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Kibbitz

The Empty Hope of Liberal Zionism

“It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.”

Those words – which appeared in a New York Times opinion piece last week – have created a tempest in that segment of the Jewish world that regards itself as progressive. They were written by journalist and commentator Peter Beinart, who, until the publication of the article, was one of the darlings of the Jewish Left.

Now he seems to be everyone’s favorite anti-Semite, the catch-phrase for anyone who disagrees with the Zionist mainstream. “Denying the right of Jews to a national homeland is anti-Semitism,” wrote Ben Dror Yemini in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest daily, before apparently realizing the absurdity of his knee-jerk response.

“Beinart is not Anti-Semitic,” Yemini added quickly. “His intentions are different, but his position assists the anti-Semitic campaign.”

I’m glad we clarified that.

Even some columnists in Haaretz, the only surviving island of sanity in Israel’s media, have gotten into the act, describing Beinart’s about-face as “utopian” and “jumping ship”.

Personally, I’ve never had much time for Beinart’s blinkered and earnest liberal-Zionism, in which, “the dream of a two-state solution that would give Palestinians a country of their own let me hope that I could remain a liberal and a supporter of Jewish statehood at the same time.” Seventy-two years after the nakba and fifty-three after the occupation, intelligent people shouldn’t have been lulling themselves to sleep with such dreams.

But, to Beinart’s credit, he saw the light. “Events have now extinguished that hope,” he writes, pointing to the close to 700,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and the fact – obvious to all but those who refuse to see – that “the leaders of Israel’s supposedly center-left parties don’t support a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.”

Hardly anyone in Israel does. For decades, Israel’s leaders have had their fingers crossed behind their backs when talking of a two-state solution. It was the price they had to pay for the billions of dollars in American aid and access to European markets. No-one really believed they were serious, did they?

With Trump now in charge, Israel has largely dropped the charade. Talk of a two-state solution elicits little more than sniggers these days. Now it’s all about annexation – the de facto situation for years already, but the stamp of kashrut that the messianic right seems to need to cross ownership of the territories off their bucket list.

Beinart says he now believes in a bi-national state – “a Jewish home that is also, equally, a Palestinian home. And building that home can bring liberation not just for Palestinians but for us, too.”

Yet, oddly, he writes that “this doesn’t require abandoning Zionism… It requires distinguishing between form and essence. The essence of Zionism is not a Jewish state in the land of Israel; it is a Jewish home in the land of Israel…”

Oops, just when he was getting it right he blew it.

It is true that Herzl originally spoke of a Jewish home in Palestine and the issue of full statehood was open until the Biltmore Conference in 1942, if not later – but that home never, ever included Arabs. The wimps of Brit Shalom may have spoken of Jewish-Arab equality but real, macho Zionists never did.

From the start of Jewish settlement in Palestine, the issue that most concerned the leadership of the Yishuv – aside from security – was avoda ivrit (Hebrew labor), which was code for separate development. Ostensibly a means of opening up jobs for new Jewish immigrants by getting Jewish farmers to hire only Jewish workers, avoda ivrit was in fact the means of developing an ethnically-pure Jewish society – long before the establishment of the state. Hebrew labor was achieved through violence and racism. Even David Ben Gurion, an activist for Hebrew labor, at one point accused fellow Jewish workers of treating Arabs with violence, arrogance and condescension.

Jewish racism and anti-Arabism dating back to the dawn of Zionism are well documented. “They behave toward the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, commit unwarranted trespass, beat them shamefully without any good reason, and brag about doing so,” Ahad Ha’am wrote in the 1880s. According to Israel Rokach, a resident of Jaffa, the Jewish farmers “do not think of the fellahin (peasants) as human.” And that was well over 100 years ago.

Many more scales need to fall from Beinart’s eyes before he understands that the essence of Zionism was – and remains – racism, ethno-centrism and Jewish exceptionalism. Those are the values on which the current generations of Israelis were weaned – and they don’t make for successful bi-nationalism.

Peter Beinart is on the right path. It took courage to write what he did and I applaud him for it. But he’s deluded if he thinks that Jewish statehood is the only obstacle – on the Jewish side; the Palestinians have their own obstacles – to the establishment of a bi-national state. The Zionism that he continues to swear by is rancid. There is no way it can serve as a moral basis for the state’s Jewish component

Israel’s Jews have been brought up to be conquerors, bosses and masters. They are uniquely unqualified to live as equals alongside Palestinians. A good place to begin a process that might, eventually lead to bi-nationalism would be an honest reckoning with Zionist dogma and praxis.

 

 

Categories
Kibbitz

Do You Really Want To Tell The Goyim The Truth?

With both the coronavirus and the germ of annexation clogging the air in these parts, it’s surprising that most of the stench is not coming from Jerusalem but from somber and measured Jews in the diaspora – those who call themselves Zionists but aren’t willing to walk the walk.

Take for example the letter sent by about 40 prominent British Jews to the Israeli ambassador in London, solemnly warning about the grave consequences of annexation. “We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step,” opined the Jewish notables, among them historian Simon Schama, writer Howard Jacobson and former foreign secretary Malolm Rifkind, as reported by the Guardian.

“Instead, it would in our view be a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”

Or, in simpler terms, do you really want to tell the truth to the goyim?

Where have Schama, Jacobson and the other tribal chiefs been over the past fifty years as, step-by-step, Israel put the foundations of  Jewish sovereignty over the West Bank into place? Where were they when Israel built and populated the settlements which it is now using as an excuse for annexation?

Hiding the truth from the goyim, is where they were. Being committed Zionists and passionately outspoken as Israel went about its apartheid business.

They certainly didn’t do much to prevent fifty-plus years of creeping annexation. But now, when Israel proposes to formalize what already exists in practice, they find their collective voice?

They give hypocrisy a bad name.

Annexation is not an aberration; it’s not a madcap idea that Benjamin Netanyahu and his sidekicks suddenly came up with in 2020, possibly under the influence of the coronavirus. Nor is it a partisan viewpoint held by a minority of the Israeli population.

Annexation is the natural – the organic, inevitable and inexorable – culmination of Zionist praxis going back to the late-19th century. For as long as modern Jews have coveted the land on which Palestinian Arabs were living, total Jewish sovereignty has been the one and only goal. There has never been any other goal.

“We are not coming to a desolate land to inherit it; rather, we are coming to conquer the land from the nation that resides there,” Moshe Sharett wrote in 1925.

For David Ben-Gurion, “We are not workers—we are conquerors. Conquerors of the land. We are a camp of conquerors … We worked and conquered and we were joyful with victory.”

The ultimate goal – conquest of the entire biblical Land of Israel, preferably with as few of its native inhabitants as possible – was never hidden. It wasn’t reserved for whispered conversations in dark corners between consenting adults. It appears repeatedly in public statements by Zionist leaders and in resolutions by Zionist organizations.

From the Second Aliyah onward Zionism had a clear and unwavering objective. Successive Israeli governments fiddled with the objective but never disowned it. Gaining and holding onto biblical territory in its entirety has always been the lodestar, even if committed and passionate Zionists in the diaspora preferred that it not be mentioned in their presence.

Over the years, Israel’s leaders have sometimes had to trim their sails to the prevailing diplomatic winds. In 1956, that meant withdrawing from the conquered Sinai peninsula, despite Ben-Gurion’s euphoric statement that the territories occupied by Israel would become part of “the third Jewish kingdom.”

The country’s ostensible acceptance of the UN’s 1947 Partition Plan was another such tactical realignment, as was Ariel Sharon’s dismantling of the settlements in Gaza in 2005. When the destination is clear and obvious, one can take the necessary detours to reach it.

The Sinai and Gaza are debatably part of the biblical heritage – few would wax lyrical today, as Davar newspaper did in 1956, about the Sinai being “the cradle of our transformation into a nation” – but there has never been any doubt about Judea and Samaria; Hebron and Nablus.

They were, are and always have been essential to the Zionist dream. What Netanyahu is threatening to do now – supported by Trump and his gaon son-in-law – is regularize what has been the quotidian since 1967. Diaspora Jewish leaders oppose it because it will call their bluff – highlight their hypocrisy. They will finally be seen for what they are.

Personally, I’m all for annexation. It will be a reactionary, atavistic move in every possible way – but at least it will reveal the Zionist mission for what it is. There is a chance, however slight, that it might clear the logjam; that it might finally get people thinking beyond their knee-jerk, romantic Zionism. It will show Israel in its true, apartheid light – a racist society lording it over its ethnic inferiors.

I don’t know what will happen after that, but letting in some light can’t be a bad thing.

 

 

Categories
Satire

Language Academy Berates Bibi Over Choice of Words

The Academy of the Hebrew Language has written an official letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pointing out that a recent quote attributed to him could do “untold damage to the tongue that is the corner-stone of the Zionist dream.”

“You were recently quoted by the media in Israel as saying that the death of an autistic Palestinian youth at the hands of Israeli Border Policemen was a ‘tragedy,'” Academy head Prof. Asher Bar-Arye wrote in the letter.

“I must point out that such an expression is a misuse of the language that sustains our existence in the Promised Land and is contrary to accepted usage as approved by the Academy.”

“The words ‘tragedy’ and ‘tragic’ are not approved for use in conjunction with Palestinian deaths. That has been our policy since the Academy’s establishment in 1953 and remains in force.”

“Words that have been approved by the Academy for use in describing Palestinian deaths include ‘unavoidable’, ‘justified’, ‘necessary’ and ‘legitimate.'”

“On one occasion, after the glorious Kafr Qasim operation in 1956, one-time permission was granted for the use of the word ‘unfortunate,'” Prof. Bar-Arye continued. “But ‘tragedy’ and ‘tragic’ are not words which any Hebrew user should consider appropriate in the circumstances.”

In response to the letter, the Prime Minister’s Bureau in Jerusalem said in a statement that Netanyahu had, as usual, been misquoted by the fake and irresponsible media. What the prime minister actually said was that the youth’s death was a “comedy,” the statement said.

 

 

Categories
Kibbitz

A Biography of My Father Jock Isacowitz

The Kibbitzer has been mostly missing in action during the current pandemic, though for good reason. I used the lockdown to complete and publish a biography of my father, Jock Isacowitz. I am pleased to announce that the book, “Telling People What They Don’t Want to Hear: A Liberal Life Under Apartheid,” is now available on Amazon in ebook format and will be available in paperback in July.

Jock, who died when I was ten, was an ex-servicemen’s leader after World War II, a former communist, a liberal and a prisoner of the apartheid regime during the 1960 emergency. He fought hard for the classic liberal values of equality, civil and human rights and freedom – values that were deprecated under the apartheid regime and remain elusive in many countries today, including some of those that call themselves democratic.

For me, researching his life and trying to come to grips with the man he was – and who I barely remembered – was a profound experience. Now two decades older than Jock was when he died, I was taken back to a period when people still believed in liberal and democratic values and were prepared to sacrifice for their achievement.

It sounds quaint and anachronistic in the period of Trump and his clones, but revisiting the opposition to apartheid in South Africa during the Forties and Fifties rekindled my dwindling belief in the possibility of truth, justice and freedom. I hope it does the same for you.

You can read more about the book, “Telling People What They Don’t Want to Hear: A Liberal Life Under Apartheid”, on The Kibbitzer Books. I have also written a short preview of the book on PoliticsWeb.

Of course, if you simply can’t wait to read it, it is available now on Amazon.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, either as reviews on the Amazon site or comments here.

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Bibivirus Claims New Victim; Gantz on Life-Support

Israel is confronted by two lethal viruses: the coronavirus pandemic and an infectious leader who, like the corona variety, needs his influence to be replicated in living organisms for him to survive in power. The social distancing that is currently in force has done nothing to prevent the spread of the second virus.

The latest organism to provide healthy cells for the consumption of the bibivirus is Benny Gantz, who has spent the past year assuring whoever would listen that he was totally, 100 percent dedicated to keeping his distance from it.

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Uncategorized

Democracy: The Next Corona Victim

The coronavirus pandemic is holding up a mirror to all our illusions.

We thought that economies could grow relentlessly, without paying a price. That we could travel whenever and wherever we want without polluting the atmosphere. That the rich could grow ever richer, without being impacted by the poverty they cause. That globalization would bring only the benefits of cross-border trade, not the disadvantages.

And now that we’re cowering at home from the dreaded virus, who do we turn to for succour, bail-outs, sound advice? To our governments! The very institutions that created the problems in the first place, through their dereliction of health services, their kowtowing to the super-rich and the powerful, their incompetence and their corruption.

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Uncategorized

When Bibi Met Corona: A Love Story

Some commentators are calling it a putsch. Personally, I think that’s a little over the top, though future developments may prove me wrong. Certainly, the recent actions of the Israeli government – with Benjamin Netanyahu, the indicted conman, at its head – raise serious questions about its commitment to legality, let alone democracy. There is every indication that Netanyahu is piggybacking on the coronavirus outbreak to ensure his personal future, whatever the cost.

All governments are taking extreme measures in the face of the pandemic – measures which, in different circumstances, would be considered anti-democratic, if not totalitarian. Netanyahu’s government can’t be faulted on that count (though his hubristic conduct in announcing the measures on TV was undoubtedly a violation of good taste.)

Where Israel differs from other states is in its lack of a stable government – Netanyahu and his cabinet have been serving in an acting capacity for the past year – and in the person of its prime minister. Not only is Netanyahu an indicted suspect, awaiting trial on corruption charges, but he has failed to establish a majority government after each of the last three elections – all in the space of one year, of course. Netanyahu, to put it simply, has no popular mandate.

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Uncategorized

Searching for a Racist Majority

The widespread assumption that Israel’s third election in the past year resulted in yet another hung parliament is wrong.

The non-stop chatter in the media over who Netanyahu will bully, browbeat or bribe in order to build a majority coalition misses the point entirely.

Look at the arithmetic. There are 120 seats in the Knesset, therefore a minimum of 61 is required for a majority. Netanyahu and the bloc that supports him has 58 seats, which means that the opposition has a majority of 62.

That’s not a hung parliament; the majority can form a coalition government any time it wants to. It can send Netanyahu to his date with the court in 10 days’ time as a regular citizen, shorn of his title, post and influence; one of us.

There’s no political problem here. What there is, of course, is racism – racism that is so pervasive and so deep that we don’t even recognize it when we see it; racism that has been around so long it looks normal. Our regular, comfortable, everyday racism.

The 62-seat majority includes 15 seats in which, God forbid, Arabs are sitting. Real Arabs – the sort who aren’t Jewish. They have the vote, they participate in elections – we even allow them, out of the goodness of our hearts, to sit next to us in the Knesset. That’s us, generous to a fault.

But, as Netanyahu so adroitly put it yesterday, “Arabs aren’t part of the equation.” Why, being citizens, voters and so forth, aren’t they part of the equation? “Because that’s the will of the people.”

Hang on: the will of the people is represented by the majority, surely? – which right now includes 15 Arab seats. Doesn’t that make them party to the will of the people?

Nope, the “people” in Israel means the Jewish people. Not being Jewish, Arabs can’t represent the will of the people. Arabs are non-people. They have no will. We were in that position once: a non-people with no will. Now we’re Jewish and democratic.

And let’s not fool ourselves that this Jewish racism is confined to Netanyahu and his allies on the right. It’s not only them who can’t even conceive of sitting in a government with Arabs. The racists de jour are on the so-called center-left; the generals who deign to dip their toes into political waters in order to set us straight.

It’s all those of us who say that Netanyahu is dismantling the country’s legal system, defiling our public life and generally leading us to hell in a bucket. We’d love to get rid of him, of course – we dream of it – but not if it means working with Arabs. Not if it means opening our eyes.

You can lead a Jew to water but you can’t make him think.

 

 

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Uncategorized

Trump’s Munich 1938 Moment

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned home from a meeting with Adolf Hitler on September 30, 1938, waving a piece of paper and assuring the waiting crowd that the agreement he had signed that day with Hitler would “ensure the peace of Europe.”

World War II began exactly a year later.

This week, US President Donald Trump assured a delirious crowd of Israel supporters in the White House that the so-called Israel-Palestinian peace deal he had just announced would be “a giant step toward peace.”

The similarity between the two events is not just semantic. Not does it lie in the bombastic self-assurance exhibited by both leaders, each of whom had betrayed a small and, for him, insignificant nation to achieve his moment in the spotlight.

The true parallel is in the fact that the victim in both cases – Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the Palestinians in 2020 – had no say in the dismantling of its territory. Czechoslovakia was not present at the Munich conference at which Hitler and Chamberlain decided its fate and the Palestinians were neither consulted during the drafting of Trump’s plan nor invited to its ecstatic unveiling.

Chamberlain’s peace entailed the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, a large chunk of which was handed over to Nazi Germany. Trump’s peace does the same to the Palestinian territories; he proposes dissecting them into small pieces and handing the juicy parts in-between to Israel.

Hitler took the formerly Czech Sudetenland sacrificed by Chamberlain and immediately began planning to grab the rest of Czechoslovakia, which he did six months later. Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would begin the process of annexing the parts of the West Bank so graciously donated by Trump next week.

It is unlikely to end there. Part of the territory will not suffice for the far-rightists on which Netanyahu’s political life depends – just as the Sudetenland was merely the appetiser for Hitler. Like Czechoslovakia, Palestine will eventually be swallowed up entirely.

Over eighty years have passed since Munich, but small nations are still the playthings of their larger and more powerful masters, to be toyed with and disposed of as necessary. Nothing much has changed.

Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, though deluded and reckless, was at least prompted by a sincere desire to preserve the peace. As far as I know, he was never accused of being motivated by ulterior motives, such as a desire to advance his political career. He resigned in May 1940, after Hitler’s invasion of Belgium, and died six months later.

Neither Trump nor his Rasputin, Benjamin Netanyahu, can be accused of sincerity or good faith. Both have elections coming up and both see benefit in the support of the other. Both are also encumbered by legal challenges. The Trump plan no doubt conforms with Netanyahu’s political agenda, but its timing and presentation were determined by pure self-interest.

Does self-interest and political expediency make them worse than Hitler? No, of course not – if only because we know what Hitler went on to do and how he (and much of Europe) ended up. But would a critical bystander in late-1938, unaware of what was to come, see much difference between Hitler’s Czechoslovakia gambit and the treachery of Trump and Netanyahu? I doubt it.

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Uncategorized

Would You Like Fries With Your Holocaust Hypocrisy?

JERUSALEM – A Jerusalem hamburger restaurant is making a killing with its new line of Auschwitzburgers, The Kibbitzer’s food critic reports.

The burgers were released this week to coincide with the events being hosted in the city to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nazi death camp’s liberation.

The Auschwitzburger selection consists of four new combos: the Premium Putin with Lies, the BBQ Bibi (only available until March 2), the Filet-O-Pence and the Prince Charles Quarter Pounder with Bacon (optional).

The Premium Putin may also be available as a Happy Meal with Na’ama Nuggets, though its price has yet to be determined.

The menu describes the BBQ Bibi as “a seasonal favorite … a juicy patty of 100% self-interest, wrapped in a fresh indictment bun and smothered in a tangy smug sauce.”

However, an informal survey of diners indicated that the Premium Putin was the crowd favorite.

“It’s a liberating new take on classic historical revisionism, layered with a slice of creamy, fresh hypocrisy,” one satisfied customer said.

“Best crispy fried lies I’ve ever tasted,” said another, licking her lips.