Monthly Archives: August 2007

Patriot of a Non-Existing Country

We have the right to hate Germany, because we love it. When speaking of Germany, we should be taken into account: we, Communists, young socialists, pacifists, freedom-lover of all kinds… How easy it is to pretend as Germany is composed only of the national associations. Germany is a divided country. We are part of It”.

Kurt Tuchlosky, 1929 (*)

 

 

An ironic piece was published this week (**) in Ha’aretz: the State of Israel, in response to an appeal to the Supreme Court, objects to have the word “Israeli” appear under the “nationality” clause of the Israeli Identity Card (which all Israelis must carry). The attempt to have the Court recognize an Israeli nationality, claims the State, is undermining the State of Israel.

 

It is doubtful whether there is any news item which so clearly articulates the problem of “two nations in thy womb”, the internal struggle over Israel’s soul. The appellants – who include such figures as Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avneri and Yehoshua Sobol – claim that the Ministry of the Interior recognizes 135 different nations. It recognizes the mighty Assyrian empire, the stubborn, hoary Samaritan tribe, and the remote Georgians. It refuses to recognize only one nation: the Israeli nation.

 

The ensuing struggle today in the Supreme Court is part of the struggle for the face, soul and identity of Israel. Our politics are so bitter because they are politics of identity, and our bitterness comes from fighting over what sort of country we should strive for. To put it another way, we are embittered over the question “who is a patriot.”

 

The right-wing readers of my columns have made it a habit to impugn my patriotism. And, indeed, according to their way thinking I am no patriot. If their patriotism means nothing but xenophobia, the controlling of another people, the justification of the killing of anyone who was not circumcised at the age of eight days, the limiting of civil rights according to ethnicity, and using the injustice visited upon the Jews as a pretext for injustice by Jews – then I should not be called a patriot. Moreover, I believe that such a country forfeits its right to exist. The world already has too many ethnocraties as it is. I strive towards a Civil State, what is called here, with contempt, “a country of all its citizens”, a distant dream in contemporary Israel.

 

I think ethnic countries, or rather countries whose perception of nationality relies ultimately on ethnicity, were and remain the main source of suffering in the world. All too often, religion gets entwined with ethnicity: thus, a loyal Frenchman (a right-winger, of course) was considered to be a Catholic one; thus, the Croats were led by Catholic priests, and Russian-Orthodox priests served as inciters for ethnic cleansing in Serbia; thus the national struggle in Afghanistan, the struggle against the Soviet invaders, got mixed up with religion – and became a struggle against the atheist invaders.

 

So is the case in Israel, as Judaism or some of its mutations (most commonly the Sect of the Battle Uniform, which demands that anyone who served in the IDF is a Jew or should be considered as such), lead it towards ultra-nationalism, away from the Civil State. The Ministry of the Interior chose sides and stands by religion: it will not recognize the Israeli nationality. Such recognition means that a person may be defined by some other characteristic than his religion, that a community may be formed based on the fact that its members hold the same principles, instead of the same religious tenets or ethnic background.

 

The Declaration of Independence stands by the supporters of civil state: it guarantees equal rights to all who live in the country, a promise that clashes with the concept of “a Jewish and democratic country”. A country cannot be both Jewish and democratic. A “Jewish and democratic country” is democratic to its Jews and Jewish for the rest of its residents.

 

The supporters of the ethnic state point, correctly, to the fact that the writers of the Declaration of Independence never intended to apply it. The Founders wanted an ethnic state, and carried out a wide ethnic cleansing to get it. The Declaration was written so that they would have something to wave at the UN, which had just then published the Declaration of Human Rights.

 

And that’s what the fight is about: Is there an Israeli nation, or are there only Jews and Arab ethnicities; shall we have a partnership, or shall we stand, forever, on the brink of an ethnic-cleaning war; will the willful hatred of humanity, or will universalism – both rooted in Judaism – portray the visage of the country. It is the question whether the Declaration of Independence is a fundamental document or a mere camouflage rag.

 

Many in the left find it hard, in the last few years, to love their country. Their tendency is to leave patriotism for the right-wingers to appropriate. It is hard, but necessary, to hate our country, because we love it; to hate its current visage, and to strive to change it.

 

How easy it is to pretend, as if Israel is composed of only the Likud Center and the Settlers. When speaking of Israel, we should also be taken into account: we, universalists, humanists, opponents of militarism, socialists, anarchists, freedom-lovers of all kinds. Israel is a divided country; we are part of it.

 

(Written and published in Nana News, as a weekly “Decline of the Republic” column, on 23 May 2004. Translated into English by Yossi Gurvitz).

 

(*) I do not read German – the text is a translation of a translation from German to Hebrew.

(**) That was in May 2004. As far as I know, the appeal is still being deliberated bu the Court.

Slaughterhouse Fodder

Ehud Olmert demonstrated new depths of cynicism today, depths which can only be demonstrated by a person to who clings to his position with less public support than a statistical margin of error. He declared in the Knesset “we are correcting a wrong that has lasted 60 years, which has not yet been resolved. The Holocaust survivors who reside in Israel are entitled to live with dignity here, without coming to the state where they cannot enjoy a warm meal.” What was the cause for this rousing declaration? The government had decided to add 83.33 shekels a month to the Holocaust survival stipend — about $19.30 — and even this will only commence in the 2008 budget.
This is, of course, only a government decision. It will require approval by the Knesset. The swift moving dudes in the Treasury have already declared that they will support a budgetary supplement of up to 520 Shekels per Couple — but only as of 2011. Let the wretches die a little, and stop being a drain on the public purse. The treasury cannot find the 240 million shekels to finance those 520 shekels per couple in 2008.
Of course, there is money. There is a lot of money. $15 billion of excess taxes to be exact. In other words, 62.5 times the required amount, and this is only from excess taxes collected this year.
Now is also a good time to state that the Israeli banks have been exploiting the Holocaust survivors and their descendents with a lack of humanity that even is Switzerland is cause for discomfort. It is also a good time to bring up that dark deal made by Ben Gurion, the deal the gave legitimacy for money, under which the State of Israel — allegedly, the heir of those persons murdered in the Holocaust –received a great deal of money and goods from West Germany, infringing on the rights of the survivors themselves. It is also appropriate to state again that the denazification of West Germany at the time was, how should I put it, only partial.

Ben Gurion gathered up human dust
To toss at the enemy’s eyes;
The road we paved to Jerusalem
Was paved on survivor’s bones.
Benjamin Haroshovsky, Peter the Great

The Holocaust survivors have always been used as objects by the Zionist movement and its rightful heir, the State of Israel. At first they were used in order to increase the immigration quotas, although the immigrants themselves were harassed by the society to which they had immigrated. Then they were used as an excuse to establish the state itself. After that, they were cannon fodder for its battles, not even knowing the language of the land and dying along the road to Jerusalem, in Latrun, crying “wasser, wasser!” and in the absence of water drinking the oil from their guns. After that, when they’d done their job, they were ordered into silence. They were an object of shame for those who stormed though Canaan to conquer it. The fifties were the decade when silence by day turned into howls by night. It was a generation which saw psychological treatment as a weakness, a stain – and they did not submit themselves to it. While all this was happening, Zionism completed the devastation of their culture, the Yiddish culture; it was “a foreign jargon”.

Later, when the Zionist ideology exhausted itself,  and it became necessary to establish the Holocaust as a religion in its stead, they were commanded to speak – just as they had been commanded to be silent, beforehand. And they were as obedient to the new command as they had been to the old. And never mind that this speech, which turned them into the event that they had lived through, reopened wounds that had only barely sealed up with scar tissue. And then they became the ambassadors if Israel around the world, a world ordered to sit in silent shame and never dare to ask any questions.

And after the State picked their pockets and used them to the full extent possible – it threw them to the dogs. The only ray of light in this story is the decision taken by the Electric Company workers, who have undertaken not to cut off electricity for Holocaust survivors. Until now, apparently, Holocaust survivors who could not afford to pay their electricity bills were doomed to boil in the heat of summer and freeze in the winter cold.

Sixty thousand Holocaust survivors – about half of the total number of survivors living in Israel – live beneath the poverty line. And the Ministry of the Treasury abuses them year after year. After all, what can they do? Go on strike?

And now Ehud Olmert is pleased, because he’s added $19.30 a month to their budget. And this, according to the Prime Minister of Israel, is supposed to “right a wrong that has lasted sixty years”.

(Written by Yossi Gurvitz on 30 July 2007, translated by Dena Bugel -Shunra)

The Draft Dodgers be upon thee, Samson

The chorus of wailing and bemoaning led by the wretched Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern (famous for saying: “Saving the wounded is not a biblical commandment”) was recently joined by the Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, and even won a rare remark by the Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. Stern, who followed the oh-so-successful battle in Lebanon with his own “Not enough people died in Tel-Aviv” campaign, earned the support of his two seniors.

But the “leftists elites stab us in the back” campaign is utterly unfounded. In an impressive article by Yagil Levi, he analyzes the non-conscript statistics and deflates Stern’s hot air balloon. Out of the 26 percent of the young Jewish men who are not drafted, 11 percent are ultra-Orthodox; 4 percent are abroad; 4 percent have insufficient education or a criminal record; 2.5 percent have health problems and 5 percent have psychological problems. Levi shows how the so-called “dodgers” come from the poorest and most beaten-up segments of the population. This is not exactly the Tel Aviv jet set. The conscientious objectors and bleeding heart artists are no more than a statistical anomaly.

Even so, it is true that the sons of the elites do not serve in combat units and are underrepresented among the officer corps. But combat service and leadership need someone to step up to the plate and volunteer to them, and the people who abduct people from their lives to be enslaved to the state for three years, simultaneously granting an entire political faction the right to fully or partially shirk conscription, and also act as a tool for one particular side of the political game for generations, have lost the right to demand volunteering of any kind from the sons of the deprived political camp. For more than 40 years the IDF has lied and deceived the Israeli public and the courts in order to protect the settlements in the Occupied Territories. For more than 40 years, the IDF has done the best it could to destroy any chance of peace.

It made sure to conceal these decisions by claiming that “the army doesn’t choose which orders to carry out”, but those who kept track and saw how the IDF repeatedly fails to evacuate settlers’ outposts but swiftly evacuates a mock settlement set up by the Anarchist movement, know well that the IDF is lying, as always; as always, it is a political actor with no real opposition. The Israeli left plays by the rules to its own detriment: had the people of the left indeed dodged en masse the abusive missions that are the majority of the IDF’s actions, if they’d detach from the appearance of gravitas that always and only benefits one side, they might have gained a lot more traction.

Which raises the question: where does Barak find the audacity to be dragged into that odious campaign? After all, this is the man who gave us the vision of “a small, smart army”, who knows about the wasteful, slothful headquarters; about whom former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid coined the expression “fleeing Ehud”, to describe Barak’s escape from the Knesset plenum during a vote on the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, in order to avoid being counted as a supporter of such conscription; and who has recently been a member of the cabinet who gave five more years extension to the Tal Law – a law approved by him as a Prime Minister – which gives ultra-Orthodox youths a safe-harbor from conscription.

The sad answer is that a backstabbing campaign has a lot of demand among the “Proud Jewish” rabble. Indeed, Barak won’t gain a single vote by buttering them up, as they’d rather contract Ebola than vote for him (which – you have to grant them – is a perfectly understandable preference when the alternative is voting for Barak); but then again, Barak was never a successful political actor.

(Originally posted to Friends of George by Yossi Gurvitz. Translated by Yair Mahalalel on August 2nd, 2007)