By Eric Lee
In early November, Ofer Eini announced the end of his 8-year stint as the head of Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut.
The end of the “Eini era” is a good moment to reflect upon some of the extraordinary successes the Histadrut has had in the last couple of years, particularly in organizing workers previously thought of as “unorganizable”.
That these successes are largely unknown outside of Israel is due to the blind hostility shown by some trade unionists to the Jewish state – a hostility that extends to the Israeli trade union movement.
The Histadrut has made extraordinary progress in its organizing campaigns recently by using audacious tactics in the workplace, getting labour laws changed, and using new technology effectively.
The result has been that unlike unions in many other industrialized countries, the Israeli labour movement is growing.
They began the year with union recognition at the mobile phone carrier Pelephone. This victory followed four months of struggle that culminated in a historic decision by Israel’s national labour court which ruled that an employer cannot intervene in the right of its employees to form a union.
They repeated this success in April with Cellcom, another large mobile phone carrier. Hundreds of new members were signed up, initially in a secret campaign and then openly.
Cellular telephone companies have been very difficult targets for unions in some other countries, as evidenced by the campaigns being waged by American unions to organize German-owned T-Mobile, or the struggle Britain’s unions have had with Virgin Media.
The Histadrut’s successes were not confined to the high-tech sector.
In June, the Histadrut’s youth arm announced that it recruited over 7,000 young workers at McDonald’s. In most countries, unions struggle to successfully organize McDonald’s workers – or workers in any other fast food chain.
In late October, the Histadrut announced a “lightning campaign” to sign up one third of the employees of Migdal Insurance on a single day. The campaign followed on the successful unionization earlier this year of Clal insurance. One reporter said the organizing drive “began to acquire the form of a full-scale military campaign.”
“There is no place where we are not active. We came organized and with the goal of winning,” a Histadrut source said. “D-Day was set for today, and all Migdal employees received an SMS and link to a website to join the Histadrut digitally … Activists from the union and employees are distributing brochures as we speak, calling on the employees to enter the special Facebook page set up for the unionization.”
At the same time, the Histadrut launched a 6.5 million shekel (1.36 million Euro) television ad campaign to promote union membership.
The Manufacturers’ Association condemned the planned ad campaign as “wretched timing” — not specifying when precisely was a good time, in their view, to promote union membership.
But Ofer Eini defended the plan: “It is precisely at this time that unionization of employees is needed, especially at a time of vilification of organized labor.”
Few unions outside of Israel will be aware of any of these successes in part because of the reluctance to engage with the Jewish state.
But another problem is that the Histadrut itself makes almost no effort to share its successes with the outside world, and instead focusses its very limited international activity at attempting to block anti-Israel resolutions at union congresses.
It’s very rare for a Histadrut representative at international trade union events to speak about anything other than the conflict with the Palestinians. But when they do – as happened at a global food workers congress in 2011 – they may find themselves facing an audience that is far less hostile.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Lib Dem idiot David Ward
Early Day Motion 739 is a call for the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists. Its primary sponsor is Jeremy Corbyn, who once invited Raed Salah, a promoter of the blood libel, to Parliament, and it is being supported by many other usual suspects: George Galloway, who refused to debate with a student at Oxford once he realized he was Israeli, David Ward, who bemoaned the fact Jews hadn’t learned more of a lesson from the Holocaust and Bob Russell, who has drawn a false equivalence between the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.
However those of us who are inclined to defend Israel from disproportionate scrutiny and exaggerated, even racist, criticism will sometimes find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as people with views just as deplorable – eg: Israel supporters who deny the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and assert that they are a “made up people” with only themselves to blame. So it doesn’t seem rational to dismiss this EDM just because supporting it will put one in some unwelcome company. Here is the full text.
That this House notes that, on a daily basis, Israeli authorities restrict journalists’ movements and there are hundreds of military checkpoints that constrain or forbid journalists’ movements; further notes that despite the long standing campaigning by journalists and civil rights organisations, the Israeli authorities continue to reject identity cards, accreditation and press cards, including the International Federation of Journalists press card, when carried by Palestinian journalists; condemns the continuous attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian news gatherers, in particular photographers and camera crews, the level of attacks has increased during the first half of 2013, in 2012 the attacks involved rubber coated steel bullets, tear grenades and stun grenades; and reaffirms that freedom of movement is a central tenet of independent professional journalism and, in restricting such a right, Israeli authorities are in breach of international covenants and the right to report.
There would seem to be two possible objections to the EDM. First, the claims may be exaggerated; secondly, even someone who is, or seems to be, a journalist may still pose a threat. Here’s a link to a story about a clearcut example of this, a newsreader who dropped off a terrorist before going to work to report on the bombing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/arts/television/27genz.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1386088156-piyAlCJHUvKKlpjcZCsThg
Yet security concerns don’t justify the apparently brutal treatment some Palestinian journalists have experienced, as documented here:
Trying to establish whether the EDM is reasonable or not, like most lines of enquiry relating to Israel/Palestine, has the same bewildering effect as looking at this ambiguous picture:
Is the journalist featured in this story (link below), Mohamed Jamal Abu Khdeir, a victim of Israeli heavy handedness or a real security threat?
While looking up recent news stories about Palestinian journalists I found an example of one unfortunate man, George Canawati, who had been beaten up for mere “slander and abuse” - making derogatory remarks about a police officer. However in this case the violence was carried out, not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian Authority:
However, even though one might wryly note that some sections of the media won’t be so quick to report on this attack on press freedom as on Israel’s shortcomings, that doesn’t mean those shortcomings aren’t real. The monitoring organisation Reporters without Borders doesn’t have the kind of profile one would associate with reflexive Israel-bashing, yet it seems increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian journalists:
So, whether or not one goes along with every element of the EDM, it certainly seems to highlight a genuine cause for concern in a year which has seen Israel’s press freedom ranking fall sharply:
Review by Martin Thomas, Workers Liberty
Ed Miliband’s father Ralph Miliband, a Marxist writer denounced by the Daily Mail as “the man who hated Britain”, left behind him two well-known books, Parliamentary Socialism and The State In Capitalist Society.
Less-known, but also valuable today, is a thin volume of letters in 1967 about Israel-Palestine between Ralph Miliband and his friend Marcel Liebman, who was then a contributor to the semi-Trotskyist Belgian weekly La Gauche.
The letters were translated from French by Peter Drucker and published in 2006 with an introduction by the Lebanese-French Marxist writer Gilbert Achcar.
Partly the letters are valuable in the same way that a view on any issue from a divergent and unfamiliar angle can be. In 1967, many assumptions on Israel-Palestine which currently go almost unquestioned on the left (in Britain, at least) were not assumed at all. And partly the letters are valuable because in them Miliband is exceptionally lucid.
The correspondence spans a few weeks around the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states.
The temper of the left on the Israel-Palestine question then was different from now. No-one on the left advocated wiping Israel off the map. Arab governments, and the leaders at the time of the PLO (then an annexe of the Egyptian government, without the autonomy it gained after 1968-9), openly advocate wiping Israel off the map, and everyone on the left dissented.
Inside IS (forerunner of the SWP), a small but substantial minority opposed SWP leader Tony Cliff’s line in June 1967 of backing the Arab states. There was a debate inconceivable today in the SWP or the SWP diaspora. (For the record: the forerunners of AWL backed Cliff’s line in 1967. We have learned since).
At the beginning of the debate recorded in the volume, Liebman is about as anti-Israeli as any socialist got those days. He expresses disgust that “the whole French left is basically for Israel… from [Jean-Paul] Sartre to [Socialist Party leader] Guy Mollet”, and says he wants to move to England where anti-Israeli sentiment is stronger.
In the first letter he denounces Miliband as “pro-Israeli” and “reacting as a European and a Jew rather than as a socialist”.
Miliband actually has a slightly rose-tinted picture of Israeli policy. He considers it “nonsense” to suppose there are “serious Israeli plans to conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory”.
Miliband is remonstrating with an indignant Liebman who suggests that Israel is about to invade and conquer Syria. He is right to do so: but in fact Israel would “conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory” in the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, IDF paratroopers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall shortly after its capture. (David Rubinger / Knesset website)
Shortly after 9:15 a.m. on June 7, 1967, reservists of the Israel Defense Forces 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade became the first soldiers of a sovereign Jewish state to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, the historic and Biblical capital of the Jewish people, in nearly 20 centuries. The ceasefire that ended Israel’s 1948 War of Independence had left Jerusalem’s Old City under the Jordanian army’s control, and many religious Jews with strong feelings that the promise of redemption had not yet been fulfilled.
The night before, the unit had sustained high casualties in hand-to-hand fighting against Jordanian Army infantry in the surrounding hillsides. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan questioned whether modern Israel even needed what he dismissively called “this Vatican,” but ultimately relented to the pressure of Israel’s Chief Rabbi and the political Right. However, the conquest was easier than anticipated: Unknown to the IDF, Jordanian forces had slipped away under cover of night, so when approval came that Wednesday morning to take the Old City, soldiers of the 55th broke through the Lion’s Gate and reached the Temple Mount and Western Wall in short order. In a scene eerily foreshadowing the triumphal image 36 years later of an American soldier draping the stars and stripes across a statue of Saddam Hussein, someone fastened an Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock—Islam’s third holiest site—prompting an appalled Dayan to order it taken down immediately.
Over the course what became known as the Six Day War, the territory under Israeli control tripled, its borders expanded to the banks of the River Jordan, the Suez Canal and the heights of Golan, encompassing not only all of Jerusalem, but the holy historical sites of Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem. What had begun as a defensive war for national existence had ended in an occupation of conquest.
The consequences of that transformation over the next five decades are vividly, and at times heartbreakingly, recounted in American-born Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi’s excellent and exquisitely written new book, Like Dreamers: The Story of The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Through the intertwining personal histories of seven reservists of the 55th Brigade— who range from pork-eating, Yom Kippur-breaking kibbutzniks to kashrus-observing, kippot-wearing seminarians—Halevi provides a comprehensive, insightful and richly accessible portrayal of the competing utopian visions of modern Zionism: one secular, the other messianic. Understanding these competing visions is central to finding a just and enduring resolution to the competing claims dividing what both Arabs and Jews call the Holy Land.
To kibbutzniks, the founding elite of the modern Jewish state, Stalin-era Red Army songs came more easily than the most elementary Hebraic prayers. They believed the aim of Zionism was to build a democratic socialist country in the ancient Jewish homeland that would claim its place among the other sovereign secular democracies of the world, a nation among nations.
Religious Zionists, not interested in building what Halevi characterizes as “another Belgium,” sought to create a Jewish state that remained true to Biblical prophecy and borders, included the holy sites of Jerusalem, Jericho and Hebron, observed Jehovah’s rituals and commandments, and served as a beacon and moral example to all the nations. Halevi quotes a 21-year-old seminarian and corporal exclaiming at the liberation of the Temple Mount, “Two thousand years of exile are over.” Another tells an officer, “We are writing the next chapter of the Bible.”
But with unfolding of events—the Yom Kippur War; the founding, expansion, and dismantling of settlements; the incursion into Lebanon; the Camp David and Oslo Accords; the Rabin assassination; the massacre at the Mosque of Abraham; successive intifadas and failure to reach agreement at the second Camp David meeting in 2000—worldviews change, as did the former paratroopers who held them. In following the stories of these paratroopers and their comrades, Halevi masterfully demonstrates the fluidity, complexities, inconsistencies and contradictions that propel national, cultural and geopolitical, as well as personal, history. Of the seven paratroopers:
Two kibbutzniks—Meir Ariel, who becomes a rock musician and Avital Geva, who earns international acclaim as a conceptual artist—were involved in founding of Peace Now, the political movement dedicated to ending the occupation and reaching a just two-state solution with the Palestinians. Brought up in secular socialist kibbutzim where the kitchens weren’t kosher and the Sabbath was just another work day, Ariel and Geva in middle age separately come to embrace ritual prayer and the Study of Torah.
Arik Achmon, the brigade’s intelligence officer and the son-in-law of the founder of the leading left-wing kibbutz movement becomes a corporate executive, union buster and influential proponent of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while at the same time favoring construction of a security barrier separating most of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel proper, concluding that for Israel, ending the occupation is a more urgent priority than making peace.
Yoel Bin-Nun, former seminarian and corporal in the paratroopers, who becomes a rabbi, teacher, and founder of two settlements beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, similarly concludes when “confronted with the unbearable choice between preserving the intactness of the people of Israel and the intactness of the land of Israel,” the Jewish hierarchy of values places people first, then Torah and then land. Anguished by the religious Right’s growing participation in, and tolerance for, violence against other Israelis and Israeli institutions, he quits the settlement he founded, and at the age of 58, votes Labor for the first time in his life.
Yisrael Harel, the only non-sabra of the seven, is a child refugee of the Shoah who, as a leader and top organizer of the settler movement, goes on to meet clandestinely with PLO representatives in an effort to find a framework for agreement on Palestinian sovereignty that preserves established Jewish settlements. Harel’s colleague Hanan Porat, also a former seminarian, becomes the first West Bank settler to win election to the Knesset as a strong proponent of expanded settlement by both legal and extralegal means. When during the elections of 1992 hard Right parties attack Labor Prime Minister candidate Yitzhak Rabin for suffering an emotional breakdown on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Hanan Porat publically comes to the defense of his former commander.
Former kibbutznik and paratrooper Udi Adiv becomes increasingly estranged from what he comes to see as “Zionist imperialism” and “the fiction of progressive Zionism.” While a left-wing radical at the University of Haifa, he asks an Israeli Palestinian to put him in touch with the PLO. Ultimately, Adiv becomes involved with a Syrian sponsored anti-Zionist terror network. Arrested in Israel three months following the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, he is convicted of espionage and sentenced to 17 years in prison. While imprisoned Adiv asks to be confined with the Arab prisoners, but grows disillusioned when they exhibit more solidarity with nationhood and Islam than with class. He is returned by request to the general prison population, comprised mostly of Sephardic poor and working-class Jews. Released after serving 12 years, he tours the destroyed Arab village on whose land his own kibbutz expanded and thinks, “Every nation carries its legacy of injustice… . To correct the injustices of the past meant imposing new injustices.” Nearly two decades following his arrest, one of his former interrogators casually tells him during a chance encounter that “all of us”—meaning the intelligence service— “are in favor of an agreement with the Palestinians.” The kibbutznik takes it as a vindication of sorts.
None of these lives played out neatly. Some bent toward behavior and ideologies they never would have imagined, others experimented with various philosophies and careers, while others pressed the limits of messianic certainty. In them, we see that progress marches not so much in a straight dialectic as rambles in gradual zigs, abrupt zags, and occasional reverses—something Hegel and Marx and Yeats never quite got.
Halevi’s narrative includes a number of tactical and strategic lessons for contemporary progressives seeking justice for Palestinians. Boycott, Divesture and Sanctions proponents might remember that the most powerful consequence of the 1975 United Nations “Zionism is racism” resolution, was to incense Israelis and sway Israeli public opinion to support—or at least not oppose—the expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria. Arafat’s last minute hardening of position and retreat from an agreement at the 2000 Camp David talks, under which Israel would have withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the West Bank and would have established a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, led to the resumption of the intifada and the surprise election months later of hardliner Ariel Sharon as prime minister, thereby prolonging the misery of occupation and postponing indefinitely the prospects for establishing a two-state solution and the redress of Palestinian grievances.
Yossi Klein Halevi’s eye for detail and character, and ear for complexity and nuance, create an authoritative narrative with the intensity and sweep of an epic novel. From now on, no understanding of the history and currents shaping the prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be complete without Halevi’s remarkable and compelling book.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Louis Nayman is a longtime union organizer. The views expressed are his own.
H/t: Roger McCarthy
Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab war against Israel (I include in that, the 1967 defensive pre-emptive strike by Israel). Initially, Egypt and Syria had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors, but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:
Above: Moshe Dayan with Golda Meir at the Front
I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.
A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…
Inevitably, the memory starts to work.
THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.
The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.
They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.
Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.
IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Above: Uri (left) talks to Sadat
He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.
Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir.
She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.
Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.
After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the infamous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”.
Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.
Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.
Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo.
Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.
All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.
THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.
The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from.
Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.
So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.
Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.
There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)
As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).
THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.
Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.
I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution.
During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.
My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.
The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?” In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate.
My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.
Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.
Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.
THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.
Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.
Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”. Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.
But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.
Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?
Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!
Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.
And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.
IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.
Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.
Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.
The fifth and final part of Simon Schama’s The Story Of The Jews airs tonight [Sunday 29 Sept] at 9.00pm on BBC 2.
In my opinion this has been a superb series and one of the finest examples of so-called ‘popular history’ ever to have appeared on TV: accessible but not simplistic, personal but scholarly, and passionate whilst remaining objective.
Schama makes no secret of his Zionism – albeit a liberal, two-states Zionism that acknowledges the suffering experienced by the Palestinians. On screen he wears a yarmulke much of the time, and lets viewers know what his personal views are, up to and including a statement concluding with the rarely-heard (at least on the BBC) words ” … that’s why I’m a Zionist.”
This has enraged the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) who wrote a most revealing letter of complaint to the BBC, including the following:
“We also note the new BBC Two series The Story of the Jews, presented by Simon Schama. In an interview in the Radio Times (31 August-6 September), Schama describes himself as an ‘historian-Zionist’ and says he will be making ‘the moral case for Israel’ in the final episode of this five part series.
“We find it alarming that the BBC is giving a platform to an openly pro-Israeli commentator to make the ‘moral case’ for Israel. Schama’s views will go unopposed, unchallenged and unanalysed. This is a far cry from the balanced and impartial broadcasting that the BBC claims to champion.”
In other words, these people (who sometimes – especially when seeking trade union backing – claim to support two states) actually object to the idea of someone presenting the case for the very existence of Israel.
The final part of Schama’s series, tonight, deals with the creation of Israel and Jewish relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world, bringing the story up to the present. Watch it, judge for yourself how fair it is, and feel free to send us your thoughts.
NB: the BBC2 series is based upon Schama’s book of the same name, which we will be reviewing shortly.
I thought some readers might be interested in an exchange of views, involving myself, on the subject of whether it is accurate and/or politically useful to describe Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state. What is particularly significant is not so much the content of the debate – most of which covers well-trodden ground – but the fact that it appeared in the Morning Star, a publication which has hitherto presented the ‘fact’ of Israeli ‘apartheid’ as a given, and never (to the best of my knowledge) carried any debate on the question on its letters page, or anywhere else. Regulars will be aware that the Morning Star is not my favourite publication, but it is to their credit that they published my first letter on the subject and also then gave me the right of reply to two critical responses. My letters were edited, though not in such a way as to misrepresent my views, and I presume the two critical replies may well have been as well. I reproduce them all exactly as printed, apart from a couple of minor corrections to spelling and grammar.
Because the Morning Star revamped its website in September, no record of the editorial that gave rise to my first letter remains there, and I have not kept a copy. I have been able to track down the opening lines from elsewhere on the web, and these should give you a flavour of what sparked it all off in the first place. I took a conscious decision to restrict my response to the question of ‘apartheid’ and not comment on the rights and/or wrongs of the BBC’s “censorship”:
More Zionist Bias at Beeb
BBC4 is screening a Nigel Kennedy concert this evening in which he speaks up for Palestinian rights, but the national broadcaster has decided to censor his remarks.
The August 8 Proms concert featured Kennedy and the Palestine Strings, a group of young Palestinian musicians from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.
The violinist paid tribute to his fellow musicians, telling the audience: “it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music making that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for things to happen.”
His comments were carried live on BBC Radio 3, but a pro-zionist campaign campaign of pressure has led to … (from MS Editorial, August 23)
JD: 1st letter:
Your editorial More Zionist Bias at Beeb (M Star August 23) is mistaken. Nigel Kennedy’s concern for the Palestinians is laudable but his use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel is highly contentious.
“Apartheid” was not simply a term of abuse, but had a definite class content.
It was a peculiar system in which a white caste, intertwined with the capitalist ruling class, denied the black majority elementary rights in order to enforce their super-exploitation.
The answer was a single state with equal rights for all. For democrats there could be no question of national or collective rights for the whites as distinct from individual equal rights after the overthrow of apartheid.
The Israelis are not a narrow caste and Israel is not an apartheid state but a nation – one that denies rights to the Palestinians but a nation nonetheless.
Iraq, Iran and Turkey are not “apartheid states” because they oppress the Kurds and Russia is not an “apartheid state” because of its occupation of Chechnya.
Israel is a national entity not simply a settler-caste. Within Israel the great majority of the working class is ethnically “Jewish” and their view matters.
They do not have the right to oppress Palestinians but they do have the right to their own national identity.
That is why in Palestine, unlike in South Africa, the best immediate settlement is two states.
Arab citizens of Israel face discrimination in many areas of life. But the situation more resembles the discrimination faced by ethnic minority people in Britain or the US than it does apartheid South Africa.
Some techniques used by Israel against the Palestinians resemble those used by the apartheid-era South African regime but the social and political realities are fundamentally dissimilar.
Recognising that should not lessen our hostility to oppression of the Palestinians. But to call it “apartheid” is politically illiterate, alienates many Jewish people and serves no useful purpose in building solidarity with the Palestinians — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Letter from Stephen Smith
I was puzzled by Jim Denham’s assertion (M Star August 30) that the term “apartheid” wasn’t appropriate to describe Israel.
Given that it means “separate development” in Afrikaans, it is a good fit for a state which segregates citizens in every conceivable way on the basis of their ethnic origin.
Apartheid did indeed have a class dimension but even a cursory glance at the extreme poverty experienced predominantly by Palestinian Arabs signposts economic disadvantage based on ethnic origin as a feature of Israeli and Palestinian life.
Jim describes Israel’s “ethnically Jewish” working class yet inexplicitly excludes non-Jewish working people in Israel, largely working class Arabs denied the same rights and status as other Israeli workers.
If that isn’t apartheid, I’m not sure what is.
Desmond Tutu noted in 2002 that this situation “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa…the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.
“Many South Africans are beginning to recognise the parallels to what we went through.”
Far from being “politically illiterate,” both Nigel Kennedy and the Morning Star’s editorial (M Star August 23) hit the mark.
It is the bitterest of ironies that a nation forged in response to the greatest crime against humanity is one of the perpetrators of the very ethnic division and hatred standing in the way of the peace, justice, prosperity and equality that could resolve this conflict. — STEPHEN SMITH Witney
Letter from John Nicholson
I presume you published the letter from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (M Star August 30) in support of the Israeli state in order to provoke responses.
That may be permissible in journalistic terms.
However it is not a good justification for a left newspaper to give any coverage at all to these views.
If anything what the Israeli state is perpetrating on the Palestinian people is worse that apartheid — Palestinian refugees who have no right of return to their homes in villages which Israel demolished. Palestinians living within Israel with substantially fewer social, economic and political rights than their Jewish neighbours, and Palestinians in Gaza who are contained within what is effectively a very concentrated concentration camp, in increasingly severe deprivation and subject regularly to annihilation from Israel’s bombs.
And meanwhile our government — and the EU — gives support to Israel, not least by contracting with the appalling G4S which is integrally involved in the Israeli prisons and detention centres where Palestinians, including children, are illegally held and ill-treated. — JOHN NICHOLSON Manchester
JD: 2nd letter
Since neither Stephen Smith nor John Nicholson (M Star September 3 and 7-8, respectively) address the central point of my first letter (M Star August 30) about Israel and apartheid, let me spell it out.
Israel was given its character by Zionists’ refusal to use Arab labour. Whatever we think of that, it was the opposite of the form of exploitation on which apartheid South Africa was built.
As a result, in Israel there is a large, powerful Jewish working class and the Histadrut trade union that organises Jewish and Arab workers.
In apartheid there was no major white working class, just a tiny and massively privileged labour aristocracy.
The Israeli Jewish workers’ movement must be crucial in the fight for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine tragedy in a way that was simply not the case with white workers in South Africa.
Socialists should support Palestinian and Jewish activists in fighting for workers’ rights, democracy, secularism and the right of all peoples to self-determination.
In the immediate term that means the struggle for two states. I’m afraid that many of the people who insist on describing Israel as an “apartheid state” don’t really want that. — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Sarah AB, over at That Place and also at Engage, has described the circumstances leading to the Malian singer-songwriter Salif Keita to cancelling an appearance in Jerusalem. We have argued many times here at Shiraz, that the BDS campaign to boycott and “delegitimise” Israel is counterproductive, of no real use to the Palestinian people and generally more about hatred of Israel than about solidarity with the Palestinian people.
I thought it would be useful to republish this statement from Salif Keita’s Facebook page:
Salif Keita forced to cancel Jerusalem Festival due to dangerous threats by BDS
August 22, 2013
Dear Sacred Music Festival, Hadassah Hospital, Salif Keita fans,
On behalf of Salif Keita and the Salif Keita Global Foundation, we would like to thank you for organizing a magnificent unifying music festival, and a visit of the albinism treatment center in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Mr. Keita will not be able to attend either events because of the cancellation of his show at the Sacred Music Festival.
Although, the show was cancelled, Mr. Keita (and his foundation for albinism) would like to convey his most sincere apologies to all concerned, such as the concert organizers, the Albinism Treatment Center and especially all his wonderful and diverse fans in Israel. The reason for the cancellation is not one which was made by Mr. Keita, but by his agents who were bombarded with hundreds of threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harrassment and slander stating that Mr Keita was to perform in Israel, “not for peace, but for apartheid.”
These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.
Of course, we do not agree with any of these tactics or false propaganda, but management’s concern is to protect the artist from being harmed personnally and professionally. Although, we love Israel and all his fans here, and the fantastic spirit of unity of the Sacred Music Festival, as well as the important work your hospital is doing for albinism, we did not agree with the scare tactics and bullying used by BDS; therefore management decided to act cautiously when faced with an extremist group, as we believe BDS to be.
In addition, Mr. Keita is not a politician who plays for governments, but a musician who performs for his fans who are of all faiths and origins in Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that artists like him are threatened by this group who falsely claim to defend human rights, when they should take their concerns to governments or ask for support of their cause in a lawful way, and not by endangering the freedom of expression of artists, or using harrassment and intimidation of artists who play for peace and for all people, in order to bring some kind of justice to the Palestinians they claim to represent.
Since Mr. Keita, during his stay and performance in Jerusalem, had planned to visit the Hadassah Hospital and albinism center, he had also planned to make a donation of certain goods to the hospital which he would still like to offer. The boxes are already in Jerusalem and were shipped for his planned visit to the hospital. The modest donation consists of about a couple of hundred new UV protected sunglasses, as well as UV protected clothing, swimgear and hats for patients with albinism.
Again, we thank you for your invitation to Jerusalem, and are deeply saddened and disappointed by the outcome of this planned performance and visit. We hope that you will receive this donation with the love it was intended to bring to the patients, as we determine a future time to be able to perform in Israel, and visit your important center for albinism and skin cancer treatment.
Salif Keita and Coumba Makalou
The Salif Keita Global Foundation INC
Yeah, sure: that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
This marks a new low even for the preposterous tyrant-lover and conspiracy theorist Galloway:
Assad’s man was speaking on Press TV, natch.
Above: the East Jerusalem neighbourhood Issawiya
Guest post from Pink Prosecco
It’s frustrating not being able to know exactly how the questions for a recent poll of Israelis about their views on the peace process were framed, but (based on the information which is being reported) there is no great reason for optimism here. Although it’s no surprise to learn that most Israelis are opposed to a full right of return, it seems only a small minority support even a watered down solution to one of the biggest sticking points for any negotiated settlement.
Asked about major issues to be decided during the talks, 77 percent of Jewish Israelis opposed Israeli recognition in principle of the right of return, with a small number of Palestinian refugees being allowed to return and financial compensation for others.
I support a two state solution, and thought the majority of Israelis did too. However:
62.5 percent opposed a withdrawal to the 1967 borders with land swaps; 58 percent opposed evacuating settlements except for Ariel, Maale Adumim and the settlement blocs.
Ariel, a controversial settlement, is another sticking point, so it’s depressing to see that even a deal which would represent quite a concession from the Palestinians is viewed askance by so many in Israel.
An interesting finding in another recent poll was that the transfer of Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem to the PA gets little more support from Israeli Arabs (55%) than from Israeli Jews (50%). East Jerusalem always seems to be the knottiest problem of all for those seeking peace, so it’s useful to be reminded that those most immediately affected, Arab Israelis in Jerusalem, aren’t all jumping at the chance of being citizens of a Palestinian state.