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.

The difference between ‘prejudiced’ and ‘deplorable’

Trump rally in New Hampshire
Trump supporters at rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, December 28, 2015. Photo: Marc Nozell

J.D. Vance, a very hot writer these days with his timely memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” writes in Thursday’s New York Times why he thinks Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark was out of line: Because polls show that most everyone, not just Trump voters, have some sort of prejudice toward one group and/or other, and though the prejudice is terrible, it shouldn’t brand them as “social outcasts.”

“In that basket is the black preacher who may view homosexuality as a little icky even as he lovingly ministers to struggling gay members of his church. The adoptive parent of a child born in Asia, who pours her heart and soul into her child’s well-being even as she tells a pollster that she doesn’t much care about America’s experience with Japanese internment. And in that basket is a white grandmother who speaks ill of black people even as she gives her beloved African-American grandson the emotional support and love that enable him to become the president of all Americans.”

Yes, we all have our prejudices, and that does not make us all deplorable. But we are not all prejudiced to the same degree, and the difference in quantity can and does become so great among people that it turns into a difference in quality. Some people are prejudiced in a way that’s recessive and basically harmless, others in a way that’s malignant, such that it’s entirely fair to call them deplorable as people.

And I’d say one indication of whether a person is garden-variety, routinely prejudiced or, on the other hand, poisoned with it, is whether he supports Trump. (While it’s not true, as Hillary pointed out, that all of Trump’s voters are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it,” I would say that about 90% of the “you name its” who are voting in this election are voting Trump.)

It’s one thing to say America needs to reduce the number of illegal immigrants coming in from Mexico and Latin America, or to more closely vet the refugees and immigrants from the Muslim Middle East. Believing such things (as I do) does not make you a racist, nativist or Islamophobe.

But when a candidate only speaks of Latinos and Muslims as rapists, murderers, terrorists, leeches, aliens, as nothing but a collective menace, and shouts it with maximum fury and malevolence – if you are one of the people in the crowd baying in response, you are fucking well deplorable. You’re not one of the “about 90 percent of us [who] possess some implicit prejudices,” according to J.D. Vance’s data-based estimate. No, you’re one of the roughly 20 percent of Americans (extrapolating from Hillary’s reference to “half” of Trump’s supporters) who are out-and-out bigots.

And even if you haven’t been to any of Trump’s rallies, if you support him knowing (as you damn well do by now) his views toward Muslims, Latinos, women, blacks and the handicapped, and your socioeconomic situation is good enough so you’re not clinging to him out of personal desperation (and desperate people probably make up a smaller portion of Trump’s electorate than the “half” suggested by Hillary; see links below) – then on the slim chance that you are not an out-and-out bigot yourself, you are raising one up to take over America, which is enough to make you deplorable.

No apologies, Hillary. No defending the indefensibles, J.D.

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Further reading:

“When it comes to baskets, we’re all deplorable,” J.D. Vance, NY Times, September 22, 2016.

“Voices from Donald Trump’s rallies, uncensored,” NY Times, August 3, 2016.

“Clinton expresses regret for saying ‘half’ of Trump’s supporters are ‘deplorables,” CNN, September 12, 2016.

“The mythology of Trump’s ‘working class’ support,” Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight, May 3, 2016.

“Typical Trump voter earns above average income, study finds,” NBC News, August 13, 2016.

 

Message to Jill Stein and her supporters: ‘Lunatics, get down off the roof!’

Jill Stein at Occupy Wall Street, September 27, 2011.
Jill Stein at Occupy Wall Street, September 27, 2011.

Toward the end of the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign, when George W. Bush and Al Gore were running neck and neck, an ad hoc group calling themselves “Nader’s Raiders for Gore” asked their former candidate of choice, the Green Party’s Ralph Nader, to withdraw from the race. “It is now clear that you might well give the White House to Bush. … We urge you to ask your supporters, as we do now, to honor your ideas and to vote for the man who is most likely to put them into action – Al Gore,” read their open letter.

But it did no good; Bush won the election by 537 votes in Florida, where nearly 100,000 votes were cast for Nader. Diehard Naderites still refuse to take responsibility, blaming the Supreme Court and pointing out that there were a lot more Democrats who didn’t vote, or who voted for Bush, than there were who voted for Nader. Fine. The Supreme Court was to blame. And the Democrats who didn’t vote, or who voted for Bush, were to blame. AND the 97,421 Floridians who voted for Nader were to blame.

But what makes the Nader voters (or anyway the huge chunk of them who knew in their hearts that Gore was the better choice than Bush) more galling than these other culprits is precisely that: They knew that by voting for the candidate they considered the best, even though he had no chance of winning, they risked actually electing the one they considered the worst. Which is what they did.

This brings me, naturally, to Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate in the current presidential campaign. With less than two months to go before the election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t running as closely as Bush and Gore did, but that’s the direction they’re headed. Clinton’s lead is narrowing by the day. On Friday, the benchmark RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Clinton ahead in the popular vote by 1.1% over Trump in the four-way race that includes the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Stein.

The Stein effect 

But what counts, of course, is the winner-take-all statewide contests for electoral votes, with 270 needed to win – and here the RCP average of polls shows Clinton leading Trump 200 to 164 in the states where one or the other has a clear lead. Among the “toss-up” states, there are four – Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Georgia (16) and Nevada (6) – in which Trump is leading Clinton by tiny percentages that are smaller than the percentages supporting Stein. In Arizona (11), Trump’s percentage lead and Stein’s percentage of support are the same – 2.2%.

In North Carolina (15), RCP showed no poll results for Stein, but Clinton’s lead there is only 0.6%.

Stein’s name is on the ballot in 45 states including Washington DC, and in three other states her name can be written in. Here’s my proposal (and I’m sure it’s not just mine): She doesn’t have to drop out of the race nationally, she just has to drop out in the “battleground states” mentioned above (and any others that turn into battleground states) where her candidacy could mean the difference between Clinton and Trump winning the state and, very possibly, the White House. And in those battleground states, she has to throw her support to Hillary.

Ralph Nader on campaign trail in 2008.
Ralph Nader, independent candidate for president in 2008, speaking at campaign stop in Waterbury, Connecticut. Photo: Sage Ross

If Stein doesn’t do that, and if she and her supporters end up nuking this election like Nader and the Greens did the one in 2000, it will be so much more of a malicious act than the one before. Sixteen years ago, 9/11 hadn’t happened yet, there was no war in Iraq, no “war on terror.” Plus, Bush was running as a moderate Republican, a “compassionate conservative,” so it wasn’t entirely irrational to think that the difference between him and Gore wasn’t so tremendous, and to see that election as an opportune one to vote for “the best,” as Naderites saw their man, even if he couldn’t win.

But today, between Clinton and Trump? I’m not going to go into the differences between them, or how large they are, or how much larger they are than the ones between Bush and Gore in 2000; it’s not a serious subject.

One other thing I don’t get about Stein’s supporters is why they would risk a Trump victory for the sake of voting for a third party. What have third parties accomplished in modern America except to distort a presidential election or two? What was the lasting effect of George Wallace’s third party? Or John Anderson’s? Or Ross Perot’s? Or Ralph Nader’s? Zero. After the election’s over these parties have nothing to do; their causes may continue, but they’re pushed forward by other movements. A third party exists to run a glorious, hopeless electoral campaign, and that’s it. America has a two-party system, plain and simple, and third parties have no useful place in it.

The horror

In July, Stein told Truthdig.com, “I will be horrified if Donald Trump is elected. And I will be horrified if Hillary Clinton is elected. And I think the greatest terror of all is that we have a political system that says to us, here are two deadly choices: Now pick one.” But that was before, when people on the Left didn’t take seriously the possibility of Trump getting elected president. Everybody takes it seriously today.

There’s a famous line spoken in the ‘70s by an Israeli politician trying to talk sense to his intemperate, overly demanding colleagues: “Lunatics, get down off the roof!” This is what left-leaning Democrats and independents ought to be shouting up at Jill Stein and her millions of supporters. Maybe the folks on the ground will be more successful than “Nader’s Raiders for Gore” were in their time. After all, now we know the consequences of the 2000 election. And this time, the man who must be stopped isn’t anyone’s idea of a compassionate conservative.

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Further reading:

“Truthdig sits down with the Green Party’s Jill Stein,” Truthdig.com, July 11, 2016

“Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2000,” Wikipedia.com

“Nader’s Raiders for Gore,” BlackElectorate.com, October 26, 2000

“Nader elected Bush: Why we shouldn’t forget,” Politico.com, May 31, 2016

Hillary breaks a great taboo

Hillary Clinton speaking in New Hampshire in January.
Hillary Clinton speaking in Manchester, NH, January 22, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Finally, somebody said it (“somebody” meaning somebody who depends on public opinon): Donald Trump’s supporters are bigots, or tens of millions of them are, anyway.

Not just that Trump himself is a bigot; there’s no risk in saying that. But to say that the masses of Americans who support this candidate who has been blaring his contempt for Mexicans, Muslims and women, and, to a lesser extent, the handicapped and black people, in the highest-profile way imaginable for the last year – to say that not all of them but that tons of them are bigots themselves: This is something no mainstream politician or media figure has said until Hillary Clinton, God bless her, said it at a New York fundraiser Friday night.

“You know, just to be grossly generalist, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

Then she talked about the other half.

“That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for a change. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

This is about as generous and compassionate a description of Trump’s electorate as any intelligent, honest person could make. To let fully half of them off the hook, to say that half of Trump’s voters are not bigots – I think Hillary was being charitable (or politic).

Trump rally in Reno
Trump campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. Photo: Darron Birgenheier

But can anyone honestly take issue with her claim, which she prefaced as being “grossly generalist,” that half of Trump’s voters are bigots? Or that bigots are “deplorables”?

I don’t think so. I think everybody outside Trump’s camp knows that what Hillary said was absolutely true and at least fair. The thing is, though, she broke a taboo, one of the most powerful ones in politics: You never criticize the public. The public is always good. The public is always wise.

Nobody believes this swill, either, but there are two kinds of people who will never admit it: Those in politics and those in the mainstream media. The reason is obvious: They both depend on public opinion. They cannot go ragging vast sections of their constituencies, or audiences, as bigots and deplorables because that will alienate them. The politicians will lose their votes, the media will lose their viewership or listenership or readership. So while politicians will rag those of the rival party, and MSM people will rag those of either party, none of them will rag the public or any part of it that keeps those ragged politicians afloat. For politicians, it’s bad politics; for the MSM, it’s bad business.

And since politicians and the MSM dominate the public discussion of politics, this ridiculous notion that the public is always wise and good, and that it’s always wrong to criticize them, is allowed to stand.

What this lie does is infantilize voters, who are, remember, adults. It absolves them of all responsibility for whom they elect. It’s a view of adults in a democracy not as citizens, but as customers – who are always right, which means there’s no good politics or bad politics, there’s only the kind that sells and the kind that doesn’t. Which eventually lands us with the likes of Trump.

On Saturday, the day after she spoke her mind about her opponent’s supporters, Hillary retracted. “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong. But let’s be clear, what’s really ‘deplorable’ is that Donald Trump …” bla, bla, bla.

Oh well. For one brief shining moment …

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Further reading: 

“Clinton says half of Trump supporters fall into ‘basket of deplorables,’ Thehill.com, September 9

“Clinton: It was wrong to call half of Trump supporters ‘deplorable,'” Thehill.com, September 10

“Hillary Clinton calls many Trump backers ‘deplorables,’ and GOP pounces,” New York Times, September 10

Israel’s most brutal combat unit is now No. 1 choice among draftees

Israeli Border Policeman facing Palestinian boy.
Israeli Border Policeman, backed by Israeli soldiers, facing Palestinian boy, September 28, 2012. Photo: Palestinian Solidarity Project

A sign of the times: The most preferred combat unit among Israeli draftees is now the Border Police, the security forces’ most notoriously brutal unit, the lead enforcer of the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The announcement comes from the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, and was reported this week by Haaretz.

Why has the Border Police jumped ahead of previously most favored, legendary brigades like Golani, Givati and Paratroops? After all, the Border Police has long had the reputation as a dumping ground for the poorest, worst educated, most violent and racist Israelis, mainly Mizrahim but also some Druze and Bedouin Arabs who’ve gone over to the Israeli side with a vengeance.

What’s happened is that the only “action” left for a gung-ho 18-year-old Israeli boy anymore is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The wars that the army’s prestigious brigades used to fight with Lebanon and Syria, and before that with Egypt, Jordan and others, seem a thing of the past; the neighboring Arab states don’t want any part of the IDF anymore. Gaza flares up every couple of years or so, but if you want sustained action for your three years’ military service, it’s in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that means, first and foremost, the Border Police.

I had the pleasure of serving alongside them during a month of reserve duty in Gaza City in 1990, and guarding their base in the Strip for a month in 1991. They were scary; cranked on adrenaline and itching to lay into Arab flesh. I’d wake up to them revving their engines and screaming as they drove off to the refugee camps.

The question of motivation

It’s tempting to say that the upsurge in the Border Police’s popularity shows that more and more Israeli youth are attracted by the unit’s reputation for violence and cruelty toward Arabs; that would fit with the general shift to the Right in Israeli society, especially among young people. But such a conclusion would be premature: Not every 18-year-old Israeli boy or girl who wants action in uniform is a racist or sadist, by any means.

The thing is, though, you can’t rule out attraction to anti-Arab violence and cruelty as a reason for the Border Police’s new popularity, because everybody knows where they work and whom they police, and everybody knows their reputation. It’s kind of hard to imagine an 18-year-old choosing that unit if he or she and their family had a serious problem with “aggressive tactics” against the Palestinians, or with the occupation at all.

No doubt many of them would say, “I don’t hate Arabs, I just want to fight terror, and the Border Police are on the front line.” Yes, the Border Police are on the front line against terror, but they’re also Israel’s front-line goon squad against Palestinians who aren’t terrorists, and so it’s impossible to argue that they don’t create terrorists, too. The unit is saturated with Arab-hatred and brutality; these are at the core of its unofficial “battle heritage.” A given Border Police recruit may simply want to fight terror, but he or she has to know that they will be fighting very, very dirty.

Another thing that can be deduced from the unit’s new status is that the stigma which once attached to it is gone.

Also gone is the once-common notion that the proper role of Israeli soldiers is to defend their country against attack by enemy armies, not to police a foreign, subject population.

Like I said, it’s a sign of the times.

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Further reading:

“Border Police is now Israel’s most popular combat unit among new recruits,” Haaretz.com, September 8, 2016

“Israel allocated the work of the occupation unfairly, but that’s changing,” Haaretz.com, September 9, 2016

“Israelis’ heartwarming response to shocking police brutality,” +972, May 25, 2016

“Israel police documented savagely beating Arab in central Tel Aviv,” Haaretz.com, May 22, 2016

“When a police officer is actually a soldier,” Mondoweiss.net, June 23, 2015

 

 


 

 

No sense anymore to talk about ending the occupation ‘for Israel’s sake’

Caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu
Caricature by DonkeyHotey.

Netanyahu has destroyed that liberal Zionist argument. There’s only one case against the occupation still standing.

Centrists and center-leftists in Israel and abroad, liberals who think of themselves as practical, as realistic, as “muscular,” have been saying for decades that they want to end the occupation not for the Palestinians’ sake, God forbid – no, they want to end it for Israel’s sake. These are tough-minded people, after all, nothing naïve or effete about them.

Well, gang, well, Zionist Unionists and Yesh Atidniks, liberal Zionists all, you don’t have a case anymore. Netanyahu has destroyed it.

Look around. The occupation is going strong – and Israel’s doing great, just like Bibi says. We’re as safe as we’ve ever been. The “lone-wolf intifada” is basically over; we beat the Palestinians again. Mahmoud Abbas squawks, but he makes sure his troops are hard at work in the West Bank every day, protecting us. And Hamas? Pretty soon we’ll have an Iron Dome beneath the ground to stop their tunnels along with the one above ground that stops their rockets. What are they going to do?

The economy’s doing fine, about as good as that of any Western country, and better than many. BDS? It’s become a fundraising pitch for AIPAC, a new “project” for the machers. It makes a lot of Jewish students uncomfortable at American colleges; for Israel it’s a useful punching bag.

Oh, but we’re becoming isolated abroad, right? Here’s how isolated we are: Netanyahu figuratively pissed in Obama’s face in front of Congress last year, and since then he’s gone on building up settlements as much as he pleases – and all that’s left to decide is whether the U.S. will give Israel an additional billion dollars a year on top of the annual $3 billion, or sweeten the arrangement even more.

Europe? The French peace initiative? It’s all Netanyahu can do to keep a straight face.

But here’s the real beauty part – making peace with our Arab neighbors, the big prize waiting for us if we agree to a Palestinian state? We’re making peace with our Arab neighbors now! The Saudis love us! The Egyptians love us! Not the people, of course, but who cares? The Arab dictators, the Arab armies that are fighting these Islamic radicals, that hate Hamas, Iran and ISIS – we’re their enemies’ enemy, so they’re our friends! They couldn’t care less about the Palestinians, they want our intelligence, our technology, our leverage in Washington. The “New Middle East”? It’s finally starting to happen, thanks to the government of Bibi Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett!

This is the sort of thing Netanyahu’s been telling the media in these briefings lately, and he’s not lying. He is steering Israel’s ship goddamn well.

So, muscular liberals, you really want to try to take down the occupation – now? You want to tell 100,000 settlers – at least – to leave their homes, you want to uproot Hebron, Yitzhar and all those other fanatical armed camps – when everything’s going so smoothly and there’s nothing but blue skies on the Israeli horizon? Why?

For Israel’s sake? Are you that crazy?

No. No, this just isn’t rational, not anymore. You don’t mess up Israel’s good thing and pitch the country into chaos, into extreme civil strife and maybe civil war because you want to do what’s best for Israel. No, that argument is finished.

If you want to be tough-minded and realistic, if you want to look out for Israel’s practical self-interest, then give up this idea of ending the occupation – and get behind Bibi. Look around the country, see how good the Jews have got it here, see how pitiful the Palestinians are, how impotent our Western critics are, and admit that you were wrong and Bibi was right all along. You want to do what’s best for Israel, then look into those cold eyes of his and start seeing the world his way.

Nope, there is no practical, realpolitik case for ending the occupation anymore. There is no more ending the occupation for Israel’s sake. There is only one reason left to end it: for the Palestinians’ sake. Because what we’ve been doing to them for the last half-century is immoral, forbidden. And in so doing, Israel has become an immoral country.

If you don’t believe that, muscular liberals, then have the guts to admit that for Israel’s sake – its material sake, anyway – Bibi is the man. But if you do believe that Israel has indeed become an immoral country, then have the guts to stop speaking the language of practical self-interest and start speaking the language of conscience. Speak up for an end to the occupation – for the Palestinians’ sake, for the sake of restoring Israel’s lost morality; it’s the same thing. There is no other honest case against the occupation left to be made.

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Originally published September 1 on Haaretz.com as “All You Centrist, Liberal Zionists: Netanyahu’s Destroyed Your Case for Ending the Occupation.” 

Trump and Netanyahu: Rich, selfish, haughty heroes of the common man

Trump rally in Reno
Trump campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. Photo: Darron Birgenheier

I understand that America’s white working class, in general, gets a charge out of Trump because he channels their hatreds. What I don’t get is why they also think he’s going to deliver them economically, that he’s going to get them better paying, more secure jobs, a better deal all around.

Don’t they see that he doesn’t care about them, that his whole life is about me, me, me and nothing else? He hasn’t exactly tried to hide it, after all. Don’t these white people without college educations, who are hurting for money and whose lives and futures are pretty shaky, understand that they are part of that wide swath of humanity whom Trump refers to as “losers”?

To the white working class, Trump is not “one of us,” to say the least, not economically or any other way – and he doesn’t pretend to be. He’s had the cushiest life imaginable; there’s nothing about him that anybody but another rich asshole could identify with. So why do these throngs of “common,” often suffering American men and women believe he’s the answer to their economic troubles and fears? I get the hatred he brings out in them; I don’t get the love.

And this leads me to a very dark speculation: that the “common man” doesn’t want a leader he can identify with, and who treats him as an equal – he wants somebody “better” than him, somebody “above” him, somebody untouchable, somebody to whom he is eager to subordinate himself.

These white Americans wait by the thousands for his “TRUMP”-emblazoned plane to land while the loudspeakers are blaring Wagner or some other heroic symphonic theme – it’s like Elvis in Vegas. Trump is rich, he retains traces of his former handsomeness, he’s vain, he has beautiful women, he makes strong men quake, and he wears a permanent expression of haughty disapproval – this is what the American common man and woman have been lapping up for the last year. They don’t want a president, they want a king, somebody they can bow to.

It grows out of the authoritarian, disciplinarian traditions of America’s white working class, it comes from a culture of hierarchy and obedience.

2009 Netanyahu poster
Netanyahu campaign poster, 2009: “Strong on defense, strong on the economy.”

What does this remind me of? It reminds me of how the Israeli counterpart of America’s white working class – the Jewish, largely Mizrahi, working class – worshipped Bibi Netanyahu when he rose to become prime minister in the 1990s. (Their ardor has since died down; after all this time, working class Jews no longer pin their personal economic hopes on Netanyahu, but they still trust him to bash the Arabs and the Left for them.)

Poorly educated Jews, most of them Mizrahi, went crazy for Netanyahu in those days – and he bore no resemblance to them. A professor’s son from Jerusalem’s upper-crust Rehavia neighborhood, high school in America, degrees from M.I.T., rich, famous – and with an unmistakably superior air. Plus, he was by far the most pro-business, anti-union, anti-poor-people leader Israel had ever seen. Yet the amcha, the working class, notably the Mizrahim, idolized him.

I think that story was the same one we’ve been seeing with Trump and his crowds. It’s the story of people from an authoritarian culture of obedience wanting a leader who’s above them, a king they can bow to.

This, as much as anything, is what’s soured me on the worldview of the Left: The masses really are asses. They don’t care about equality, they don’t care about justice, what they want most is to march behind an invincible leader who will wipe out the enemy tribes. I don’t believe in the working class, I believe in educating them into the educated class, and then maybe they’ll become less racist and less smitten with the likes of Netanyahu and Trump.

Black Lives Matter is basically right about Israel – but very wrong about America

Black Lives Matter protest
Black Lives Matter protest against police shootings, Manhattan, Nov. 28, 2014. Photo: The All-Nite Images

If describing Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians as “genocide” were the only thing wrong with the Black Lives Matter** platform, I would endorse it with a caveat over that one word, which is grossly inaccurate. Otherwise, the platform’s brief take on Israel is harsh but accurate. In fact, it could have gone further and condemned Israel for its periodic acts of military aggression against Lebanon and Syria. And as far as its description of Israel as an “apartheid state” goes, that’s nothing that Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Ami Ayalon, and Tzipi Livni, for starters, haven’t clearly implied.

No, the problem with the BLM platform, released last week, isn’t the couple of paragraphs on Israel, it’s the 37,000 other words on America. The document describes the United States as an evil country, one that deliberately crushes black people and other “marginalized” groups at home and abroad. It’s a description of apartheid-era South Africa, or of Mississippi in 1956, but not of America in 2016. It reflects the thinking of the truly loony left.

The platform begins with the section on the U.S. criminal justice and school systems, titled “End the war on black people.” Is America really waging war on black people? Some police are, some jurors are, Donald Trump and many of his supporters are, but America as a whole? Bullshit. And the proof goes way, way beyond a black man being in the White House. There are black people throughout the halls of American power, there is a large black middle class, there is institutionalized affirmative action for blacks in colleges and government jobs – and all this has been going on for two generations. “War on black people”? That’s light years from the truth.

You’d never know from this platform that any black person in jail was anything but an innocent victim of the system’s racism. You’d never know there were murderous black gangs and other criminals, or that black people were being killed by them at appalling rates. You’d never know that so many poor black schoolchildren lived in soul-killing homes and neighborhoods, and that this might have something to do with why they were failing in school, instead of it all being down to America’s “school-to-prison pipeline.”

But this is BLM’s view of America at home. And its view of America abroad? From the “Invest-Divest” section, the one that discussed Israel:

America is an empire that uses war to expand territory and power. …

[R]esources and funds needed for reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically are instead used to wage war against a majority of the world’s communities. …

US arms and military corporations have made billions of dollars in profit off of waging disaster and destabilization in the Middle East, while increasing western control over the land and resources of the region. …

In 2006, AFRICOM was established by the US government to expand US military presence on the continent under the claim of protecting the region against “terror” and “radical Islam”. In reality, this effort was designed to expand western colonial control over the region, its people and their resources. …

The interlinked systems of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy shape the violence we face. As oppressed people living in the US, the belly of global empire, we are in a critical position to build the necessary connections for a global liberation movement. …

This is a description of an evil empire.  If it’s accurate, then Barack Obama, as leader of the empire, is the No. 1 enemy of blacks in America and everywhere else. I don’t see how it’s possible to endorse Black Lives Matter without loathing Obama and everything he stands for. And not just Obama – the whole Democratic Party.

Black Lives Matter protest
Black Lives Matter protest against police shooting in Minneapolis, Nov. 15, 2015. Photo: Tony Webster

When I first heard about BLM, it was from their protests of the police killings of unarmed blacks that were turning up on videos. Those films shook me up, and I thought BLM was brave and right to protest police racism and violence. I had the exact same reaction to their protests at Trump rallies. While I found their protests at Ivy League colleges ridiculous – America’s elite colleges aren’t racist, they’re anti-racist – I figured BLM was still doing more good than harm, and I saw them, on balance, as a positive force in America, as being on the front lines challenging racism where it really existed.

But the understanding of America expressed in this platform – it’s deranged. Sure, there’s a lot in it that I and many other liberals agree with – like the need to raise taxes on the wealthy, legalize drugs and prostitution, pay reparations to blacks for slavery, put fewer people, especially blacks, in jail, and constantly look for ways to help improve the lives of poor people, especially children. But these things are far outweighed by the platform’s glaring distortions of American reality – the reality of poor black ghettos, of police, of school officials, of the military, of American power at every level.

Black Lives Matter cannot fairly be called an American progressive movement. It is an anti-American, anti-Western, doctrinaire far-left movement. It is the Black Panther Party without the violence. With all due respect to their protests against police racism and Trump, BLM’s worldview is beyond the liberal/progressive pale.

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** The platform wasn’t drawn up by Black Lives Matter alone, but The Movement for Black Lives, which includes over 50 organizations aligned with BLM. I use “Black Lives Matter” as shorthand because of its name recognition.

 

Have Trump’s working-class whites really embraced ‘class warfare’?

Trump rally in New Hampshire
Trump supporters at rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, December 28, 2015. Photo: Marc Nozell

For liberals, one of the lessons of the Trump campaign is that they and the Democratic Party have to start paying more attention to the economic pain of America’s white working class, which Trump has turned to his advantage in such a startling way.

These people without a college education are the ones left behind by the Obama recovery, left behind by the modern global, high-tech economy in general, and the Democratic Party, which used to speak for this class, doesn’t any longer and this has to change, according to the new liberal consensus.

I don’t doubt the economic pain of people who have no job security, whose salaries and benefits have steadily declined, and whose prospects for the future look no better. What I do doubt, though, is that Trump’s economic pitch – to bring back the good old days of American factory work – is up there among the main reasons why he’s getting such huge support from these people.

I doubt it because blue-collar America didn’t just start declining now; it started in the 1980s, and even a little before. Where have these working-class whites been all this time with their demands to reverse free trade?

These Trump voters are Republicans and right-leaning Independents; why have they been supporting pro-free-trade, pro-1%, anti-union, anti-safety-net Republicans for decades? Why did they, and why do they still, worship Reagan, who broke the mold on this economic policy, and who did more to screw American workers, not to mention the American poor, than any other president?

GOP’s old name for Trump’s economics

Before Trump, the Republicans had a term for the complaint that workers were getting hammered and Wall Street was the enemy: “class warfare.” Only Democrats preached class warfare, and the white working class wasn’t having it – if they voted, they voted Republican.

So why have they suddenly woken up? Why, for the first time since they left the Democrats and flocked to Reagan in 1980 (if they hadn’t left as part of Nixon’s “silent majority” in 1968, or as part of his 1972 landslide over the Bernie Sanders of the day, George McGovern) are they talking like proletarians?

Because the new, working-class economics that Trump is serving them comes packaged in the good old Republican wrapping that they always grab for – hatred of Washington, politicians, the media, the Democrats, Obama, the Clintons, immigrants, Muslims, as well as blacks, women and gays who aren’t grateful for all their advantages.

Plus, many if not most of them really like Trump’s style, which is also new. Many respect his wealth, seeing it as proof of his ability and believing he’ll use it to get them a better break. Many also see his beautiful women and his exciting life, and hero-worship him.

Take away Trump’s Republican political and social themes, take away his personality, his billions and his celebrity and make him a Democrat running against free trade and for bringing back factory jobs to America – would working-class whites be interested? I don’t think so.

Sander NY rally
Sanders at rally in Manhattan, September 18, 2015. Photo: Michael Vadon

I know, Bernie Sanders also appealed to working-class whites with the same basic approach to trade and jobs. But I’m convinced that many of these people didn’t know he was a holdover from the late-‘60s New Left, and that once they found out – as they most certainly would have in a general election – they would have fled in droves to the Republicans, to the Libertarians or stayed home.

By and large, America’s working-class, high-school-educated whites are not proletarians, or anyway that is not an important part of their identity. No, they’re nationalists. And nationalists need enemies. That’s what the Republicans have given them, it sure as hell is what Trump has given them, and this is the decisive reason they love Trump.

Protectionist economics? That’s icing on the cake.

I have to wonder if these voters even believe it, if they believe there’s something a president can do to get their jobs back from overseas, to rebuild the factories and revive industrial unions and guarantee their employment, good wages and benefits, regular raises and the rest of what was once on offer in blue-collar America. It’s gone. It’s been dying in pieces for almost 40 years. The technological revolution and globalization killed it off; how do you reverse that combined force?

Anybody who tells Americans with no more than a high school diploma that there’s a way to get them into the middle class – other than by upgrading their education – is lying through his teeth. Leave that to Trump; Democrats don’t have to imitate him.

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For further reading:

Shhh, don’t tell Donald: Trump is not the first Republican to champion white working class, MarketWatch

Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump. Here’s why, The Guardian

Head of the class, New Yorker

New data: Why white working class voters back Trump, Newsweek

What Democrats still don’t get about George McGovern, New Republic

 

 

 

 

Politics of an Israeli crime: The ‘lost children of Yemen’

Yemenite immigrant family in Israel, 1949
Yemenite immigrant family registering at Tel Aviv government office, 1949. Photo: Israel State Archive

Mizrahim – Jews of Middle Eastern family background – are very much in vogue in Israel. And more than ever, the large middle-class liberal camp among Ashkenazim – Jews of European family background – have become a punching bag.

This is where the Right and Left come together: The Right loves Mizrahim because they are its electoral base and hates liberal Ashkenazim because they have always been the enemy; the tiny but vocal Mizrahi Left is into Mizrahi pride and slams Ashkenazi liberals for their cultural “hegemony”; the Ashkenazi Left naturally goes along with the Mizrahi Left, while Ashkenazi liberals sit around muttering. (Disclosure: I am an Ashkenazi liberal.)

Onto this map, the decades-old tragedy and controversy of the “lost children of Yemen” has resurfaced. It basically pits the Right and Left against Ashkenazi liberals, whose socialist forebears were in power during Israel’s first years, when about 1,000 or more immigrant children from Yemen, mainly, with some from other North African and Balkan countries, went missing forever.

This week Likud cabinet minister Tsachi Hanegbi, who is in charge of a new investigation into the lost children, said hundreds of them were ‘abducted.” To his credit, though, he added the following day that from the documents he’d seen, the Ben-Gurionite establishment of the time was not behind it, contradicting what Yemenite and Mizrahi activists and their supporters charge.

I’ll cut to the chase: Despite the by-now popular belief, the early Israeli powers-that-be and their operatives did not kidnap those children and give (or sell) them to childless Ashkenazi couples. Instead, in roughly 90% of the cases, the missing children in fact died at the time in clinics and hospitals. They died because they were gravely ill when nurses in some of the transit camps convinced the parents to let them take the babies for treatment.

Not kidnapping, but criminal negligence

However, the crime that was committed by the “establishment” – who in this case were the people who ran those overwhelmingly crowded, chaotic transit camps where the Yemenites lived in utter dependence – was to lose track of which deceased baby belonged to which family. The parents couldn’t bury their children because no one knew where they were, and no one could confirm they were dead.

And so those families have naturally assumed ever since that their lost children were alive, somewhere.

But the people who ran those camps didn’t steal those 1,000 or so children who died – they lost them. The guilty party was not the Ashkenazi establishment of the time, but only the people (all or virtually all of them Ashkenazim), who were in charge of the transit camps from which the Yemenite children went missing. The crime they committed was not mass kidnapping or child trafficking, it was criminal negligence on a horrific scale.

Yemenite immigrants in Israel, 1950
Yemenite immigrants in transit camp near Ein Shemer, 1950. Photo: Pina Hams / Israel GPO

How do I know this? In 1995 I did a magazine cover story for The Jerusalem Post on the lost children of Yemen, as the third official Israeli investigation into the scandal was beginning. I talked to lots of Yemenite families and activists who made the case for a kidnapping conspiracy that stretched from the ambulance drivers all the way up to Ben-Gurion, and a cover-up that had been going on ever since.

I read about the two previous investigations that had been held. The first, in 1967-68 and headed by a police investigator and state prosecutor, studied the cases of 342 lost children, and concluded that 316 of them had died, four were alive (including two who were adopted) and 22 were unaccounted for.

The second investigation, in 1988-1994 and headed by a retired district court judge, examined an additional 301 cases of lost children, finding that 222 of them had died, 14 had disappeared before arriving in Israel, and 65 were unaccounted for.

I also talked to Dov Levitan of Bar-Ilan University, the leading academic researcher into the affair. His discovery of some 200 previously undocumented deaths of Yemenite children in the transit camps, as well as his detailing of the “humiliating, inconsiderate treatment” Yemenite families received from camp authorities, got wide media coverage in the mid-‘80s and helped bring about the second investigation of the missing children.

I talked to Ami Hovav, a private investigator of Yemenite heritage who took up the case in the mid-‘60s at the behest of Yemenite activists, and who sat on the first two investigative panels.

Levitan and Hovav told me that the vast majority of the lost children of Yemen had died back then. How did they know? Hovav:

“I’m also a Yemenite, born in Israel, and believe me, when I started researching I had a great ambition to catch these cradle-robbers. But after the first eight months or so of intense work, I saw I was finding nothing like this. Instead, I kept turning up death certificates and burial certificates [of missing Yemenite children].”

He suggested that the parents had not been informed of the deaths because hospital and camp authorities didn’t know how crucial it was to record the children’s long, unfamiliar Yemenite names in full so they could be identified. The deaths were announced, he said, by camp officials going from tent to tent with a megaphone. “If they called out ‘Yihyeh Sharabi,’ there might be 80 families with a child by that name,” he said.

Hovav also said that in hundreds of instances, the authorities would not have been too eager for the parents to know about their children’s deaths, because in burying them they would have seen, to their lasting horror, that the bodies had been dissected in autopsies.

There was, however, one very deliberate, malicious crime committed against the Yemenite immigrants, Hovav and Levitan said. Israeli immigration emissaries in Aden, the transit point for the Yemenite Jews’ flights to Israel in 1949 and 1950, tricked the bewildered immigrants out of a treasure in ancient holy books and manuscripts, as well as gold and silver jewelry. “Some immigration emissaries got rich from smuggling the property and selling it,” Levitan said.

The whole thing was a horror. And the traumatized victims, the families whose children were taken from them by Israeli officials and lost, understandably do not believe Israeli officials decades later who say evidence shows their infant sons, daughters, brothers or sisters really did die.

Uzi Meshulam death notice
Notice of July 21, 2013 death of Uzi Meshulam; day is now memorialized by Yemenite and many other Mizrahi activists in Israel. Photo: Yoram Shorek

I went to see Yigal Yosef, then mayor of Rosh Ha’ayin and the leading establishment figure among the Yemenite activists. He had lost his infant sister, Esther, in a transit camp in 1953, but he remained absolutely sure that she had been sold into adoption. As proof that she didn’t die in 1953, he showed me photocopies of her death certificate from that year, her burial certificate and her hospital pathology report listing the causes of her death: pneumonia, stomach disorders, malnutrition and other illnesses.

To me, this was obvious proof that his sister had indeed died. To Yosef, it was obvious proof that the authorities had conspired to make it look that way. How did he reach that conclusion? The death certificate was dated before the burial certificate, which was the opposite of the usual, official order, he claimed. Also, he noted, the doctor’s stamp on the pathology report wasn’t signed.

“They say she’s buried in Mahane David cemetery in Haifa,” Yosef said with a cynical laugh.

There are tens of thousands of official documents connected with the lost children of Yemen. There are death certificates, burial certificates, pathology reports, adoption records and other papers that have led three separate investigative committees, as well as Hovav and Levitan, to conclude that about 90 percent of those children died of natural causes.

To believe they were instead kidnapped and given away or sold, one must believe that those documents were forged, and that literally thousands of Israeli officials down through the decades, from nurses to prime ministers, were in on the scheme.

Finally, the conspiracy theory of the lost children of Yemen won’t wash.

Case closed? No way

In 2001, the investigative committee that had begun its work six years before, under the chairmanship of a retired Supreme Court justice, announced that of the 1,033 cases of lost children it examined, there was documentary evidence showing that 972 of them had died back then. As for the others, five had been adopted, while the fate of 56 children could not be determined.

No matter. Today a Likud cabinet minister is going through the files again, and he says hundreds of the children were abducted, and Mizrahi activists are writing op-eds, and they’re observing the death of Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, the violent, crackpot guru of the movement in the ‘90s, as the “Day of Remembrance and Awareness for the Yemenite, Balkan and Mizrahi Children Affair.”

And no one of influence will challenge their theories for fear of being branded a racist and a defender of what was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a crime of historic scale – it just wasn’t the mind-shattering, evil conspiracy it’s now widely assumed to have been.

Yes, Israel’s Ashkenazi establishment in the old days commonly treated the Mizrahi immigrants as inscrutable primitives, and screwed them over in lots of ways. But at the same time, that socialist regime expended great efforts and made great sacrifices for them.

And they did not steal their children and give them to childless Ashkenazi couples. That is tantamount to a blood libel against Israel’s founders. The families of the lost children of Yemen cannot be blamed for spreading it; they’ve been scarred for life. But the politicians and other activists and fellow-travelers of the Right and Left who profit politically from that libel are another case altogether.

For further reading:

No ‘smoking gun’ on Yemenite children’s abduction, but hundreds didn’t just disappear, says Israeli cabinet minister (Haaretz)

Panel on Yemenite children rejects conspiracy theory (Haaretz)

Why is the Left silent on the kidnapping of Mizrahi children? (+972)

The disappeared Yemenite babies (Tablet)