Thank you, Jesus

IT WAS DARK inside Phillips Temple C.M.E. (Colored Methodist Episcopal) Church, except for the light coming from the stage. The church, in the black part of Berkeley, had previously been one of those cavernous old movie theaters. It seated 1,500 people and on this Easter Day, 1972, it looked full. The pianist was alone onstage, pounding out the opening with those glistening, ravishing gospel chords. In a little while we started singing, wordlessly and low – over a hundred of us standing in the lobby that late morning, ready to enter the church’s dark interior. “Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooooh-ooh-oooooooh … ooh-ooh-ooh-ooooh-ooh-oooooooh …” We were three gospel choirs massed as one – two all-black church choirs, and California State University at Hayward’s Afro-American Ensemble, which included a smattering of whites, including me.

The crowd could hear us inside, of course – that was the point, to build up the anticipation, the drama. We made them wait, and then, after the pianist signaled loudly and urgently on the keyboard, we came in, one by one, through the curtains at the back, starting up the aisles in a slow, rhythmic march, singing full out, “We’ve come to pra-a-aise his na-a-a-a-me! We’ve come to pra-a-aise his na-a-a-a-me!” Over and over, until we all made it to the stage and onto the risers. People in the audience were getting up out of their seats, applauding and calling out. Some of those near the aisles turned around to see us, shouting encouragement and reaching out to pat our arms and squeeze our hands as we went by. Choir and congregation together, we filled that great, dark space with glory.

In my mind I still often sing that song, and still replay that scene, 45 years later. I’m an aged Jewish dad living in an Israeli suburb, and on my way to and from work I’m likely to be going crazy in the driver’s seat listening to The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, or the O’Neal Twins, or the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir or whoever. I love all kinds of music but nothing gets in my blood like gospel. White gospel is gorgeous, too, but black gospel is the ultimate. I don’t think I was aware of that when I joined the college choir; R&B had always been my favorite music, I grew up on Motown and it went on from there, and I knew, of course, that all the great soul singers came out of the church, and that gospel was the source of their music. But I didn’t go out of my way to listen to gospel, and I certainly didn’t know what it was like to sing in a gospel choir.

It turned out to be not just a musical experience. I also saw people giving themselves to a freedom, an abandon, a wild ecstasy that I’d never known, and that still has a pull on me. I never joined a cult in the ‘70s, but I couldn’t help feeling some envy for those people who, as the saying went, seemed to be high on life, whose minds had reached a freer, certainly more joyous plateau than mine. I just couldn’t cut the rope; I couldn’t surrender my independence of mind, and didn’t want to. It was the same thing with gospel in this way – I had no desire to become a Christian, I just loved the music, and so I had no problem singing about Jesus because I knew I wasn’t going to “get the spirit” and lose control. But in those churches I saw people losing control, and I wanted that to happen to me, too, or at least something close to it – just without the Jesus part.

Then there was my lifelong affinity for black people. Part love, part adulation, part pity. I’d gone to school with them, played ball with them, fought and laughed with them, worked with them, known some of them very well, but ultimately I’d lived in a white, notably Jewish, America, apart from theirs. In culture and style, they were magic. I’d always wanted to get closer to them – but I’d also wanted to go on being who I was.

IN THE CHURCHES and halls where we sang I saw people screaming and crying, writhing on the ground.  Once, when I was watching a choir from the audience, a song ended as they often did, with the energy cranked up so high that nobody could bear for it to end, so the music just kept going, the singers no longer singing but shouting, the piano player bashing the chords with all his strength, people in the audience falling out – and at one point the men’s section of the choir shuffled off the risers, their feet moving incomprehensibly, inhumanly fast. Their feet were moving something like mine do in my happiest of dreams, the ones where I find myself gliding down a staircase or escalator with a freedom and grace that I have known only in my sleep. There was one white guy among them and he went off the risers self-consciously in little clumping steps in time with the music; there was no way he could do that otherworldly shuffling thing. How could he? He wasn’t raised in a black gospel church.

In our college choir there were six whites and one Japanese-American along with about 20 blacks. The early ‘70s were a time of black militancy, but not at nondescript, vibeless Cal State Hayward. There was no black-white tension on campus, and so none in the Afro-American Ensemble. But then it wasn’t just the campus; it was also the particular black students in the choir: Nearly all had grown up in the church and many were still in it, so they were not likely to be black militants and tended to be very good-natured, friendly people (though by no means goody two-shoes types). I never felt a trace of antagonism from any of them because I was white; the pecking order in the choir was based only on musical talent, with Gregory Green at the top, in a class by himself, then Johnny, then Linda (more about them later), then the other soloists, then everybody else, including me.

What brought us six whites and one Asian to the choir? Two of the girls, as far as I knew, just liked the music and probably saw it as an exciting, exotic experience, which is basically what drew me. One guy was a recent exile from a Christian monastery looking for a new spiritual route. The Japanese-American boy was a piano player and singer, and in with the choir leaders. Then there was the fellow who’d gone clumping off the risers; it seemed the main if not only reason he was there was to look after his wife Linda, who was another story altogether.

A Christian like her husband, she was a soloist in our choir as well as in the Voices of Christ, both of which were directed by Helen Stephens, one of the leading lights in the history of Northern California gospel. Linda was an extraordinary singer, and blind. She sang as simply as could be, right on the beat, not changing or adding a note, no improvisation, just singing it straight every time – and once her singing literally made me shiver, which I can’t remember any other music ever accomplishing. She had a thin soprano that sounded fragile, yet didn’t break. Her voice had purity and innocence – and she killed audiences, black and white. Okay, maybe she got a point or two for blindness, but it can’t be we were all just imagining that tenderness and vulnerability, that beauty, and reacting the way we did because she was blind. The proof was on the Voices of Christ’s second album, “Fill My Cup,” with Linda singing the title song as evocatively as ever, and on record you didn’t know she was blind. I don’t know where she was from, but she sang “white,” musically and verbally, in a completely black musical setting, and there was no problem, no clash of styles at all. Her singing was so pure I think it would have fit in anywhere.

But a couple of years later I heard the Voices of Christ’s third album, “I’m Glad,” again with Linda singing the title song – and it was a disaster. Suddenly she was trying to sing black. She was playing around with the melody, she put a bit of the South into her pronunciation, she was trying to wail, she threw in “yes he did” a few times – and it was so inauthentic. She was trying to give the impression of being spontaneous, of surrendering to the freedom of the black way of singing – and every trill and every “yes he did” sounded rehearsed. Was this her idea? I can’t believe it was Mrs. Stephens’ idea; she was too serious, she had no tolerance for gimmicks and nonsense. But for whatever reason, Linda, the most real singer you could ever hear, started singing like an imitation black person. She couldn’t be herself, couldn’t stay herself, in that surrounding. Not even Linda.

NEITHER COULD TIM, the Japanese-American boy. He’d be rehearsing his solo with the choir and start wailing “oh lawd,” and it was just wrong. He’d get into the song and start carrying on at the microphone like Mick Jagger or somebody, and Mrs. Stephens would have to stop him – gospel singers, certainly hers, sang it very upright and dignified.

The ex-monk, whose name I forget, was about the squarest young man in the San Francisco Bay Area of the early ‘70s – short hair, straight-legged pants, a placid smile always on his plain-featured face, a perpetually pleasant, earnest man in his 30s starting over, trying to find his way, and he’d come looking in the Afro-American Ensemble. At first he tried to convert me to Christianity – he’d tell me what was coming over him, how in all those years as a monk he’d had to keep his vow of silence, and now he felt like a baby learning to talk, he was becoming a whole new person, a Christian in a way he’d never been before,  he was discovering joy. After awhile, though, he changed. He’d attached himself to some of the young black people in the choir, and it turns out they were very cynical about religion, the church and its leaders – and the ex-monk adopted their attitudes and language. Now he no longer believed in Jesus or any other God. He denigrated the black preachers as phonies or “fags.” He’d begun to curse. One day he told me with that glowing smile of his that “nobody loves their children like a black man.” All right. So the ex-monk bit the dust, too – like me, he was drawn to this world because of its unsurpassed beauty and freedom, but ultimately he had to erase himself, or felt he did, to become a part of it.

Where was I in all this? I was one of the hoi polloi, a baritone with a pretty good voice, but that was it. My moment of glory came when Mrs. Stephens asked me to sing a couple of bars to see if I was getting it right, and I sang, and one of the black girls said, “Ooh, you’ve got a pretty voice.” Once I somehow got the crazy idea to suggest to Gregory Green, in passing, that I’d like to do a solo some time, maybe “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the “Negro national anthem.” We were standing in a school rest room and as I recall, he smiled and said, “Yeah, that’d be great,” and headed out the door.

As for the spiritual or emotional side of gospel singing, I have to admit I was very pleased when, during the time he was trying to convert me, the ex-monk said he could see from the expression on my face that I was being carried away up there in the choir, and so why not take one more step and accept Christ? A couple of my friends who came to one of the concerts said the same thing – not about accepting Christ, but about the visible effect the music was having on me while I sang. All right, so I wasn’t Sam Cooke, but I wasn’t a completely hopeless, stiff-assed white boy, either; I did have at least a little bit of soul.

OUR COLLEGE CHOIR wasn’t as good as the Voices of Christ, who had about twice as many singers as we did (and who, as far as I’m concerned, were even better than the Southern California Community Choir, which was the headliner at that Easter concert I described, and was chosen by Aretha Franklin as the choir for her legendary “Amazing Grace” album, and was led by the premier gospel music figure of his generation, Rev. James Cleveland). But we were real good. We sang at churches around the Bay Area, and we shook those congregations, some of them white, some integrated. We lifted them like they weren’t used to being lifted. “You can come back any time you want,” a church leader said at the end of our concert, and the congregation laughed because it was such an understatement. We’d lit a fire in that place.

Our closing number was “Witness for My Lord,” with Johnny, a talented all-around musician and the unofficial class president, singing lead. By the end of the song, it was like we were flying: “My soul is a witness … my soul is a witness … my soul is a witness for my Lo-o-o-o-o-o-rd!” We had several soloists who were every bit as good as most R&B singers you’d hear on the radio. But Gregory Green was on a different level entirely. I don’t know if he wrote and arranged songs, and even if he did I’m sure he wasn’t as good at it as Stevie Wonder – but he was a better singer and a better pianist than Stevie Wonder. He sang baritone and tenor with equal genius, and did a brilliant falsetto, too. Power, grace, warmth, verve that reached ecstatic dimensions – he was the best singer I’ve ever heard, certainly up close.

Once we sang at Cal State Hayward’s main auditorium, which seated several hundred, and Gregory was at the piano, playing and singing “The Name of Jesus,” and the microphone went out. He just carried on singing without it – and it was like you could see his vibrato rolling out into the audience. He didn’t look like a star – thin and plain-featured with short-cropped hair and a hint of a mustache. He didn’t act like one, either, being awfully well-behaved and friendly. But around Mrs. Stephens he had this naughtiness about him – he’d obviously grown up as the golden boy of the church choir, adored by all the matrons, and it left its mark on him. He felt at home in gospel music. I have no idea what happened to Gregory. I’ve checked from time to time, and as far as I know he didn’t become a professional gospel or R&B singer; I like to think that whatever day job he held in the decades after college, he went on making magic in a church somewhere.

AS FOR ME, things would take a bad turn. The only reason I was going to college was to please my father, and one day I went to campus high on marijuana, the first time I’d ever done that, and, being under the influence, it became so palpable to me how much I hated being there, and I took myself to the administration building and dropped out of Cal State Hayward. I was miserable, lost, loveless, balled up inside. I started dropping in and out of college and working menial jobs, trying my hand at acting, getting nowhere. I’d studied journalism and done some freelance articles in the past, and one day I saw a notice that gave me an idea for one. Rev. Milton Perry, whom I’d never heard of, was coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center for a revival meeting – with special guest Rev. James Cleveland. I would go there as a writer, but at the same time I was tempted by the possibility that I would end up – to a limited, safe extent – being a participant, too.

On revival night in the sterile, harshly-lit conference room, there weren’t more than 20 people in the audience, all of them black. Cleveland opened the meeting with a song, which he prefaced by telling his listeners, “It’s not about Milton Perry, it’s not about James Cleveland, it’s about giving praise to Jesus.” The biggest name in gospel music showed up to sing and preach humility to an audience of 20 people.

Then Perry started preaching and singing in front of an instrumental trio, and soon the spirit started moving in the audience. A stiff, seemingly repressed black woman of about 40 sat by herself in a prim blue suit, looking like Shirley Chisholm or a Salvation Army lady. She didn’t move a muscle for the first 15 minutes or so – and then, in an instant, as the chords of the organ rose, she lost her mind, exploding out of her seat, shrieking like she was being slaughtered, convulsing violently and helplessly. It took a good while for her to calm down, with the help of a couple of other believers who’d gotten down on the floor with her to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. Afterward, she didn’t look so stiff or repressed anymore. She looked like she’d had history’s greatest orgasm, which in a way might have been what she’d had.

PERRY’S ASSISTANT TOOK over at the podium, telling the audience that at the end of the night the reverend would be calling people up who were suffering, and he’d heal them. “That young man in the blue shirt – I know you’ve had your eye on him, Reverend,” the assistant said. He was talking about me. Why did he single me out? I don’t think it had anything to do with my being white, it was the misery I’m sure I was projecting, one brought to the surface by all the shedding of misery and rising of joy in the room.

In a little while, the sermon and songs over, people started lining up to get healed. There weren’t many of us, and I’d been chosen especially for this  gift, plus I was the only white person there, so what was I going to do – say, “No, that’s all right, I’m fine, you just go ahead without me”? It would be such an affront, such a betrayal of our instant fellowship, and such a mood-killer – I couldn’t do it.  So I waited my turn. Perry was telling people one after another that they had agonizing pain in their legs, they had a debilitating intestinal disease, they were suffering terrible guilt and sorrow, and one by one they nodded their heads yes, many of the women crying. Then Perry told each one that they had to give their lives to Jesus, and were they ready to do that? And when they nodded or cried that they were, he suddenly smacked his palm on their forehead, and they fell to the ground, writhing, whimpering, wailing.

Now it was my turn. “Go on up there,” those around me urged. With everyone’s eyes on me, I stood before Reverend Perry – and felt absolutely nothing. I think he must have sensed that because he looked a little puzzled – he couldn’t get a line on me, couldn’t get a vibe about any ailing part of my body, which was an accurate reading because nothing was wrong with me physically, I was just visibly miserable and lost. So he worked with that. “You’re searching for your path, you haven’t found it. You have a great work ahead of you – but you have to make a very strong decision for Christ,” he told me. And I nodded my head. Then he slapped his palm on my forehead – and what was I going to do? I fell to the floor and started writhing and kicking my legs; maybe I made some noise, I don’t remember. After a decent amount of time, two or three minutes, I stopped kicking, lay there until they started helping me up and congratulating me on letting Jesus into my life. I thanked them, tried to look beatific, sat around until it was over, shook some hands and left.

That’s one journalistic article I sure as shit never wrote. And it was the last time I toyed with the flame of spiritual surrender, because I really do not want that fire to consume me, so who was I trying to fool?

SOME YEARS LATER I started to settle down – gave up acting, became a journalist, a supposedly serious person. I even became less miserable. But gospel music still drove me crazy. In the early ‘80s I went to a concert at the Greek Theater to hear the Walter Hawkins Singers and Al Green, who was then singing strictly gospel. Once again I was by myself, this time not the only white person in the crowd, but one of the very, very few. It was a midweek night, so the adult, workaday audience was pretty low-key. Walter Hawkins couldn’t rouse them, and Al Green hardly tried – until the last couple of songs. Al Green is a volcano, and when he finally erupted, I found myself jumping up out of my seat and shouting “yeah!” and “all right!” with everybody else. No playacting, no pretending to be anyone but who I was, no faking of unruly passion. Maybe that’s all the spiritual experience I was ever really looking for.

The last time I heard gospel music in person was before Christmas in 2005, in Israel, on the Jordan River near the Sea of Galilee at a place called Yardenit, where hundreds of thousands of Christians go every year to get baptized. I went there to write a story about the scene, but you didn’t have to have a special attraction to religious ecstasy to be affected by the spirit at that place. Congregations from Mississippi, New Jersey, India, Colombia and elsewhere were wearing white robes, waiting their turn to wade in and be reborn. As the members of a Toronto church, a thoroughly integrated procession of blacks and whites, entered the water in silence, the church’s trio of black gospel singers sang them on their way. It was sunset, and the hundreds of people sitting on benches waiting to go in stopped what they were doing and listened or sang along. I started singing too, out loud and free:

Precious Jesus, sweet rose of Sharon,

There’s peace and triumph when we speak His name.

Loving savior, my sunshine in the midnight,

My guiding star that’s shining all the day.

Since then, the only gospel music I hear is on recordings, usually when I’m driving alone. I’m standing up on the risers with the choir. The piano and organ sound the opening chords and they go right through you. In the darkness the audience is ready, they want it. The choir director looks at me, and I start making my way down through the rows of singers, who are shouting words of encouragement at me. I reach the stage and walk up to the microphone. The crowd is fired up. It’s Larry Derfner, the white phenomenon of black gospel music. They love me, they accept me as one of them. And we sound like heaven.

 

 

A litmus test of Israel’s character

If you don’t live in Israel, you don’t have the right to criticize.

If you live in Israel but don’t serve in the Israeli army, you don’t have the right to criticize.

You mustn’t shut down Israeli speakers – don’t you believe in freedom of speech?

You mustn’t boycott Israel – instead, come engage with us, come have a dialogue with us.

These admonitions have been repeated by spokesmen for Israel, professional and amateur, for decades. And they’ve been hugely successful in shutting up would-be critics of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

But just hold those Israeli “principles” up against the treatment that Netanyahu and his henchmen, or in this case henchwomen, gave Breaking the Silence earlier this week. Netanyahu refused to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel when the latter insisted on also meeting with the anti-occupation soldiers’ NGO (and with the anti-occupation human rights NGO B’Tselem). Then the Likud deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said on Army Radio that Breaking the Silence “is an enemy that harms Israel. Unequivocally.” Then Likud Culture Minister Miri Regev asked the mayor of Haifa to shut down a gathering with Breaking the Silence at a local art gallery.

This is just the latest in the full-court harassment of Breaking the Silence by the government, which is trying to hound it out of the Knesset, the army, the schools, the community centers – to hound it out of existence, with law after regulation after directive.

Breaking the Silence is an organization that was started by Israeli reserve soldiers and has taken testimony from over 1,000 IDF combat troops about the abuse they’ve seen the army deal out to the Palestinians.

Do they live in Israel?

Do they serve in the Israeli army?

Are they Israeli speakers?

Yes, yes and yes, and the Israeli government, followed obediently by the mainstream media and most of the Jewish public, hates Breaking the Silence like it hates no other anti-occupation movement.

It hates them not just because they go after the country’s holy of holies, the army, but because they do it with unimpeachable credibility. They’re telling what they saw with their own eyes and did with their own hands. They’ve proven their patriotism – they’ve risked their lives for Israel. They have no reason to lie. And there are more than 1,000 of them.

Breaking the Silence provides a litmus test of Israel’s character, a test this country has failed abjectly. If Israel can’t listen to the truth from Breaking the Silence, it can’t listen to the truth from anybody – yet not only can’t Israel listen to Breaking the Silence, it’s Breaking the Silence that drives Israel the craziest.

Nope, it doesn’t matter if you live in Israel, if you serve in the army or even if you’ve been a combat soldier for the occupation – if you level serious moral criticism at the way this country treats Palestinians, you are a traitor and an enemy in this country’s eyes. In fact, if you’re a combat soldier and you speak out against the occupation, you’re the biggest traitor, worse than the Diaspora Jewish liberals and our goyishe “friends.”

You mustn’t boycott Israel – instead, come and engage with us, come have a dialogue with us. Really? Look how Israel treats its own fighting men and women who do engage and seek a dialogue with it. So take a lesson – go ahead and boycott. If Israel calls you a traitor or an enemy, you’ll be in good company, in fact the best.

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Breaking the Silence website


 



 

 

 

Elor Azaria, the ‘Hebron shooter,’ got a fair sentence

Netanyahu government, 2015
Netanyahu government, May 19, 2015 (GPO/Avi Ohayon)

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders are imprisoned for their role in oppressing Palestinians, when Israel stops treating Palestinians as inferior beings, then it will be fair to sentence Elor Azaria, the “Hebron shooter,” to several years in prison. But since Netanyahu and the others are not only free but all-powerful, and since Israel shows no inclination to end the Palestinians’ systematic abuse and killing, the 18-month sentence Azaria got on Tuesday was the right one.

Everybody else on the left evidently thinks he got off way, way too easy for executing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif last March 24 as al-Sharif, who had stabbed an Israeli soldier with whom Azaria served, was lying all but motionless on the ground, having been shot several times by soldiers 11 minutes before. It sends the message that it’s okay to kill helpless Palestinians, and the injustice of it just screams when compared to the multi-year sentences Palestinian teenagers get for throwing stones, goes the left’s consensus argument.

But spending 18 months in prison, on top of nearly a year under arrest, in custody and on trial in a military court, is nothing any Israeli soldier wants to go through. So the 18-month sentence is clearly a deterrent on other soldiers who might get the idea of dispatching a Palestinian attacker who’s no longer a threat.

Furthermore, if Azaria were to get 18 years in prison instead of 18 months, would that make the sentences of Palestinian stone-throwers, or Palestinians period, any fairer? Should this soldier, who was 19 when he killed the 21-year-old al-Sharif, be made to pay for the legal tyranny imposed on Palestinians for the last 50 years – when nobody else is?

The reactions of Israeli politicians and the public to this affair show that Azaria, in executing al-Sharif, did not break the true, de facto law of the land, even while violating the official, written one. He was a soldier doing what his society considered legitimate, if not heroic, whatever the law on the books said.

So it would be hypocritical to make him serve several years in prison, as the left is demanding. It would also be cruel; a 19-year-old conscript should not have his life blighted like that when no other Israeli is paying the price of the occupation, and millions are benefiting from it in one way or another.

And one very important thing that needs to be remembered but that so many of my fellow leftists are forgetting is that Azaria didn’t commit murder. He didn’t kill an innocent Palestinian bystander, either. He was no Baruch Goldstein.

He didn’t plan to kill anybody. He didn’t even plan to go to Hebron; he was sent there, and when he arrived he learned that a Palestinian lying wounded on the ground had stabbed an Israeli soldier whom he knew, he reasoned that “this terrorist was alive, and he needs to die,” and he fired the fatal shot.

That’s a wrongful killing, obviously, that’s a very serious crime – but it’s not murder.

I don’t have any sympathy for Azaria as a person – from his previous Facebook postings, along with his warm words for Kach leader Baruch Marzel, he strikes me as a run-of-the-mill young Israeli fascist. But you don’t give people time in jail for their political beliefs.

The most important thing that the sentencing of Azaria needed to do was deter other Israeli soldiers from following his example, and 18 months did it. Beyond that, I cannot see singling him out for “blind” justice when the occupation’s real killers, beginning with Netanyahu but hardly ending with him, get to be the kings and queens of Israel.

 

How the settlers win, how the peace camp loses: Lessons from Amona

Settlers vs. Israeli security forces, Amona 2006.
Female settler goes up against Israeli security forces in West Bank settlement outpost of Amona, February 1, 2006. Photo: AP/Oded Balilty

That mob of teenage settlers in Amona throwing rocks and bleach at the police on Wednesday was another illustration, another reminder of why tyranny has triumphed in Israel and liberalism is powerless: because the tyrants – the settlers and their supporters – are willing to fight, and we liberals aren’t.

That’s the story of the settler movement from the beginning – they gather their forces to break the law, to raise hell, to scream and cry and curse, to physically assault Israeli police and soldiers, to make their removal so arduous and to use their “agony” as emotional blackmail against Israeli Jews and their leaders, until they get their way. Amona, built illegally on private Palestinian-owned land according to one Israeli High Court of Justice ruling after another, took a decade to evacuate. And in return for their so-called pain and sacrifices, the settlers will get reimbursed by the Netanyahu government many, many, many times over.

They make me sick, these brainwashed fascists who’ve taken over the country – but I can’t help but envy them. If the peace camp had shown a fraction of their daring, of their commitment, maybe we could have given the occupation a fight. If we had mobilized crowds to physically block settlement construction, if we’d been willing to go to jail, to fight the cops and soldiers, to fight the settlers, maybe the Right wouldn’t have rolled over this country like it has. Even if we would have lost – and who knows if we would have? – at least we would have put up a struggle.

But we haven’t. With no more than a handful of exceptions, the Jewish Left in Israel doesn’t fight, doesn’t go to jail, doesn’t break the law, doesn’t disturb the peace in any way. Even if we could get hundreds of thousands of people into the street today (which is a joke), it wouldn’t make any impression on Netanyahu and the Right – we’ll go home peacefully and orderly, and the occupation regime will go on with its work without missing a beat. They face no resistance.

I don’t mean to preach – I’m no braver than anyone else. I’ve never been to jail, never gotten dragged away by cops, never been in a scuffle with soldiers or settlers, and the thought of doing it doesn’t thrill me at all. But I don’t believe that we of the peace camp are going to be able to overthrow this 50-year-long tyranny with opeds in Haaretz alone, or even in the New York Times as well, or even opeds plus petitions and peace rallies. The occupation is a vast, powerful, violent, poisonous force, and for us in the opposition to think we can bring it down without making any personal sacrifice, without paying any personal price, is a lie we tell ourselves to ease our consciences, so we don’t have to face the truth that as dissident movements in history go, the Israeli Jewish Left has been notable for its gentility and timidity.

As long as that doesn’t change, Israel isn’t going to, either.

___________________________________

Further reading: 

Amona evacuation (Haaretz)

 

Netanyahu replays one of his oldies: The Mexican peril

Caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu
Caricature by DonkeyHotey.

Bibi Netanyahu has a thing about Mexicans. Given his dual American Republican-Israeli Likudnik mentality, he seems to identify them with the Arabs (“demographic problem”) and African refugees (“infiltrators”), the hordes clamoring outside the gates of the villa.

His tweet on Saturday in praise of Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S.- Mexican border (“President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”) was only the latest example. There are two other, much more in-depth, detailed instances of Netanyahu fear-mongering to Americans about the Mexican peril.

In his 1993 magnum opus, “A Place Among the Nations – Israel and the World,” which was first published in English, he writes about what he calls the “Palestinian Principle.” He describes it as the idea that any ethnic minority has a right to carve out its own state on the land where it resides, regardless of the effect on the established surrounding state, and even if another state already exists where that ethnic minority is the majority. (At the time, Netanyahu was fighting against the Palestinian statehood campaign with the argument that “Jordan is Palestine.”)

After depicting the chaos that would ensue if the “Palestinian Principle” were applied in Europe, Africa and Asia, he writes on page 150:

“The United States is not exempt from this potential nightmare. In a decade or two the southwestern region of America is likely to be predominantly Hispanic, mainly as a result of continuous emigration from Mexico. It is not inconceivable that in this community champions of the Palestinian Principle could emerge. These would demand not merely equality before the law, or naturalization, or even Spanish as a first language. Instead, they would say that since they form a local majority in the territory (which was forcibly taken from Mexico in the war of 1848), they deserve a state of their own. …

“[This scenario] may sound farfetched today. But it will not necessarily appear that way tomorrow, especially if the Palestinian Principle is allowed to continue to spread, which it surely will if a second Palestinian state comes into being.”

And that was only the mild, written version of Netanyahu evoking the Montezuman threat facing Americans to win their solidarity against the Mohammedan threat facing Israel. In person nine years later, he would be more blatant in his pandering.

In April 2002 he spoke to a Dallas audience at an event sponsored by the National Center for Policy Analysis. Then-Washington Post columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote, “The idea was to get Americans to feel Israel’s pain. But, as a Mexican American in the audience, all I felt was nauseated.” Navarrette continued:

“When asked for a historical overview of Middle East turmoil, Netanyahu mentioned how Jews migrated back to the Holy Land in the early years of the 20th century, set up farms and businesses and turned a desert into a desirable destination. So desirable that soon there were hordes of Palestinians trying to get in and enjoy the fruits of Israeli labor. Then, Netanyahu turned to the crowd and offered this bit of sarcasm: ‘Now, you here in Texas wouldn’t know anything about this phenomenon.’  …

“Asked about why Israel is reluctant to allow Palestinians living in refugee camps to enter into Israeli society, Netanyahu mentioned security concerns but also said that a mass migration would ‘flood’ Israel. ‘You know about this,’ he said. ‘This is the reason you have an INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service].’”

The Dallas crowd, however, was not impressed. Navarrette:

“The good news is that, judging from the audience’s reaction, Bibi made a boo-boo. The ethnic pitch got no applause, only uncomfortable looks and nervous laughter.”

So this is what Netanyahu thinks of Mexicans – about the same as what he thinks of Arabs and Africans. He’s an Israeli-American, multi-directional xenophobe. A good old-fashioned white man. Expect many more admiring tweets to go flying back and forth between Senor Bibi and El Jefe Donald as they go riding out into the sunset together.

The Azaria verdict: A reminder of why Israel is worth fighting for

Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade
Gay Pride Parade, June 8, 2012, in Gan Meir park, Tel Aviv. Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

When the verdict on Elor Azaria started coming in on Wednesday, I had a feeling I didn’t recognize at first because it’s become so rare in me: national pride. I was proud that in my country, a panel of army judges convicted this soldier of executing a gravely wounded Palestinian prisoner who had stabbed a soldier in Hebron – convicted him despite awesome pressure from the political powers that be, from the vicious right-wing street, from Azaria’s loudly outspoken family, and from the public at large, two thirds of whom, according to a reputable poll, believed Azaria had been justified in killing the Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, last March.

In fact, this pride in Israel that was engendered by the verdict – one that demolished every ridiculous argument raised in Azaria’s defense – led me to think of other things about Israel that make me proud:

The justice system. It’s independent (though not, by definition, the military justice system), which takes some doing in the present political climate. It may even end up bringing Netanyahu down for corruption;

The military-intelligence brass. It’s consistently more sober and liberal than the politicians and public, which is rare for a military-intelligence brass in any country. If it wasn’t for them, Netanyahu and his henchman of the time, Ehud Barak, would have bombed Iran early in this decade;

IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot. He was the country’s leading voice of reason and decency throughout the recent “lone wolf intifada,” and is now a marked man for bucking the tide on Azaria. He’s easily Israel’s best leader.

The education system, especially the universities. It’s absolutely chock full of liberals and leftists.

On occasion, the media. One occasion was certainly the reporting of the Azaria verdict. On Channel 2, which dominates TV news, all the journalists – especially superhawk military affairs correspondent Roni Daniel – took a very simple line: Justice has been done.

Good guys vs. bad guys

What am I saying? First I’ll explain what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that all this good stuff balances out the bad stuff, because it doesn’t. Israel is still dominated by the likes of Netanyahu, the Likud, the even further right-wing parties, the settlers and the right-wing “street,” such as the classically fascist mob that massed outside the military court in Tel Aviv, baying for Eisenkot’s blood (and, fittingly, waving Trump banners). The bad guys set the direction for this country, and have for nearly all of the last generation.

I’m not saying, either, that the court system, the military-intelligence brass, Eisenkot, the education system and the media are good enough – far, far from it. The court system has allowed the occupation to thrive; the military-intelligence establishment, led now by Eisenkot, enforce it, and are also full partners with the government in the periodic attacks on Lebanon and Syria; the public schools in general are a key player in the nationalistic indoctrination of the country’s youth; and the popular media are indispensable in continually gearing the country up for war.

And even in the Azaria verdict – you can’t avoid asking whether he would have been arrested, indicted and convicted if his shooting of Sharif hadn’t been caught on video by a Palestinian worker for B’Tselem, and if that video hadn’t gone viral. Further, the case against him was so strong – he killed Sharif 11 minutes after the latter had been shot several times and was laid out on the ground, all but motionless; commanders and officers at the scene testified against him. Would Azaria have been convicted if the evidence wasn’t stacked so overwhelmingly against him?

So, no, the verdict is not cause for a parade, and the court system, Eisenkot, the universities and the rest do not cancel out the occupation, the wars of aggression, the systematic discrimination against Israeli Arabs and persecution of African refugees, and the general spirit of belligerent Jewish triumphalism that dominates the country.

The decent minority

What I’m saying, though, is that these institutions and the military chief do, at least, stand in opposition to the reigning national spirit. And there are millions of Israelis who stand with them.

We are clearly the minority in this country. And the majority, for its part, keeps gaining political power, especially as the parliamentary “opposition,” led by Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog, cozies up to public opinion. Also, we of the minority are not anywhere near militant enough. The absence of any spontaneous demonstration in support of the Azaria verdict, in support of Eisenkot and in opposition to the rabid right is no accident; we’re afraid of being attacked by the Brown Shirt types who ran wild in Tel Aviv.

So Israel’s glass is not half full and half empty; it’s mainly empty. But not completely. There is still a substantial minority of the population, along with powerful institutions that, while badly lacking what it takes to change the country’s direction, is still a legitimate source of pride. There is a substantial part of Israel that is decent. The political leadership and most of the public are headed down the slope of ultra-nationalism, but a big part of the Israeli body politic really is not going for it. The Azaria verdict was a reminder that they exist, too.

We who want to change this country’s direction must never forget the existence of this decent Israel. It’s what makes the country’s steady, steep moral decline a tragedy – if there was nothing good about this place, the fact that it’s going to hell wouldn’t be such a great loss. But there is something good about Israel – and that’s what makes it worth fighting for. The Azaria verdict is a reminder that there is something here worth saving.

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Further reading:

Azaria verdict – Haaretz 

Public opinion on Azaria – Peace Index

Netanyahu corruption case – Haaretz

 

Why Israel’s peace camp must hit the streets against Trump  

Post-election anti-Trump rally, NYC.
Post-election rally against Trump, New York City, November 12, 2016. Photo: mathiaswasik

The high politics of America is the whole world’s business. When a racist, conspiracy-theorizing sociopath like Donald Trump gets elected U.S. president, that’s the whole world’s urgent business – including Israel’s. And when this strange, menacing figure also says he wants settlements to “keep moving forward,” and that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” when he’s glorified by the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis and inspires an upsurge in hate crimes against Jews and Muslims,  among others, then his rise to power should be urgent enough business to send the Israeli peace camp into the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The world thinks Israel is delighted with Trump’s victory. Bibi Netanyahu is delighted, Sheldon Adelson is delighted, Israel Hayom is delighted, Naftali Bennett is beside himself; even Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid of the “opposition” sound pleased. Among Israeli political leaders, Meretz’s Zehava Galon, who said after Trump’s election that he’d won on “fear and hatred” and given “legitimacy” to “hate groups,” has been a voice in the wilderness.

But obviously she’s not alone; millions of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, are sickened, horrified and now enraged by Trump’s election. Why don’t we show it in the streets, and in public statements signed by masses of people? Where are Meretz, Peace Now, the Joint List, the progressive wing of Labor, the NGOs, the liberal youth movements, the culture heroes?

Across the United States, as the New York Times put it, “a national resistance among liberal activists is rising in response to the election of Trump in a way not seen in modern presidential history.” Yet there have also been anti-Trump protests in London, Manila, Berlin and Mexico City. Based on what he’s said about Israel and the Middle East, on the politics of the Republican Party, on his debt to Adelson, on his Islamophobia and on his natural affinity for white bullies like Netanyahu, Trump’s entry to the White House stands to affect Israel more than it will most other countries outside the United States.

So this is the Israeli peace camp’s fight, too.

The protests, which in the U.S. are building up to a show of strength on Inauguration Day, January 20, are of course not going to keep Trump out of the White House. Despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a growing margin expected to reach upwards of 2 million votes, he won the electoral vote and has the legal right to assume the presidency.

Instead, the protests are first a simple outpouring of emotion, a natural cry of “no” to everything Trump is and stands for, and second a gearing up of the opposition for the political efforts ahead to stop a President Trump from trying to realize any of his monstrous visions.

For the Israeli peace camp, joining the anti-Trump movement would have two additional, specifically Israeli purposes. One, since Netanyahu, the Israeli right and the right-lite of Herzog and Lapid have applauded the U.S. president-elect, it would be a mass statement of “not in my name.”

Two, it would send an important message of solidarity to the Democrats who want the United States to stop enabling the occupation and start using its  power to end it. As Mitchell Plitnick wrote in Haaretz the day after the election, “This will be one of the issues party activists will try to advance to bring the Democratic party into line with its stated ideals, and, thereby, make it a party that can promise and deliver real change.” The Democratic party is almost certainly moving left; the Israeli peace camp is a natural ally of that process, and should show it.

Millions of Jews and Arabs in Israel feel themselves, their families, their country, their world and its future to be in danger ever since the night of November 8. We’re not leaving this place; even those who were thinking about it can see there’s nowhere left to go. All we can do anymore is fight. And we will not be alone.

Originally published as “Israel’s squalid embrace of Trump: Not in my name” on Haaretz.com, November 14, 2016.

Hitler was elected, too — Down with Trump

Trump at Conservative Political Action Conference, 2011. Photo: Gage Skidmore
Trump at Conservative Political Action Conference, 2011. Photo: Gage Skidmore

There need to be millions of Americans in the streets shouting “Not my president” and more. “Impeach Trump,” “Down with Trump,” “Fuck Trump,” whatever works. There can be no recognition of his leadership. He has the legal right to be president, he doesn’t have the moral right to show his face in public. He’s an evil creature, personally and politically, and there can be no reconciliation with evil.

His presidency, his ability to act as president, has to be fought by every non-violent means that can only be imagined. Mass protests, general strikes, shut-downs of college campuses and any other public institutions that can be shut down – all this should be on the agenda (and at least with college campuses, I’m pretty sure it will be).

Because of who he is and what he stands for, Trump would be illegitimate as president even if he won 100% of the vote. But the fact is that most Americans rejected him and a plurality of them voted for Hillary Clinton. As of this writing, she’s leading him in the popular vote by about 200,000. And the legendary Nate Silver (who this time around got it much less wrong, at least, than the other election-data analysts) says that once all the votes are counted, Hillary “should eventually win the popular vote by 1 to 2 percentage points, and perhaps somewhere on the order of 1.5 million to 2 million votes …”

1.5 million to 2 million votes. That would be three to four times as big a margin as Al Gore had over George W. Bush in 2000. This is mind-boggling. The miserable U.S. electoral vote system says Trump gets to be president, but he’s an imposter. Many more Americans voted for Hillary than for him, and most of those Hillary-voters, it’s safe to assume, are sickened and terrified by him. A mandate to lead? He has a mandate to shrivel up and disappear.

After the 2000 election I, like probably most Democrats, thought the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court robbed Gore of the presidency. But once Gore conceded, Democrats from top to bottom very grudgingly but decisively accepted Bush as the new president. Democrats have accepted the legitimacy of every Republican president-elect, no matter how much they disliked him.

This, however, is different, and it’s not because of Hillary winning the popular vote. It’s because of Trump. He is way, way, way beyond the pale, like no big-party American presidential candidate, let alone winning candidate, ever was. He is the worst major contender for power in a genuinely democratic country since Hitler in 1932 – and if you think that’s an exaggeration, name somebody worse. And now this individual is headed into the White House.

That’s his legal right. His 60 million opponents, meanwhile, have the legal right to try to impeach him, to go in masses into America’s streets and shout their fury and absolutely justified hatred of the president-elect at the top of their lungs, to shut down as much of America as they can shut down, to paralyze Trump’s ability to govern – and beyond their legal right, they have the democratic right to civil disobedience, to break the law non-violently in this cause.

Let it happen in the streets, and let it happen in the Senate, the House of Representatives and every level of U.S. government.

Everyone’s asking, What will the new face of the Democratic Party be? Let it be this.

Remember Trump’s multi-year campaign to wrest the presidency from Obama on the racist lie that he was born in Africa? Remember the alt-right’s monstrous conspiracy theories and verbal violence against Obama from the time he became a candidate for president – and against Hillary Clinton for the last 20 years? We are no less enraged today; the difference is that we don’t need conspiracy theories, we have the truth. It is time to pour out our wrath.

 

 

 

Israeli chutzpah over the Temple Mount, Western Wall

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Photo: Kristoffer Trolle

You would think from the Israeli reactions (even, surprisingly, from Haaretz) that the title of the UNESCO resolution passed on Thursday was, “There Was Never Any Jewish Temple In the First Place.” Haaretz’s headline said the agency was guilty of “nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount.” Isaac Herzog said UNESCO was “completely invent[ing] the fantasy that the Western Wall and Temple Mount have no connection to the Jewish people.” You can imagine what Netanyahu and the right wing were saying.

This is Israeli propaganda that I’m sorry Haaretz fell for. (I don’t expect any better from Herzog.)

The resolution, put forward by the Palestinians and six Muslim countries, protests Israel’s actions in and around the Temple Mount and against Muslims praying or seeking to pray there. (Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand on the site.)

No mention of these complaints, however, is made in Israel. The only thing in the resolution that got noticed here was that it referred to the Temple Mount, which is what Jews and Christians call the place, only as “Al-Haram al-Sharif” – the “Noble Sanctuary,” which is what Muslims call it. (The measure also referred to the Western Wall as “Al-Buraq Plaza” followed by the words “Western Wall Plaza,” but with the latter in quotation marks, which also pissed Israelis off.)

I don’t know if all the claims made in the UNESCO resolution are true. I don’t know if, as claimed, Israel is blocking Muslim restoration projects or harming Muslim interests with its own earth-moving work. One thing I do not believe is that the State of Israel is deliberately “endangering Al-Aqsa,” as Palestinians and other Muslims are convinced. Moreover, the common Muslim dismissal of Jewish roots at the holy site is a deep insult to Jews, and speaks very badly for popular Muslim attitudes.

But while Palestinian and Muslim notions about the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif are a problem, it’s quite a display of blind arrogance for Israeli Jews to insist that Muslims include the Jewish name for the site in a complaint about Israel’s rule over it, and that if they don’t, they’re guilty of, effectively, anti-Semitism. (Incidentally, the resolution “affirm[s] the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions …”)

I say “blind arrogance” because only the most fastidiously even-handed Israeli Jew ever refers to that site as anything but the Temple Mount. It’s safe to say that most Jews are unfamiliar with the name “Haram al-Sharif.” An even greater majority draw a blank on “Al-Buraq Plaza.”

Should they be accused of “nullifying Muslim ties to Haram al-Sharif”? Does speaking only of the Temple Mount make them, in effect, Islamophobes?

Western Wall Plaza/Al Buraq Square.
Western Wall Plaza/Al Buraq Square.

Also, the Israeli reaction is quite a display of colonial hauteur given that the Jewish state is the ruler over the holy site, that Israeli cops are stationed in the general area of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, that Israel determines who can go there to pray and who can’t, and that it blocks Palestinians in the West Bank from getting not only to Al-Aqsa but to any part of Jerusalem.

Finally, it’s incredible chutzpah for Israelis to insist that the resolution’s Muslim sponsors mention the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (and the latter without the insolent quotation marks, thank you) – when Israel has deliberately erased the names, and often the actual physical presence, of so many Muslim holy sites over the decades.

Israelis don’t forget how Jordan desecrated Jewish holy places in Jerusalem when the Old City fell under the kingdom’s control after the 1948 war. Yet in May 2001, historian Benny Morris (evidently before he swung so sharply to the right) told me in an interview:

“What the Jordanians did to the synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem pales in comparison to what Israel did to many more mosques all over the country.”

Mosques stood in about half of the 400-plus Arab villages that Israel destroyed during and after the 1948 War of Independence, and except for a few isolated instances, the mosques were destroyed with everything else, Morris said. Another “several dozen” mosques were demolished in cities where Arabs fled or were forced out, such as Jaffa and Ashkelon, he added.

In some cases, mosques were left standing and repurposed, so to speak, by Israel. For instance, Morris said, the mosque in the prewar Arab village of Zakariyya was turned into a fuel storage dump in the postwar Jewish village of Zecharia. He noted:

“If this had been done to a Jewish synagogue, we would call it desecration.”

And in the decades since 1948, as I was told by Meron Benvenisti, author of “Sacred Landscape – The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948” and one-time deputy mayor of Jerusalem, “A great many Muslim burial sites were turned into the graves of Jewish saints.”

So I ask myself: If I were a Palestinian Muslim, and all this was my history, and now I was barred from going to Jerusalem, or at best I had to pass through an Israeli police cordon to pray at Al-Aqsa, and there was of course no way in hell Israel would let me visit Al-Buraq Square, and I wasn’t hearing Jews using the names “Al Buraq” or “Haram al-Sharif” – would I make sure to mention the name “Temple Mount”? Would I be careful to take out the quotation marks when I mentioned the name “Western Wall”?

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Further reading:

“Full text of new UNESCO resolution on ‘Occupied Palestine,'” Times of Israel, October 13, 2016.

“UNESCO backs motion nullifying Jewish ties to Temple Mount,” Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury, Haaretz, October 13, 2016.

“Where are the mosques of 1948?” Larry Derfner, Jerusalem Post, May 18, 2001.

Shimon Peres’ forgotten role in stopping Israel from bombing Iran

Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009.
Peres at Davos, Jan. 29, 2009. Photo: Sebastian Derungs

I don’t want to offer up another take on Shimon Peres’ mixed legacy because the media is flooded with them. But I do want to point out one historic act he performed that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, which is odd because it was his last one: Playing an absolutely crucial role, as president, in stopping Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak from fulfilling their dream of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Ari Shavit has written, with grudging respect, that Peres “spearheaded the opposition,” working “both at home and abroad to prevent an attack on Iran – and he succeeded.”

Peres first came out publicly against bombing Iran in February 2012, when war fever was raging in Netanyahu and Barak’s offices. He told Channel 2:

“It’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can only delay [Iran’s progress]. Thus it’s clear to us that we need to go together with America. There are questions of cooperation and of timetables, but as severe as the danger is, at least this time we’re not alone.”

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer wrote that a Peres aide had told him in early 2010, “Shimon is doing everything to block Bibi and Barak’s crazy plan to attack Iran.” Pfeffer added that he confirmed that account with one of Peres’ “oldest confidantes,” who told him, “It’s true, [military chief Gabi] Ashkenazi and the other security chiefs are all looking to Shimon to lead the opposition to a strike on Iran.”

Haaretz has reported that Peres began working with military and intelligence leaders to block Netanyahu and Barak in 2008, a year after he became president. The public campaign against the bombing of Iran didn’t start until January 2011, when Meir Dagan, immediately after retiring from the Mossad, began speaking out against it.

But privately, in the high-level plotting against those crazy plans, Peres was there at the inception – as president and simply as Shimon Peres, whose private words carried a lot of weight in Washington, and whose later, public words would carry a lot of weight in Israel, and whose commitment to and likely leadership of the rebellion at the beginning no doubt bucked up Dagan, Ashkenazi and the others.

I’ve always thought Dagan was the movement’s hero because he was the first one who stuck his neck out, and in so doing threw away an unlimited future in politics to speak his conscience, for which he caught the expected accusations of treason from the right-wing powers-that-were-and-still-are.

But it may well be that Peres, as Shavit wrote, was the spearhead of the whole thing.

Catching it from Netanyahu, Barak

And he caught plenty of flak himself when he started expressing his opposition in public. (The only other major Israeli politician speaking on-the-record against bombing Iran was Tzipi Livni.) After that Channel 2 interview in February 2012, Netanyahu and Barak sought to undermine his credibility, slamming him publicly for overstepping his bounds as president, and recalling his opposition to Menachem Begin’s 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, which is considered in Israel and much of the world to have been a masterstroke. (The consensus of informed opinion, however, is that “Operation Opera” didn’t end Saddam’s nuclear ambitions, but rather supercharged them.) Netanyahu threw in Peres’ signature Oslo Accords and support for Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza as other reasons why Israelis shouldn’t trust his judgment. (I must say, my opinion of Peres’ mixed legacy is going up by the paragraph.)

From the time I came to Israel in January 1985, when he was prime minister, until the end of the Oslo peace process in late 2000, I adored Peres. He was the leader of the peace camp, without any question. But when the peace camp had its legs knocked out from under by the second intifada, and Israel began shifting inexorably to the right, Peres, instead of leading the opposition like he should have, found his place in 21st century Israel: as its liberal fig leaf. When Israel bludgeoned Gaza, Peres was there to defend it to the West. For me, he became a terrific disappointment.

But not in the fight over what to do or not to do about Iran, one of the most fateful dilemmas Israel ever faced, and if Netanyahu and Barak had been left to their own devices, most people outside Israel and the Republican Party think it would have been a catastrophe. If not for Peres, that might indeed have been how the story turned out. Toward the end, when it counted most, he became the highest example of a liberal opposition leader, regained his role as leader of the peace camp, and this time led it to victory.

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Further reading:

“How Shimon Peres stopped Israel from bombing Iran,” Ari Shavit, Haaretz, Oct. 31, 2013.

“Actually, Shimon Peres has opposed war with Iran for years,” Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz, Aug. 18, 2012.

“Bibi vs. Peres – Netanyahu aides: In opposing Israel attack on Iran, Peres forgot his place,” Barak Ravid, Haaretz, Aug. 16, 2012.

“Barak slams Peres for his objection to possible Israeli attack on Iran,” Barak Ravid, Haaretz, Feb. 24, 2012.

“The miraculous antiwar uprising of the Israeli establishment,” Larry Derfner, +972 Magazine, Aug. 10, 2012.

“The myth of the Osirak bombing and the march to Iran,” Larry Derfner, +972 Magazine, March 2, 2012.

“Barak: Netanyahu wanted to strike Iran in 2010 and 2011, but colleagues blocked him,” Times of Israel staff, Aug. 21, 2015.