|By: Gideon Spiro|
26 October 2012 (English translation posted 3 November 2012)
**Elections 2013 **`Mood` parties **In memory of Senator George McGovern **Letter to Judge Hadad *Occupation refuser
The bomb that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister threw at the news conference where they announced that their two parties, the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), would unite into a bloc that would run as a single list in the elections struck all commentators and journalists with shock. No one had guessed. As I see it, this step can serve the Left – if it knows how to exploit it properly. The Likud is now taking on its true colours, without makeup or the guise of a centrist party. Although the public opinion polls have indeed shown that the right-wing camp is maintaining a majority, that has not soothed Netanyahu’s fears and evidently he is not very confident of the outcome. For the smart and creative Left, a moment of opportunity has been created.
Whenever an election approaches, we always encounter those beautiful and sensitive souls of refined taste who declare that they will not vote, because there’s no one to vote for, because “they’re all the same.” To them I say: friends, there is no such thing as a party that is the knight in shining armour of our dreams. I can detect flaws in every one of them: here a wrinkle, there a wart; the platform does not include everything that I would like, nor are there all the candidates that I would like. But for all that, there are degrees of stink in this swamp; there are those who stink to the high heavens and those whose stink is under control, and there are even those that occasionally bring a refreshing breath of fresh air accompanied by a pleasant breeze.
The liberal and the leftist are not devoid of choices. There is Meretz, led by MK Zehava Gal-On; there is Hadash, led by MK Muhammad Barakeh; there is Balad under MK Jamal Zalalka, and there is Taal under MK Ahmad Tibi. And for those who don’t like any of these, there is the Labour Party, which some good people have joined, for reasons unclear to me. And those who persist in the search can also add to the list the newly-born “New Country” under Eldad Yaniv, who was a close advisor of Ehud Barak and came to the insight that everything there stinks to the high heavens. Will it pass the threshold of Knesset representation? If not, then all the votes given to it will have been wasted. I apologize in advance if I forgot someone. Indeed, several shortcomings can be found in each one of them, but they have positive qualities as well. In any case, they are all preferable to the parties of the Right and the Centre. It is important that their voice be heard – at least while this Titanic is still afloat.
The survey that was published in Haaretz (23 October 2012), according to which the majority of Jews in Israel are racists, support the transfer of Arabs and the denial of their right to vote, support a regime of apartheid, do not want an Arab neighbour, do not want their children to go to school with Arab children and other such things, was not surprising – at least not to me. I wrote more than a little on the subject when I was the editor of a student newspaper back in the early 1970s. This survey reflects an aggravation of the ailment, but it was also reflected in earlier surveys. Racism also existed before the war of June 1967, and if we go further back we will also find it among the Jews who came to Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s. But there is no doubt in my heart that 45 years of Occupation is a major cause of the rot.
Take a moment and consider the fact that every Israeli and Palestinian age 45 and under was born under the reality of the Occupation, either on the occupier side or the side that is occupied; they do not know any other reality. This is a majority of the population on both sides of the barricade. If we add into the mix those who were in kindergarten in June 1967, who for all practical purposes have known no other reality, then the number jumps to an overwhelming majority of the population. If we then add the support that Israel receives from the outside in terms of military, economic and diplomatic aid despite the Occupation, it will be understood that this is a unique situation that has no precedent in the 20th century. Thus are we now learning how difficult is the task that those who oppose the Occupation and support human rights have set themselves to change Israeli society’s priorities.
The election season is a flowerbed containing all kinds of growths that promise to save the nation. Television stars jump on the wagon and compose lists that are a mishmash of politicians and people of fame and wealth, and they enjoy short-term success. All the parties that were established near the elections dissolved with time, usually due to personal conflicts; for besides the desire to participate in the government, nothing unites their members. So it is only the ego that speaks, and that leads to squabbles over honours and positions and the whole enterprise expires.
Take, for example, the new party, “There is a Future” (Yesh ‘Atid) founded by television star Yair Lapid in advance of the coming elections (on 22 January 2013). He decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, the late journalist Tommy Lapid, who had founded a party before the elections of 1999, which then dissolved because of personal conflicts, because there was no ideological glue or any internal party democracy. Lapid Junior is acting like Lapid Senior. He has appointed himself head of the party. There he sits with a close friend of his and together they fish for names that will appeal to the public. The public-opinion polls give Lapid a few seats in the Knesset; it changes from poll to poll. Amazingly, he has managed to hook on his line public personalities from here and there, who have nothing in common except the hope to be in the next government.
Lapid succeeded in enlisting Yaakov Peri, the former head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), who substantially upgraded the organization’s torture techniques during his time in office. Upon his departure from office he joined the business world, and his wealth is estimated today at 100 million shekels. How does it happen that a man who retired from a public service position, senior though it may be, with a government salary, manages to rake in such vast sums after only a few years? The secret is contained in the relationship between money and government. Lapid has enlisted two mayors: the mayor of Herzliya Yael German, and the mayor of Dimona, Meir Cohen. Whereas Yael German was a member of the left-wing party Meretz, Meir Cohen was a member of the extreme right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. What do they have in common? The yearning to be part of the government. Zionist cynicism. 
Lapid’s approach is clear: to compose a list that comprises a mix that will speak to the average Israeli: hence there is a businessman and a mayor, and of course there must be a little Judaism, so a place has been reserved for Rabbi Shai Piron, who wears several hats: he’s a rabbi and a Zionist and a settler who lives in the settlement of Oranit in the Occupied Territories, which, like all the settlements, was built on stolen Palestinian land. What is missing? A general. There is already a candidate: the name that has been mentioned is General Elazar Stern, who was the Chief Education Officer of the IDF. As a kippa-wearer (i.e. a religious Jew) he too could fill the “Judaism” spot.
So what does the emergence of a “mood” party like this tell us? Since it does not represent any alternative, and it is guaranteed to be a partner in Netanyahu’s next government, all that is left to it is to speak in general, non-committal terms of things like “the system”. “The system doesn’t work”, is the refrain of Lapid and his supporters.
But in fact the system works splendidly – for Lapid and his ilk. Having done very well by making commercials for Bank Hapoalim, he is far from being one of the poor among us. The kind of changes to the system that Lapid wants to introduce are mainly cosmetic. What has to change is the capitalist system that robs and plunders the public to the tune of billions; we must end the Occupation and set up a democratic state and a welfare state guided by the principles of social justice, a state of all its citizens and residents. Parties like Lapid’s are a danger to democracy. They give it a bad name and contribute to its decline into fascism.
In memory of Senator George McGovern
A few days ago, at age 90, Senator George McGovern passed away from this world. To me McGovern represented a different America, an America that loves peace and social justice. He was one of the first to oppose the Vietnam War, and was unsparing in his criticism of the leaders of the government as long as the United States continued to send troops to Vietnam. In 1972 he was chosen as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the Presidency. Running against him was the Republican Richard Nixon (who was later deposed because of the Watergate scandal). The Republicans conducted a campaign of fear and incitement against McGovern, to the effect that an extreme leftist was poised to take over America and change the entire character of the country. It is reminiscent of what is happening in Israel today. As an idealist who struggled for an America that would export wheat instead of weapons, McGovern was a magnet for the younger generation. He was troubled by the global inequality that was manifested by food insecurity and hunger.
In April 1998, McGovern returned to public service when he began a three-year stint as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome, Italy, after having been named to the post by President Bill Clinton. […]
In August 2000, President Clinton presented McGovern with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation`s highest civilian honor, in recognition of McGovern`s humanitarian service in the effort to eradicate world hunger. […]
McGovern still sought to have his voice heard in the American political scene. He became an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War, likening U.S. involvement in that country to that of the failed Vietnam effort, and in 2006 co-wrote the book Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. In January 2008, McGovern wrote an op ed in the Washington Post calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, saying they had violated the U.S. Constitution, transgressed national and international law, and repeatedly lied to the American people. The subtitle of the article read `Nixon Was Bad. These Guys Are Worse.` In the tumultuous 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination campaign, he first endorsed U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, then later switched to Senator Barack Obama after concluding Clinton could no longer win.
In March 1993 I had the honour of meeting with McGovern at his office in Washington. At the time I was in the middle of a lecture tour to galvanize support for Mordechai Vanunu and the idea of converting the Middle East into a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone.
McGovern received me with great warmth and expressed support for the positions that I presented to him. He explained to me that he was no longer a member of the Senate, but that he would take advantage of the contacts he still had to promote the ideas for which I had come to lobby in Washington. Even then I had already encountered the paralyzing power of the Jewish lobby (AIPAC). There were Members of Congress whose secretaries apologized that the “boss” would not meet with me and did not conceal from me the fact that it was for fear of AIPAC. In that light, my meeting with McGovern took on special value, and I wondered to myself what would happen if those Members of Congress were like George McGovern, and what would have happened if McGovern had been elected President of the United States. America would have been different, and the Middle East nearly certainly would have been different too. And Israel could not have continued perpetuated a 45-year Occupation.
A letter I sent to Judge Hadad
25 October 2012
To Her Honour Judge Orit Hadad
19 Ben-Gurion Avenue
On Sunday 21 October 2012 you denied freedom to three peace activists, and ruled that their detention be extended for three days. That decision borders on judicial criminality in my opinion. The three, Yonatan Shapira, Alik Elhanan and Reut Mor, were abducted on the open sea by personnel of the Israeli navy while they were on board the vessel the Estelle, which was carrying another 30 peace activists from various countries who were seeking to protest against the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The three are activists for peace and human rights, who are waging a meticulously non-violent struggle against the Occupation, its injustices and its crimes. Not only do they pose a danger to no one, but they and those like them are the silver platter, if I may borrow a term from a poem of Nathan Alterman’s,  on which Israel’s survival will be served.
Your hands should be trembling when you send people to detention; but this time it did not tremble; it served as the long arm of the police. In these times of ongoing and progressive erosion of basic democratic norms and the penetration to within Israel of the despotic and violent norms that characterize the Occupation regime, we need judges who will stand in the breach to block this trend. We do not need co-opted judges who sway like a palm-leaf to the rhythm of a racist regime. It is time to exhibit independence and defend democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate.
When the prosecutor accused the three under imaginative and fantastical provisions like “incitement to rebellion” and “knowingly aiding the enemy”, you erred when you did not (figuratively) throw him down the stairs. The intimidation of activists for peace and human rights by means of legal provisions that carry long prison sentences is a tactic for which despotic regimes are known.
It is my civic and democratic duty to provide warning and deterrence against these totalitarian methods. Take note.
Praise for an Occupation refuser
Moriel Rothman, a young Jew who was born in Israel but grew up in the United States, returned to Israel this year and announced his refusal to serve in the IDF for reasons of conscience, his opposition to systematic violence and the Occupation of the Palestinian people. This week he was sentenced to 10 days incarceration at Military Prison 6 at Atlit.
In a long and detailed letter, Rothman explains his refusal. Below are excerpts from it:
“There is no easy way to say this: I believe that the Occupation – which is the main role of the IDF these days – is an absolute injustice. The Occupation is anti-God, anti-love and shockingly violent. The Occupation is based on a system of racist/nationalist separation which to a great extent resembles the system in the southern United States until the 1960s and the Apartheid system in South Africa until the 1990s. There is no end in sight to this “temporary” Occupation; on the contrary, it is strengthening and consolidating. There is nearly zero will within the Israeli government to end the Occupation, and the Israeli public has become inured to the status quo, in which the question of the Occupation has become essentially a “theoretical” one, and a question that many have already grown tired of contending with. But the Occupation can be theoretical only if you are not occupied, and therefore I see my refusal also as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians who are living under the Occupation.”
He is carrying on a glorious Jewish tradition of refusing to oppress others – a tradition that extends back to the Bible. In the 20th century it was embraced by generations of great figures such as Rosa Luxemburg, Albert Einstein, Yeshayahu Liebowitz and the refusers of Yesh Gvul, New Profile, Courage to Refuse, Breaking the Silence and The Pilots’ Letter.  And let us not forget the first of the Occupation refusers from the 1970s: Giora Neumann and Yitzhak Laor.
From the pages of this column I extend my congratulations to Rothman. As long as there are those who refuse to serve Occupation and oppression, there is hope that the nationalist-racist evil can be defeated after all.
1. In Hebrew, the words “cynicism” (tziniyut) and “Zionist” (tziyonit) are anagrams of each other.
2. Excerpt from the Wikipedia article on McGovern. Wikipedia’s end-note numbers removed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_mcgovern