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Vibrant democracy faces prospect of war

The demonstrator who said there were more cops than demonstrators was way wrong; I counted ten cops and there must have been 25, even 30 protesters. 

Sad. Pathetic. Not the protesters, but the public that will follow the government to war with Iran without a peep. Also pathetic: Peace Now, Labor, Meretz, Hadash, for saying nothing about it, either.

The demonstrators on Kaplan Street across from the Defense Ministry compound held big signs that said “Don’t bomb – talk.” I heard one car that bothered to honk.

I stopped a passerby in her 20s pushing a baby carriage, an accountant from Petah Tikva, and asked if she was for or against an attack on Iran. “We’ll see how things turn out. Whatever happens, happens.”

If the government decides to bomb, will you support it? “They sit up there, they’re smarter than me, whatever they decide, I’ll support.”

Do you think they’re going to do it? “It looks that way.”

Are you worried? “A little.”

What do you think is going to happen afterward? “I don’t really think about it.”

A guy of about 20 on a skateboard was checking out the signs. I asked if he was for against an attack.

“First of all, I’m not for war, I’m against war. But if somebody is going to attack you, if your enemy is going to attack, don’t you think you have to attack him first, for the sake of survival?”

Do you think Iran will attack us first?

“I don’t know, I’m not privy to all the information. But good luck,” he said, and skated away.

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    1. delia ruhe

      I understand your frustration, Larry. Perhaps what George Monbiot says of conservatives and liberals in the US and Britain also applies a little bit to Israel — namely, “the abandonment of any pretense of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won’t drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls. . . .

      “But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism.”


      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      What we’re seeing is the triumph of the Lie. Ostensibly sensible people begin their discussion of this problem with the assumption of “the Iran threat.” It’s almost impossible to see anyone questioning this assumption.

      There is no “Iran threat.” But the Lie has been repeated so many times, so loudly, that it’s become unquestionable.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Philos

      I tend to agree with Aristeides on this one. Even if Iran were to make a few bombs they wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. They’d need several dozen, a reliable delivery vehicle (i.e., nuclear tipped missile war head), and a second-strike capability. I don’t think men who in the process of ruling a country accumulated vast fortunes valued at hundreds and billions of dollars are going to commit suicide by launching a nuclear attack. And by that I mean all the Mullahs (conservatives and “liberals” alike) have too much at stake in their vast fortunes bilked from the Islamic Republican system in Iran that they’d risk it for a tiny little country like Israel that does appear set on committing national suicide for whatever reason.

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    4. Rachelle Pachtman

      The proverbial dumbing down of the masses in Israel is paralleled in the U.S. After the long summer of tent protests, I couldn’t understand why Americans weren’t doing the same here. It took far too long for OWS, whether or not it accomplished anything. As obvious as it is to me, the Iran threat is all about one thing only: the re-election of Bibi and his swaggering posturing as the toughest guy on the block. And the same is happening here with our right wing nuts.

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    5. Piotr Berman

      “They sit up there, they’re smarter than me, whatever they decide, I’ll support.”

      This is really a blessing for the citizens to have solid grounds for such a conviction. One can theorize two avenues to achieve it.

      One is to find really smart (and benevolent?) politicians.

      The second is to have stupid citizens.

      Both methods have their share of difficulties, but one offers citizens a solution in which they may rely just on themselves.

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    6. AYLA

      I’m going to speak as one of the Israeli citizens (albeit a new one) and perhaps more importantly in this case, residents, who is not speaking out. When I see anything about Israel attacking Iran, I glaze over. If it’s not written by you, Larry, I probably don’t even read it. I live about twenty minutes from Dimona, which houses the nuclear facility that Iran would likely strike back. I have friends here with a bag packed for evacuation.
      When I read about the i/p conflict, racism against Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, homes being demolished in the west bank, Lifta, Prawer, price tag crimes, etc etc etc, I care! I re-post! I consider getting off my couch to demonstrate, and sometimes, I actually demonstrate. But when I read about out potential attack of Iran’s nuclear facility–which I also have to imagine would cause terrible, disgusting damage to the Persian people living nearby–I glaze over.
      Why? Because the whole idea that we would preemptively strike Iran’s nuclear facilities is so outrageous to me that it feels much, much bigger than me. If Israel would do such an insane thing, the force that would propel Israel to do it seems to be beyond something a demonstration would stop. That is a terrible reason not to demonstrate. Certainly, I was out demonstrating against a war on Iraq. Why else? Because unlike the once impending war in Iraq, this attack seems impossible to believe.
      Both reason speak to a numbness endemic of being Israeli. Usually, I’m running around saying: wake up! wake up! you can change the world! this time, I’m among the numb, twenty minutes from Dimona.
      Thanks for writing in a voice compelling enough to get me to read something, at least, Larry. Maybe soon I’ll awaken and take to the streets with the police.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Very interesting what you write, AYLA. My strong hunch is that if and when the attack seems real and imminent to you, you will be wide awake and demonstrating. But 90-plus percent of the people will just be preparing their shelters – they will not object to Israel starting a war.

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    8. AYLA, I meant that if and when an attack is imminent, it will be real to you.

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    9. DTA

      The concept of ‘represenative’ democracy: “They sit up there, they’re smarter than me, whatever they decide, I’ll support.””

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    10. John Yorke

      I think the reasons for this attitude of non-involvement by the general public in matters having such far-reaching consequences has been somewhat overstated.
      It’s not that they deliberately wish to avoid taking a stand for or against whatever is proposed. It’s just that, with what limited information they have, there is never enough to go on, to enable them to put forward viable alternatives. Without a convincing counter-argument or a proposal that posits some other means of addressing a specific problem, the average Joe will settle for whatever is the current consensus of opinion. Or he may simply elect to have nothing more to say on the subject.

      It is, therefore, most vital to provide for options that can deal effectively with situations where the powers-that-be have indicated their approach but major reservations still remain.

      That’s where people like you come in, Larry. Your function is not only to expose the murkier machinations of the higher-ups but to make clear that their means and methods are not necessarily the best nor the only ones worthy of consideration.

      All the choices here, usually very few in number, seem to congregate around two distinct poles of thought. These are the dynamic and the static. The dynamic has its attractions but also its dangers. It is more direct, visible and confronts problems in ways that should resolve them or, at least, defer their full impact until much later. It’s that ‘much later’ aspect which always tends to complicate the issues still further.
      The static, in its basic form, is more usually a wait-and-see exercise where the outcome depends on a series of moves and assumptions that are often too intricate and unreliable for the task undertaken. The result, as before, is deferment, the hope of a better solution somewhere down the line and a resolve to try again when conditions may become more favourable.

      But there are some things that cannot be deferred indefinitely. The problems confronting Jews and Arabs are one of these.
      What might be a more suitable course of action is to combine the dynamic with the static and thereby seek to obtain the best of both worlds.


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    11. AYLA

      Thank you, Larry. I hope you’re right about me knowing when an attack is imminent; you’re certainly right, that when I do believe it is imminent, I will be in the 10% of those demonstrating.
      What if…. What if an impending war with Iran could be something that united people here? The war would effect everyone here. Contrary to much Jewish belief, the Arab world is not so fond of Iran’s government… I’m NOT suggesting we go to war! Rather, what if protesting against the war/attack, for our own sake (everyone’s) as well as the Iranian people’s, were something that could unite people, here? Just dreaming…

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    12. Aaron

      I’m with the woman from Petah Tikvah on this one. First of all, she’s probably right that they’re smarter than her. They’re certainly smarter than me on military stuff, and probably also in general. And they have way more relevant information than you, me, or the woman from Petah Tikvah.
      This isn’t a controversy over values or social justice. We all share the same goals here, primarily national security. We share the same fundamental premises. In a case like this – and I’m talking *specifically* about this type of problem – the more democracy, the worse. I don’t want military decisions like this decided by referendum. I want accountability. (I guess I’m channeling Walter Lippmann here.)
      I’m not confident they’ll make the right decision. Whatever they decide, we’ll never know for sure that it was right. But I believe they can make a better decision than you, I, or the woman from Petah Tikvah can, separately or jointly.

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    13. sh

      I’m not sure the 30 or 40 people at that demonstration were there because they believed there will be an attack, so I don’t think real and imminent comes into it. Even if one isn’t convinced it’s going to happen demonstrating is worthwhile, if only to remind the people in the Kirya and in the Knesset that there are Israelis out there who think there are more effective ways of combating danger than thumping and flattening it and all who happen to be in the way. There may be many who think this. If Larry would not have stopped the skateboarder to ask, we would never have known he was “against war”. That representatives of the political parties mentioned above didn’t show up is much sadder than the fact that the understandably glazed-over silent majority stayed at home.

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    14. AYLA, I think protests would have to be massive and they’d need people w/security credibility – a few Meir Dagan types willing to shout, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
      Aaron, I’m sorry but you can’t just leave it to the “experts,” because there are experts like Netanyahu and Barak who vote for war, and experts like Meir Dagan, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Dan Halutz, Shaul Mofaz (before he clammed up), Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (before he clammed up), retired IDF intelligence chief Shlomo Gazit, retired head of IDF Planning Nathan Sharony, and a long list of other illustrious bitkhnonistim who vote against.

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    15. John Yorke

      If the ‘experts’ cannot be entrusted with this type of decision-making and the man-in-the-street looks likely to fare no better, then who is there left to perform that service?

      You, Larry? Me? The full complement of +972? It’s readers and contributors?

      Although I would not wish to decry the many attributes of your good-self and those of the magazine, etc., etc., I would suggest that someone put in a request for a more representative sample of humanity. In some situations, referral must needs be made to as many as possible; numbers count when matters of great moment are at hand. Leaving it all up to a few individuals is not always a good idea.

      In fact, I would expect that legions of people should come together to debate and decide upon proposals such as these now under discussion; the undertaking of them would have far-flung effects, felt right across continents and in all inhabited regions of the planet.

      If a majority in any of these groups then decides to go one way or the other, then so be it. The die is cast, the subject closed. Mankind will have been seen doing its level best to sort out whatever problems have arisen and no more can be asked of us.

      Well, in a perfect world, this might be the perfect solution. But it hardly requires me to inform you that we do not live in a perfect world and the most we can hope for is to aspire towards one.

      Then let’s do just that.


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    16. zayzafouna

      If you dont want to be attacked by the Iranians, just leave. Iran is doing the heavy lifting in terms of the world justice community and has not acquiesed to the theft of Palestine. I am particularly disappointed in Ayla and Larry, who understand at a basic level that living on stolen land is wrong, yet post here to feel good. They are, as anti-zionist Richard Silverstein would say- progressive except for Palestine

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    17. What can I do, Zayzafouna? I’ve lived on stolen land all my life. Before I moved to Israel, I lived in California, stolen from Mexico, and before that in New York, stolen from the American Indians. Richard Silverstein lives in Washington, also stolen from American Indians. BTW, where do you live?

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    18. aristeides

      Zayza – Iran isn’t acting for Palestinian interests, Iran is acting for Iranian interests. And these don’t include attacking Israel, but defending itself from Israeli attack.

      One of the actual reasons that Netanyahu is so rabid to attack Iran is the fear (whipped up by no other than himself) of Israelis leaving the country rather than learning to live with Iranian nukes. This, too, has nothing to do with the Palestinians.

      There is, however, a great difference between living in places like the US, where the land was stolen over a century ago and reparations made, and Israel, where the theft is still feverishly going on, so the grandchildren of the PEPs will be living on the land stolen today and saying, “What can I do?”

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    19. John Yorke

      If it is to be established what land is stolen and by whom and from whom, then the best thing to do is have this entire claim to ownership sorted out at the earliest opportunity. Naturally, given the present state of hostilities between those contending in the matter, these are not ideal conditions under which to process any such undertaking.

      Therefore, if a deal is to be forthcoming, an interval of sober and peaceful reflection, coupled with freely aired views, debate and diligent historical analysis, must precede whatever decisions are reached. Thereafter, the need for constant conflict and the righting of real or imagined wrongs may be induced to take a back seat while we all get on with some of the more mundane aspects of life.

      But how is so eminently desirable an interval to be obtained?


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    20. Philos

      To Aaron. You are sorely mistaken. I will allow a late and experienced General to speak on my behalf:
      “I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief”
      – Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr (circa 1933)

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    21. Philos

      So the question we need to ask ourselves are the following: how many of the most senior officers in the IDF are stupid and diligent?

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    22. Passerby

      I realize that it’s commonplace in these discussions to keep referring to Israel in absolutist terms as stolen Palestinian land, but just because something is repeated endlessly, it doesn’t become true or more true.

      I take issue with the claim that the land was stolen and I take issue with the claim that it was Palestinian land. Some of the land was Palestinian, just as some of the land was in Jewish possession. Certainly the vast majority of the land was not in Palestinian-Arab possession.
      And the land was not stolen, unless we’re referring to what Transjordan got from the British. It was won in a war intended to take away the land possessed legally by the Jews, after the UN made an extremely good-faith effort (accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs) to divide the land. That’s without even getting into details such as the fact that Jordan resides on 77% of Mandate Palestine and no Jews live there while millions of Palestinians do.
      And while Larry’s joke about the US sitting on Mexican or native-American land is based on a certain set of ideas, one key difference between the USA and Israel is that there was a Jewish population in Judea and Israel for over a millenium before there was a Palestinian one (unless someone can show me a link between Canaanites, Philistines or Jebusites and Palestinians, and please don’t quote the Torah or the ridiculous Shlomo Sand in the process). This is not a small difference. It’s not as if Americans already had population bases in San Francisco, Philadelphia and DC or that Americans had been saying B’Shana Hab’a’a Be’Disneyland Ha’Bnuyah or Im yishcacech Manhattan, tishachach yemini for a couple of thousand years.


      Now you may return to your original programming. What was that again? Oh yeah, the impossible-to-know question of what to do about the Iranians. I’ll say this for Israel, it’s impressive to see that there is a serious debate at the highest levels about this situation. It’s not just Dagan against Netanyahu and Barak, there are many distinguished retired generals and even current military and secret service leaders and even cabinet members who openly say they oppose an attack, just as there are many who support one. Nobody is being led by the nose. In fact, if the government does attack Iran, the decision will have been after this vigorous and open debate. In an impossibly complex situation, this process and its openness should give Israelis some pride.

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    23. Carl

      Where’s nominative determinism when you need it … .. .

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    24. Aaron

      Larry, you say that the experts disagree among themselves, therefore we can’t just leave it to the experts. That’s a non sequitur. The “experts” – I wouldn’t use that word, but OK – disagree on every significant problem, but eventually one or more expert decides. If your point is, “Which experts do you trust, given that they all disagree?,” then the answer is obvious: those experts who are authorized to decide. In this case, the prime minister and the security minister. If the prime minister happened to be, say, Meir Dagan, then my argument would be unchanged. I would trust him, rather than you or myself or the woman from Petah Tikvah, to make the decision.
      Your democratic approach is the same. There’s disagreement within the demos, but it decides. Your faith is apparently not only in democracy but also in the liberal principle of discussion, i.e., that five million accountants from Petah Tikvah who occasionally watch the news will come to a better decision than a few government ministers who have access to all the classified information. If I’m right that this in an unstated premise, then it needs justification, because it’s not obvious at all.
      By the way, you’re also apparently assuming that Netanyahu and Barak favor an attack on Iran. That’s not at all clear, because everything they say publicly is addressed not only to Israel but also to Iran, Europe, and America. It should never be taken at face value.

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    25. AYLA

      972–This link isn’t displaying on the facebook page, or at least not on mine, so probably many readers haven’t seen it.
      @Zayzafouna–Congratulations! You’ve joined the ranks of people who post here anonymously, reveal nothing about their own life choices, and criticize others’ choices while making gross assumptions about why they make them and how they live their lives! I won’t dignify most of it, but I’ll say this: I can take criticism about my being an immigrant in Israel from Palestinian refugees who don’t have the privilege I have, because they are speaking to a deep injustice, at their expense. I obviously don’t feel that the answer is that I have no right to be here, because I’m here, but that is a conversation I am very willing to have, and in fact, I feel I must have it, at least with myself, and must make other choices with a true understanding of the injustice in which I am now a player. However, from people like you, who I’m sure are leading entirely uncomplicated, pure lives, and doing much more to end the occupation than @Larry Derfner, or someone like myself who is attempting to write a moving novel for a wide audience, I can say only this: you’d prefer that the only people with Israeli citizenship are those who support the occupation?
      SH and John Yorke–thanks for the good insight. And JY, yes, for me, the minute one says “nuclear”, everything becomes very abstract and out of my control, so, yes, what is really going on here and what do we really recommend. I’ve assumed, honestly, that one reason I don’t know is that I’m not reading anything with “Iran” in the headline. Unless it’s written by Larry :).

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    26. John Yorke

      ‘..so, yes, what is really going on here and what do we really recommend.’

      Thank you for your comment, Ayla.

      As to what’s really going on here, my guess would be that it’s a kind of reverse domino effect.

      Iran wants nuclear weapons because Israel has them and Israel has them because, should her situation deteriorate to an intolerable level, these represent the ultimate fall-back position in terms of her survival or, if not that, then her vengeance. If it ever looks like Israel is about to go under, then it’s damn certain a lot of the neighbourhood is going to go with her. (Why are nations always referred to in the feminine – or is this just an Anglo-Saxon preference?)

      And what do we really recommend? I strongly recommend a change of scene, a rewrite of the rest of this tragedy in which a happy (or happier) ending is made mandatory before any final curtain descends.
      The problem with this Middle Eastern portrayal is that there is no depth to it. It’s as if it’s all just a one act play, very two-dimensional and with players and audience having long ago guessed how it ends. Badly, of course; very badly.

      There needs to be some dynamic added to what has always been a very static performance; a constant jockeying for position with no concessions made because to do so might appear weak, foolish or even terminal. In a way, it’s become almost too predictable – and that is never a good sign.

      What we have here is a huge pressure vessel with a release valve set at far too high a level for safety. The vessel and the pressure are things we can’t do a lot to change but the setting of the valve might still be within our power to alter. That may be something to keep in mind for the next occasion when that needle starts climbing once again into the red.


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    27. Steve

      How many free countries exist in the Middle East?

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    28. Passerby

      Carl, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.

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    29. daniel gavron

      Larry, please call me at 02-5342633

      Reply to Comment
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