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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Red Rag column: new police commissioner; US youth volunteer for the Occupation army; observations on Meretz
By: Gideon Spiro
27 August 2015 (English translation 3 September 2015)


A question for the State Attorney

Ehud Barak has disclosed top secret information about the cabinet meeting that
discussed the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iran. He did what Vanunu did.
Ehud Barak will not be put on trial, he will not be convicted of espionage and
treason and he will not be sentenced to 18 years in prison, 11 of them in
solitary confinement. Has not the time come to leave Vanunu alone and let him
leave Israel and live as a free man? How much longer will you continue to
torment him?


Erdan is looking for a Police Commissioner

For three months now Interior Minister Gilad Erdan has been looking for a
General Commissioner for the Israel Police – police officer number one. He
found no one to his liking among the top ranks of the police, so he looked
outside. He offered the position to several retired generals. They all replied
in the negative. The police is like a sickbed, an organization in crisis, and
no healthy person wants to be associated with it. So Erdan was forced to go
down a notch and offer the position to Brigadier-General (Res.) Gal Hirsch. He
agreed, and a stormy public reaction followed. Hirsch is a controversial
figure. In the Second Lebanon War in 2006 he served as commander of the
Galilee Division, and he was subject to severe criticism for his actions that
caused the needless deaths of soldiers. Bereft parents demonstrated against
the appointment, past and present senior officers in the police said that this
was a bizarre choice, because the man has no idea how a police force operates
and to parachute such a man in as head of the institution is a dangerous
gamble. His friends countered by saying that he is an original thinker who
will advance the police and cure its ailments. Some of his friends warned that
he suffers from an exaggerated sense of self-esteem. His appointment, if it is
ratified by the government, will be another step in the militarization of the
police.

Missing among all the arguments against the choice of Gal Hirsch is the most
important one, which I will raise here: Hirsch served for a long time in the
senior command of the Occupation mechanism. He had an important part in the
terror that the Occupation employs against millions of Palestinian civilians.
He defended the settlements – which are a war crime under the Rome Statute of
the International Criminal Court – and the apartheid regime. He belongs not at
the head of the police but in a paddy wagon.

The fact that he set up a military export company after he retired from the
army does not speak in his favour; those who make their livings from exporting
military supplies are uninhibited gluttons. As a citizen of the European
Union, if I should encounter him I will carry out a citizen’s arrest, take him
to the nearest police station and request that he be transferred to The Hague
to give an accounting of himself.


Killing and being killed for the sake of Israeli racism and colonialism

This week 160 young Jews arrived in Israel from the United States in order to
volunteer to serve in the Israeli Occupation Army. The absurdity cries out to
the heavens. Jews who have full human and civil rights in their own countries
are coming to Israel in order to participate in the crimes of denying others
the rights that they themselves enjoy. Some of the newcomers are sons and
daughters of Israelis who emigrated to the USA and who are now sending their
children to serve as cannon-fodder for the advancement of criminal objectives
like the oppression of the Palestinians on the one hand, and the preservation
of the settlements that are stealing Palestinian land on the other.

Back in the day, Yitzhak Rabin described Israeli Jews who emigrated from
Israel as “a fallout of weaklings”. That was a depth-charge that caused
resentment on the one hand and guilt feelings on the other. There are former
Israelis who have still not managed to free themselves from feelings of
discomfort about their emigration, especially in times of war. Sending their
children for voluntary service in the army is intended, among other things, to
cleanse the “stain” of their emigration.

I have been to the US three times on lecture tours, from coast to coast, at
universities, synagogues and human-rights organizations. In several places
where there was a high concentration of former Israelis, some of them honoured
me with their presence and were among the most disruptive participants. Every
one of them emphasized their military service. I tried to explain to them that
their most important contribution to Israel was their presence in the US and
their non-participation in the web of crimes of the Occupation. I told them
that they were righteous people in spite of themselves, which really knocked
them off balance, and one of the replies was, “our children will serve in the
army.” To which I replied that I hoped their children would be wiser than
that.

To judge by the calendar, it is likely that some of those young people who
recently arrived in Israel are children of some of the people who interrupted
my talks. They were greeted in Israel with applause and interviewed on
television, and those whose parents served in the army before their emigration
made a point of declaring that they would follow in their fathers’ footsteps,
one to the Golani Brigade, another the Giv’ati Brigade and a third to the
Paratroopers. Not all 160 youths are children of Israeli emigrants. I assume
that some of them are looking for action, and they think the conflict with the
Palestinians will satisfy their thirst for adventure. In that regard they are
no different from the Muslim youths looking for excitement who volunteer to
join ISIS.

Forty-seven years of Occupation have changed not only the face of Israel,
which has become one of the most racist, violent and cruel states in the
world; they have also changed the face of world Jewry. One of the familiar
characteristics of Jews in the past was their position at the head of
campaigns against racism, tyranny and colonialism. Today, the leaderships of
most of the organized Jewish communities stand at the right hand of right-wing
Israel which is maintaining a regime of colonial apartheid in the Occupied
Territories while at the same time, human rights within the Green Line are
eroding in measured and well-planned increments. If we examine the various
states where there are organized Jewish communities, we can see how the Jewish
leadership, both religious and secular, consistently backs an Israel that is
taking on a brown hue. It is happening in Germany, France, the UK and the US.
A growing number of Jews are voting for extreme right-wing parties, some of
them clearly neo-Nazi. Today they support Israel, which is an ally in the
epidemic of Islamophobia. To be sure, not all Jews and not all Judaisms are
such; but an increasing number.

This development reminds me of a similar phenomenon among German or German-
speaking communities outside Germany after the Nazis came to power. That was
the case with the Templars in British Mandate Palestine, who displayed the
hooked-cross flag, and thus it was also in the Sudetenland, Austria and
Danzig.


Stick to the Golden Mean

As one who has responsibility (shared with others) for the fact that Meretz
has not disappeared from the Knesset, and since I have listened to arguments
Zehava Galon has had (with Gideon Levy and others on the issue of “Whither
Meretz?”), I permit myself to make a few observations.

First, kudos to Zehava for her excellent showing at the Knesset debate in
which that idiot, the Deputy Interior Minister, flung at Arab MKs those
embarrassing and shameful words to the effect that they should be grateful to
us for giving them permission to be here. I called a friend who had scolded me
for voting for Meretz and I said, “turn on the television and listen to
Zehava, her words are golden.” [1] If Meretz were not in the Knesset, then a
dangerous situation would have been created in which all the Jews would be
against all the Arabs. The sharp criticism of the Deputy Interior Minister on
the one hand, and of Labour Party (“Zionist Union”) members who were absent
from the discussion on the other, were exactly what Meretz voters wanted to
see and hear.

Just as Moshe Dayan said that only a donkey never changes its mind, I will
say, only a donkey will always and under all circumstances reject the idea of
joining up with others. The political circumstances, which change regularly,
must be taken into account. Sometimes joining others is a necessary step and
at other times it is a recipe for self-destruction. Israel is good laboratory
for studying the fate of coalitions between the Left and the Centre.

The Alignment: an alliance of Mapai (Party of the Workers of the Land of
Israel), Mapam (United Workers’ Party) and the Unity of Labour. The
Alignment’s big achievement was losing power after the Yom Kippur War. Unity
of Labour, and especially Mapam, which were supposed to be the left-wing brake
on Mapai, were swallowed up by the big brother and dissolved. The stigma that
stuck to that imaginary Left, that it was “corrupt and a danger to Israel’s
existence” was deeply engraved on the public consciousness.

Moked: a combination of Maki (Israeli Communist Party) led by MK Shmuel
Mikunis and Dr. Moshe Sneh, the Communist branch that returned to Zionism, and
the Blue-Red Movement led by Colonel (Res.) Dr. Meir Pa’il. It produced a
disappointing result: one MK – which Maki had had without Blue-Red.
Sheli was the next effort by three parties of the Left – Moked, Haolam Hazeh
and Lova Eliav’s movement. The hopes were sky-high and the result was on the
floor. The alliance split up and was torn by disagreements, especially over
Ran Cohen’s participation in the siege of Beirut as a reserve soldier. In his
first leave from the war he was interviewed by Maariv and proudly
related that he had fired thousands of shells at Beirut, but he did not say
how many civilians were hit. Matti Peled boiled with anger and called Ran a
war criminal. I too made a contribution in an article about “the Ran Cohen and
Emri Ron syndrome”, about kibbutzniks who run to every war. In the end Meir
Pa’il refused to respect the rotation agreement with Saadia Marciano. The
alliance collapsed.

Hadash, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, is another attempt by the
Communist Party (the anti-Zionist branch that did not join the Mikunis-Sneh
group) to set up a front that would change the balance of power. It has not
succeeded. The number of its MKs is stuck around the same number that Maki-
Rakah had (Rakah was the acronym for New Communist List, headed by MKs Meir
Vilner and Tawfik Toubi, the anti-Zionist branch mentioned above. In the
interim it reverted to its original name of Maki – Israeli Communist Party).
The leaders of the front recruited Charlie Biton, a key activist in the Black
Panthers movement, and gave him a realistic place in the electoral list for
the Knesset in the hope that he would attract a significant number of votes
from what was then called “the Other Israel”, that is, Mizrahi Israel – Jewish
immigrants from Arab countries.

That is not what happened. The masses did not come. After a few Knessets he
left or was removed, I do not know the details of the matter. The last time I
met Charlie, he expressed very right-wing positions on everything related to
the conflict with the Palestinians. A personal anecdote: Charlie arranged a
personal meeting between me and President Arafat at an international UN
conference dedicated to the Palestinian issue in Geneva in 1983.

In 47 years of Occupation, a party of the Left has attained a position of
influence on two occasions: Meretz with 12 mandates in the second Rabin
government, and Meretz with 10 mandates in Ehud Barak’s government. The result
was distressingly meagre. The Occupation and the oppression continued and the
settlements flourished and expanded, well-padded with government money. The
Oslo Accord was a hard blow. It was a bad agreement because it bypassed the
basic issues: a Palestinian state, its borders, the refugees and the question
of Jerusalem. In that regard Netanyahu is continuing the policies of Rabin (I
wrote an article on the subject entitled “Flaws of the Oslo Accord”, which was
published in the late lamented newspaper Davar on 30 January 1995).

Now comes Meretz’s turn to enter into alliances and to form fronts which have
failed as well. Going into the 2003 elections for the 16th Knesset, Meretz
formed a united list with two parties, Yossi Beilin’s Shahar and Roman
Bronfman’s Democratic Choice, which got 6 mandates compared to the 10 mandates
Meretz got on its own in the previous Knesset. In the elections to the 17th
Knesset, without Yossi Sarid, who had resigned and was replaced by Yossi
Beilin who defeated Ran Cohen in internal elections, Meretz initiated the
creation of a left-wing list that would include the entire Left Zionist
spectrum under the name “Meretz-Yahad”, and what ensued was an embarrassing
fiasco: Meretz lost another mandate. Beilin resigned and was replaced by MK
Haim Oron. For the elections to the 18th Knesset, which took place in 2009,
Oron set up another front, this time with a group of celebrities like the
writer Amos Oz, the actor Gila Almagor and others who came together under the
name “New Movement”. The public-opinion polls were promising, and projected 7
mandates for Meretz. The height of the expectations was matched by the depth
of the resounding failure. Meretz went down to three mandates. Oron was
required to resign. He dragged his feet for a while but left in the end.
Zehava Galon was elected as chair of Meretz. In the elections for the 19th
Knesset, which took place in 2013, Meretz doubled its strength from 3 to 6
Knesset Members, just Meretz alone, with no partner. Zehava restored to Meretz
the youthful fire of fighting optimism. The five mandates that Meretz won in
the elections to the 20th Knesset in 2015 are a significant accomplishment
when one takes into account the atmosphere of violence against the Left that
the Right has cultivated in the public.

What this survey is trying to say is that fronts and coalitions and alliances
are not always the optimal choice; sometimes they are even recipes for
failure. One must think very carefully before joining up with another party or
movement. I assume that Zehava has examined the political inventory in the
Knesset and seen a desolate wilderness, a moldy monotony of various shades of
Right. To ally with the Labour Party, which flees from the word “Labour” lest
it evoke a shadow of a hint of an echo of leftism, so it dresses up as the
“Zionist Union”, would be political suicide. A process of assimilation,
silencing and concealment. Joining the little dictator Lapid to help him
realize his megalomaniacal plans to replace Netanyahu would be like exchanging
a mule for a donkey and admitting that there is no future. [2] The only
alliance that would be politically logical would be with the Joint List. I do
not know if it would guarantee electoral gains, but at least it would convey
an educational message of Jewish-Arab cooperation. Since the Joint List has
announced that such an alliance is not in the cards, my conclusion is clear:
Meretz should continue to be an ardent and resolute opposition that fearlessly
exposes the dangers presented by this bad government. If necessary, it should
be prepared to descend a league, like the football teams that joined a lower
league and then struggled to return to the Premier League. There is political
life even outside the Knesset.


Translator’s notes

1. Zehava Galon’s first name is based on the word “zahav” – “gold” in Hebrew.

2. Lapid’s party is called “Yesh Atid”, which means “There Is A Future”.


Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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