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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

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When Christmas Met Hanukkah in Sweden

I spent Christmas in Ramshyttan, a tiny Swedish village in the middle of dense birch woods and semi-iced-over lakes. Despite the absence of snow – almost unheard of at this time of year, according to the locals – it was the ideal location for a misty and mystical Yuletide (Christmas in Swedish is Jul), complete with 18th century hunting lodge and a wood-fired sauna on the edge of the lake.

What I didn’t expect to find there was any hint of Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday roughly congruent with Christmas but so remote from the frosty and peaceful forests of Sweden as to be its polar opposite. Yet there it was: an enormous old painting in the house we were occupying featuring Judith (or Yehudit), a prominent member of the Maccabee clan, and the ancient – possibly mythical – bloodletting at the heart of the modern holiday.

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SCOOP: Bibi Gets Coup Survival Lesson From Erdogan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for advice on how to survive an attempted coup, The Kibbitzer has learned.

In a televised statement on Thursday night, following his indictment on bribery and fraud charges, Netanyahu accused the country’s judicial and police authorities of mounting an “attempted coup” against him.

“What I did was kill as many as I could and arrest the others,” Erdogan says in a transcript of the telephone call with Netanyahu which is in the possession of The Kibbitzer. Erdogan himself survived an attempted coup in 2016.

“Not sure I can do that,” Netanyahu says.

“Why not? Use the guys from the Mavi Marmara. They’re experienced at killing.”

“You can’t suggest something less … uh … bloody?”

“Well, you can take over the papers and arrest all the journalists. It worked for me.”

“Yes, I like that.”

“And of course you have to purge everyone – politicians, lawyers, teachers.”

“Also sounds good. Can I include my wife?”

The Kibbitzer wishes to assure its readers that it will resolutely oppose any attempt to force it into the Netanyahu stable, alongside Yisrael Hayom, Walla and Noni Mozes.

 

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It’s a Third Vote or Magic in a Bitterly Divided Nation

Jews have a venerable history as practitioners of the black arts, dating back to biblical times. Divination is specifically forbidden in halakha (Jewish religious law) and the sheer number of condemnations of the practice in the Talmud is a good indication that it was widespread. In the Middle Ages, demonology, the writing of amulets and other techniques (known collectively as Practical Kabbalah) were common, though great sages such as Abraham Abulafia and Isaac Luria condemned them.