they were all from Addis Ababa, not from the rural Gondar region where the overwhelming majority of Ethiopian Jews came from.

To the extent that the Ethiopian Israelis have a problem with police violence, the fault lies completely with the cops. To the extent they have a problem with random, garden-variety racism – and that’s a very serious problem – the fault lies completely with racist Israelis. But their disproportionate presence in this society’s underclass is largely because their families came here from rural Ethiopia. They started so far behind, technologically and educationally. They had no money, no resources, no network here. It was an unimaginable culture shock. As a group, they have so far to go to catch up with the rest of Israel, and while they’re making progress from year to year, it’s inevitably slow going.

It would be nice if the past was irrelevant, and all it took to get Ethiopian Jews to compete on an equal level with other Israelis was to bring them here, give them a reasonable amount of help, and then just watch them hold their own. But it seems that after centuries in rural Ethiopia, it takes more than that. I think everybody knows this, but people don’t want to say it because they don’t want to hurt the Ethiopians’ feelings. This is the best of intentions, but it shouldn’t lead people to grab onto easy, completely incorrect explanations – like “government neglect” – for why this enormous social problem hasn’t been solved.

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America’s choice on Iran: Obama’s peace or Netanyahu’s war http://972mag.com/americas-choice-on-iran-obamas-peace-or-bibis-war/105302/ http://972mag.com/americas-choice-on-iran-obamas-peace-or-bibis-war/105302/#comments Sun, 05 Apr 2015 11:17:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105302 If Bibi, the Israel lobby and the GOP stymie this historic nuclear deal, it will be very bad for Israel, America and America’s Jews.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at their joint press conference in Jerusalem (photo: Koby Gidon / Government Press Office)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference in Jerusalem. (photo: Koby Gidon / Government Press Office)

Anybody who thinks Obama has won, that Israel and the Israel lobby and the Republicans are just going to concede the Iran nuclear deal without a fight, could not be more wrong. For the Israeli and American Jews involved, this is the supreme cause of their lives – preventing another Holocaust, as they see it. The framework agreement announced last Thursday looks to them like Munich. These are the terms they use.

For the American gentile politicians involved, it’s partly this badly misplaced notion of “never again,” partly (for the Republicans) Obamaphobia, partly Islamophobia, and partly fear of the Israel lobby’s wrath if they let Obama and the Iranians sign a final deal, whose deadline is June 30, three months from now. All in all, the deal’s opponents have more than enough motivation to ensure that so long as there’s the slightest chance to head it off, they will be fighting with everything they’ve got.

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And they’ve got much more than the slightest chance. The Republicans are pushing a Senate bill that would effectively give America’s last word on the deal to the GOP-controlled Congress, which would guarantee the setting of terms that Iran would  never accept, and the negotiations would collapse. Obama has promised to veto this bill and any other designed to kill the Iran deal, but if 67 senators sign this legislation, it becomes veto-proof. The Republicans reportedly have 66 senators committed to signing it.

I don’t think they will get to 67; instead, I think Obama will peel off some of the bill’s Democratic supporters because he is the president; because this is his “legacy” achievement and he and his supporters want it awfully bad; because this is a matter of war and peace; and because the Iran deal is very popular with everyone outside the Republicans, Israel, the Israel lobby and Iran’s Middle East enemies such as Saudi Arabia. So in the end, I’m betting that the deal will be done, and it will make the world a better place. But it’s not a sure thing by any means.

The engine behind the deal’s Republican-led opposition is Netanyahu and the Israel lobby. The top story in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post begins:

“Jerusalem will use the next three months until the June 30 Iranian nuclear deal deadline to argue forcefully against many of its provisions, specifically that it allows Iran’s massive nuclear infrastructure to remain in place, according to a senior government official.”

As if anyone had any doubt.

The most aggressive of the Israel lobby’s outfits, neocon William Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel, stated after the framework agreement was announced:

“The Emergency Committee for Israel expects that every member of Congress will do his duty and act to kill this proposed deal. … No friend of Israel can support it.”

The lobby’s two most prestigious organizations, AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reacted like their typical smarmy selves, claiming they didn’t oppose a nuclear deal, just that they wanted a “good” deal, which could best be accomplished by letting Congress oversee the negotiations, increasing sanctions on Iran, confronting Iran in Yemen, Syria and Gaza, etc.

This is going to be a very rough, dirty three-month campaign in America. Nobody likes being called an appeaser, a supporter of Munich, a traitor, an enabler of a second Holocaust, or even just a weakling and a coward. It’s going to be particularly harsh and divisive for American Jews, who are already split between the laid-back, pro-Obama dovish majority and the obsessed, Obama-hating, Bibi-adoring hawkish minority.

I hope the Dems and the liberal Jewish leadership fight like hell, and by that I mean make the hawks bleed. Netanyahu, the lobby and the Republicans are lying about wanting a diplomatic solution; nobody believes in trying diplomacy with people they think of as Nazis bent on getting the Bomb. Instead, the hawks want to force the Obama administration to offer impossible terms to Iran so Iran will turn them down, quit the negotiations and go back to where it is now: with a “breakout time” of only two to three months, meaning the time it would take the Iranians to enrich enough weapons-grade uranium to assemble a nuclear bomb, if they decided to do so. This would leave the U.S. no choice but to attack Iran – either by acting alone or with Israel – seeing as how Obama, backed by just about every other world leader, has pledged to do whatever’s necessary to prevent Iran from building nukes.

If Bibi, the lobby and the GOP succeed in stymieing this historic, breakthrough deal, the Democrats and the rest of the world will never forget the decisive role Israel played. If the collapse of negotiations leads to an American war with Iran — what could be the first in a series of them — even the Republicans won’t forgive Israel. It will be remembered as “Bibi’s war.” It would reach Israel, too, via Hezbollah and its 100,000 missiles and rockets. The lost chance at peace, the war and the fallout from it would be very bad for America, for Israel, and for America’s Jews. And so the fight is on for “Obama’s peace.”

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The Iranian nuclear threat and other phantoms http://972mag.com/the-iranian-nuclear-threat-and-other-phantoms/105118/ http://972mag.com/the-iranian-nuclear-threat-and-other-phantoms/105118/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 12:08:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105118 The ‘framework agreement’ announced Thursday night in Lausanne is a lot better than no agreement. But an approach to Iran involving no sanctions and no hysteria would have been best of all.

Secretaries Kerry, Moniz Jot Down Notes Before P5+1 Strategic Session About Ongoing Iranian Nuclear Negotiations in Switzerland, March 30, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

Secretaries Kerry, Moniz Jot Down Notes Before P5+1 Strategic Session About Ongoing Iranian Nuclear Negotiations in Switzerland, March 30, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

NOTE: This post has been changed to reflect the author’s happy surprise that the framework agreement was not the dud he thought it would be – even after it was first announced – but is, according to all accounts, a very meaningful step.  

Remember the threat of North Korea going nuclear? The sanctions, the scare rhetoric from the United States, the specter of the craziest, cultiest nation on earth, one that starves its own people en masse, having the Bomb? So what happened? North Korea got the Bomb. They fired test shots until, in early 2013, it was recognized internationally that they’d built a nuclear weapon. Today Pyongyang is estimated to have a dozen to two dozen of them, plus missiles to fly them toward distant targets – the capability to destroy, for instance, nearby Seoul and Tokyo. By next year that nightmarish country is expected to have twice as many bombs as it’s got now.

So? Is anybody losing sleep? Are any South Koreans or Japanese fleeing their country?

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No. The world has gotten used to a nuclear North Korea. It’s another danger to be dealt with, to contain, not something to go hysterical over. In hindsight, the world dealt with a nuclear Soviet Union and nuclear Communist China under, respectively, Stalin and Mao, two of the three most ruthless mass murderers of the last century, so it can deal with a nuclear North Korea.

And if necessary, with a nuclear Iran, too. If Tehran were to build nuclear weapons, the world – even Israel – would get used to it like the world, including Israel, got used to nuclear weapons in the hands of much crazier, incomparably more violent and aggressive countries than the Islamic Republic.

But the world’s leaders don’t see things this way, and Israel certainly doesn’t. They’ve decided they can’t let Iran get the Bomb, and that even starting a war would be preferable. (That one measly war wouldn’t stop Iran’s nuclear program is something world leaders and Israelis don’t discuss publicly.) So the “framework agreement” announced Thursday night between Iran and the U.S.-led world powers – assuming that it leads to a final pact by the June 30 deadline – is a great thing, considering the alternative, which was no agreement, more sanctions, Iranian defiance and the likelihood of an American, Israeli or American-Israeli attack further up the road.

But it came at the cost of hysteria, the threat of war (which the Obama administration will maintain for the duration of the agreement, and which the Republicans and Israel will never stop waving around), and above all, the suffering of masses of Iranians as a result of the sanctions. From an October 2013 story in Foreign Policy, “The human costs of the Iran sanctions”:

“The results have been devastating for the Iranian population, triggering a collapse of industry, skyrocketing inflation, and massive unemployment. As the rich and politically-connected prosper under sanctions, Iran’s middle class has disappeared, and even access to food and medicine has been compromised.”

Yet no sanctions advocate in America, Israel or anywhere else has the guts to admit this. None of them have the decency to acknowledge that the sanctions haven’t hurt Iran’s Supreme Leader or Revolutionary Guard, only the Iranian people, beginning, of course, with the most vulnerable.

E.U. High Representative Mogherini Sits With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Before P5+1 Nations Resume Nuclear Talks in Switzerland, March 31, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

E.U. High Representative Mogherini Sits With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Before P5+1 Nations Resume Nuclear Talks in Switzerland, March 31, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

This whole Iran scare has been built on intellectual dishonesty and cowardice. The reasons offered to justify it have changed over the years, diminished in gravity, as one by one they begin to sound too ludicrous to keep repeating. You don’t hear much anymore about the threat of Iran one day just up and nuking Israel, because it’s hard to get people to believe that an ancient, illustrious civilization of 80 million people is going to commit mass suicide, what with Israel having second-strike capability. Neither do you hear about “the twelfth imam,” or “the hidden imam,” or the other mysterious features of Iranian fundamentalist Shia Islam that supposedly make it a blueprint for Armageddon. Nor do you hear that Iran’s mere possession of the Bomb, even without using it, would debilitate Israel economically and psychologically by scaring citizens and foreign capital out of the country.

No, with the exception of the mandatory analogies to Munich and the Holocaust, the most often-heard arguments for stopping Iran’s nuclear program by any means necessary are now much more sober. One is that a nuclear-armed Iran will become even more aggressive in the region, with all other countries, including the U.S. and Israel, being afraid to stand in its way for fear of getting nuked. The other argument is that if Iran gets the Bomb, it will set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and other countries rushing to join the club.

If the first argument were valid – that the Bomb gives a country the freedom to attack, invade and even conquer other countries at will – then the Soviet Union would have gotten no resistance from Afghanistan. Britain wouldn’t have had to fight Argentina to keep the Falklands. There wouldn’t have been 40 years of proxy wars between the Soviets and the U.S.; each would have been too afraid to fight the other. But that’s not how it works. The advent of nuclear weapons has deterred direct wars between the two nuclear superpowers, Russia and America, but that’s it; all other wars between all sorts of other belligerents, some having the Bomb, some not, have continued to flourish. Nuclear weapons have proven to be a great defense against nuclear and other “existential” attacks, but nothing more. They’re not an offensive weapon (not since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, anyway), and they’re not even a defensive weapon against conventional threats. A nuclear-armed Iran would be safe from nuclear or other life-threatening attack, but otherwise it would be no freer to mount cross-border aggression than it is now.

The second argument, though – that if Iran gets the bomb, a Mideast nuclear arms race will ensue – sounds pretty reasonable. However, it’s not an argument that can be made by Israel, which started the race. Or by the U.S., the only country to ever actually nuke anyone, or by Russia, China, France or Britain, whose diplomats have been in Lausanne (along with those of non-nuclear Germany) trying to convince Iran to give up what they never would. If the nuclear powers want Iran to stay Bomb-free, let them lead by example. Otherwise, they’re hypocrites who have no moral authority over the Iranians in this matter.

I grew up in America during the Cold War. I remember the “drop drills” in school, crouching under my desk and covering my head.  I remember saying to a friend, “Why don’t they just kill Khrushchev?” and him, being older and wiser, saying, “It’s not just one man, it’s an idea.” In the early 60s, people were seriously afraid that the Russkies were going to nuke America because they were an insane society that believed in   insane ideas, so they were ready to risk getting annihilated in the bargain. Then, in the late 60s, when Americans’ minds began to open up, and a lot of them saw in Vietnam that America could be pretty crazy, too, the “red scare” subsided. The drop drills ended. People calmed down, or at least the reasonable ones did. They stopped worrying about the Bomb.

That’s why I don’t worry about a nuclear Iran: I’ve heard all this crap before. And in America of the early 60s, the horror stories weren’t about an enemy threatening to build a Bomb, but one that already had thousands of them, an empire that ran on a fanatical ideology and that was far, far more aggressive and violent than the Islamic Republic.

We survived. We survived Stalin and Mao. We’re surviving North Korea. We’ll survive Iran, if it goes nuclear. I think the reason people can’t live with this idea is because it seems irresponsible, carefree, adolescent. Not adult. Adults are supposed to worry. They’re supposed to be afraid a lot. They’re supposed to threaten the people who make them afraid, and if that doesn’t work, they’re supposed to attack. That’s being a responsible adult these days: being frightened to the point of reckless hysteria. God help us.

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What’s an Ashkenazi leftist to do? http://972mag.com/whats-an-ashkenazi-leftist-to-do/104706/ http://972mag.com/whats-an-ashkenazi-leftist-to-do/104706/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 14:44:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104706 One Ashkenazi leftist’s view of the post-election rumblings of class warfare between the “State of Tel Aviv” and the mainly Mizrahi periphery.

Last Tuesday’s election saw Likud’s traditional popular base — Mizrahim in the poor, development towns and cities of the Negev and Galilee, and poor neighborhoods and suburbs of the central region — vote for Likud and Netanyahu in very big numbers. This caused a backlash among many Ashkenazi liberals who voted Zionist Union and Meretz. They’re saying they are through caring about the Mizrahi poor; let them go to Bibi from now on. This, in turn, has caused a counter-backlash by many other Ashkenazi liberals and leftists, who are saying this is a racist, right-wing attitude, and that a big reason why poor Mizrahim vote Likud is because of Ashkenazi liberal offenses against them, past and present.

The following is my view of the Ashkenazi leftist/Mizrahi Likudnik divide. I want to stress that I am referring only to poor, generally under-educated Mizrahim who make up the base of Likud supporters. I am not talking about middle-class, well-educated Mizrahim, who I have a strong hunch leaned away from Likud and toward the more liberal parties in the election.

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1. Israeli leftists, who are disproportionately Ashkenazi, want to be in solidarity with the “weakened” classes, which include the poor, under-educated segments of the Mizrahi population. But it turns out that the latter tend to hate Israeli leftists. They also hate the “weakened” classes who are not Jewish: Arabs and African refugees. In disproportionate numbers, they expressed that sentiment — against the Left and the Arabs (the Africans weren’t much of an issue) by voting for Bibi.

So what is an Israeli Ashkenazi leftist to do? If we lash out at Mizrahi Likudniks, we’re racists, which we don’t want to be, and if we blame them for their own racism, then we’re not good leftists, because good leftists don’t blame the “weakened” classes for anything. So we blame the powers that be, we blame Israeli capitalism, we blame Bibi — and, being good leftists, we blame ourselves. We’re racist, we live in a Tel Aviv bubble where everyone is just like us, we’re patronizing, we put the poor Mizrahim in miserable immigrant transit camps when they came to Israel in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we don’t listen to them, etc. And we think that if we take this fearless personal inventory, if we look in the mirror and cleanse ourselves of all these faults, then maybe we can go back to the poor Mizrahim in the periphery and make our case — speaking to them as equals this time! — and maybe they won’t hate us so much.

But they will. Do you know why? Because the overwhelming majority of the Mizrahi poor hate weakness, even worse than the average Israeli does. That – a billion times more than the transit camps – is why they hate Israeli leftists – because they see us as weak vs. their enemies, the Arabs and the Africans. And when they heap contempt on us and we react by groveling, they say to themselves, “Oh, look at the weak, pathetic leftists, apologizing again. God, I hate these people.”

2. Israeli leftists say we have to treat the poor Mizrahim as equals, we have to stop patronizing them. Okay. They just whacked us upside the head – they voted for Bibi in large part because they hate us; Bibi’s campaign (and fellow ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett’s) bashed the Left from day one. So, if we want to treat the poor Mizrahim as equals,  we should whack them upside the head in return, shouldn’t we, Ashkenazi leftists? Because if we try to “understand” them, and excuse them, and blame ourselves and God forbid not blame them, then we’re not treating them as equals, we’re treating them as infants, as helpless, pathetic creatures who aren’t responsible for anything they do. Then we’re patronizing them something fierce, aren’t we? So, Ashkenazi leftists, make up your minds.

3. So why are poor Mizrahim right wing and often racist? For the same reason poor whites all over the world are right wing and very often racist, why poor Muslims are right wing in Muslim countries, supporting the most militant nationalist or religious/nationalist candidates. In every society I know of, the poorer classes of the dominant group – in Israel, Jews; in the West, whites; in Muslim countries, Muslims – are drawn to demagogues who promise them power – because they have none. And they tend to hate the people who are on the rung below them – in Israel, Arabs; in the West, blacks and other people of color; in Muslim countries, blacks; in black South Africa, black migrant workers from Zimbabwe. This is the elephant in the room that hardcore leftists worldwide don’t want to see – the poor, the downtrodden, trample on the weak in their societies every bit as much as the rich do in theirs. Sad, soul-killing, but true.

4. So what should Ashkenazi liberals and leftists do? First, we should stop “understanding” and excusing anti-Arab/anti-black racism and hatred of the Left when it comes from poor Mizrahim, and instead denounce them for it the same way we denounce (mainly Ashkenazi) settlers and other Israeli “haves” who hold such fascistic beliefs. To do otherwise is, truly, to patronize them.

Second, while we must recognize that the Labor Ashkenazi establishment indeed mistreated Mizrahim when they got here, and that Ashkenazi prejudice against Mizrahim used to be a terrible problem and still has not been eradicated, this is not why many poor, under-educated Mizrahim tend to hate Arabs and leftists today. No, these hatreds have been sinking deeper and deeper into Israeli society as a whole; they’re just naturally stronger among the Jewish “underclass.” So if you hear some guy in Ofakim bitching about the goddamn Arabs and the kushim and blaming the Tel Aviv leftist shits for taking their side, don’t feel guilty and don’t apologize. You are not to blame for his bigotry. If you want to show solidarity at that point, show it with the Arabs and Africans he’s cursing.

Finally, don’t turn your backs on the Mizrahim poor. They’re not all fascists by any means, and the ones who are have children, and those children need our solidarity. They deserve to grow up in a good environment, get a good education and see a hopeful future. (So did their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents; hate their bigotry, not them.) Moreover, this is the only antidote to the racism and the hatred of Israel’s Jewish underclass: helping them get out of it, not necessarily geographically but educationally. And this antidote is a proven success: again, I doubt many well-educated Mizrahim rushed out to vote Likud when Bibi announced that “the Arabs are going out to vote in droves, the leftist NGOs are bussing them in.”

The Left has always believed in solidarity with the poor, and that must not be lost. What the Left should get rid of, though – and not only in Israel – is its illusions about poor people, its infantilization of them, and its self-defeating, patronizing guilt in the face of their worst behavior, which, of course, encourages it.

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The silent majority of complacency: Israel’s right-wing voters http://972mag.com/the-silent-majority-of-complacency-israels-right-wing-voters/104122/ http://972mag.com/the-silent-majority-of-complacency-israels-right-wing-voters/104122/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 19:17:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104122 The 20-kilometer road from “Israel proper” to the West Bank settlement of Ariel used to be narrow and slightly risky, running past a few Palestinian villages where teenagers might want to throw a rock at a passing car with yellow Israeli plates. But no more; now there’s a wide, sleek, protected highway that doesn’t pass anywhere near a Palestinian village, and on whose lanes not a single green Palestinian license plate can be seen. No, the status quo is not static.

Ariel itself seems much bigger than I remember, with wide boulevards swooping up and down the rim of the hilly city. City? It looks like a city, but there are only 20,000 people living here. This must be the biggest town of 20,000 in the world.

The billboards give an idea of how people here will be voting on Tuesday.

“It’s us or them – only Likud, only Netanyahu.”

“We’re through apologizing – Jewish Home – Bennett.”

“Tachlis (Bottom line), Liberman – Capital punishment for terrorists – Umm el-Fahm to Palestine.”

“Yahad – the Torah-true Right.”

On the second-to-last Friday afternoon before the election, at a local shopping center, Nadav Oshri, 67, a pensioner who worked in hospital maintenance and has lived here since 1980, tells me he’s voting Likud as always. He agrees with the central message of Likud and Jewish Home that the right wing’s rival, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Zionist Union slate, is “leftist” and “anti-Zionist,” pointing out that they want to divide the land with the Palestinians.

Why does he prefer Likud over Jewish Home? “First, I’m not a religious Jew, I’m traditional. And I like things to be done in a way that people will accept. I don’t like Bennett’s aggressiveness.”

Bella Olshansky, 53, a librarian married to a factory worker, Russian immigrants who’ve been living in Ariel for 19 years, tells me, “Bibi is weak – push him and he’ll give in.” What about Liberman? “We don’t need separate parties for the Russians or any other group.” Though secular, Olshansky is voting for Bennett. “I want somebody from the hard right. We moved to Ariel because of ideology, not for the lower price of housing, or not only for that.”

Then she says something I heard repeatedly from the people I interviewed in Ariel, Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University – “normal” settlers, the non-professional middle class, Russian immigrants, elderly Mizrahim and the moderate national religious, the silent majority behind the right wing’s lock on power:

“God forbid the Left takes over.”

A view of the settlement of Ariel. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

A view of the settlement of Ariel. (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man)

No alternative

The 20-odd right-wing voters I interviewed were not, thankfully, the intimidating fascists one might assume them to be from the public appearances and campaign ads of the politicians they’re voting for. These people aren’t loud or angry in their opinions, they don’t bring up any hatred of Arabs or leftists, either. While they all agreed that Herzog and Livni are leftists (which says more about their own politics than that of Herzog and Livni), they also said they weren’t impressed by the scare-mongering that characterized Likud and Jewish Home’s campaigns.

Instead, the sense I got from these members of the silent majority was of complacency. They’re not particularly worried or threatened by the prospect of another intifada or war, and certainly not by that of an upheaval in the election. They’re not singing about the economy, but they’re not crying, either. They laugh off Obama and the warnings of a schism with the United States. And they have no patience whatsoever for the scandals over Netanyahu’s publicly-funded extravagances or his wife Sara’s alleged abusiveness toward her servants.

‘You know what? If I was prime minister, I’d eat pistachio ice cream, too. Why shouldn’t he? He works 24 hours a day,” says Moshe, 43, of Ma’aleh Adumim (“a ‘settler,’ right?”), owner of a baked goods stall in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market.

The men and women on the right-wing street feel okay about the state of the nation, both in terms of security and, though to a clearly lesser extent, the economy; they tend to give Netanyahu high marks, but above all they see no alternative. The “Left,” especially in what seems to them the delicate hands of Isaac Herzog, lost the debate a long time ago, as far as “national camp” voters are concerned; what used to be called the “peace camp” is a bad memory that only got a lot of innocent Israelis killed, and God forbid it should ever return to power.

In Israel, the Right calls the tune. There seems to be a sense, here and overseas, that because Zionist Union is leading Likud in the polls, and because Netanyahu has been around so long and rubbed so many people wrong, that public opinion in this country has shifted toward the center/center-left.

But it hasn’t.

God forbid Zionist Union wins. They’re nice people but they live in a different world.Reuven Gersovitch

“Israel moved to the right after Operation Protective Edge last summer – it moved to the right even before that, after the 2013 election. A few years ago, 12 to 15 percent of Israelis defined themselves as being on the left; now less than 10 percent do. Israel is one of the few countries where the Right is larger than the center and Left combined,” Tel Aviv University statistics Prof. Camil Fuchs, who polls for Haaretz and Channel 10, told me.

And if mainstream right-wing voters aren’t openly raging at Arabs and leftists, the campaigns of Likud, Jewish Home, Israel Beiteinu and Yahad (whose top candidates include Baruch Marzel, the long-time head of Israel’s Kahanist movement) sure are. The people I interviewed said this attack style didn’t speak to them – but it didn’t drive them away, either. It seems to have helped keep them on board.

With the Left so badly stigmatized for so long, it was no surprise that Netanyahu built his campaign on branding Herzog and Livni as leftists and banging away at them for being weak against the Arab nemesis of the moment, while he was strong. He  couldn’t ’t very well run on his domestic record; the general perception was that he’d done nothing during this last term, and that too many people were suffering in the country’s wildly inequitable economy to brag about it, so he would stick with smearing the Left as traitors and scaring the public into seeking his protection again.

The ‘anti-Zionist’ Left

He’s a old master at this, of course; he oversaw the two-year campaign of traitor-baiting against Yitzhak Rabin that culminated in assassination; he made the words “Peres” and “terror” synonymous in winning his first term as prime minister; a little-remembered detail of his unsuccessful 2006 campaign was the sneering Likud ads against incumbent Ehud “Smolmert” – smol being Hebrew for “left”; another forgotten highlight of that race was the Likud video showing seas of green Hamas flags, then a shot of Olmert in a green cap and T-shirt, as the ominous narration and sound track rumbled on.

No one will ever accuse Bibi of being Mr. Clean. But this time he outdid himself. Not only did he brand Herzog and Livni – who enthusiastically back every Israeli war, every “operation” – as “leftists,” he went a step further by calling them “anti-Zionists,” which, in the Israeli political vocabulary, is worse than a leftist. A leftist may be merely naïve, a bleeding heart, someone who speaks up for the Arabs out of that old, unkillable Jewish guilt – but an anti-Zionist is a declared hater and enemy of the State of Israel.

“The choice here is sharp and clear: the leftist, anti-Zionist list led by Tzipi and Bougie, or the Likud list led by myself,” Netanyahu said in one of his most slanderous videos against Arabs and his campaign rivals. (Besides repeating the words “leftist” and “anti-Zionist” over and over, a key motif in the campaigns of both Likud and Jewish Home is to refer to Livni and Herzog only as “Tzipi and Bougie” – which, it must be acknowledged, is a step up in class from “Smolmert.”) In this video, Netanyahu accused Israel’s friendliest Arab, sportscaster and intercommunal peacemaker Zohair Bahloul, the only Arab among Zionist Union’s electable candidates, of “giving character testimony in praise of Hezbollah,” which was the opposite of the truth.

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His single most notorious campaign video, set to a sound track of Arabic rap music, shows a truck full of ISIS men asking an Israeli, “How do we get to Jerusalem, bro?” The Israeli replies, “Take a left,” and the ISIS team drives on with shouts of jubilation. Punctuated by the sound of gunshots, the words, “The left will surrender to terror,” appear on the screen in red letters with bullet holes.

Netanyahu also reverted to form by attacking the media, specifically the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, for conspiring against him. (It must be said, though, that Yedioth, which is in direct competition with Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu free sheet Israel Hayom, has run Bibi down almost as relentlessly as Israel Hayom has puffed him up.) And once again Netanyahu went after the cultural and intellectual “elites,” this time attempting to purge the Israel Prize judges of what he described as “radicals” and “anti-Zionists” (before the attorney general, objecting to such a populist decision being made so close to the election, compelled him to cancel it).

Finally, there were the official acts of state that seemed to double as campaign tactics, notably the killing of Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general across the Syrian border, the trip to Paris after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket murders, and the anti-Obama speech to Congress.

And it’s all held up. The polls have steadily shown Likud winning in the low 20s in Knesset seats (out of 120 total), bringing them even or no more than a seat or two behind Zionist Union, until recent days when the gap widened to three or even four.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Again, contrary to popular opinion, an Election Day haul of 21, 22 or 23 seats for Likud does not signal a drop-off in popularity for the party of Netanyahu. Likud won only 20 in the January 2013  election, when it ran on a joint slate with Israel Beiteinu. This time the party is on its own. If Likud were running again on a joint slate with another party, it would very likely be swamping Zionist Union (a merger of Herzog’s Labor and Livni’s Hatnuah) in the polls.

‘I’m a Likudnik in my blood’

And with all the bitter criticism and the nine long years he’s been in office, Netanyahu remains considerably more popular than his party, which can be seen in the wide gap between him and everybody else when pollsters ask Israelis who is best suited to be prime minister. (Fuchs’ poll in Haaretz on Thursday found Zionist Union topping Likud, 24 seats to 21, but Netanyahu preferred over Herzog for prime minister, 48 percent to 34 percent.)

“Bibi has the character of a leader, he speaks with authority, with charisma. None of the others have that,” says Moshe in Mahane Yehuda. He’s says he’s undecided, though, on whom to vote for, preferring Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s socioeconomic “agenda” over Netanyahu’s, but backing the latter without hesitation on “security.” Moshe also makes the point that Netanyahu is in the race for prime minister, while Lapid isn’t. That, plus his remark, “I’m a Likudnik my whole life, I’m a Likudnik in my blood,” leaves me pretty sure that inside the voting booth, Moshe will cast his ballot for Bibi’s party again.

Says Fuchs: “If there were two ballots, one for party and one for prime minister [as there were in the 1996 and 1999 elections], then Netanyahu would win for prime minister with big numbers.”

On the road near Ramat Gan’s Bar-Ilan University, an institution rooted in the national religious movement, there’s a big Likud banner, and at the entrance to campus is one from Jewish Home. There are no others. Most of the people I talk to support Bennett, the others are for Likud.

“I’m between Bibi and Bennett,” says Daniel Tondavski, 24, who is completing a pre-academic course. “Bibi has the experience, he speaks well, you know what you’re getting. Bennett, on the other hand, can shake things up, he can change things.”

Sitting at an outdoor cafe, he said he didn’t have anything against Zionist Union, and then his friend cut in.

“God forbid Zionist Union wins,” said Reuven Gersovitch, 24, a biotechnology student. “They live in a different world. They’re nice people, they’re good people, but their way of looking at things is just not suitable to where we live.”

Esther Levy, 66, a test examiner and Likudnik, insists that Israelis wants peace. “All our songs are about peace, all our desires are for peace. We don’t want war.”

I spoke with four Arab students sitting on a bench. I must say I was surprised to see Arab students at Bar-Ilan University. They told me there are 800 of them here. How do they get along with their Jewish classmates and teachers? “Very good. I have Jewish friends here, I study with some of them,” said Ahmed Dallasheh, 19, a physics student from the Galilee Arab village of Bueina-Nujidat. All four are voting for the Joint List.

At Bar-Ilan University, the Arabs and Jews get along. The Jews are right-wing, but they’re not racist, not violent, not angry. Again, a very different picture of right-wing Israeli voters than the one suggested by the right-wing campaigns. A week before the election, a new low was reached in the campaign when Avigdor Liberman, head of Israel Beiteinu and foreign minister of Israel, told an audience at a highly-regarded college, Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, that the thing to do with any Arab citizen who is “against us” is to “lift up an axe and remove his head, otherwise we won’t survive here.” This statement got no reaction whatsoever in Israel, except from Arabs and leftists (though not from “leftists” Herzog or Livni).

So in the end, nice doesn’t matter. What matters is not how decently the silent majority talks and behaves, but the power they give their leaders, Israel’s leaders, to deal with Arabs, above all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, in a way that is anything but nice, Israeli campus life notwithstanding.

Bennett took the theme of right-wingers-as-underdogs to the most Orwellian lengths.

The most dangerous of these leaders, aside from Netanyahu, is Bennett. He is seen by many, including myself, as Bibi’s heir apparent. After the Haaretz Peace Conference last July, where Bennett was heckled by some people in the crowd, which he would later describe as another left-wing attempt to silence the right, Haaretz’s Uri Misgav wrote:

Bennett’s appearance was truly impressive. He acts like a rock star. It’s no wonder he has such an enthusiastic following among his young, fired up audience of Jewish brothers and sisters. He looks as though he’s in a state of euphoria.

Bennett feels good about himself and good about his country, and he has Ronald Reagan’s priceless gift of being able to make the people listening to him, or those who are open to his message, feel the same way. And even though he’s a multi-millionaire from his days in high-tech, he comes on like the most regular of guys – an indifferent dresser with an ever-present, buck-toothed, regular-guy grin. All of this softens the hard edge of his passionate, persuasive, domineering delivery.

One other quality he’s got, probably a must-have for a right-wing leader anywhere, is the ability to stoke his followers with the fighting spirit of the underdog, to steel them for the struggle against the all-powerful left-wing establishment out to crush them. In Israel, of course, this is a joke. But this is the message behind Bennett and Jewish Home’s campaign slogan: “We’re through apologizing.” This is an even bigger joke: When did Israeli right-wingers, particularly Naftali Bennett, ever apologize for anything?

He set the tone for the airy, comic videos that, along with the hit pieces, have dominated the campaign on social media. Putting on a fake beard and playing a Tel Aviv hipster leftist, he apologizes to the people who spill coffee on him, hit his car or take his bike. Then, the beard gone, he stares urgently into the camera and says, “From today on, we’re through apologizing.” (He’s not a bad comic actor, either.)

Bennett set the tone for Likud’s hit pieces against Zionist Union, too, with a horror show that cast candidate Yossi Yonah, a professor of education and leading Mizrahi activist, as a Hamasnik. Pulling out snippets from Yonah’s past statements and displaying them against a background featuring the Hamas logo, Arabic music, lots of green, lots of terrorists, and ending with the warning, “This is not Hamas! This is Yossi Yonah – Labor Party under Bougie’s leadership,” it was a thousand times more poisonous than Netanyahu’s 2006 cheap shot at Olmert.

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett campaigning. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett campaigning. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Bennett took the theme of right-wingers-as-underdogs to the most Orwellian lengths. After numerous Jewish Home members spoke out against gay marriage, gay activists began protesting at party rallies. At one, they were beaten. Activist Lilach Ben David told Haaretz that police detained her but “refused to detain those who punched me in the face and all over my body in their effort to shut me up.” Jewish Home, however, claimed it was the gays who started the brawl. Ah, yes, another brutal assault by gay activists on an Israeli right-wing rally. “We call on the leaders of the left to denounce the violence of their activists,” Jewish Home said, “before it is too late and the violence of the left causes irreversible damage.”

When the party then accused the left of failing to learn the lessons of the Rabin assassination, it seemed inevitable. Claiming that Bennett was being advised by security people to stay away from events where left-wing activists might show up, Jewish Home said: “The left has not learned a thing from the murder of Rabin, and the incitement that it is carrying out at the moment will have harsh consequences while Bougie and Tzipi are silent.”

Bennett did not, however, accuse Rabin of shooting Yigal Amir, for which we probably should be grateful.

He was the shining stand-out in the February 26 televised debate among leaders of eight of the 10 parties in the race (Herzog and Netanyahu staying away). He smiled while Liberman glowered. He grew intense when accusing Lapid of telling “bald-faced lies,” an insult that Lapid allowed to stand. He put away the long-winded Meretz leader Zehava Galon, dropping the smile and playing the victim: “For 20 years the left intimidated Bibi with the stigma of  the Rabin assassination – I’m not part of that generation, I’m part of a generation that doesn’t apologize.” In his closing statement, which he addressed “mainly to the young people,” Bennett grinned his grin and said, “Be optimistic. We have an amazing country.”

After watching the playback with my 15-year-old son Gilad, who is no right-winger, I asked him to imagine that he didn’t have any political views or knowledge of the candidates, and to judge them just on how they came across in the debate – who won?

“Bennett,” he said, after a split second’s thought. Why? “He was the most confident. He won the battles with the others.”

The polls show Jewish Home holding onto its current 12 Knesset seats; for Bennett to become prime minister, he’s got to be leader of a large party, which means he’s got to jump to Likud or merge his party with it. The campaign revealed the limits of Jewish Home’s reach – it is overwhelmingly religious and mainly Ashkenazi – when Bennett, climbing in the polls and seeking to draw Mizrahi voters away from Likud, recruited Mizrahi soccer legend Eli Ohana as a candidate, even though Ohana is not religious and was a supporter of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, which is heresy to the right today. The Ohana gambit infuriated the party’s religious old guard and humiliated Mizrahim – it was like the Republican Party trying to win black votes by running Michael Jordan for the Senate – and immediately drove large numbers of them back to Likud or over to the new “Torah-true right” of Yahad.

So Bennett needs to become chairman of Likud to fulfill his ambition – and Netanyahu (and his wife) have no intention of letting him. But Netanyahu is 65; Bennett is 42. Time is on his side.

Nice doesn’t matter. What matters is the power Israelis give their leaders to deal with Arabs, in a way that is anything but nice.

At the bus station complex near the entrance to Jerusalem, the heart of right-wing Israel, Baruch Marzel’s young followers are the only people handing out campaign literature. (Yahad, the party to which Marzel attached his Otzma Yehudit, Jewish Strength, faction, has a storefront there.) The 19-year-old yeshiva student sitting at the Yahad table is a Marzel supporter, and he’s making his case to a young man who’s saying that social and political distress lead Palestinians into terror. The yeshiva boy rolls his eyes but doesn’t raise his voice. He was polite in arguing with me, too, even though he made me for a Meretz supporter. Nice guy.

The next day, some of Marzel’s people raided a candidates’ panel in Ramat Gan, and one poured a bottle of juice on their main target, Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi. Another thug put the list’s spokeswoman, Emily Moatti, in the hospital by beating her on the head with a pole, while another rammed his elbow into Meretz MK Michal Biran’s stomach. I like to think the young man at the Yahad table wasn’t one of the marauders; I know he wasn’t the one who got arrested. But again, in the larger scheme of things, it’s irrelevant. On Wednesday, Marzel was indicted for punching a Palestinian in Hebron in the face and kicking him in the man’s own yard. This may win more votes for Yahad; it certainly won’t lose them any.

In the cell phone shop he owns nearby, Yigal Menachem, 62, a Likud voter, says he’s undecided this time between Netanyahu and ex-Likudnik, economically-oriented Moshe Kahlon. “Bibi is excellent on security, I don’t see anyone else who’s suited to be prime minister, but I didn’t see him having any any serious social or economic program.” I ask if he hasn’t grown tired of Netanyahu after seeing and hearing him up there for so long. “Tired, no. Disappointed, yes,” he says.

Masses of Israelis are considerably more tired, disappointed or just sick to their stomachs with Bibi, and the boost they’re giving Herzog and Lapid in the polls have led many people, here and abroad, to see an upheaval coming on Tuesday. I don’t see it. Zionist Union may very well get more seats than Likud, but it won’t have the makings of a politically coherent coalition government, only a highly unlikely patchwork of opposites. Netanyahu, by contrast, seems guaranteed to have a ready-made, compatible majority of rightists, center-rightists and ultra-Orthodox. And no rightward-leaning party wants to face the wrath of its peers by breaking ranks and putting the “Left” back in power.

Moreover, if Herzog does become prime minister, he would not have the government, or the public support – or the personal inclination – to really change this country, which means ending the occupation as well as the wars and “operations” of aggression. That’s not where this country is at. Israel has been moving steadily in the opposite direction – with a brief interval for the 2005 Gaza disengagement – since the Oslo peace process gave way to the second intifada in 2000. This is why Herzog and Livni have barely mentioned the occupation, while reiterating their support for the wars and operations. It’s why Meretz’s campaign has been so tame. The Israeli public does not want to hear about “trying softer” with Arabs. They believe – incorrectly, as many of us having been saying, unsuccessfully, for a long time – that they tried that already, and every time it blew up in their faces.

Evelyn Gordon, a Jerusalem Post columnist, made what I think is the Likud voters’ consensus case for Netanyahu, and by extension the Israeli majority’s bottom-line explanation for why it trusts the national camp over the remains of the peace camp. Noting the “minimum of bloodshed” during Netanyahu’s tenure (for Israelis but not for Palestinians, I would add), Gordon writes that she would vote for that “any day over the disastrous grand initiatives of Rabin, Barak and Sharon.” Addressing the left, she asks:

Why should we believe that the diplomatic initiatives and/or unilateral withdrawals you advocate today won’t make our lives significantly worse, just as those earlier ones did?

This is the shift to the right that Israelis have undergone in the last 15 years, and it’s what I expect will return the right to power after Tuesday, and what would prevent Herzog from getting far with any “grand initiative” of his own even if he did become prime minister. Most Israelis have come to believe in force alone for dealing with the country’s enemies. This belief has led to more repression of Palestinians and aggression against neighboring Arab states, which has brought rising hostility against Israel, which has made Israelis more and more strongly committed to force as the answer. This is the underlying problem here. The dominance of Netanyahu and Bennett, of the national camp, is largely an outgrowth of it.

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The lie at the heart of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress http://972mag.com/the-lie-at-the-heart-of-netanyahus-speech-to-congress/103747/ http://972mag.com/the-lie-at-the-heart-of-netanyahus-speech-to-congress/103747/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 11:50:04 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=103747 You can’t describe a country as he described Iran and believe it will negotiate its own surrender.

First Netanyahu tells Congress that Iran is the modern Nazi Germany – bent on annihilating Israel, nuking America, conquering the world in the name of an evil ideology, and lying all the way to its goal. But then he says America can get this modern Nazi Germany to surrender – to give up its entire nuclear program and let inspectors inspect where and when they want, to give up its foreign policy and stop supporting its Shi’ite allies, to stop threatening to retaliate against an Israeli attack (what Netanyahu calls “threatening to annihilate Israel”), to behave exactly as Israel and the Republican Party want it to behave – and America can get this Iran to surrender without firing a shot! Just by negotiating! And keeping up the sanctions! Think of it – bringing Nazi Germany to its knees – without having to fight World War Two!

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No wonder those idiots in Congress were giving him standing ovations. Bibi was promising them the Republicans’ notion of 72 virgins in heaven.

As Isaac Herzog likes to say, Enough, Bibi, enough. He was lying, once again. Bibi doesn’t believe there’s a “better deal” to be had in the negotiations with Iran; the only better deal he believes in is war. That’s what he wants America to do, either with or without Israel – that’s what he’s always wanted: to bomb Iran to its knees. But he knows that won’t fly in the U.S. anymore, so he tells Congress they can successfully demand terms of surrender from Iran in the negotiations – and then, when the Iranians walk away, well, that leaves no option but war! See, he told the Americans to try the old jaw jaw, but those Nazis in Tehran didn’t leave America and/or Israel any choice but war war, as his good friend and supporter Winston Churchill used to say.

Luckily, the Obama administration doesn’t buy this bullshit. It’s just such a shame and disgrace that so many Israelis and American Jews do – or pretend to.

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Is an anti-occupation revolt brewing in the British Jewish establishment? http://972mag.com/anti-occupation-revolt-in-british-jewish-establishment/103072/ http://972mag.com/anti-occupation-revolt-in-british-jewish-establishment/103072/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 14:03:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=103072 Leader in top communal organization announces he is leaving post to speak out freely against Israeli policies — and gets standing ovation from membership.

For many years I have felt that the only way to end the occupation is through outside pressure because Israel is just scorched earth politically, and will never do it on its own. On that basis, the announcement last week by a prominent figure in the British Jewish establishment, and the reaction to it by his colleagues, was a more hopeful sign than anything that’s happened in the current Israeli campaign or is about to happen on Election Day on March 17.

What happened was that Laurence Brass, treasurer of the leading British Jewish organization, the Board of Deputies, told a meeting of the board’s plenary that he was quitting the leadership ranks after the board’s May election, The Jewish Chronicle reported. The reason, he told the plenary, was:

I felt constrained not to have been able to speak out on subjects that are close to my heart, such as the treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the discrimination still being suffered by Arab citizens of Israel.

When he had tried to voice his opinions in the past, he said he faced “very harsh and often quite abusive personal criticism …”

What’s even more encouraging is that Brass, according to The Jewish Chronicle, “received a standing ovation after his speech.”

Is something happening in the British Jewish establishment? It sure seems that way. It sounds like there’s a potential revolt against Israeli policies simmering in the ranks of the most pro-Israel – or supposedly most pro-Israel – citizens in all of Great Britain.

When I look at how far the international movement against the occupation has to go before it will be strong enough to force Israel’s hand, I tend to despair. But then I see how mortally frightened the Israeli and pro-Israeli establishment is of this movement, and I say – maybe something is brewing here.

The attempt to muzzle Brass when he first began speaking out, following his visit to the West Bank last spring, was remarkable for the fear it revealed on the part of Israel’s mouthpieces. A lone individual, the treasurer of the British Board of Deputies, starts criticizing the occupation – and NGO Monitor’s hit man-in-chief Gerald Steinberg, as well as Netanyahu’s former head of hasbara and current head of the blue-chip Institute for Zionist Strategies, Yoaz Hendel, pile on him.

A Ta'ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Ta’ayush activist argues with an Israeli soldier in the South Hebron hills, August 11, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Brass, after going on a Passover tour led by Breaking the Silence to see how Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are persecuted by settlers and the army, said:

The miserable existence of the Palestinian villagers we met will stay with me for a long time.

Shock and dismay beset the communal leadership. Former Board of Deputies vice president Eric Moonman said Brass should apologize for his remarks or resign as treasurer.

But then a line-up of elder statesmen of Israel’s peace movement – ex-Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, ex-New Israel Fund president Naomi Chazan, ex-attorney general Michael Ben-Yair, and ex-ambassadors to South Africa Alon Liel and Ilan Baruch – wrote a letter in support of Brass. Lauding his “willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank,” they added, “What a shame that there are not more leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community willing to tackle these troubling issues.”

More shock and dismay. Steinberg, who said Liel, Chazan and the Israeli combat veterans of Breaking the Silence “are not the people to provide ethical grades to diaspora Jewish leaders,” accused Brass of taking a “radical position based on what he is told and sees through the lens of a very narrow Israeli constituency.”

Hendel, however, went further, joining Moonman in saying such talk as Brass’ cannot be tolerated from British Jewish leaders:

If someone comes to Israel and hears the point of view of only one side, and is not aware of the efforts made by the state of Israel and the IDF on behalf of Palestinian citizens in the area, or of the challenges, obstacles and limitations we face but encounters only a point of view that is used to delegitimize Israel, he should ask himself about his continued service as a leader of the Jewish community.

My favorite line of attack here is that Brass expressed his opinions after hearing “only one side.” As a 40-year veteran of the British Board of Deputies, Brass has been swimming his entire adult life in “only one side,” the official Israeli side, he can recite this side backwards and forwards, and for once he dares to hear the real other side, the side Steinberg, Hendel, the British Board of Deputies and pro-Israel forces everywhere have always muzzled, and suddenly he’s being “one-sided.”

Brass, a judge, has been elected twice as Board of Deputies treasurer and was considered a contender for the presidency before he went rogue. He told The Jewish Chronicle:

There have been countless times over the last six years when I’ve been bursting to criticize the Israeli administration, but I’ve restrained myself. I want to be released from the chains of office to contribute to the wider debate on the Middle East …

How many Board of Deputies members who gave Brass that standing ovation were thinking the same thing? Here’s what I’m thinking: It’s premature for despair. And thank you, Judge Brass; you’ve struck a nerve.

Related:
The Israel lobby at its intimidating worst – in Britain
Labour MPs: Vote yes on Palestinian statehood

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Why Israel picks fights with Hezbollah http://972mag.com/why-israel-picks-fights-with-hezbollah/102044/ http://972mag.com/why-israel-picks-fights-with-hezbollah/102044/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:38:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102044 And why it will probably pick another one before too long.

IAF fighter jet during an exercise (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

IAF fighter jet during an exercise (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

After Hezbollah’s fatal attack on Israeli soldiers Wednesday, the two enemy sides are in a rare configuration: they’re even. Israel killed six Hezbollah guerrillas and an Iranian general on January 18, so Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven more, and now they’re quits, for the time being. They each told UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon that they didn’t want to escalate things anymore, they wanted calm, and that clearly seems to be the case today.

What an opportunity. From this point forward, Israel and Hezbollah could start fresh, they could each decide not to attack the other, and, in theory, this unofficial cease-fire could last indefinitely.

I believe Hezbollah would go for that, for one simple reason – they know Israel is the incomparably stronger side (which is why they absorbed so many Israeli attacks in the last couple of years with very little response, until Wednesday). They know that starting up with Israel would get them bashed up badly. I think Hezbollah’s ally Iran would go for an indefinite, unofficial cease-fire too – for the same reason – and so would their ally Syria.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Israel would accept that arrangement. The strong in this world get away with things the weak wouldn’t dream of trying, and Israel flies spy jets and drones over Lebanon regularly, it blows up sophisticated weapons on their way from Syria to Hezbollah, and it assassinates Hezbollah and Syrian military officers as well as Iranian nuclear scientists and generals.

Would Israel be willing to give up all those prerogatives in return for Hezbollah unofficially putting down its weapons? I don’t think so, because Israel is filled with too much fear and aggression to trust its deterrent power; instead, it trusts the use of force.

And lately Israel has been zooming in on a whole new Hezbollah “threat” it must “defend against”: the organization’s recent military build-up on the Syrian Golan Heights, across the border from Israel.

After the Hezbollah attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “For a while, Iran has been trying, through the Hezbollah, to form an additional terror front against us from the Golan Heights. We are acting with resolve and responsibility against this effort.”

This is Israeli paranoia at work. Hezbollah isn’t gunning for Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, it’s defending the territory – and its own survival as well as that of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime – from ISIS and the Nusra Front, the latter an Al-Qaeda offshoot.

Even superhawk columnist Guy Bechor made this point in his Yedioth Ahronoth column on Thursday:

This is the last territory still in the hands of the Syrian regime, and this is where Hezbollah has set up a command post and concentrated its forces. What are they doing there? They’ve decided to defend the area at all costs, because if Nusra Front gets across it, they’ll be able to continue north to the Shi’ite and Hezbollah strongholds in the Lebanese valley, turn west toward the Shi’ite areas in south Lebanon, or turn east toward Damascus. …

The sectarian war is more important to these terrorist groups than Israel, and from the standpoint of both the Sunnis [ISIS and Nusra Front] and the Shi’ites [Hezbollah], we are the less threatening enemy.

Yedioth’s center-left star columnist Nahum Barnea made a similar point about Israel’s knee-jerk alarm over Hezbollah’s new deployment. He wrote that Netanyahu’s message that Hezbollah was spreading out across the Syrian side of the border with Israel, and that Israel would carry out all military actions necessary to prevent this, was “adopted immediately by every politician and analyst,” Barnea wrote. He continued:

Let’s assume Hezbollah intends to do this. Is it so terrible? Is it preferable for Israel to sit on the Golan Heights across from the forces of ISIS and Nusra Front? After all, we’re sitting across from them today, from Quneitra [on the Israeli-Syrian border] south, and I haven’t heard that Israel has launched a war against them. Why are we able to go on living across from Hezbollah in Hanita, Metulla, Misgav-Am, Dovev, Kiryat Shmona and Shlomi [near the Lebanese border], but we can’t live across from Hezbollah  in Merom Hagolan [near the Syrian border]?

It’s always about us, we’re always the target, goes the Israeli view, which is why we can’t leave Hezbollah alone even when it’s preoccupied with fighting global jihadists. And out of this same paranoia grows another misperception that causes us to pick fights: the view that the enemy’s weapons are always offensive, meant for attacking us, and never defensive, meant for deterrence or counterattack.

Ari Shavit, star center-left columnist of Haaretz, inadvertently provided a window into this way of thinking in his piece on Thursday.

It’s meant to be a pretty dovish column. He writes, “We must not provoke, we must not act recklessly in a way that could lead to an uncontrollable deterioration. We must not take war-generating steps that could force a dangerous war on Israel.” But at the same time, he sees Hezbollah as being ideologically and perpetually bent on war with Israel:

While many Israelis may harbor understandable guilt over the national Palestinian movement, this is not the case when it comes to the sub-state Shi’ite army in Lebanon. There’s no room for comparison between our peace-seeking democracy and their terrorist totalitarianism. There’s no similarity between our desire to live in peace and their desire to enforce their religious faith by the sword. If we’re forced to go to war against Hezbollah, it will be a war of the sons of light against the sons of darkness, a free society against a fanatical order that threatens freedom.

And because of what he sees as Hezbollah’s scorpion-like nature, Shavit’s conclusion is that “sooner or later a third Lebanon war will break out.” At the same time, though, he says it is “our duty to make every effort to put off the war’s outbreak.”

But the fatal contradiction here is this: If you believe that Hezbollah’s practical goal is to destroy or enslave Israel – an unlikely one considering the imbalance in power between the two sides, which Israel continually demonstrates – then will you forgo the opportunity to bomb the convoys bringing them advanced weapons? Will you pass up a chance to assassinate their key people? Will you stop invading Lebanese airspace to spy on them?

No, you won’t. It wouldn’t make sense. If you believe Hezbollah is working toward conquering or destroying you – that this is not merely their wish, but their concrete goal – it would be suicidal to let them go about their business. So you attack. And by attacking, you violate your principle that “we must not provoke … we must not take war-generating steps that could force a dangerous war on Israel.”

Whatever Israel may say about not wanting to provoke another war with Hezbollah, its superior military strength combined with its bottomless fear will likely lead it, sooner or later, to do just that.

Related:
Israeli soldiers killed in Hezbollah retaliation attack
Israeli air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?

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Netanyahu on how his old U.S. high school ‘changed’ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-on-how-his-old-u-s-high-school-changed/101809/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-on-how-his-old-u-s-high-school-changed/101809/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 14:15:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101809 More evidence that his racism doesn’t stop at Arabs.

I’ve never written about a particular comment Bibi Netanyahu made when I interviewed him in the summer of 1993, because as objective evidence of anti-black racism, it’s not exactly slam-dunk.

But this weekend Netanyahu accused Israel’s friendliest, most unthreatening Arab public figure, broadcaster-turned-candidate Zohair Bahloul, of “praising Hezbollah” in a court testimony. What Bahloul actually said was the exact opposite. For Netanyahu this was a personal low in terms of anti-Arab racism, which takes some effort. And recently I saw a Washington Post account of the blatant anti-Hispanic racism Netanyahu showed in a 2002 speech to white Texans, which was perfectly in line with the anti-Hispanic attitudes he expressed in his 1993 book “A Place Among the Nations – Israel and the World.”

So even if the evidence I’ve gathered of Netanyahu’s anti-black racism is not conclusive, not undeniable, it was a tell-tale sign as far as I’m concerned. And between his documented disdain for Hispanics and his ever-deepening contempt for Arabs, Netanyahu is coming into focus not just as an Israeli Jewish hater of Arabs, but as an old-fashioned white bigot. So I want to put that comment he made to me in early summer 1993 on the record.

Netanyahu had just been elected leader of the Likud, and I was doing a magazine profile of him. The interview, conducted in English, took place in his Jerusalem office. Before we started, we made small talk, and I mentioned the high school he’d gone to, Cheltenham High, just outside Philadelphia. He said it had been a very good school when he was there in the mid-60s. Then, with a conspiratorial expression on his face, he added:

“It’s changed.”

His meaning was clear to me: Cheltenham was a good, white school when he was there, then the blacks moved in and it went to hell. There’s no other reasonable interpretation of those words in the mouth of a person who lived in America in the 1960s and 1970s, when they’re directed in private, presumably off the record, to an American immigrant of roughly the same age, and when they’re accompanied by a conspiratorial look on one’s face.

The Wikipedia entry on Cheltenham High School, one of the oldest in Pennsylvania, says that as of the 2011-12 school year, the student body there was 49% Black, 40% White, 7% Asian, 3% Hispanic, and 1% Native American.

In the mid-1960s, high schools in traditionally white, wealthy suburbs of big American cities like Philadelphia didn’t have that sort of ethnic breakdown – they were all or nearly all white. Later, many of them, including Netanyahu’s alma mater, “changed.”

Why did he make that remark with that expression on his face during the warm-up for our interview? I figure it was because he wanted to gauge whether he was going to be talking to his kind of Jewish immigrant to Israel, or to a liberal. (As I remember, I nodded without expression in response to his remark.)

Netanyahu’s supporters can easily dismiss this anecdote as meaningless, as the purely subjective interpretation by an inveterate Bibiphobe of a two-word comment and a facial expression. But for those who aren’t Netanyahu supporters, and who know something about “changing neighborhoods” and “white flight” in America from the 1970s on, what else could he have meant? In the context of his views of Hispanics, not to mention his bottomless contempt for Arabs, together with his generally superior, cynical, narrow, rigid worldview and character, the logical – not to say obvious – way to understand what he was saying about his old high school was that it “changed” from white to black, or to racially integrated; i.e. from a good school to a bad school.

With all that’s known about Netanyahu, I think that taking those words to be innocent and unassuming would be a stretch. Instead, I think it’s fair to conclude on the basis of that anecdote that Netanyahu holds racist attitudes towards blacks.

To what extent, though, is an open question. For instance, his loathing of Obama – does it stem partly from white racism? I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that it does, but I do think that the question, in light of the above, is an interesting one to ponder.

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