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Red Rag column: antinuclear lobby in the Knesset? - Shimon Peres` 90th - Emil Gunzweig Award
By: Gideon Spiro
27 June 2013

Antinuclear lobby in the Knesset?

Take note of the date: 18 June 2013. On that day two Members of the Knesset from different factions, Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, and Dov Henin of Hadash, joined hands for the first time to host members and supporters of the Israeli Disarmament Movement for a symposium on the issue of the nuclear weapons. The conference was the initiative of Movement director Sharon Dolev. The conference, which took place in the Knesset’s Science Committee room, opened with speech by Dr. Ira Helfand from the USA, who is a co-president (along with Vladimir Garkavenko of Russia) of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Dr. Helfand’s visit to Israel was also at the initiative of Sharon Dolev. Dr. Helfand is the author of a string of scientific articles on the medical, economic and climatic implications of nuclear war, which have appeared in top-line medical journals such as the British Medical Journal.

Dr. Helfand is a scientist and not a propagandist, and so his speech, accompanied by a presentation, was full of facts, the conclusion of which is clear: these weapons do not bring security, and we must get rid of them as soon as possible before a disaster occurs. Dr. Helfand has the rare talent of delivering a brilliant scientific talk that even those who are not scientists can understand.

Research shows that a nuclear war, even one limited to two nuclear-armed states such as India and Pakistan which will use bombs similar to those that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and we know that nuclear bombs today are much more powerful than those used against Japan), will produce consequences far beyond the warring states and affect all of humanity. The number of immediate victims will be in the tens of millions, and their number will continue to rise due to radiation and diseases. There will be climate changes that will affect the production of food on a global scale. The countries that are today the main food-producers will be unable to produce the required quantities, and many will die of hunger. And research also shows that a state that launches a unilateral nuclear attack will not be safe from the global effects, and will be exposed to radiation, hunger and diseases.

As Dr. Helfand was speaking, MK Moshe Feiglin of the Likud joined the audience. The two had an exchange to which we all listened attentively. Feiglin’s questions and comments represented accepted opinion among the majority of Israeli Jews on the nuclear issue. He divided the world into the “good” and the “bad”. According to him, nuclear weapons in Israel’s hands are on the “good” side, and they deter the “bad” like Iran and North Korea. Let us assume that the division between good and bad is relevant, replied Helfand – but when war breaks out between the good and the bad the nuclear weapons will make no distinction between them. The good and the bad will all suffer to the same degree, so we must create a situation in which no one possesses nuclear weapons. It is in Israel’s interest that the Middle East become a nuclear weapons-free zone. As long as these weapons exist, whether in the hands of the “good” or the “bad”, there is a danger that they will be used. We have no Divine or human promise that crises of the type that have nearly led to nuclear conflict in the past will always conclude with the situation being saved at the last minute. To me, no one who possesses nuclear weapons is “good”. There are only the bad, with varying degrees of evil.

The Knesset Members who hosted the event seemed to have been profoundly affected by Helfand’s talk. Both Tamar and Dov concluded the meeting with what I interpret as virtually a commitment that the time has come to raise the cloak of secrecy and imposed silence and to raise the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons for discussion and supervision, in the Knesset and among the public.

On the occasion of the conference the Israeli Disarmament Movement published an attractively-designed booklet that contains the essential points of Helfand’s speech. I highly recommend reading it to the end. (Those who are interested can e-mail Sharon at Who knows, maybe this is the beginning of a wonderful love story between an anti-nuclear parliamentary lobby and an extra-parliamentary activist group.

A celebration of wealth and power

When a man reaches the age of 90 while still in good health, continent and lucid, that is an occasion for a party among friends and family. If the man is also a head of state, like Shimon Peres, then we can add official greetings from government leaders along with maybe a bouquet of flowers and a brief mention in the media. That’s not what happened in Israel.

President Shimon Peres celebrated his 90th birthday with pomp and circumstance, a massive and public celebration, a festival worthy of the Father of the Nation. His life-story was sanitized. Words of praise sounded fraudulent and the cult of personality they tried to create around him was a little ridiculous. It was just too big for the man. All three television channels in Israel broadcast the entire ceremonial evening of tribute that was held in the Binyanei HaUma auditorium in Jerusalem. Some compared it to the tributes to the leader of North Korea. They are mistaken; a tribute to the leader of North Korea never could have attracted so many former and current heads of state and government from four continents, along with Hollywood stars and the crème de la crème of Israeli society, leaders of government and finance, and the top fashion-models. Rich and beautiful Israel.

All those people who came to pay tribute to Peres praised him to the skies as a man of peace. Not just a man of peace, but the world champion of peace. Who knew. One of the Hollywood actresses said that he is her peace guru. And just who poured tons of peace on Peres’ head? None other than Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the UK, whom British peace activists, including some from his own party, want to put on trial for war-crimes in Iraq, and former US President Bill Clinton, who bombed Serbia for two months with depleted uranium, which contaminated the Danube with radiation.

Peres is a man of peace? Now there’s an innovation! Peres left us with two traps that act as time-bombs: the settlements and the nuclear reactor in Dimona. Peres can be divided into two periods: when he was in the government, in a position of influence, he made war; when he was out of the government he spoke of peace. The Nobel Peace Prize for Peres is an unamusing manifestation of the Norwegian sense of humour.

But when Barbara Streisand sang “Avinu Malkeinu”, tears swelled in my eyes uncontrollably, which astonished me; because it does nothing for me when I hear rabbis and cantors mumbling that same text. Maybe, because I was hearing the words and the tune from a secular woman, I could translate “Our Father, our King, we have sinned before you” into a metaphor for our father Planet Earth, which we are so grievously polluting with our sins. And because she sang so beautifully and her political positions in the US are liberal, I could disregard her admiration for two figures who have caused the greatest harm in my eyes: Golda Meir and Shimon Peres.

The Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award

Emil Grunzweig, a peace activist and Occupation-refuser, was murdered in February 1983 at a Peace Now demonstration calling for the implementation of the recommendations of the Kahan Commission, which had investigated the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The main section in the Commission’s conclusions called for Ariel Sharon to be removed as Defence Minister. An extreme right-wing activist threw a fragmentation grenade towards the demonstrations and killed Emil. I knew Emil from many events we had participated in together, and the woman who was his girlfriend at the time later told me that I was the last person he talked to before he was murdered.

In a laudable decision, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) immortalized Emil’s memory with an annual award in his name, which is awarded every year to those who have distinguished themselves with their activism for human rights. A few days ago the award ceremony was held at the Congregation Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem. The prize-committee decided on three winners: the lawyers Gaby Lasky and Michael Sfard, and the Tag Meir Forum. The choice of Lasky and Sfard was more than fitting. The two of them work tirelessly and with dedication to defend human rights and struggle against the Occupation. Their words of thanks moved me to tears. They spoke inspiringly in condemnation of the Occupation and the apartheid regime that Israel has set up on the Occupied Territories, the theft of Palestinian land, the crime that is the settlements, the detention of children and military courts as an arm of the Occupation. Space constraints prevent me from detailing here all the filth of the Occupation, which entered its 47th year this month (June).

The third winner, the Tag Meir Forum, was unknown to me. The man who accepted the award on behalf of the Forum said it is a consortium of 37 organizations, and he read out their names. It turns out that one of them is a settler organization. In a group-photo of Forum activists with the award, I identified a figure I had seen on television: the settler Eliaz Cohen, a resident of Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Eliaz Cohen is a poet who occasionally appears in the media. Cohen lives under the apartheid regime and he enjoys the privileges that regime accords him as a member of the dominant people. He is a collaborator in the settlement project that the Rome Convention defines as a war-crime.

The poet Cohen is an admirer of the late settler leader Hanan Porat, a religious extremist and settler leader and one of Gush Emunim’s biggest racists, to whom much of the credit for the growth and expansion of the settlements belongs. The poet Cohen saw Porat as a modern-day King David, no less. And now this kindhearted settler-poet is the happy bearer of a stamp of approval from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. An utter absurdity. A spoonful of tar in a barrel of honey. In finance this kind of thing is called the laundering of dirty money. I suggest to ACRI, of which I have been a member for several decades now, that they adopt the policy of the owners of McDonalds not to open branches across the Green Line. [1] Human rights and settlements are diametrical opposites. I hope that someone in the management of ACRI raises the issue for discussion.

Translator’s note

1. Recently McDonalds Israel, the owner and chief executive of which is Omri Padan, a founding member of Peace Now, decided not to open a restaurant in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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