The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don't do anything about it
Occupation magazine - Commentary
Send To friend
Uri Avnery--November 20, 2010--
`A DISASTER!` the courtiers of the King of Hanover cried,
`Seven renowned professors at G?ttingen University have
published a declaration of protest against you!`
That was 173 years ago. The king had suspended the liberal
constitution enacted by his predecessor.
`So what,` the king replied, `Tarts, dancers and professors
I can always buy.`
This story was told me by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who was
himself a professor of half a dozen vastly different
disciplines, from bio-chemistry to the philosophy of
science. He held many of his colleagues in profound
He told me this story when we were talking about one
professor in particular: Shlomo Avineri, who had just
agreed to serve as Director General of the Foreign Office
under Minister Yigal Alon. Alon was the author of the `Alon
Plan`, which provided for the annexation of wide stretches
of occupied territory.
THIS WEEK, Avineri published an article under the headline
`Fascism? You make me laugh!`
What made him laugh? The ridiculous (for him) argument that
there exist fascist tendencies in Israel. He reminded us
that fascism means the Gestapo, concentration camps and
genocide. How could we forget.
Avineri is a respected professor, an expert on Hegel and
Zionism. He is also a valiant warrior against `post-
Zionists` and other miscreants who criticize classical
I guess that if in 1923 somebody had told his father in the
Polish town of Bielsko that in the Bavarian town of Munich
an oddball with a funny little moustache was telling people
about his plan to become the dictator of Germany and invade
Poland, he, too, would have exclaimed: `You make me laugh!`
In those days in Germany many little `v?lkisch` groups were
springing up with similar demands: to annul the citizenship
of Jews, to drive the Jews out of their neighborhoods and
to introduce oaths of allegiance to the Reich as the nation-
state of the German people (including the Austrians, of
At the time, these groups were laughed at. How could anyone
imagine that a civilized country, the nation of Goethe,
Schiller and Kant - and, indeed, Hegel - would hoist these
crazies into power?
Over the next few years, many of those who had laughed
found themselves in concentration camps, where they had
ample time to meditate and tell themselves: if we had acted
to stop the fascists in time, instead of laughing, this
would not have happened.
ON THE day Avineri was struggling not to laugh, another un-
funny item was published.
It reported that a delegation of `Senior Peace Now
Members`, led by Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer, had
met with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
The occurrence of this meeting gives rise to some
questions. Even more so does its aim.
Danny Ayalon captured the attention of the world when he
summoned the Turkish ambassador and sat him on a low sofa,
while loudly explaining to the Israeli reporters present
that his intention was to humiliate Turkey.
It is difficult to probe the depth of foolishness of this
infantile deed and of the man who did it. The public
humiliation of a proud nation, which holds a key position
in our region, set off to a long chain of events: Turkish
public opinion turned against Israel, a Turkish ship sailed
for Gaza and its violent interception caused a world-wide
storm, Turkey is realigning itself with Iran and Syria -
and the story is not over yet. True, Ayalon did not cause
all this by himself, but he definitely deserves his share
of the glory.
So how did it enter the minds of these `Senior Peace Now
Members` to meet this man of all people, and thus bestow
legitimacy on him?
And not only on him. It could be argued that Ayalon is
exposed as the village idiot, so that no amount of
legitimacy would stick to him. But behind Ayalon there
looms the man who appointed him: the Minister for Foreign
Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman is an international symbol of racism, a settler
and defender of settlers, the principal assistant in
Binyamin Netanyahu`s efforts to obstruct peace and
eternalize the occupation. At this very moment he is
providing Netanyahu with the pretext to object to the
freeze of the settlements and torpedo the peace
negotiations with the Palestinians.
Dozens of foreign ministers refuse to meet with Lieberman.
No Arab leader agrees to shake his hand. Egyptians loathe
him, for Palestinians he is the symbol of evil. He cannot
show his face in respectable international society.
So, for heaven`s sake, what caused the `Senior Peace Now
Members` to legitimize this person?
THE TOPIC of the meeting is even more amazing. As reported,
the Peace Now people proposed `cooperation` with the
Foreign Office. It would be good for you, they told their
host, to distribute Peace Now material around the world, in
order to show that Israel is not only a state of occupation
and settlements, but also of peaceniks. That would improve
the image of the state and help the Foreign Office to
silence the critics.
In other words: the `Senior Peace Now Members` are prepared
to serve as fig leaves for Netanyahu`s government and for
Lieberman`s Foreign Office. They offer them an alibi.
The Peace Now movement enjoys a very positive reputation
all over the world. People remember them for the giant
protest demonstration after the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
The impression is widespread that it is the sole peace
movement in Israel. The world media treat it graciously,
while practically ignoring all other Israeli peace forces.
This is what makes this meeting so dangerous. Many across
the world will tell themselves: if Peace Now meets with
Lieberman`s people and offers them cooperation, they can`t
be so bad.
Thus, Peace Now is serving Lieberman as Shimon Peres and
Ehud Barak are serving Netanyahu. And as Shlomo Avineri, in
his time, served Yigal Alon. The King of Hanover knew what
he was talking about.
HOW DID Peace Now reach this point?
I am not against the movement. On the contrary, I
appreciate very much its struggle against the settlements.
True, they did not join the boycott of the products of the
settlements which we started 12 years ago, but they are
monitoring the construction activities in the settlements
and bringing them to the attention of the world. This is an
important and very laudable action.
The trouble is that the movement, which could once call
hundreds of thousands onto the streets, finds it hard
nowadays to mobilize even a few hundred.
This can be attributed to the general collapse of the
Israeli peace movement since 2000, when Ehud Barak declared
that `We Have No Partner For Peace`. But the case of Peace
Now merits special analysis.
The movement came into being in 1978, when it seemed that
Menachem Begin was dragging his feet and was not responding
positively enough to Anwar Sadat`s historic peace
initiative. Begin, a lawyer by profession and character,
haggled over every little detail, and there was a danger
that the unique opportunity would be missed. The
demonstrations of the young Peace Now helped to push Begin
in the right direction.
The zenith of Peace Now`s success was the `demonstration of
the 400 thousand` after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in
the First Lebanon War. Even though the number is
exaggerated, it was a huge demonstration, unique in its
way, which expressed a real uprising of Israel public
But this success had a price. On the eve of the war, Shimon
Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, the leaders of the Labor Party,
went to see Begin and urged him to start the war. And here,
lo and behold, these two appeared as the main speakers at
the Peace Now protest. It was a deal: Peace Now gave the
two a kosher certificate, and the Labor Party brought the
(then) masses of its adherents to the square.
It reminded me of the deal made by Faust with
Mephistopheles: in return for worldly success, he sold his
THE STRATEGY of Peace Now was not altogether without logic.
This was explained by Tzali Reshef, who was the real leader
of the movement for several decades. In 1992, when Rabin
deported 415 Islamic activists to the Lebanon border, a
public debate on the proper response took place in Tel
Aviv. I proposed setting up protest tents opposite the
Prime Minister`s office and staying there until the
deportees were allowed to return. Reshef rejected this,
saying frankly: `Peace Now is addressing a large public and
we must not do anything that would push them away from us.
Avnery can afford to say all the right things, we don`t
have this luxury.`
We indulged in this luxury, put up the tents and stayed
there day and night in subzero temperatures. (It was in
those very tents that Gush Shalom was born.) Throughout the
years, Peace Now gradually adopted our positions, but
always after a delay of months or years. Thus, they
belatedly adopted the two-state solution, the need to talk
with the PLO, the principle of two capitals in Jerusalem,
This strategy would have been legitimate and even justified
- had it proved effective. But in real life, the opposite
happened: the masses left Peace Now, and the movement is
now, like all of us, engaged in a desperate rearguard
battle against the rising Rightist tide.
And unlike Professor Avineri - I feel no inclination to
Links to the latest articles in this section
The US and nuclear programs in the Middle East
How can Israel, Palestine return to a two-state solution?
A matter of concrete debate