‘This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender’

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Pete Seeger and the banjo

Pete Seeger with his banjo in 2004 (AP/Rebecca J. Rosen)

When I think of Pete Seeger, who passed away early this morning at the age of 94, in my mind he is never empty-handed. Always, always, always, he carried with him his banjo.

He was just 27 years old when folklorist Alan Lomax asked him about his odd choice of instrument in an interview.

“Hello there, Peter,” Lomax says.

“Howdy,” Seeger replies.

“Mighty nice music you’re making, Pete.”

“Oh, I’m just warming up.”

“What’s that funny looking guitar you’re playing?”

“Oh this isn’t a guitar. This is a banjo,” says Seeger.

“Well tell me: Is the banjo something new?”

“New? It’s about as new as America is.”

And age wasn’t all that the banjo and America have in common. The banjo is an instrument whose history reflects the nation’s: It was born in slavery, gained popularity on the minstrel stage, and, eventually, in Seeger’s hands, turned against its own past, becoming a “machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”—at least, that was the proclamation written upon its head.

Seeger himself first fell in love with the banjo at age 16, when he attended a folk festival with his father in Asheville, North Carolina. At the time, the banjo was thought of as a “white” instrument, the province of poor Appalachian farmers. But, as Seeger explained in the interview above, the banjo hadn’t always been that way. “You see,” Seeger tell Lomax, “American negro slaves made the first real banjos, a couple hundred years ago, out of ol’ hollow gourds and ‘possum skins I guess.”

In fact, banjo historian Greg Adams told me, the banjo was first created by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean in the 17th century, a New World take on traditional West African instruments. The first North American reference to a banjo dates to 1736 in New York City, but most of the earliest references to American banjos come from the Chesapeake region. Generally speaking, Adams says, the banjo’s spread followed slavery’s.

It was in the 1830s and ’40s that white Americans started picking up banjos too, often in the context of racist minstrel shows, imitating slave life through the appropriation of slave instruments. The first white banjo performer, Adams explained, was Joel Walker Sweeney, a blackface minstrel performer, who was taught to play by African-Americans around Appomattox, Virginia, in the 1830s. It was through minstrelsy, Adams says, that “the banjo crossed over from vernacular traditions into American popular music and popular culture.”

From there, the banjo’s popularity continued to grow, flourishing both in a variety of genres at home—ragtime, vaudeville, early jazz, early country, bluegrass (led by the inimitable Earl Scruggs)—and abroad, particularly in minstrel performances.

It’s in the folk revival in the middle of the 20th century that Pete Seeger took the banjo and transformed it. “The banjo in the hands of Pete Seeger becomes this iconic representation of community and social justice and social awareness,” Adams says.

How did he do that? How did Seeger take an instrument—one with no inherent properties of justice, as evidenced by its history—and assign it a new cultural value?

There is no way to answer this but to observe the rarity of a force like Pete Seeger upon the Earth.

Sure, the banjo has a jaunty, inviting sound. Sure, it can be played in a variety of ways, making it suitable for a range of musical genres. But these qualities did not prevent it from being a prop of racist entertainment. They did not make it a symbol of community. They did not transform it into a “machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

That was the work of man. One man, really.

Seeger’s banjo now resides at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio,where he donated it following an ill-fated attempt to sell it on eBay to raise money for Haitian earthquake relief. After watching bids climb to unimagined heights, Seeger canceled the auction. No machine to surround hate and force it to surrender should live in a private living room of a fancy home, after all.

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Canadian Prime Minister

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen have arrive in Israel today (Sunday) on an official four-day visit. The Canadian Prime Minister is accompanied by ministers, MPs and business people. This is Harper’s first visit to Israel and the first by a serving Canadian Prime Minister since 2000.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah will welcome Harper and his wife in an official ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The Netanyahus will later host the Harpers for dinner at their official residence in Jerusalem.

On Monday, Prime Minister Harper will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Knesset.

On Tuesday morning, the Canadian PM will meet with President Shimon Peres and attend a joint meeting of the Israeli and Canadian governments at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The Netanyahus will, afterwards, accompany the Harpers to Yad Vashem. An official dinner for Prime Minister Harper, his wife and the accompanying delegation will be held Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the Harpers will tour Christian holy sites in northern Israel, after which they will go to Tel Aviv University, where Prime Minister Harper will receive an honorary doctorate and meet with students.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Harper have previously met in London in April 2013 and in Ottawa in March 2012.

Harper: Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you

 

Canadian PM met with many standing ovations, but in the end, was treated like family and interrupted by Arab MKs who relegated him to the Likud’s benches.

Stephen Harper, January 20, 2014

Stephen Harper, January 20, 2014 Photo: GPO/AMOS BEN GERSHOM

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a very warm welcome in the Knesset Monday.

The first speech in the Knesset by a Canadian prime minister was peppered with standing ovations, the enthusiastic likes of which may not have been seen since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the US Congress in 2011.

Statements like “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you” were met with rousing rounds of applause, and though clapping is against Knesset protocol, even Speaker Yuli Edelstein joined in.

The Canadian premier said he believes “it is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland.

“Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” he emphasized. “It is… a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”

“The friendship between [Israel and Canada] is rooted in history, nourished by shared values, and it is intentionally reinforced at the highest levels of commerce and government as an outward expression of strongly held inner convictions,” Harper said in French and English.

Some of those shared values are “freedom, democracy and rule of law,” in which Israel “has long anchored itself,” he said.

“These are not mere notions,” he added. “They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish.”

Palestinians also deserve these things, Harper said, expressing support for “a viable, democratic Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel,” though, “sadly, we have yet to reach that point.”

“I believe that a Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realize that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence,” Harper stated.

Despite the nearly wall-towall support for Harper’s words as expressed by the many standing ovations, the “robustness of Israeli democracy,” as Netanyahu called it, was demonstrated several times with Arab MKs interrupting the Canadian minister as he spoke about anti-Semitism in some criticisms of Israel.

“We have witnessed in recent years the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain…. People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East. As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel,” Harper stated.

“Don’t mislead; we want to boycott settlements,” MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) interrupted in English.

“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state,” Harper continued, as MK Taleb Abu Arar (UAL-Ta’al) shouted: “It is.”

“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, [a state] that is condemned – and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening. But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism,” Harper went on.

Tibi pointed at the coalition’s side of the plenum, shouting “That’s where the Likud sits; you should be there,” and then he and Abu Arar demonstratively walked out as the audience cheered Harper for his comments against anti-Semitism.

“What else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it?” the Canadian prime minister asked. “What else can we call it when Israel is routinely targeted at the United Nations, and when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its human rights council?” Edelstein, who spoke before Harper, commented to him after his speech: “You’re not a guest, you’re family, because there were interruptions, which is unusual for foreign guests.”

Earlier, Netanyahu gave a speech in support of Harper, breaking protocol to give large swaths of it in English.

“You are a true friend in Israel,” he said. “The people in Israel thank you for your steadfast support.”

Netanyahu commended Harper for his “courage to stand for the truth and courage to say it” when faced with people “who try to deny the connection between [the Jewish people] and our land. You know the facts of our past well.”

Describing the necessity of security arrangements in the event of a peace agreement, Netanyahu quipped: “If I’m not mistaken, Yonge Street [in Toronto] is longer than the State of Israel, so we have no margin of error.”

“There are thousands of miles between the large Canada and the small – larger than life but physically small – Israel, but our nations are close.

It’s deep in our hearts,” Netanyahu stated. “We will always see Canada as a close friend.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) dedicated much of his speech to the Toynbee- Herzog debate at McGill University in 1961, in which his uncle, then-ambassador to Canada Yaakov Herzog, debated notoriously anti-Semitic British historian Arnold Toynbee.

“Since you’re part of the family, I won’t hide our disagreements,” Herzog said. “I believe we need to separate ourselves from the Palestinians while protecting Israeli security.

We need a Palestinian state near an Israeli one, based on 1967 lines with land swaps while annexing settlement blocs… We have to try everything for peace and back the great effort US Secretary of State John Kerry is investing and give him a chance,” Herzog stated.

“Enough is enough,” he added in English, and in a reference to Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen called to “let the dove free.”

Herzog also did not miss the chance to take a dig at Netanyahu and his breach of protocol, pointing out that “the official languages here are Hebrew and Arabic, not English.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Sunday, “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a great friend of the State of Israel. He has strongly opposed against attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel and has taken a praiseworthy moral stand against these attempts. I welcome his arrival together with his wife and the members of his delegation. We will work together to further enhance the important relations between our two countries.”

Vladimir Jabotinsky

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landofmaps:</p><br /><br />
<p>Map of Greater Israel, a term used by Revisionist Zionism (explanation in comments) [480x688]<br /><br /><br />
Vladimir Jabotinsky,  (born 1880, Odessa, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]—died Aug. 3, 1940, near Hunter, N.Y., U.S.), Zionist leader, journalist, orator, and man of letters who founded the militant Zionist Revisionist movement that played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.Jabotinsky began his career in 1898 as a foreign correspondent, but his popularity as a journalist led to his recall to Odessa in 1901 as an editorial writer. By 1903 Jabotinsky began to expound Zionist views for the restoration and creation of a Jewish national state in Palestineboth in his writings and in his oratory, of which he was a master. During the next decade, he continued to work as a journalist while traveling in Europe and crystallizing his Zionist views, which tended to be uncompromising and political, rather than cultural.

During World War I, he was convinced that the Ottoman Empire, then the ruling power in Palestine, would fall and that in this vacuum the Jews could colonize Palestine if they had demonstrated service to the Allies. He thus convinced the British government to allow military participation by Jewish refugees from the Ottoman Empire.

In 1920 Jabotinsky organized and led a Jewish self-defense movement (Haganah) against the Arabs in Palestine. The British, who then ruled the country, sentenced him to 15 years at hard labour, but this action provoked such an outcry that he was soon reprieved. In the 1920s he was active in many international Zionist organizations, including the World Union of Zionist Revisionists in 1925.

Testifying before the British Royal Commission on Palestine, Jabotinsky gave an impassioned expression of his Revisionist views. The source of Jewish suffering was not merely anti-Semitism, he said, but the Diaspora (dispersion) itself; the Jews were a stateless people. Assigning cultural Zionism a relatively low priority, he advocated the creation of a Palestinian Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, with continued Jewish immigration to achieve a Jewish majority there, and employment of Jewish troops for self-defense as part of the permanent garrison. In 1940, while in the United States to visit Betar, the youth organization of the Zionist Revisionist Party, Jabotinsky died of a heart attack. His followers, who had already founded theIrgun Zvai Leumi terrorist group, active in Palestine in the 1940s, later founded the Israeli Ḥerut Party.

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Yair Lapid: We need to get rid of the Palestinians

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Yair Lapid is the Minister of finance . His fater was Tommy ” Josef” Lapid the minister of Interior Affairs in a previous government in Israel.

Finance minister tackles numerous pressing issues in Tel Aviv event, says settlements should be funded until evacuated, rabbis should not meddle in issues unrelated to halacha, ‘his brother’ Bennett was demoted to ‘cousin’

In what state is the relationship between Yesh Atid chairman and Habayit Bayehudi chairman, why are the settlements still funded by the State and what will be their future – Finance Minister Yair Lapid addressed all of these pressing questions Friday morning at a Tel Aviv panel event.

When Lapid was asked about the issue of women’s recruitment to the army and his past remarks noting that he would act to dismiss the chief rabbis for going against female IDF recruitment, he said: “I am not the minister responsible for (the chief rabbis), Naftali Bennett is.” The interviewer then comically noted: “Our brother”; yet Lapid cynically replied: “He has been demoted to cousin,” and stressed he believes Bennett should act on this matter.

“We are in an unprecedented struggle on the matter of equality of burden, and I don’t think it is right for the rabbis to say they forbid women from serving in the army. This cannot be and we will act against it, unless they retract their remarks.”

Related stories:

Lapid was asked about his opinion regarding the offshore bank account held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the island of Jersey, and responded: “Since the State comptroller said he would look into the matter, it is improper for the finance minister to address this issue beforehand.”

In regards to the affair involving Rabbi Pinto and senior police officers, Lapid provided an interesting commentary: “On an economic level, I want to draw the attention to the fact that the three Israeli tycoons that were notorious for consulting with rabbis are Moti Zisser, Nochi Dankner and Ilan Ben Dov. What is common to all three, apart from consulting with rabbis, is that their empires fell apart.”

Lapid at Tel Aviv panel event, Friday morning (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Lapid at Tel Aviv panel event, Friday morning (Photo: Yaron Brener)

Lapid added: “It saddens me to see Judaism turn into a combination of charms and interference in matters unrelated to them. If I have a rabbi, it’s Rabbi Shai Piron. If you’d ask him what’s the most rabbinical thing he ever did, it’d be adopting a disabled child, because that’s what a true rabbi does. He doesn’t sit with all sorts of high-ranked officers or tycoons and advises them on matters unrelated to Judaism or halacha.” These mixes are not good.”

Lapid stressed that he is not very familiar with the details of the affair but was hopeful that “the senior police officials did nothing wrong. I don’t think it only stains the police, but the chief rabbinate as well. The mixing of these two areas is unfit.”

‘Get rid of Palestinians’

Lapid was later asked about the political negotiation and the document that will soon be brought to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“There will be an outline to the framework agreement which will be discussed in the negotiations,” Lapid said. “It doesn’t mean you agree to anything, it doesn’t mean we think Jerusalem should be divided. It only means that these subjects are under debate as well and we don’t need to be the ones who are insubordinate.”

Lapid: Won't allow a non-democratic Israel (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Lapid: Won’t allow a non-democratic Israel (Photo: Yaron Brener)

“We say – peace is not the issue, we need to get rid of the Palestinians. It threatens us, it chokes us. Ultimately the State ofIsrael cannot continue on while unnaturally absorbing four million Palestinians. Eventually they will tell us, ‘if you don’t want to give us a country of our own, let us vote.’ And then, if we let them vote, it will be the end of the Jewish state. If we won’t let them – it will be the end of a democratic Israel, and I won’t allow that to happen.”

Lapid added: “We will have to pay a price for this breakup. The price now only means they will open up a series of issues within the negotiations, and then we will explain to what we agree and to what we disagree.”

The finance minister showed his support of PM Netanyahu: “I’m in the coalition because this is where things get done. And Yesh Atid bolsters the negotiations and supports the prime minister because he is running them correctly. It is not going to be easy, and every time we’re asked why we don’t resign from the government, I’ll say – to keep it going, not for it to end.”

Despite the political vision he presented, Lapid explained that until the settlements are evacuated, they must be properly funded: “Most of the budget for the Settlements Division is transferred to the Galilee and the Negev. And no new settlements are being established. The agreement requires the evacuation of 80,000-90,000 settlers. It is not only going to change the country, it’s going to change you and me. It will be the biggest Israeli drama since the State’s establishment, in terms of what it does to us. It’s going to be a drama that will tear us from the inside, but until that happens, there are people, good Israeli citizens, who live there, and I think it is perfectly fine to transfer money to continue their lives.”

When asked about the remarks made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon about Kerry, he said: “It is indecent. Give credit to the defense minister that he thought he was talking in a private conversation, but even in such conversation he shouldn’t speak this way, and I am glad he apologized because that was the right thing to have done.”

Yasser Arafat: A criminal culture

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A criminal culture

From Fresno ZionismYasser Arafat in Syria, 1970

The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it.  Palestinians deserve to move and travel freely, and to feel secure in their communities. Like people everywhere, Palestinians deserve a future of hope — that their rights will be respected, that tomorrow will be better than today and that they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity.  Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own. — Barack Obama, March 21, 2013

Not surprisingly, I disagree. Palestinians do not deserve a state.

There are many arguments against creating a Palestinian state: arguments based on Israel’s security, on the Jewish people’s historic rights to Judea and Samaria, on the impossibility of a viable Palestinian economy, etc.

I would like to make another argument, which is not heard so often because it is not politically correct: the Palestinian nation has developed a criminal national culture, a collection of aspirations, modes of thought, discourse and behavior that would make a Palestinian state a destructive element in the community of nations.

Now, please stop screaming ‘racism’ for long enough to understand that this has nothing to do with biology. A baby born to a Palestinian mother in another culture would grow up no different from anyone else in that culture. Palestinian Arabs aren’t biologically different from Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East, and indeed there is a lot of genetic overlap with Israeli Jews. I don’t believe that
Palestinians are born violent, angry and dishonest — I believe that the culture that has developed along with the creation of the ‘Palestinian people’ in the past 100 years or so has made them so.

The ancestors of most Arabs living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean migrated into the region starting in the 19th century. They were brought there by an Egyptian military campaign against Ottoman Syria in the 1830′s, by famines and political upheavals in Syria, by the British (in the 20th century) to work on projects such as the construction of railroads, and most of all by the better economic conditions brought about by the British and by the Zionistyishuv.

One of the attributes of present-day Palestinian culture is the belief that history is whatever Palestinians say it is. So we have Palestinians saying that they are descended from ancient Canaanites or Philistines. This is nonsense. Some small number may actually be descended from the Arab conquerors of the 7th century, and some from local Jews or Christians converted by those conquerors. But the idea that there is a unique ‘Palestinian people’ that has lived in the region for centuries is a fable.

What brought these disparate Arabs together was opposition to Zionism. The first great leader of the Palestinian Arabs was Haj Amin al-Husseini, who stirred up anti-Jewish riots and pogroms as early as 1920. The British helpfully made him Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, and he became the face and voice of the Palestinian cause. During the war, he worked closely with Hitler, raised an SS division among Bosnian Muslims, made Arabic broadcasts to the Middle East from Berlin, and did his best to encourage Hitler to conquer Palestine, where Husseini planned to set up extermination camps for Jews.
Only the British victory at El Alamein prevented his plan from becoming reality. After the war, al-Husseini helped SS officers and other war criminals escape to Egypt and Syria where they aided the regimes in their struggle against the Jewish state. I think we can call him a ‘war criminal’ too, don’t you?

Husseini was overshadowed, though, by Yasser Arafat, one of the founders of the Fatah terror group (around 1959), who became the head of the PLO in 1968. Arafat’s Fatah still holds the record for the most Jews killed by a terrorist organization, more than Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah, etc. Arafat took terrorism to new levels, popularized airline hijacking for political purposes, was wholly or partially responsible for several wars — the Black September conflict in Jordan in 1970, the Lebanese Civil war of the 1970′s, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Second Intifada in 2000, and lesser incidents like the Munich Olympics massacre, the Achille Lauro hijacking, and many more.

In possibly the greatest mistake made by any Israeli government, Arafat and his gang — who had been exiled to Tunisia after the 1982 Lebanese war — were allowed to return to the territories and set up the ‘Palestinian Authority’ (PA) under the Oslo accords. Arafat — now officially recognized as the ruler of the Palestinians in the territories — continued to engage in terrorism while he pretended to negotiate a peace agreement, and established a system of indoctrination for Palestinians in every aspect of their cultural and religious institutions and media.

The Palestinian nation was forged by al-Husseini, Arafat and others who took this disparate group of Arabs and united them under the banner of ‘resistance’ to the Zionists, and later to the state of Israel, who developed the idea of the nakba as a loss of honor that had to be avenged. They created a monster, a culture whose predominant memes are of blood and murder.

The PA continued its indoctrination campaign after Arafat’s death, promoted its invented version of Palestinian and Israeli history, its glorification of terrorists and ‘martyrs’ and its incitement against Jews. Today, Palestinian society is suffused with feelings of anger and frustration over its supposed ‘dispossession’ and continued ‘oppression’, frustration which breaks out every so often in the form of stabbing 9-year-old Jewish girls, shooting anti-tank weapons at schoolbuses, or slaughtering whole families.

Listen to or read an interview with a Palestinian — male or female, any age. You will hear about their victimization and their suffering. You will not hear that it is unfortunate that about 3,700 Jews (and a few others) have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since 1920 (the number does not include casualties in wars, or Palestinians murdered for ‘cooperating’ with Israel). Nothing is ever their fault; it is always the Jews, the United States, the British, etc. You will never hear about a need for reconciliation; only ‘resistance’.

Look at their heroes: above all, the mass murderer Arafat, along with smaller-time murderers like Dalal Mughrabi, the exemplar for Palestinian womanhood, whose ‘operation’ only killed 37 Jews (12 of them children). Look at the reception they are giving to the murderers that Israel is releasing in response to American pressure.

Since the stupidity of Oslo, Israelis and the PLO have been ‘negotiating’ to arrive at yet another partition of the sliver of Jewish land that exists precariously among the 22 Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa. The Palestinians have never stopped incitement and terrorism, and they have never negotiated in good faith toward an end to the conflict. They have pursued a strategy of alternating violence and deceitful diplomacy whose objective is the elimination of Jewish sovereignty.
And yet President Obama says they ‘deserve’ a state!

In deciding whether establishing a new state here is a good idea, it makes sense to think about what the character of that state will be. And there is no doubt that ‘Palestine’ will be an aggressor and a locus of terrorism. A criminal culture will produce a criminal state.

How could the embodiment of the philosophy of Yasser Arafat be anything else?

Ben Gurion: . . . if he were caught between the rise of al-Qaeda and Iran and the decline of the United States?

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What Would Ben-Gurion Do

What Would Ben-Gurion Do

David Ben-Gurion with IDF Commander Yossef Nevo and Mayor of Jerusalem Mordechai Ish-Shalom at an army post at the Jerusalem border, 1962. By David Harris.

Ofir Haivry in “Israel in the Eye of the Hurricane” calls for reviving David Ben-Gurion’s activist school of foreign policy. In building his case for the rightness of such a policy, Haivry provides us not only with an insightful survey of the historical development of Israeli strategy but also with a framework for comparing policies across time periods. His approach is particularly helpful in pointing out the complex interconnections among local, regional, and global politics.

But in taking the view from 30,000 feet, Haivry misses the specific dilemma that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now faces: Israel is caught uncomfortably between the decline of American power and the rise of al-Qaeda and Iran.

As Haivry observes, America is pulling back. In the words of former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, the Obama administration has determined that the United States is “overinvested” in the Middle East. President Obama, therefore, has shown himself to be deeply reluctant to commit the U.S. to any initiative designed to shape a new regional order. This standoffishness has resulted in a power vacuum. The vacuum is most obvious in Syria, where Shiite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda are both growing increasingly powerful even as they vie with each other for influence.

For Israel, the dilemma arises not so much from America’s withdrawal as from the decidedly partial character of that withdrawal. Although Obama has taken one step out the door, the other foot is still planted firmly in place. At the United Nations General Assembly in September, for example, he targeted two problems for energetic solution: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. He could not have chosen two issues of greater concern to Israel. While other Middle Eastern leaders complain of an aloof and distant America, the Israeli prime minister finds himself hosting Secretary of State John Kerry nearly once a month. In short, Obama has boxed Netanyahu in.

 

As historical coincidence would have it, however, Ben-Gurion had to grapple with an analogous dilemma, and in doing so his activist school reached the zenith of its influence. In the mid-1950s, as radical pan-Arabism shook the region, the Eisenhower administration, which leaned toward the side of the Arab states, was singularly fixated on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The best way to achieve that goal, the President believed, was to force Israel to make painful territorial concessions.

And there was more. In 1955, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, the charismatic young leader of Egypt and champion of pan-Arabism, had signed a massive arms deal with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower chose to interpret Nasser’s move as a hedge against Israel rather than a rejection of the West per se. Rolling back Israel could therefore also serve as a means of wooing Nasser away from the USSR.

Not surprisingly, a significant gap in perception opened up between Jerusalem and Washington. The Americans fawned over Nasser; the Israelis increasingly saw him as an existential threat. As a result, Ben-Gurion was forced to adopt a bifurcated strategy. Wherever possible, he showed deference to the United States—making sure, for example, to cooperate with Eisenhower’s Arab-Israeli peace initiative. At the same time, in a practice that enraged the Americans, he did not refrain from launching aggressive border raids against his neighbors, including Egypt.

Events reached a high point in 1956 when, ignoring explicit American warnings, Israel launched a war against Egypt in concert with the French and the British. That coalition was itself very much the product of the preceding two years of Israeli activism. By demonstrating Israel’s willingness to act independently of Washington, and by showcasing considerable military prowess, Ben-Gurion had laid the groundwork for an alliance with France that in the next decade would prove a godsend to the newly independent Jewish state. It was, indeed, the French who roped the British into the coalition against Egypt.

 

Although much has changed since then, there is a good deal to be learned from this historical example. Specifically, if Israel were to revitalize Ben-Gurion’s activism in today’s circumstances, what goals would it pursue?

In addressing this question, Haivry himself argues in favor of “abandoning the preoccupation of the last decades with two issues at the expense of virtually all others: namely, the conflict with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat.” Ben-Gurion’s track record suggests otherwise, especially with regard to Iran.

In the 1950s, the Israeli leader’s top priority was arresting the advance of Egyptian militarypower. The Soviet arms deal gave Nasser an edge: an advantage that to Ben-Gurion represented a threat on the same order as the Iranian nuclear threat represents to Israel today. Indeed, if Ben-Gurion were reincarnated as an adviser to Netanyahu, he would undoubtedly draw a parallel between the rise of Iran as a nuclear power—and the American posture that has inadvertently facilitated that rise—and his own experience with Nasser.

Just like Egypt in the 1950s, Iran today presents a nexus of three key factors: malevolent intention, lethal capabilities, and strategic determination. None of Israel’s other antagonists on the Middle East scene exhibits such a multidimensional challenge. Al-Qaeda, to be sure, is fearsome. But Sunni jihadism in general is organizationally fragmented, militarily weak, and strategically inept. The danger it poses to Israel is real enough, but hardly rises to the level of an existential threat.

The primacy of the Iranian challenge raises a key question. If Ben-Gurion were alive today, would he urge Netanyahu to follow his example in 1956 and launch a strike against Iran that could, plausibly, turn into full-scale war? The answer is almost assuredly no.

Let’s assume that Israel actually possesses the military capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear program (a big assumption). In the event that led to all-out military confrontation, it would lack great-power support, something that Ben-Gurion regarded as an absolute prerequisite. In 1956, he gave the order to attack only after he had ensured the backing of Britain and France.

Netanyahu enjoys no such support today. Getting into a war with Iran all by himself would be easy enough. But getting out of it would require the good offices of the United States, which he cannot count on.

 

This, however, does not entirely nullify the activist option. Extrapolating from his behavior in 1954-55, but stopping short of war, Ben-Gurion would press forward with the most muscular policy possible, especially through an aggressive covert campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. All the while, using the model of Britain and France in 1956, he would search for actors willing to partner with Israel against Iran on the wider Mideast scene.

Granted, it is not entirely clear that such actors exist; but the possibility is insufficiently explored in Haivry’s analysis. For example, after discussing the three “clusters” of states in today’s Middle East, Haivry writes: “Israel is, to say the least, not a good fit for any of these regional groupings.” He thereby scants one of the most striking developments of the last three years—namely, the confluence of interests between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states, Saudi Arabia first and foremost.

A reincarnated Ben-Gurion would certainly investigate whether behind-the-scenes cooperation between Riyadh and Jerusalem was possible, and whether an activist foreign policy could help to solidify it. The arena offering the greatest potential for such cooperation is Syria, where shifting the balance against Iran’s proxy Hizballah is in the interest of both the Saudis and the Israelis. An additional advantage in Syria is that Netanyahu can act aggressively there without unduly complicating relations with Washington.

Of course, the impediments to cooperation between Jerusalem and Riyadh are considerable, and it would be difficult to pull off even a covert alignment with any effectiveness. But the Middle East is changing rapidly, and the stakes are very high. It would be a mistake to assume that yesterday’s impossibility will remain unthinkable tomorrow.

Who knows? In the process of courting the Gulf states, Netanyahu might even find other partners whose cooperation he could not have foreseen. After all, Ben-Gurion planned neither the alliance with France nor the alignment with Britain. It was his activism that generated both relationships. Activism, he understood, was a form of advertisement.

Israel’s ex-PM Ariel Sharon dies

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Ariel Sharon (November 2005)

Ariel Sharon’s life was intimately entwined with the life of the country he loved from the moment of its birth.

He fought in its war of independence in 1948 and from that point until he slipped into a coma in 2006 it seemed there was hardly a moment of national drama in which he did not play a role.

He was always a controversial figure in Israeli politics – certainly not universally loved – but in mourning his passing, Israelis are marking the loss of one of the few public figures left whose career stretched back to the earliest days of their state.

Ariel Sharon’s roots were in the world of Zionist pioneering zeal – he was born between the two world wars in Palestine when it was under British control – to a Jewish couple who had fled to the Holy Land from Belarus.

Ariel Sharon in Sinai (October 1967)Sharon was admired among Israelis for his military exploits

His reputation as an uncompromising and unapologetic defender of his country’s interests dates back to his military career.

He was still a teenager when he fought in the war of 1948 and in his autobiography, fittingly called Warrior, he described intense fighting against soldiers from the Jordanian Arab Legion for control of a crucial police fort on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

He and his men lay in fields ignited by gunfire in the burning heat with water and ammunition running low.

He remained a soldier for many years afterwards, fighting with distinction in Israel’s battles with its Arab enemies in the wars of 1967 and 1973.

He helped set up Unit 101 – a commando detachment whose job was to conduct reprisal operations across the border in Arab territories to retaliate for attacks against Israel.

Such was his reputation as a military commander that some accounts of his army career say he was nicknamed the Lion of God after a particularly daring tactical parachute operation against Egypt in 1967 in the Sinai desert.

Shadow of Lebanon

But already there was a dark undertone. Allegations emerged that Egyptian prisoners had been shot and there were questions at home about whether the operation had been a military necessity.

Fifteen years later, it was another dark episode that brought Ariel Sharon international attention.

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Political Career

  • 1973: Elected Knesset member for Likud
  • 1975-77: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s special security adviser
  • 1977-81: Minister of Agriculture
  • 1981-83: Minister of Defence
  • 1984-90: Minister of Trade and Industry
  • 1990-92: Minister of Construction and Housing
  • 1996-98: Minister of National Infrastructure
  • 1998-99: Foreign Minister
  • 2001-2006: Prime Minister
  • 2005: Left Likud to found Kadima

He was minister of defence when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The strategic goal was to bring stability to the country’s northern border by crushing Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which was then holed up in southern Lebanon and Beirut.

But the war was deeply controversial at home as well as in the wider world.

And there was worse too.

Fighters from a Christian militia group which was co-operating closely with the Israelis carried out extensive massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla.

It is likely the names of those camps will be associated with Mr Sharon’s own name as long as the history of that conflict is remembered.

Eventually an Israeli inquiry held that Ariel Sharon was “indirectly responsible” for the killing.

The war cost many lives – Israeli as well as Palestinian and Lebanese – and it casts a long shadow over his historical legacy.

Second intifada

Within Israel Mr Sharon was not finished though.

Long a supporter of the settlers who moved on to the lands Israel captured in the war of 1967 in defiance of international opinion, he saw himself as a natural leader of the Israeli right.

In a volatile place, he could be a provocative figure.

Paul Adams looks back on the life and legacy of Ariel Sharon

In the year 2000, flanked by hundreds of Israeli riot police, he staged a visit to the area of the Old City in Jerusalem which contains sites sacred both to Jews and Muslims – the Temple Mount or Harem al-Sharif.

Even though the area is in the part of East Jerusalem captured by Israel in the war of 1967, Jewish rights to pray there are limited – and it is a microcosm of the tensions that fuel the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Intense rioting followed his visit there and many people trace the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada to that moment.

Ariel Sharon was characteristically unrepentant.

Bold moves

He became prime minister in 2001, promising to bring peace and security to his country but it was a turbulent period in Israeli politics and he eventually left the governing Likud party to found his own Kadima movement while still in office.

Ariel Sharon in Nitzanim, north of Gaza (May 2005)Sharon pulled Israeli troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, a move which divided his supporters

Peace remained elusive then as it is elusive now.

It was on his watch as prime minister that construction of a barrier began with the intention of preventing suicide attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territories.

His supporters would argue that it worked. Its detractors would say it entrenched an already deep sense of separateness.

He did not shy away from bold political moves though. The man who had supported Israeli settlers ordered their removal from Gaza when he decided to withdraw from the Palestinian enclave beside the Mediterranean in 2005.

It was precisely his reputation as a hardliner that allowed him to sell to his supporters a decision with which many felt instinctively uncomfortable.

Not long afterwards, he slipped into the coma from which he was never to emerge and we will never know how he would have followed up that decision or where it might have led.

Ariel Sharon died hated by Israel’s enemies but there are plenty of Israelis who would argue that the depth of that hatred was a measure of the success with which he always defended the country he served.