Friday, 22 January 2016

Israel Herzog v Gideon Levy and the Bankruptcy of Israeli Labour

The debate in the pages of Ha’aretz between Gideon Levy and Isaac Hertzog, leader of the Zionist Union/Israeli Labor Party demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of the Zionist ‘left’.
It is a useful reminder of how useless the Israeli Labour Party is since there are illusions among the Corbynistas, not least Corbyn himself, that the Israeli Labour Party represents an alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Herzog condemns himself and his tradition out of his own mouth.

“Only when I and the leadership of the huge camp I represent prove that in defense of the country, on security issues and in times of danger, we always side with the state… will we be able to win the trust of the majority in Israel.”

And that is true.  In every single war that Likud has led, from the invasion of Lebanon to the repeated attacks on Gaza – Cast Lead, Protective Edge et al.  the ILP has always stood full square behind Begin and Netanyahu.  Of course it is a deception to believe that that would win the support of the majority in Israel.  Why vote for the ILP when you can vote for the full-blooded version instead? 

Herzog’s second card was to accuse Levy of not being a Zionist!  Now that might be a crime in Israel but overseas it should open peoples’ eyes.

“Levy used to be a Zionist,” wrote Herzog. “I’m no longer sure that he is one.”

In Herzog’s eyes this is a crime.  What does it mean to be a Zionist?  Well it means believing that ‘the Jewish people’ have a right to Palestine – all of it.  Indeed more than all of it.  The Zionist belief is in the Land of Israel from the Litani river in Lebanon in the north to the Nile in the south and East to the Euphrates.  Of course all this is for the future.  At the moment Palestine is more than enough.
It means that Israel should be a Jewish state.  That meant the expulsion of ¾ Palestinians in 1948, the expulsion of 300,000 in 1967, the conquering of that part of Palestine allocated to an Arab state by the UN in 1947 and the racist, apartheid division of Israel from 1948 to the present. 

It means that as a Jewish state then being Jewish gives you privileges that a non-Jew does not possess.  In every aspect of society – education, employment, land, welfare benefits – being an Arab is to be the subject of ingrained, institutionalised discrimination that is purposely carried out by the State.  Whereas in most western countries racism is something the State deplores, in Israel it is applauded.

In the ‘war against terror’ Herzog promises that he will be “more extreme than Netanyahu’.  If Netanyahu has killed 150 people in recent weeks, then Herzog would have killed 500.  If Netanyahu killed 2,200 in Gaza then Herzog would have killed 5,000.  This is Israel’s great white hope.

The reality is that Likud has done nothing that the Israeli Labour Governments before them haven’t done.  Expulsions, administrative detentions, land confiscations, mass murder – you name it the ILP has done it. 

When the ILP mounts an election campaign today its main message to Jewish electors is that Likud’s policies are leading towards a bi-national state in which Arabs are a majority.  This is the evil that Labour will prevent.

The ILP has supported the racist and ‘anti-terror’ legislation of Netanyahu.  Be it the attacks on left-wing NGO’s or the banishing of supporters of BDS from Israel or making support for BDS an offence or the decision of Netanyahu, despite his own security advice, to make the Northern Islamic Movement an illegal organisation.  In all this Herzog is Netanyahu’s faithful puppet.

Perhaps the most amusing charge that Herzog makes against Levy is that he is obsessed with the Occupation.  This shows indeed what the priorities of the Israeli Labour Party is and why those who, like Labour Friends of Israel, pretend that the ILP has a radically different policy from Likud on the Occupation, are merely poor liars.

We should be grateful to Herzog for making it clear that there is no Zionist alternative to Netanyahu.

Tony Greenstein
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, left, and Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, right.Ofer Vaknin, Tomer Appelbaum

In a series of opposing op-eds, opposition leader Herzog and veteran Haaretz commentator Levy get to the heart of the differences within the Israeli left.

Haaretz Aug 28, 2015 3:47 AM

19 August

Levy began the exchange with a critique of Isaac Herzog’s tone after the opposition leader’s visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Herzog’s “strong man” rhetoric about his extreme commitment to the war against terror, argued Levy, was vacuous at best and at worst, legitimized the right’s “foolish” notion that a third intifada can be prevented by force. Leave the scare tactics to the likes of Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, or even former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, said Levy. What this country needs is a radical change of direction.
It sounds so funny,” concluded Levy, “and it’s so sad.”

21 August

Herzog responded, bristling at Levy’s accusation of cliché when Levy himself “has been singing the same song for years, publishing the same article and the same text, twice and sometimes three times a week… Levy has been a one-trick pony since way back in the 1990s.”

Herzog wrote that leaders today have a different set of options than those of the nineties ­– ISIS, Hamas, Iran – all of these groups have led Herzog and the camp he represents to embrace the tough talk.

“Only when I and the leadership of the huge camp I represent prove that in defense of the country, on security issues and in times of danger, we always side with the state… will we be able to win the trust of the majority in Israel.”

“Levy used to be a Zionist,” wrote Herzog. “I’m no longer sure that he is one.”

23 August

The gauntlet had been thrown. Levy took it up, proudly acknowledging the “one trick pony” label as a badge of honor and shooting back with his own endearment for the Zionist Union leader: “Rambo Herzog, the fighter of terror.” In snide sarcasm, Levy apologized for “boring” Herzog by harping on the occupation.

“I’ve been trying to report on its crimes for 30 years or so. It’s an obsession of sorts: A person is convinced that his country has a malignant disease and that no issue is more crucial,” wrote Levy. 

“I’m sorry if that bores Herzog, but it’s a cruel reality for millions of people. It’s the reality that hasn’t changed, not the person writing about it.”

Levy detailed the many iterative solutions to the occupation he has believed in over the years, from “the Jordanian option” to Oslo to, now, boycotts and a “single democratic state.”

Herzog and his ilk, suggested Levy, had better work to end the occupation if they expect writers like Levy to stop writing about it.

26 August

Herzog turned the tables in his second response to Levy within a week, calling the writer a fear-mongering messianic closer politically to the likes of Uri Ariel (or even Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh) than the Israeli left.

“In his article, Levy suggests that we turn out the lights on the Zionist project,” wrote Herzog. “Levy doesn’t have to join Habayit Hayehudi. He can easily skip over the party headed by Naftali Bennett and land straight in the lap of Uri Ariel’s Tekuma. Ariel wants the same thing — one state from the Jordan to the sea and one man, one vote, and may the best man win.”

The pragmatic camp that Herzog represents, alternatively, aspires for security for Israel as well as for Palestinians.

“And today there is a window of opportunity for an agreement, both regional and vis-a-vis the Palestinians, that must not be missed,” he wrote. “It’s an opportunity not only for negotiations, but for a real agreement.”

27 August

In the last installment of the open correspondence so far, Levy wrote to Herzog that the only thing he himself has in common with Ariel is “the vast gulf between us,” noting that the agriculture minister’s vision of a united Israel is anything but democratic. It is Herzog, Levy wrote, who stands on Ariel’s side of the line.

“If you scrape off the layers of makeup, you’ll find within him the same nationalist foundation; the belief that in this land there is one nation with inborn privileges that exceed those of the other nation living here,” wrote Levy. “It starts with the Law of Return, which is for Jews alone; and winds through “security needs,” which are always only the security needs of the Jews, and ends with the demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized; it all screams of privilege.”

The choice, says Levy, is simple: Israel can choose to be a democracy first or a Jewish state first – everything else is petty bickering.

Apparently there is no chance that the left-center will be weaned off its way of doing things; let it ask itself: Why is there Palestinian terror, and what is Israel Defense Forces activity if not terror?

Gideon Levy Aug 19, 2015 6:28 PM

Isaac Herzog returned from Ramallah loaded down with impressions, and hastened to write a nice composition, with good penmanship and without his parents’ help. “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid. Be daring,” was the title of the manifesto.

The rest was even more embarrassing and childish (the only thing missing was “we returned home tired but happy,”). But within the sea of cliches, one sentence stood out: “We must prevent a third intifada. That means an uncompromising war against terror, and on that issue I’m even more extreme than [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

Aha, the “war against terror.” Herzog will be “more extreme than Netanyahu.” He will prevent a third intifada.

Herzog owes an accounting for his cliches: What did he mean when he said that he would be even more extreme than Benjamin Netanyahu? Even more violent? Netanyahu is responsible for killing thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, and he will kill tens of thousands? During Netanyahu’s tenure there are 400 administrative detainees, and with Herzog there will be a thousand? Netanyahu is evicting thousands of people from their homes in the blazing sun, and Herzog will evict tens of thousands? Herzog roared on the way from Ramallah – who will not be afraid.

That’s not what he meant, the spokespeople will explain. Herzog only wanted to say that he will be tough in the war against terror, because without that it’s impossible to win elections – and besides, he’s in favor of “the process,” after all. But terror will never be eliminated with force, and the left-center will never learn anything and never forget anything.

The next intifada will not be prevented by means of anyone’s threats, including Herzog’s, but only through a radical change in direction, which won’t take place here of itself.

Herzog’s “process” certainly doesn’t fit that description. Cancelling administrative detentions, for example, would prevent terror more it can be prevented by elite army units. But Herzog and his friends have nothing to say about that. Is the Zionist Union in favor of administrative detention? Against? Again they are only looking for the strong man who will convince the Israelis that he will defeat terror and the Arabs in general, and once again they’re banging their heads against the wall.
Apparently there is no chance that the left-center will be weaned of its way of doing things; let it ask itself: Why is there Palestinian terror, and what is Israel Defense Forces activity if not terror? It can’t let go of the old notion that it must convince the public that it will screw the Arabs the way the right does.

If the leader of the opposition still thinks that a popular uprising is suppressed by force, that a “process” is sufficient to stop such an uprising, if he doesn’t propose a revolutionary change of values and perceptions – what do we need all this for? We’ve had more than enough of this species.
In order to “defeat terror by force” we have Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. To prevent the next intifada by means of foolish threats – “We’ll harm anyone who tries to harm us,” and “We’re prepared for any scenario” – Netanyahu will suffice. In order to explain to the Palestinians that they can achieve what they want only by force – with kidnappings, hunger strikes and Qassam rockets, never through negotiations – there’s no need for Herzog. They’ve known that for a long time.
And even in order to present a left with a security-oriented facade we don’t need Herzog – former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is already warming up on the ropes, in the role of the most desperate hope that the left has ever invented. The general of Operation Cast Lead, the man without (known) opinions, who has never said anything about anything, he is the great and only hope of the moderate camp in Israel. Can you believe it? Why Ashkenazi? Because he’s the only one with a chance to bring down Netanyahu. And why bring down Netanyahu if we’ll get Ashkenazi?

And until the propitious time arrives and Ashkenazi hatches from the egg, Herzog will play Ashkenazi’s role. He will be the commander of the left’s anti-terrorism unit. He will threaten, he will eliminate enemies, he will promise “an uncompromising war.”

It sounds so funny, and it’s so sad.

Isaac Herzog Aug 21, 2015 2:05 PM

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog responds to criticism levelled against him by Haaretz's Gideon Levy, arguing that making peace also means fighting terror - not just accepting the Palestinian narrative hook, line and sinker.

Abbas and Herzog, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2015.Reuters
It’s always amusing to read Gideon Levy criticizing someone else for using cliches ("The left’s counter-terrorism unit," Haaretz, August 20). After all, Levy is the expert in the use of cliches. He has been singing For the same song for years, publishing the same article and the same text, twice and sometimes three times a week: "Occupation, occupation, occupation and once again occupation; only the Jews are to blame and only the Palestinians are right." Levy has been a one-trick pony since way back in the 1990s.

My meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) this week lasted for an hour and 15 minutes. We sat privately and conducted a penetrating, detailed and in-depth conversation. Too much time has passed since an Israeli leader sat with Abu Mazen and spoke to him directly and at length. He is afraid of the unbridled terror. He is doing quite a lot to combat it, but is very concerned by the fact that we may be on the brink of a third intifada, and that it is liable to erupt on his watch. Under his responsibility. He is particularly concerned by the stagnation and by the lack of hope on the diplomatic front.

I described my viewpoint to him; I explained that I want to take take my party back to the path of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which means a tough and uncompromising war against terror, and at the same time, a courageous diplomatic initiative. As I told Abu Mazen, in the war against terror I really am more extreme than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His policy of speaking to Hamas and isolating Abu Mazen will lead to Abu Mazen’s resignation and to Hamas taking control over Judea and Samaria. Hamastan five minutes from Kfar Sava. That’s not how to fight terror and its leaders.

On the other hand, I see a rare regional opportunity, with other countries in this region - which are also threatened by the ISIS crazies and the Iranian sweet talk - as well as Israel and Gaza, which want to continue the quiet and are willing to think about rehabilitation and calm, have a shared interest in moving towards direct peace negotiations between Israel and the PA. That’s the key, and that should be encouraged. We must not award a prize to Hamas, but rather foster calm and turn the PA into a partner - and there are plenty of means available of doing so.

Towards the end of the burning-hot summer there is such a moment, in which it is possible to restore hope to the region.

But people like Levy are stuck in the 1990s and fail to understand that it’s impossible today sit down around the negotiating table with the Palestinians and to emerge, locked in a brotherly embrace, moments later with a with full peace agreement that features a return to the 1967 lines and a division of Jerusalem. Levy writes as though he hasn’t been here in recent years. In a previous article he mocked me because my wife and I gave our blessings to the cadets in a pilots’ training course. Levy used to be a Zionist. I’m no longer sure that he is one.

After Gaza fell into the hands of Hamas, and the State of Israel was attacked with missiles, and tunnels were dug under dining rooms on kibbutzim in the south, it’s no longer possible to continue talking only about a bilateral agreement with the Palestinians. We have to talk about a trailblazing diplomatic move, supported by the moderate countries in the region.

Levy thinks that the Palestinians are always right. That the terror attacks against us are their natural right. That a boycott against the Jews is the imperative of the hour and that the time has come for U.S. President Barack Obama to impose the same kind of sanctions that he imposed on Iran on Israel. In effect Levy, like the messianic right, is leading to a state with an Arab majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

In contrast, the huge camp that I lead loves Israel and wants a Jewish and democratic state, existing alongside a Palestinian state in security and peace. Only when I and the leadership of the huge camp I represent prove that in defense of the country, on security issues and in times of danger, we always side with the state, and only afterwards do we have time for debates and disagreements. Only then will we be able to win the trust of the majority in Israel and to bring these ideas to fruition.

I believe that leadership is always obligated, while adhering to its values, to make a tactical recalculation. Not to close its eyes in the face of what is happening - and always to be daring enough to confront a changing reality and to try to change the present and the future.

The head of the Zionist Union comes across as someone who is not up to the challenge of fighting the most right-wing, nationalist government in the history of Israel.

Gideon Levy May 21, 2015 4:44 AM

An election campaign billboard shifts between images of Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, right, and Likud Party leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2015.AP
From the outset, he shouldn’t have been the Zionist Union’s candidate for prime minister; like his counterpart Miliband, he should have resigned the day after his defeat. But even having come this far, he should quit his post – yesterday, today or tomorrow at the latest – in the wake of the documentary that exposed his conduct during the election campaign.

Anyone who believed before the election that he was the man, anyone who believed after the election that he should stay on and continue leading, ought to watch Anat Goren’s film “Herzog,” the first part of which aired two days ago on Channel 10’s “Hamakor” program. In order to truly understand that while Isaac Herzog may be a fine person, a pleasant, decent, intelligent and honest conversationalist, this is not the material from which another prime minister, leader or statesman will ever emerge.
The day after the election, or at the latest, the day after the screening of “Herzog,” this thing has to end. Herzog isn’t right for the job. He never was right for the job – as the film clearly shows.

The Herzog of “Herzog,” like the real-life Herzog, is not suited to be prime minister, or opposition leader for that matter. Some people reached this conclusion long ago, but even those who kept on believing couldn’t deny what they have been seeing on their television screen.

“So what do you want? Can you tell me where?” Herzog asks in one of the many low points documented in the course of his campaign. “Can someone come here and guide us? Can someone explain to us what’s going on?” he’s heard saying at another embarrassing moment, sounding so helpless it’s almost pitiful. Really, where should he stand? Next to the cedar tree his grandfather planted in Gush Etzion? But the sun is in his face and anyway you can’t see the monument from there. So what should he do? And what are we? Maybe he ought to mention Barack Obama in his speech? Or maybe not? And maybe there should be some water on the podium? Or maybe not? And maybe he should leave the speech on the podium? Or maybe not?

Ridiculous politicians who become puppets in the hands of their media advisors are nothing new around here. We’ve seen plenty of strutting and blustering media consultants before. But the combination of [media consultant] Reuven Adler and Isaac Herzog is the most farcical of all: The arrogant and euphoric statements that keep spouting from the mouth of the consultant-sorcerer, legs up on the table and overflowing with self-importance, juxtaposed with the utter helplessness of the puppet he is trying to manipulate with his supposedly magic strings, is just too much. Nothing good has ever come of combining a weak and desperate politician with a haughty personal advisor. When will we ever see a politician here who won’t listen to advisers?

The man who said, “I have the feeling that I am leading a large camp” and that he “sees steps ahead,” shouldn’t ever have been running for a job that was too big for him. But the statesman-prophet from Tzahala didn’t give up. That may be his tragedy, or that of his party too. Now it’s become a farce, and soon it will turn into a catastrophe.

And this is how it is: The most right-wing, nationalist and religious government in the state’s history just came into power by a slim majority. Its components are almost beyond surreal, its statements are already beyond bad taste. A government whose education minister explains that “Education is aspiring for every boy and girl to love the homeland” is one for the scrapbooks: This is the kind of talk that once was heard in Nicolae Ceaucescu’s Romania, maybe also in Enver Hoxha’s Albania. 

This government is being run by a prime minister whose agenda has expired: Iran is out of the picture, as is the chance for the two-state solution. All that’s left for him is to undermine the regime, as is the way with rulers who stay in power for too long.

And who do we have to contend with all of this? Isaac Herzog. Leader of the opposition. Grandson of the rabbi and son of the president. This farce has to end.

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