THE KIBBITZER

Grumpy Reflections on Israel's Descent into Madness

What do Israelis feel about the collapse of the peace initiative driven by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry?

My take would be that most don’t give a shit, while small minorities on both sides of the political divide are saying “I told you so” and waiting, with some trepidation, to see what happens next.

A comptroller’s report issued on Monday revealed that one-fifth of the Israeli population lives in “food insecurity” – a euphemism for the fact that they don’t have enough money to feed themselves properly. I guess Kerry seems less important when you’re scrounging through garbage cans.

And, of those who aren’t insecure about their food supply, my guess would be that most stopped believing in peace a long time ago. The concept of peace has been so debased through lies, hypocrisy and misuse that it has lost all meaning. In Israel these days, it’s much easier – and more sensible – to believe in leprechauns than it is to believe in peace. continue reading…

The paucity of senior foreign representation at the funeral of Arik Sharon pretty much said it all. Both the man and the Israeli lebensraum cause with which he was associated for most of his life are on the international shit list. Statesmen don’t want to be associated with either.

Even the typically euphemistic eulogies could barely conceal the darkness that lay at the heart of the man and his actions. Words like “complicated,” “complex” and “contentious” only served to highlight the absence of any true and honest account of the personal and national criminality in which Sharon indulged.

Arik Sharon was a warlord; vain, unscrupulous and inherently violent, as warlords are wont to be. He often bashed his (famously bandaged) head against the constraints of decency and justice that an increasingly enfeebled state attempted to impose on him, but he was a lot more successful than most of us would like to admit at molding the society in his own image. continue reading…

2013 was a year in which we saw far too much of Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Miley Cyrus and Barack Obama, the latter looking appropriately shocked at how inept his administration actually is. Visually, therefore, it wasn’t a very good year.

On the other hand, we got to see a lot of Toronto’s bizarre mayor Rob Ford, whose admission that he smoked crack while “in one of my drunken stupors” has got to be one of the most honest political statements of all time. And, of course, there was also the Mandela sign language interpreter who mistook Obama for an angel or a prawn and embarrassed Zuma only slightly less than Zuma embarrassed himself. So, it was not a year without humor.

Locally, we got to see Kerry descending from a plane so often we began to set our clocks by it. We also got to read about Netanyahu refusing to get on a plane – to Mandela’s funeral – which is not something most of us expected to see from any Israeli politician in our lifetimes, never mind a devotee with a special flying bed. Unfortunately, the killjoy judges on Israel’s Supreme Court denied us the sight of Avigdor Lieberman being dragged off in chains, which would have made it a stellar year no matter what else happened. continue reading…

The common wisdom is that, barring an unlikely turnaround in the moribund peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, 2014 will be a year of increasing sanctions and boycotts aimed at Israel.

Next year, commentators are saying, could be the year in which the international community finally grows fed up with Israel and establishes a sanctions regime similar to that applied against South African apartheid in the Seventies and Eighties.

It’s not a far-fetched scenario. Over the past few weeks several organizations and countries have taken clear steps in that direction – the American Studies Association announced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions; the Romanian government said it would not send any more construction workers to Israel; the largest Dutch water company, Vitens, severed ties with its Israeli counterpart Mekorot; Canada’s largest Protestant church announced a boycott of three Israeli companies and a U.S. student group announced plans to boycott a graduation ceremony featuring an address by Israeli businesswoman Sheri Arison. continue reading…

Haaretz, December 9, 2013

In his tribute to Nelson Mandela following the South African statesman’s death, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as “a man of vision, a fighter for freedom who rejected violence.”

Really?

Here’s an extract from Mandela’s statement to the court during his 1964 trial for sabotage and treason: “We were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the Government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.”

Elaborating in the same speech on why he and his comrades had resorted to violence, Mandela said: “I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.” continue reading…

I’m Jewish because my mother was Jewish. She was Jewish because her mother was Jewish. And so on, down the ages – matrilineal descent.

Apart from her penchant for preparing Danish herring at any and every conceivable opportunity, my mother had little that was Jewish about her. She was neither religious not Zionist, the two defining streams of Judaism in the modern day. I don’t think she ever went to shul, except on weddings, bar mitzvahs etc., she took no part in Jewish community activities in Johannesburg, where she lived, and there was little about Israel that attracted her. Even her choice of bridge partners –she fought with them regularly, so there were several –was ecumenical. She spent her last years in a non-Jewish home for the aged.

Barely Jewish as she was, my mother was a paragon of Jewishness when compared to her own mother, of whom I have no Jewish memories whatsoever. Born in Whitechapel, in the poor, east-end of London, she spoke English with what we took to be a Cockney accent and was more a hovering shadow than a concrete presence. She ended up in a home for the aged run by the local Jewish community, cursing Jews and blacks in equal measure, if I remember correctly. continue reading…

One of the highlights of the Geneva process that led to the signing of a nuclear agreement with Iran at the beginning of this week was the delicious irony of watching Bibi Netanyahu sniping from the sidelines.

Bibi, the consummate showman and rabid attention-hogger, doesn’t like being on the sidelines. Especially not when he has all the credentials to be in the thick of things. There they were, the members of the world’s most elite club – the nuclear nations – slapping each other’s backs and being tremendously important, while Bibi, for whom consorting with the rich and famous is like oxygen to normal people, was left at home.

The irony, of course, is that he had every right to be there. Geneva was like a meeting of the club’s selections committee, for which retaining exclusivity is the paramount concern. But Israel, with however many dozen warheads it has stashed away in the basement, is already a de facto member of the club. It has paid its dues. And, unlike Graucho Marx, we’re desperate to be a member of every club that will have us. continue reading…

It seems to be de rigueur these days for liberals to temper their criticism of Israel with an equal volume of praise for the miracle in the desert – what New York Times columnist Tom Friedman calls “keeping several truths in tension in your head at the same time.”

In other words, if you criticize the occupation, the depredations of the settlers or the deliberate policy of stomping on any chance for peace, your critique needs to be balanced by an equal measure of praise for Israel’s vibrant civil society, dynamic democracy and so forth. Like the scales of justice, which must be in perpetual alignment.

Without such harmony, Friedman writes, you are peddling a fantasy about Israel. You are not giving a true picture of what the columnist describes as “one of the most amazing political experiments in modern history.” I’m happy the millions of Palestinians on the receiving end of Israeli rifle butts can now comfort themselves with the knowledge that it’s all a fantasy. continue reading…

Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article IV of the treaty refers to the ‘inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.’

As Roger Cohen pointed out in the New York Times this week, “Many non-nuclear countries, including Germany and Japan and Brazil, have interpreted this as a right to enrich uranium — and they have done so with the agreement of the international community.”

Israel is not a signatory to the treaty and it does not open its facilities to inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Besides which, Israel’s so-called policy of ambiguity regarding its possession of nuclear weapons is farcical. Everyone knows that it has weapons – and that’s exactly what Israel wants. Deterrence through ambiguity.

It seems very strange, then, that Iran is the country under sanction and enormous pressure to come clean on its nuclear capabilities, while Israel not only escapes the flack – it’s the kibitzer in the back seat; urging on the six powers negotiating with Iran to take even tougher measures against the regime of the ayatollahs. Israel, a non-signatory, is demanding of a signatory what the treaty itself doesn’t demand. continue reading…

Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners this week, in keeping with its commitment to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prior to the current round of peace talks.

The release was a grudging and bad-tempered affair, accompanied by a mini-revolt in the cabinet, right-wing protests and a knee-jerk announcement, only hours after the release, that Israel would renew construction in the occupied territories.

The low-key reception that the released prisoners received on their return to the West Bank was also indicative of the general gloom and pessimism on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. The release was no harbinger of peace; everyone understands that it was solely the result of diplomatic expediency, rather than an indication of progress towards an end to the occupation. continue reading…