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Red Rag Weekly Column: Barack Obama, Superstar
By: Gideon Spiro
24 March 2013 (English translation 3 April)


Barak Obama, Superstar

For the two and a half days of President Barak Obama’s visited to Israel, the whole country was under the influence of a drug called Obamania. The President was the star in all the communications media, and every step he took was broadcast live. The President had a reputation for relating to Israel with coldness and alienation. If the purpose of the President`s visit was to rehabilitate his image in the Israeli public, it succeeded beyond all expectations. As one Israeli journalist put it, `he arrived as Hussein and left as Barak`. Obama’s charm offensive swept Israel off its feet. He is an enchanting man with a winning smile, and a brilliant speaker with a sense of humour where it is required. He heaped on Israel praise and exaltation in quantities that were almost overwhelming. To judge by Obama’s speeches, Israel is a beautiful woman who was previously unaware of her charms.

If the objective of the visit was to advance the political process to produce a peace agreement with the Palestinians, then I am much more skeptical. The government of Israel as it is presently constituted is not ready for peace.

The climax of Obama’s visit was his appearance at the Binyanei Ha-Uma auditorium in Jerusalem before hundreds of students who had been carefully selected by the US embassy in Israel. Whoever wrote the speech knows the Israeli scene very well, and also knows Hebrew, for Obama does not watch Israeli television, and the talk-show – some also call it a satirical show – “Eretz Nehederet” is certainly unknown to him. If he mentioned it in his speech, and by its Hebrew name at that, that is a sign that the author of the speech is an American who has lived or lives in Israel (for example, a man named Dan Shapiro) or an Israeli who emigrated to the US but maintains ties with Israel.

The first part of the speech was praise for Israel and the Jewish people’s historical tie to the Land of Israel. Even a team of propagandists from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency could not have produced such a fine piece of work. Obama went further than a leader of a global power has ever gone before in defending Israel. Apparently even MK Feiglin of the Likud (“Hitler was a military genius ... he led an exemplary regime” – Feiglin in an interview with Haaretz) expressed satisfaction. Obama went so far as to evoke the Book of Joshua, even if he knew that that Book glorifies genocide. He adopted the term “Jewish and democratic”, though it is certainly clear to him, as the leader of a state of all its citizens, that that is an oxymoron. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair during that part of the speech. What Israel is he talking about? A totally fake one, where there is no racism, no wars of choice, no Occupation. What was evident in abundance, on the other hand, was understanding and acceptance of the caprices of the Israeli government. What won’t he do to ingratiate himself to the Right!

Then came the second part of the speech, in which Obama condemned the Occupation and the settlements and spoke favourably about the Palestinians, self-determination and justice. He criticized the impunity enjoyed by settlers who violently attack Palestinans, he deplored the fact that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in her own state and is forced to watch as her parents are harassed and all their movements are controlled by the Occupation army every day, that Palestinian farmers cannot work their lands and students are deprived of freedom of movement. There can be no reconciling democracy with the Greater Land of Israel, stressed Obama, a point that opponents of the Occupation have been repeating for decades now. Welcome to our reality, President Obama. And after he sketched in broad strokes the main points of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, Obama addressed the importance of peace, which is really the best kind of security the two peoples can have. It was at this point that Obama lost the various Feiglin types in his audience.

At this point I understood what the first part of the speech was about. Clearly the author of the speech is a cunning scoundrel – in the positive sense. The first part of the speech was designed to soften up the opposition and to massage the national-nationalistic ego in order to prepare the listeners for the main message, which boils down to three words: leave the Territories.
Obama’s speech included three words in Hebrew: “atem lo levad” (you are not alone), which were received with thunderous applause. But the truth is that Israel has never been alone; it has always enjoyed the support and assistance of a powerful state. Be that as it may, behind those three words lurks a warning: if you carry on like this, you will end up alone, and even America will not help you.

Even before Obama’s plane landed in Jordan, the television and radio studios were full of settlers and their supporters trying to play down the visit and pour cold water on the speech as “Israel-hating left-wing”. The settler and terrorist Hagai Segal, who to our shame broadcasts from the Knesset channel and writes a column in the highest-circulation newspaper in Israel, wrote that Obama’s plan is a disaster and will not be implemented. The irony is that it is precisely the generous financing and arming that Israel receives from the US that allows Israel to build settlements and Segal to disparage a friend.
When it finally dawns on Obama that even this charm-offensive will not derail Israel from the track of rejecting peace, he will begin to wonder whether the investment of billions of dollars in Israel is not a bottomless pit and whether he should continue to finance a state whose policies he disagrees with.


The Apology

Before he left Israel, President Obama met alone with Prime Minister Netanyahu in a pavillion at the Ben-Gurion airport. Obama called up Turkish Prime Minister Erdođan, passed the phone to Netanyahu and told him: “apologize”. And so it was. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized to the Prime Minister of Turkey for the killing of nine Turkish citizens [1] when IDF soldiers forcibly intercepted the Mavi Marmara.

Their only crime was to oppose the blockade of Gaza. Three years of Israeli refusal to apologize ended with the implementation of (almost) all of Erdođan’s demands: apology, compensation for the families of the victims and an end to the blockade of Gaza. The last demand has not yet been implemented. The blockade has been lightened, but not lifted. So what do we learn from this? That the chance to do what could have been done immediately after the incident and to avoid a deterioration of relations was squandered due to dubious considerations of national honour; instead, it was done three years later, and under duress.

The Israeli refusal opened Erdođan’s eyes, and in an international conference in Vienna he compared Zionism to fascism and racism. And indeed that is the ugly face of Zionism today. But Erdođan’s correct characterization does not remove the stains from his Islamist regime.

There is someone else to whom the government of Israel should also apologize: MK Haneen Zoabi, who was on the ship and became a target for hate and slander. They called her a terrorist. Today it is clear that it was neither she nor the other passengers on the ship who were terrorists, but the personnel of the Israeli army who planned and executed the attack on an unarmed civilian vessel.


The 46th year of the Occupation

This is the 46th year that Jewish and undemocratic Israel celebrates the Festival of Freedom (Passover) while denying the freedom of the Palestinian people. In protest against the Occupation and in solidarity with the Palestinian youth who are confronting the Israeli army of oppression (the IDF), I will now throw some digital stones at a several bodies that comprise the snake’s-head of the monster of oppression and Occupation: a stone at the government of Israel, a stone at the IDF General Staff, a stone at the Supreme Court, a stone at the settler rabbis of the Occupied Territories, a stone at the Civil Administration (i.e. the military government) in the Occupied Territories, a stone at the military courts, a stone at the leaders of the settlers, a stone at the police general staff, a stone at the leadership of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), a stone at the leadership of the Mossad and a stone at the tycoons who have forced the public to take a “haircut”. That’s it – I’m out of stones. Another list of targets will be published soon.


Male chauvinist pork in racist sauce

Five male chauvinists have decided to give the people of Israel a gift for the Festival of Freedom by restoring slavery. The five are judges of the Supreme Court: the Court President, Asher Grunis, Elyakim Rubenstein, Hanan Meltzer, Salim Jubran and Yoram Danziger. They turned down the petition of Yolanda Galutan, a personal attendant from the Philippines, who requested to be paid for overtime under the Law of Hours of Work and Rest. They decided that the law does not apply to foreign personal attendants. This the High Court of Justice? This is the “justice” of cannibals. This is a decision that combines swinish capitalism with racism against foreigners – in this case, foreign women. Our judges are big heroes when facing down the defenceless. Take note: according to the High Court it is permitted to employ female migrant workers (who constitute 80% of the personal caregivers) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for minimum wage and sometimes even less, just because they do not qualify as Jews under the Law of Return. The swinishness is clear, and the racism is double – against both women and against foreigners.

And this too is connected to the Occupation. The hiring of workers under conditions of slavery became a widespread phenomenon in Israel after the Occupation began, when Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, including children, were hired for the toughest jobs of all, for miserly wages, without social benefits.

As a Jew born in Germany, I cannot help but be reminded of the phenomenon of slave-labour during World War II. I can already hear the cries of the hypocrites – “How can you compare?” – to which I reply, not only can I compare, but I must, if I want to learn humanitarian lessons from the Holocaust. Of course the circumstances are not identical, but there are alarming areas of overlap.

Where do you see those areas? – they will ask, and I will reply: the first: coercion. Personal attendants are working under duress. They do not have the right to change employers. The Interior Ministry intimidates us with warnings of the punishment that awaits us if we hire migrant workers, even if they have permits, because the permits bind them to one employer, and they do not have the right to change employers, even if an employer is mistreating them.

The second area of overlap: work around the clock with no social benefits. The third: the workers under duress are not part of the majority ethnic group.
I do not want to wait until Israel is taken over by a fascist dictatorship that will use coerced labour in military factories.

Back to the High court: was this the only possible decision? Certainly not. It was taken by an expanded panel of nine judges, three of whom were women: Court Vice-President Miriam Naor, Edna Arbel and Esther Chayot. All three came to a different conclusion. This issue was determined along gender lines, and on this occasion the female judges joined the more enlightened side.

Previously I spoke of areas of overlap; here is one thick line of separation: the coerced labourers during the Second World War could not appeal to any court for redress. We still have some ways to go before we hit bottom.


Translator’s note

1. One of the nine people killed on the Mavi Marmara, Furkan Dođan, was a US citizen, born in Troy, New York, who was travelling on a US passport. It is not clear whether or not he was also a Turkish citizen by virtue of his birth to parents who were Turkish citizens.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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