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State of Denial: Searching for Peace in Israel
Posted on Feb 12, 2010
By Robert Fisk
I don’t doubt that Stepan Bandera’s Ukrainian nationalist movement was a dodgy bunch of racists – and its original adherents were indeed anti-semitic murderers in the Second World War – but where does this end? The Simon Weisenthal Centre – named after a truly honourable man whom I once met in Vienna as he campaigned for Gypsy as well as Jewish victims of the Nazis – is the same organisation which is now proposing to build a ‘Museum of Tolerance’ on an ancient Muslim graveyard in west Jerusalem. And poor old Richard Goldstone, a Jewish jurist and another honourable man whom I met in the Hague when he was investigating war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia, is a ‘traitor’ because he said that Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes in Gaza; in other words, Goldstone – for this is the point – should have allowed his ethnic origins to rule in Israel’s favour rather than abide by the rule of law.
Last week, in the dog-day resort of Herzliya, I attended much of the vast conference of Israel’s great and good – or at least the largely right-wing variety – to find out how they now saw the country that was founded amid such danger by Ben-Gurion 62 years ago. It was the same old story.
“The Palestinians are the ones who are today the naysayers” – this from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ‘security advisor’, Uzi Arad – and the Goldstone Report had now become part of an insidious campaign against Israel, an attempt to “delegitimise” (this is the newest cliché) the state. There were boycotts of Israeli goods. Bonfires were made of Israeli products. “I do not know anyone whose stomach does not turn” at such a sight, said Arad.
Michael Hoenlein, vice-chairman of the immensely powerful Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, announced that Obama’s “engagement” with Syria and Iran had failed. Obama’s administration had been “supportive” over Goldstone (i.e. gutlessly supine in criticising a report which it had not even read). Obama now realised it had to work with Israel. There was unanimous consent in the US Senate over Iranian sanctions. No-one mentioned settlements or colonies. I was reminded of Hannah Arendt’s observation that the congress of World Zionist Organisation’s American section in October 1944 would “embrace the whole of Palestine, undivided and undiminished”. She went on: “This is a turning point in Zionist history… This time the Arabs were simply not mentioned in the resolution, which obviously leaves them the choice between voluntary emigration or second-class citizenship.”
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And it is worth quoting Arendt once more: “...the Zionists, if they continue to ignore the Mediterranean peoples and watch out only for the big faraway powers, will appear only as their tools, the agents of foreign and hostile interests. Jews who know their own history should be aware that such a state of affairs will inevitably lead to a new wave of Jew-hatred; the anti-semitism of tomorrow will assert that Jews not only profiteered from the presence of the foreign big powers in that region but had actually plotted it and hence are guilty of the consequences.”
At Herzliya, Arendt’s words were as if they did not exist. Repeatedly, we heard that Israeli officials might not be able to travel for fear of war crimes indictments against them – which suggests that Goldstone’s report is indeed biting. Danny Ayalon, the Deputy Foreign Minister who preposterously ‘sofa-ed’ the Turkish ambassador last month, obviously smelt defeat for Obama’s original Cairo message of pro-Muslim appeasement and criticism of Israel. The Israeli-American relationship had “never been better”, he told us. Obama had pledged a $30bn (£19bn) package for Israel over 10 years, America had given “iron-clad” security guarantees to Israel. Israel’s antagonists will behave better “when the Arab side knows there is no daylight between Israel and the United States.”
Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to London, announced that while Britain had once ruled the waves, it now ruled the airwaves. The battlefield was now in British universities, in Leeds, in Manchester, at SOAS, in institutions that preach to “students from all over the world” who enter into a “grinder” dominated by the “liberal left”. Ehud Barak – small, almost diminutive, hands constantly waving in front of his face but an oddly congenial personality, the kind of guy it would be good to have next to you at dinner – announced that Israel was “facing a complication of threats from near and far”. The “near” bit was the Palestinians, the “far”, of course, was Iran.
There could be no bi-national state – did anyone want a Bosnia or a Belfast in the Zionist dream? Barak, Defence Minister, former prime minister and – more interestingly – former head of military intelligence, was in orator mode. “I said to Arafat…I told Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) ‘Your most difficult decisions will have to be taken with your own people, not with Netanyahu’...” He quoted Barbara Tuchman on “the despotism of circumstances” and Robert Frost on “good fences make good neighbours”, he quoted Churchill – “a pessimist sees a difficulty in every opportunity.” And along came Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, who apparently thought he was to take part in a discussion rather than make a speech. He pleaded for an end to settlement building – he did not use the word ‘colonisation’ – and to Israeli “incursions” and he did not – once – mention the word ‘Hamas’. An obedient man, Fayyad, a good guy, someone with whom the Israelis could ‘do business’ because – as Barak and his friends in the Israeli government keep telling us – “it takes two to tango.”
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