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Kibbitz

Israelis and Palestinians Need Outside Help

Any attempt to understand the current mess in Israel and the Palestinian territories requires the ability to hold at least three seemingly incompatible concepts in one’s head. All at the same time.

Much of the world, regrettably, appears to have lost the mental flexibility necessary for complex thinking. That is probably due to the culling effect of social media on human cognition and the spread of the pernicious identity theology from colleges into the wider society. Sheer exhaustion with the never-ending conflict also plays a part.

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Kibbitz

The end of Zionism as we know it

Today marks five weeks since Hamas’ bloody rampage through the Israeli towns, villages and military bases surrounding the Gaza Strip. It’s Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. The streets of Tel Aviv are quiet; coffee bars are crowded but less so than normal. Couples with young kids throng the swings and slides in the park near my home.

Eighty kilometres south of here, Israeli forces have closed their stranglehold on al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, with thousands of patients, medical staff and refugees trapped inside. The hospital’s operating theatres are dark, due to a lack of electricity, medical supplies and clean water.

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Kibbitz

Jeremy Gordin: A wordsmith with abundant personality, dry-as-ice sense of humour and a febrile intellect

Tributes pour in for the retired journalist who was murdered in his Parkview home

“So what do u think?” Jeremy Gordin messaged me last Friday night. “Did I capture Bibi and Israel in 1,300 words?”

He was referring to his Politicsweb column, published overnight, which dealt with the current turmoil over democracy in my adopted homeland.

“Yes, you did,” I replied on Saturday morning. “The space allotted to you doesn’t allow for deeper consideration of the complexities.

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Kibbitz

A big heart, a good person, and occasionally a pain in the …

Roy Isacowitz looks back over his six decades of friendship with Jeremy Gordin

 Jeremy Gordin, journalist, poet, author and long-time Politicsweb columnist, was killed at his home in Johannesburg over the weekend.

It was the summer of 1965. I was at Temple Shalom synagogue, next door to the Doll’s House on Louis Botha Avenue, which, despite its vocation, was the regular scene of Saturday night socials.

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Kibbitz

How Yitzhak Rabin Rates on the De Klerk Scale

Several readers of my previous column have asked why I made no mention of Yitzhak Rabin when writing about Israel’s need for a redemptive figure like South Africa’s F.W. de Klerk. The short answer is that it didn’t occur to me. The longer answer is given below.

In order to compare the motivations and actions of Rabin with those of De Klerk, I have identified five factors which, I believe, were essential to De Klerk’s dramatic reversal of direction in 1990 – the qualities that defined his decisive role in history.

Firstly, he came from the heart of the Afrikaner people and, for most of his life, he shared its ideological commitment to white racial domination. Had he been an Afrikaner pariah, like Breyten Breytenbach, say, his transformation would have been less dramatic and a lot less potent.

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Kibbitz

F.W. de Klerk’s Message for Israelis

Theunis Christiaan de Klerk, an ancestor of former South African president F.W. De Klerk, was hanged by the British in 1815 for his role in the so-called Slagtersnek Rebellion. Another ancestor, Lourens de Klerk, was killed by the impis of Zulu king Dingaan in 1838, one of about 100 people to die in a brutal massacre.

The former president’s grandfather fought against the British in the Boer War, one of his uncles was J.G. Strijdom, South Africa’s fifth prime minister, and his father Johannes de Klerk, was a senator representing the apartheid National Party who served as a cabinet minister for fifteen years under three prime ministers.

One of his earliest memories, F.W. wrote in his biography, was sitting on his father’s shoulders during the emotional cornerstone laying ceremony for the Vootrekker Monument (arguably South Africa’s Wailing Wall) outside Pretoria in 1938. He was three at the time.

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Kibbitz

The Apocalyptic Peter Wilhelm

Many of us, I suspect, have been flirting with apocalyptic anxiety over the past 18 months, in the face of both the Covid pandemic and the contemporaneous worsening of the global climate. For my generation, that dual whammy has been the first real wake-up call after decades of post-WWII stability, growth and relative peace. All of a sudden, in our old age, we are having to contemplate the possibility of the end of the world.

One person who didn’t need an epidemic poke-in-the-ribs to begin concerning himself with the Apocalypse was the journalist, author and poet Peter Wilhelm – my mentor and friend – who spent the past three decades conjuring up extraordinary visions of a dystopian future and the post-apocalyptic world that might follow.

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Kibbitz

On Track for American Fascism?

As I write, Joe Biden seems to be doddering to an excruciatingly close victory in the US election. That result, if it comes about, will be litigated furiously by Donald Trump and – depending on the success of his litigation – it could well be fought in the streets.

Having been liberated from the shackles of democracy by the words and actions of their leader, the Proud Boys and other simple-minded jingoists are unlikely to accept the authority of judges any more than that of vote counters and assessors. If things are looking ugly now, they could soon get a whole lot worse.

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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.

 

 

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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.