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Jock Isacowitz, 50 years on

My father, Jock Isacowitz, died 50 years ago today. He was in his mid-forties when he died and I was not yet 10. In a very real way, my life has been influenced by the absence of a father, rather than the presence. The same goes for my sister and brother; we all grew up with a void, where there should have been a father. The icon that he became after his death was no substitute; perhaps it was even a burden.

In an obituary to my father, one of his political colleagues (I forgot who) wrote that, had my father’s politics been different, he could have been prime minister of South Africa. That was stretching things a little far, I think, but it did testify to his personal qualities and the strong impression he made on many people. By all accounts, he was a remarkable man.

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The collapse of capitalism and other nuggets from 2011

In some ways, this past year has been the counterpoint of 1989, the year in which the final countdown to the demise of Soviet and Eastern European communism began. Though the TV images of the Occupy movement, the Euro crisis and the worldwide economic malaise do not come near to matching the drama of the fall of the Berlin Wall, they are arguably no less significant. The events of 1989 and of 2011 both portended the bankruptcy of an ideology that had been the bedrock of governments and determined the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

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Thinking Like a Tank

During a political discussion recently (a rare occurrence; I try to steer clear of them) one of the participants pulled out his ace: something that he had been told by a former senior officer in the Mossad. In most Israeli circles that would be the clincher; similar, I guess, to quoting the word of God around the table of the rebbe. There’s no arguing with the source of sources.

My reaction was that, davka because it came from a former senior Mossad officer, it had no value.I didn’t believe a word of it. My interlocutor regarded me with the benign tolerance that many of us display when confronted with the  immature self-assurance of our kids. They’re talking utter nonsense, of course, but they’re still young; life will teach them a thing or two.

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Sharon shoots the elephant

This article was originally published in January 2003 in Robert Rosenberg’s Ariga.

by Roy Isacowitz

In his short story “Shooting An Elephant,” published in 1936, George Orwell depicts one of the ironies of colonial rule. The colonial power’s authority rests as much on how it is perceived as on its guns. Maintaining the perception of power and strength is paramount; losing face is the greatest failure. But perceptions exist only in the eyes of the beholder. So the colonizer becomes dependent on the reactions of the subject; the ruler becomes the puppet of the ruled It is an irony that shouldn’t be lost on us today .

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Israel, Iran and the Blue Ball Syndrome

Apologies to those of you who actually enjoy this stuff for my silence over the past few weeks. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything to kibbitz about – Israel is always very dependable in that regard – but my mood has been low.

I’ve been burdened by a general sense of ennui, influenced probably by the approach of winter, the creeping annexations of age (I’ll be 60 very soon) and the apparent readiness of the Israeli government to provoke a missile war with Iran. Just when I thought that I could safely dwindle into a gentle retirement of distilled liquids and casual pornography, the assholes begin threatening Armageddon.

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The demise of Israel’s pampered revolutionaries

The leaders of Israel’s social protest movement are rallying their scattered forces for another showdown on Saturday night. The consensus in the media is that it will be a muted affair; like the defeated remnants of Stalingrad dragging themselves to yet another hopeless battle.

My impression is that the social protest movement has imploded. The reasons for that are instructive. In my view they include:

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The Great Gilad Shalit Binge

As I write, Israel is preparing for the Gilad Shalit bacchanalia. For the next 72 hours, perhaps more, the country will indulge in an elaborate orgy of media overkill, voyeurism and self-congratulation that has no equal in the modern world.

Last night, the Supreme Court rejected the petitions that had been lodged against the prisoner swap. That, too, was part of the ritual. The fact that Israel is releasing people accused of horrific crimes, and who clearly remain dedicated to their struggle, can’t be allowed to derail the ceremony. In fact, it’s the entire point. Without the release of hundreds of dangerous prisoners, the whole thing would lose its potency. It would be no more than a human interest story; big-time reality TV.

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The Descendants of the Canaanites and the Jewish State

One of the least understood nuances of the interminable and numbing haggling between the Netanyahu government  and the Palestinians concerns the government’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” On the face of it, it’s an odd demand – Israel has never made the same requirement of any other country with which it established diplomatic relations – but also an innocuous one. After all, Israel does have a decisive Jewish majority and all governing institutions are in safe Jewish hands. That being the case, why should the Palestinians object, even if the demand is unusual?

The answer is that it’s all in the subtext. For only two relatively short words, “Jewish state” carries an extraordinary amount of baggage.

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Yom Kippur in the State of Nirvana

The pool stage of the rugby world cup is now over and the knockout games begin tomorrow. So, it’s a good time to take stock.

Not of the rugby, of course. I wouldn’t try the patience of my devoted readers, most of whom have yet to reach full sports enlightenment, to that extent. Though maybe just a spare thought for the French (with apologies to Philippe.) I have never been much of a student of  things French, so I don’t have the tools to understand why it is that, come crunch time, French sportsmen seem to go to pieces and start stabbing each other with knitting needles. It happened during the football world cup and, right on schedule, it has happened in the rugby as well.

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It’s more important than life or death; it’s rugby

Those of you who rely on this modest column for your weekly (or so) dose of depression and suicide-inducing negativity, are going to have to find a temporary substitute, I’m afraid. Even a jaundiced misanthrope such as myself occasionally finds himself in situations which require that Israel-bashing take a back seat for a while.

Such an occasion is the Rugby World Cup, which began this morning. As I write, the All Blacks are, not unexpectedly, stomping the shit out of the Tongans, and spectacles of similar magnificence (most of them featuring the South Africans as the stomped-on) will be occurring virtually daily for the next month or so. It is a prospect that can test the self-discipline of even the most grumpy amongst us.