And Who Shall I Say is Calling?

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Dear Leonard,

It was two months ago that I had the privilege of seeing you perform in New York. You might say I’d been waiting thirty-five years for it. I remembered the first time I’d heard your music in Israel, and you could tell from my smile “that tonight would be fine.” As I arrived outside the show, I met some old friends—partners in the struggle—who were demonstrating across the street: “Leonard, don’t play Israel!” After all the kissing and warm embraces, I told them that I really must go in so that I wouldn’t miss the opening song. They nodded and slipped a small placard in my hand, then warily asked if I would hold it up during the show: “Leonard, don’t play Israel!” Amid those hearts that burn like coal, the sign seared my hands like hot coal too.

I was there with my only daughter. Your wonderful voice had been a soundtrack to my life, and now I wanted to share that with her. I recalled the day, when we were living in New York, that her grandfather died in far-off Beersheba. She lit candles around her bed to the strains of “Hallelujah,” and the two of us wept over Grandpa Jukey. Jukey was a wonderful man, who apparently died from a cancer he contracted at the Dimona nuclear reactor, a modern-day temple to the new God that has “become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.” My daughter had never heard “Hallelujah” before, and I hadn’t yet told her about the reactor in Dimona, but that’s when she first fell in love with your music. Now, in New York, we had come to take advantage of that brief moment of kindness that you so generously shared with us.

Who am I to tell you: “Don’t play Israel”? Your voice, so mature, so moving, so shattered, could shatter even a heart of stone. And yet, that placard still seared my fingers—fingers belonging to an Israeli and a Jew who believes that we are ultimately responsible for the fact that the Palestinian people have lived in exile in their own land for the past sixty years. I was hesitant about raising that sign, but just then you came on stage, and sang in your broken, heart-rending voice, “Like a bird on the wire, Like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” The placard slipped from my hands and the romantic idealism that still fills my soul quivered and shook off years and years of accumulated dust. I sang along as if I was you or you were me. I remembered you well in the Chelsea hotel … and it was if we were there with Janis Joplin herself … I never wanted it to end. You knew who I am and you gave me your all. Then, when the concert was finally over, I got up and laid the sign gently on my seat. Maybe someone else would raise it.

I was very excited when I first heard that you would be playing in Ramallah. I said to myself, “It’s different with him.” I always knew that you are not like Paul McCartney and the others. You are a true symbol of art, who is (still) trying to make this world a better place. In New York I heard you sing, “I’m your man.” It’s true: you are my man, indeed. I called my friends in Ramallah and said, “Let’s go see Leonard together,” and only then did I learn that the Palestinians had decided to cancel your show. It goes without saying that I was quite disappointed. You are someone who listens, who cares. You are different from all the others. Why must they be so stubborn? Why can’t they finally reap the fruits of their success—“Leonard Cohen plays in Palestine!” What right do they have to rob their fellow Palestinians of this chance to hear the best that music has to offer? What could they possibly gain from this boycott of the arts? The very idea of mixing art and politics is very problematic, to me at least.

But then my daughter looked me right in the eye, and said in her straightforward way: “Dad, write to Leonard and explain to him why the Palestinians are right to cancel his concert. They don’t have the privilege of free access to culture that we have in Tel Aviv or New York. They’re tired of all the goodwill gestures and the petty benefits we concede to as an alibi for our own dirty consciences. They want justice, and that’s why they are asking: ‘Don’t go and amuse our occupiers, and then come to us with a consolation prize.’” Her words were so simple, so wise, that as soon as I heard them I knew I had to write to you.

Well, Leonard, maybe you should only play in Palestine. Maybe you should open your heart to the oppressed and not to their oppressors. If you cancel your show in Israel, no other self-respecting artist will perform here. At first, the self-indulgent audience in Tel Aviv will be annoyed at those artists and say that they are all anti-Semites. Over time, however, they will come to realize that they cannot gain acceptance in some escapist fantasy as long as the Occupation continues. Israelis will not join the struggle against the Occupation as long as the Occupation doesn’t hurt them directly. Israelis must be told: “The Occupation is not normal. Nothing here is normal, God dammit!”

The Palestinians can afford to miss your show, not because they don’t like you or admire your art, and not because they necessarily believe that art should be political. They simply think that the artist Leonard Cohen should side with the oppressed. So much so, in fact, they are even willing to sacrifice this chance to hear a truly great artist like you so that they too can be like that “bird on the wire,” finally free. Leonard, I just want you to know that even if you did play in Ramallah, you would not be able to give a show in Gaza, because the 1.5 million people living there are trapped in a prison, where no one comes or goes. To paraphrase you, “The walls of this prison still surround them, and they cannot break away.”

You might ask: Why me? Why Leonard Cohen? What about all the other artists who perform in Israel? All I can say is that yours is the fate of the last of the troubadours—the same fate shared by Moses on Mount Nebo. Take it as a compliment that the Palestinians chose you. Someone there must believe that you represent the human conscience. And if Madonna, Depeche Mode, McCartney, and the rest can play only in Israel and only for Israelis, then you can play only in Ramallah and only for Palestinians.

After endless consideration, I finally realized that the question that should be asked is not whether we support or oppose a cultural boycott. It is not even whether the Palestinians were right for cancelling your concert in Ramallah. The question is really whether we should comply with the request of those Palestinians who have chosen the path of non-violent resistance in their struggle against occupation and racism. It may be difficult for me, emotionally, to accept a cultural boycott; I already described how I failed in my attempt to raise that placard during your show in New York. That is why this time I will comply with their wishes. With my actions I will offer those denied self-determination the right to determine their response. By accepting their right to decide, I will empower those who’ve been disempowered for so long and help to restore the sovereignty they lack. That is what solidarity really means.

Leonard, I truly admire you as a poet. My admiration for you and your work is unconditional, and will continue unabated regardless of whether you decide to play Israel or not. I am not boycotting you at all, and I will send all my friends to hear you sing anywhere else in the world that you might play. Here, however, in response to the calls of the Palestinian people, in solidarity with a people denied their basic rights for the past sixty years, as a Jew, and as a citizen of Israel who supports the non-violent struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom, equality, and justice, I regret that I will not be able to attend this show, this time. This is the one place where I cannot allow the placard to slip from my hands. I cannot be derelict in my duty to help tear down the roadblocks and walls. Because here in Israel-Palestine, only when all of the inhabitants who share this very special place can come to see your show, regardless of their race or ethnicity, could I possibly sit back in my seat, close my eyes, and sing with you: “The holy or the broken, Hallelujah!”

With Deepest Regrets,

Sincerely Yours,

Udi Aloni

An Appeal to Israeli Filmmakers

Friday, August 21st, 2009

To Gal Uchovsky and Eitan Fuchs,

In two weeks time, your film “The Bubble” will be screened as part of the Homage to Tel Aviv week, at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival (Congratulations!). There is concern among left wing circles in Toronto and elsewhere that this event is the result of Israeli pressure to brand Israel as a democratic-enlightened state. You are becoming ambassadors, or PR spokesmen, for the state, blurring the wrongs of the occupation, by imbuing Israel with a liberal scent. By participating in these types of events you might, together with numerous Israeli filmmakers, find yourself participating in the dirty job of branding Israel as a hip Western democracy.

The reason I chose to address you directly and publicly is, among others, the aggressive “outing” campaign which you decided to run against Israeli celebrities during the large LGBT support rally in Tel Aviv last month.  Following the rally, I decided it was time for the political “outing” of you two, addressing you once and for all with the question: Are you with us or with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Do you represent the opposition to the occupation, the values of equality and human dignity for all, or do you represent Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Saar, Benjamin Netanyahu and Limor Livnat, whom you recently embraced in public?  I am afraid that nowadays one cannot belong on both sides!

You are talented people who have done a lot for the community (and I, unlike others, do think that your heart is on the right side), but you have chosen to promote an erroneous political agenda: Turning the LGBT community into a part of the national-racist consensus. As the organizers of the solidarity rally with the community after the horrible murder at the LGBT youth centre in Tel Aviv, you deprived former Israeli–Arab MK Issam Mahoul of the right to speak, after he had asked that you allow him to express solidarity with all victims of hate crimes, whoever they may be. By doing so, you have denied the city of Tel Aviv a unique moment of grace, a moment in which the LGBT community and the Palestinians in Israel and in the OT could have been brought together. Instead of demonstrating for all to see that former MK Mahoul represents political and human values which should be regarded as obvious, and symbolizes the struggle against any type of oppression and violence, you chose to invite others to the podium: Political leaders heading the racist establishment, which is committing war crimes on a regular basis. Thus you have signified in an unequivocal manner that the Arab is the “Political Other “, outside of the consensus, while Israeli politicians are the ones who represent openness, Western values and “apolitical” tolerance (within the ethnic consensus, of course).  By doing so, you now stand for a “Leftist Lite” way of thinking, which supports the continuation of cooperation between artistic creativity, government and big money in Israel.

Eitan, Gal, this is NOT personal. I am challenging you to an ideological debate inside the realm of Israeli cinema. You are invited to respond in a similar manner, or change sides. In this debate, my argument for you to counter is that in both the rally and your films, gay people are integrated into Israeli society by resorting to the Zionist myth of the handsome soldier. Recruiting the gay youths and dressing them in uniform not only brings them into the heart of Israeli mainstream, but also brings the IDF into the American-European mainstream. This act exploits the image of gay people, from the metrosexual point of view, as a global symbol of the struggle for rights and equality, and a symbol of beauty and gentleness. Thus an innocent enlightened image of the Israeli soldier emerges, and this image grants moral validity to his actions.  In keeping with the Israeli myth, the (male) soldier is a handsome, Ashkenazi (of European descent) man, who is conscientious to the point of self-tormenting, and who gets killed by an Arab, thereby becoming a martyr (in your film “Yossi & Jagger” the killer is the faceless Arab, and in your film “The Bubble” the killer is the Palestinian lover who commits suicide). The gay soldier is granted a place of honor in the national monument as an IDF hero killed in action, the ultimate representative of Zionist masculinity. In his death he endows us with emotional attachment not to an oppressed minority, but to the occupying Jewish society and its masculine-nationalist values. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that your cooperation abroad with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has always been very prolific.

Gal, Eytan, you may have come to these circumstances involuntarily. You may have drifted with the tide and forgotten that once you had wished to swim against it. Instead of “outing” famous singers, why not get out of your political closet, stand with the oppressed and refrain from trying to turn the LGBT community into a part of a violent racist mainstream. A violent occupying people cannot be enlightened and tolerant, and making theirs a photogenic image won’t help. Why not go back to the editing room, and change the ending: The Israeli soldier of today, gay or straight, is always an occupier, never a martyr. On the other hand, you may have never been inside the political closet. Perhaps what we see is what we get: Patriots whose ultimate wish is to have the Tehina (Sesame paste) drip on the gay soldier’s uniform too. Perhaps that is the reason for your sharp criticism of Lesbians who were not sufficiently mainstream for you, when they faced you bravely during the rally, shouting that there is no pride in the occupation.

Only you know who you really are, and maybe your films did play a vital role, but now that you are celebrities, mingling with Ambassadors all over the world, invited to cocktails with Israeli cultural attachés (whose superior is the racist minister Avigdor Lieberman), we too would like to know who you really are. And Toronto wants to know as well.

So here is our new code of conduct as Israeli artists:

We, as Israeli artists opposed to the occupation, must act according to the following guidelines:

  1. Declare everywhere that Israel is an apartheid state, violating international law as far as it concerns the Occupied Territories.
  2. Demand the immediate lifting of the siege on Gaza
  3. Reject the bear hug offered by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking Israeli ambassadors not to attend officially the Homage to Tel Aviv events or any other cultural events.
  4. Declare that the IDF is an immoral occupying army, playing a pivotal role in racism-based land grab.
  5. Declare that the city of Tel-Aviv is not so hip but in fact a racist city, and declare that the gradual persistent expulsion the city is committing against Jaffa’s Arab residents must end now, or it shall remain a lasting sign of infamy
  6. Understand the objectives of the boycott campaign against the State of Israel (BDS), and conduct a dialogue with the initiators of the boycott campaign, in order to see how artistic freedom can be maintained while we are raising international awareness of the gross injustice in our country (by the way, we can allow ourselves to receive funding from the state, but just as the anti-Zionist Ultra-Orthodox Israelis do not change their beliefs because of such funding, neither should we).
  7. Declare, as artists, our infidelity to the state until the complete ending of the occupation and the racist apartheid regime.
  8. Promise to strive for just peace and equality between Jews and Palestinians, within either a two-state framework or a single bi-national, multi-cultural, multi-genderial framework, for the benefit of the Jew and the Palestinian and the foreigner living here side by side and one among the other in our common land.

Our fellow people of arts and culture, dance and cinema, TO BE OR NOT TO BE HUMAN – that is the question. There is no middle ground. This difficult time of choice is often discussed in artistic works. When Netanyahu, Yaalon, Livnat, Yishai and Lieberman head our government, when five million people live under an occupation denying them their civil rights, and when a million and a half people live in the world’s largest pen, one cannot evade the moment of truth. The occupation and the racism are not trickle-down evil, they are the deluge itself, pouring down on our beloved common land. Artists may not have the power to stop the deluge, but they must not be part of it. Perhaps maybe, just maybe, they are the ones who can build Noah’s Ark, which will cherish the values of justice and solidarity until the sky is clear again.

Best Wishes,

Udi Aloni

This time it’s not funny!

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Reproduced in What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Spectres (Columbia University Press, 2011)

Jewish international celebrities, from Jerry Seinfeld to Sacha Baron Cohen, have come out once again, riding the horses of glory, to save Israel from the cruel enemy, that is to save her from us, those fighting for human rights.

They have published a counter-declaration to the Toronto declaration. The latter, of which I am a co-drafter along with Naomi Klein, John Greyson and others, protests the cooperation between the Toronto Film Festival and the rebranding of the State of Israel as an enlightened democratic state (instead of an occupying state).

Whoever has read our declaration should know that we do not boycott any filmmaker and any Israeli film. We have simply protested the festival’s choice, intentional or not, of celebrating Tel Aviv as part of the “Brand Israel” campaign.

Therefore I was surprised when the aforementioned celebrities, under the baton of the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, attacked us on the basis of statements we had never issued (”blacklisting and censorship”).

In fact, we have stated the opposite! One wonders in whose interest it is to circulate all over the world the mendacious claim that we are calling for a boycott against Israeli cinema. Who wishes to turn Israel (once more) into avictim? The answer is of course the Israeli consulate, Avigdor Lieberman’s proxy.

In view of these false claims, I would like to reiterate: We give our blessing to every good piece of work coming from Israel or any other place in the world.

All we have asked for was that Israeli filmmakers and other artists not cooperate with Israeli embassies in the branding of Israel. My friends and I have appealed to Israeli artists, thinking that they truly oppose the occupying racist regime in Israel, and that they are merely being exploited unwillingly by the state and its ministry of foreign affairs.

However, it now seems that cooperation between some artists and the Israeli propaganda machine is closer thanwe thought. Shmulik Maoz did not hesitate to attack Jane Fonda for the boycott that she had allegedly declared against Israeli cinema (although he knows we have stated explicitly that we would not boycott any person), but he did not say a word when Minister of Culture Limor Livnat, known for her right wing views, called him and his fellow artists, upon his being awarded the Venice Film Festival prize, “the best ambassadors of the State of Israel”.

At the exciting moment when he received the Golden Lion Prize in Venice, Shmulik Maoz did not dedicate his film “Lebanon” to the victims of that criminal war, the product of the Israeli government’s arrogant and violent brain.

Nor did he ask forgiveness for his participation in the war. Nor did he speak of the Palestinians who are still suffering under a terrible occupation at the hands of the same army with which Shmulik had served in Lebanon.

He dedicated his film to the soldiers all over the world who return from battle with psychological damage, and who have not yet recovered even though they have children and families. That stance recalls another ceremony at which Ari Folman, another soldier-director, whose film “Waltz With Bashir” won a Golden Globe (alchemists indeed ? Israeli
soldier-directors turn the trauma of conquering soldiers into pure

Ari was a direct or indirect participant in the terrible massacre at Sabra and Shatila. And what did Ari have to say? He too failed to ask forgiveness from the murder victims. Maybe he “only” sent up flares so that others could commit murder, as he claims. Maybe he stood with a machine-gun and prevented people from fleeing the slaughter. Who knows? He does not remember anything, and it did not occur to him for a moment to go and ask the real witnesses: the residents of the camps.

For Ari, the real testimony was not that of the witnesses; instead he turned to the Israeli military commentator Ron Ben-Yishai. For that same reason, when Ari stood on the stage before millions of people all over the world at the awards ceremony, he did not call for a halt to the slaughter that was going on in Gaza as he spoke, and which, like the nightmare described in his film, recurs like a terrible curse. He did not seek forgiveness from the residents of the camps, or even express sympathy with their suffering. Instead, he blessed all the children who were born to the crew while the film was being made. Mazel Tov indeed!

Listening to the empty speeches by Shmulik Maoz and Ari Folman, I came to realize that they are not haunted by the ghosts of their dead victims but rather, haunted only by the unpleasant images of war, and in their art they seek to create some peace for their soul.

They wish for the images to go away so that they, and not their victims, may finally get a good night’s rest. Once more it is all about us. There is no place for the other, it is us and the west which will always be the subject (shooting and crying) where the Arab will continue to participate as nothing but an object.

That is why even if the Arab is the slain, even if it is clear that it is he who is the victim, he will remain the object. Not a full person, certainly not sovereign or free.

Dear Jerry Seinfeld, you have made me laugh countless times and indeed I love you. Please don’t make a fool of yourself. Fight for the right of a Palestinian director to shoot a film in his homeland as a free man and do not go after those who take part in a legitimate protest.

We have no guns or warplanes that may kill women and children without distinction. We do have the right to protest. I expect a public apology from you for your part in the system of lies directed at us, the human rights activists in Israel, by the Israeli embassy in Canada, or rather suitable compensation for libel against me and my friends.

Personally speaking, I am against all forms of boycott against arts, regardless of the political view it conveys, but it is my right to protest against the cynical use of artists, us in Israel and you, the Jewish-American artists.

If it is real love of Israel which is in your hearts, please help us end the occupation, advise us on reaching a worldwide audience, correct us if you think we are overdoing it at times, but don?t cooperate with the occupation itself.

It has brought about the destruction of the Palestinian people and it will next bring about our own destruction, since there will be no free Israeli-Jew as long as the Palestinian is not free, having the same and equal rights.

You, Shmulik Maoz and Ari Folman, two exceptionally talented artists, you and the rest of the Israeli artists, please join our call “No Celebration Under Occupation.” The debate about the part your films play in the Israeli propaganda campaign, can be interpreted by your actions and declarations, not just through your films.

To conclude, a call to all the Jewish artists in North America, Israel and elsewhere:

I think we should be asking ourselves not why Israeli directors create films about Lebanon (it makes sense that people will deal with their own scabs), and not even why Israel’s government supports these films and uses them for its own aims.

The real question is why the image of an Israeli soldier, agonizing and crying, is so appealing to festival curators and audiences of the western world? When we find the answer to this question, we will be able to comprehend the unreasonable, international sympathy that the state of Israel is awarded, regardless of its actions, which are perceived by the same West itself as violent.


Elementary, My Dear Schnabel

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Dear Julian,

I am replying to your letter, as a Tel-Aviv resident who demonstrated against the massacre in Gaza, as one who makes critical Israeli cinema, and as a great fan of Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Sa’id. These are all acts you single out for praise — yet I was a co-author of the Toronto Declaration, an act you condemn.

I was born and raised in Tel-Aviv, and I do what I do out of love for my city, not hatred. I do not want Tel-Aviv to be a liberal façade for a brutal occupation regime. The target of our declaration, the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlight on Tel Aviv cinema, sought to uncritically celebrate my city’s 100th anniversary, without mentioning the settlements, the security wall, the checkpoints and the daily violations of human rights.

After all, one of the most distinct manifestations of Colonialism is a lively, liberal modern city in the heart of the colony which defined by the contrast, the natives of the land as “the Barbarians at the gates”.

I’m pretty sure the overwhelming majority of those who attended the aforementioned demonstration against the massacre in Gaza (many of them, by the way, were Palestinians citizens of Israel) support the Toronto Declaration, and many of them have signed up as its supporters. In contrast, based on opinion polls, at least 90% of Israel’s Jewish citizens supported the war on Gaza. All this provides good reasons to stop turning a blind eye to Israel’s policies. When Palestinians who have chosen the path of non-violent resistance to the occupation issue a call to action to us filmmakers, I try to comply.

You write that Israeli governments are elected, and therefore the derogatory term “regime” does not apply to them. Well, four million Palestinians are not allowed to vote in the elections which decide who will seize their land, who will give them (not enough) water, who will (or will not) let them get through the checkpoint to their workplace or to the hospital, who will decide if they can go abroad to visit their dying parent for the last time (or not). This is not the worst. The elections also decide who will start a full-scale war against them, and bomb them with the most lethal US-Israeli weapons available. So when it comes to the occupation, “the Israeli regime” is a very precise term according to your very own definition of the word “regime”.

The state of Israel is the only state in the world viewing itself as democratic, while seizing in broad daylight, on a daily basis, the land of one ethnic community and transferring it to another ethnic community. This is what going on, the rest is just footnotes. Label it as you wish, But the generic name is apartheid .

You criticize Great Britain and the Soviet Union, but fail to refer to Palestinian suffering caused by a living empire, the United States? So, was that mere patriotism, or perhaps a more calculated move, considering the future distribution of your new film Miral? It looks like you’ve got yourself an alibi in Hollywood now, an industry that loves liberals as long as they are Romantically Humanist but not freedom fighters for Palestinians for example.

I object any kind of boycott of movies and works of art! And it bears repeating: the Toronto Declaration did not call for a boycott of the Israeli films it presented. It should be stressed that even the hardliners in the cultural boycott campaign of Israel (and I am not one of them) are well aware of the fact that there is no cinema made without government support, and they state very clearly , that ensuing work of art should not be boycotted.

Julian, even though you made a film about Palestine, your production office was located in Tel-Aviv, not in Ramallah, for the simple reason that it is nearly impossible to shoot a film in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. A curfew may be imposed at any minute, people out of town may be denied entry, and everything depends on Israeli army permits. Consider a Palestinian filmmaker who wishes to shoot a film in the Occupied Territories. This may be impossible, just like visiting her mother who lives on the other side of the wall built by Israel, or driving on a road paved for Jewish settlers only. This is the constant reality in the Occupied Territories, regardless of the government in power. Apartheid and settlement expansion have been the legacy of all Israeli governments.

As Jews and filmmakers, we should join with all voices of conscience around the world and insist on this principle: let Palestinian filmmakers be free to make their films, and let the entire Palestinian people be free on their land. It does not matter whether this materializes as part of a “one state solution” or a “two state solution”, as long as all human beings in the Middle East enjoy the same rights, regardless of religion, ethnicity and gender. Elementary, my dear Schnabel.

Sincerely yours,

Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Tel Aviv

The Spectres of a Borrowed Village

Monday, February 1st, 2010 

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”

Isaiah, chapter 53, 3-4

The aforementioned quote from the book of Isaiah is carved on a panel bearing the names of donors to the Kfar Shaul Metal Health hospital, to which Deputy Minister of Health Yaacov Litzman decided to pay a surprise visit on the 20th of January. The sanitary conditions observed by the Deputy Minister (who is the acting Minister of Health) were appalling, and the place appears to be in a dilapidated state.

The donors to the hospital have been giving their money to an institute established in the houses of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, and the inmates now reside in the homes of the murdered and deported locals. On April 9th 1948, a Jewish militia entered the village, and killed more than 100 of its inhabitants. Survivors from the massacre were expelled, and according to the Haganah’s reports, some victims were also paraded in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. A short time later, the hospital was opened. Legend has it that even nowadays, the Holocaust survivors hospitalized in Kfar Shaul communicate with the ghosts of the murdered inhabitants of the village.

Watching Deputy Minister Litzman’s visit this week, and the harsh living conditions to which he was witness, the painful preliminary research I had done for my film Forgiveness, which takes place at the hospital, came to my mind. I wondered then, and I wonder now, how is it that the State of Israel manages time and again to create a reality which exceeds the most surreal symbolism of Latin American literature (it was only natural for Israeli-Arab MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi to quote Gabriel García Márquez when describing the ongoing robbery of Palestinian land by the government of Israel). The hospital’s name, “Kfar Shaul” literally means “a borrowed village”, and indeed, one day we shall return it to its rightful owners.

Poor Rabbi Litzman: he sees the patients, but he does not know that on the symbolic level, they are being punished for a sin they have not committed, the ancient sin of “Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?“, committed by the perpetrators of the massacre, who acted in the name of Zionism. After all, what does an ultra-orthodox Rabbi like Litzman have to do with Zionist history…He may also be oblivious to the increased likelihood of renewed demands that the Israeli government be accountable to the original owners of the place, if he decides to close down the hospital.

Every reasonable person should realize that those “people of pain”, as described by the prophet, or “loonies”, according to the vulgar language, or “inmates”, in standard language, are not there to be punished for crimes committed in our name in 1948, but to serve as custodians of the theft, like the man who accommodates his handicapped relative at a key-money apartment, in order to maintain his right to the asset. And since the welfare of the patients is not the state’s highest concern, as the Deputy Minister’s visit informs us, perhaps one day the Israel Land Administration will decide to close down the place and sell the land to a rich Jewish millionaire from abroad. And this will probably be deemed a Zionist act.

In the meantime, until the day of reckoning, survivors of the Holocaust, those “people of sorrow” from the times of “God’s hiding of the face” (“Hester Panim” in Hebrew) sit there idly. They can tell the ghosts of Deir Yassin how they are taking care of their Sheikh’s tomb, and tell them of the horrors they experienced in Europe, of the hatred towards Jews and of the greatest murder of them all. The ghosts of the villagers, in turn, can tell the Holocaust survivors of the olive trees, of the numerous wells which had to be dug due to water shortages, of the budding village industry and of the neighborly cooperation with the Jews who were living nearby.

And maybe at this time, as we are waiting for the Israeli High Court of Justice to explain its puzzling and racist decision to expel Palestinian residents of Sheikh-Jarah, in east Jerusalem, from their homes and implement the right of return for Jews only, maybe now something will change. Perhaps Deputy Minister Litzman, who is not a part of the Zionist establishment, will close down the malfunctioning institution in Kfar Shaul, transfer the patients to an institution which will take good care of them, and return the borrowed village to its owners. What a wonderful start this can be: the beginning of the healing of an entire people from a wound which seems prima facie incurable.

“this place which is called ….” Judith Butler in Sheikh-Jarrah

From Haaretz  12/2/10

I went to the airport to pick Judith Butler up last Friday. We had some work to do before the start of her lectures at Birzeit University. My friend Ronnie, who has given up a very bright future in the Hi-Tec industry for scampering between demonstrations against the occupation, drove us from the Ben-Gurion Airport.

One little smile from Ronnie, and the car changes course – we are on our way to Sheikh-Jarrah’s Friday demonstration.

After all, who, if not Butler, believes in performative repetition as an opening for change in the current ideological structure. And who, if not Ronnie, along with the group of Anarchists, performs this ceremony by going to Bil’in, Ni’lin and Sheikh-Jarrah every Friday. A sacred ritual aimed at undermining the stability of everything that we take for granted.

Upon arrival, we are greeted by fierce Jerusalemite rain. Since the court ruled that the demonstration is legal, the police have refrained from violence. I walk with Judith on the road, translating for her the messages on the signs held by the protesters, while everyone calls out: “Come on, get back on the sidewalk!” Meanwhile, the rain gets heavier. Someone from the queer anarchist community comes up, gets very emotional when she sees who it is: “You must be… hi…yes, yes, I heard you lecturing at the University some time ago!” Within seconds, at least ten demonstrators, some of them carrying drum sticks, gather around little Judith and cover her with love. The rain kept getting heavier but when I tried to move the group to a roofed venue, I was silenced like a nagging Jewish mother. There was something very exciting about this humble, sincere encounter between Judith Butler and her “disciples.” Some of them may not have read her complex texts, but they have identified the performative proposal that she has offered to the world as a means of change. It was obvious that this encounter was a heartfelt moment for Judith.

The beating of the drums got stronger and stronger…as did the rain. It was time to head back and go to a good restaurant. On the way, I got an anxious text message from Ofer, the charming Israeli leftist who runs Occupation Magazine. “You must ask Judith what she meant when she wrote: ‘this place which is called Israel’ instead of ’the State of Israel’.”

Well, over a glass of wine the following reply (give or take a few words) was formulated: “Dear Ofer, no one was disputing our existence. However, until everyone in our region has a permanent accepted name and permanent accepted status, and until all the communities have recognized accepted borders under one or two states – there is no justification for one place to have an established, agreed-upon name while the other has barely a temporary one. Lechaim!”

Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and the Military Industry Complex

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Udi Aloni

The Berkeley students senate has decided to divest from two American companies (General Electric and United Technologies) that profit from the ongoing Israeli occupation and from war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. This decision draws a clear distinction between the inherently criminal occupation, on the one hand, and the state of Israel as a sovereign state, on the other hand– a resolution which members of the Zionist left should have embraced with open arms. However, Israeli authors Amos Oz and A.B Yehoshua, instead of doing so, have weighed in with their prestige to undermine it. And writer Zvia Greenfeld, in a Haaretz article, delivered an erroneous, outrageous report about “a vote on the boycotting of the State of Israel”, which was clearly not the case.

In a letter opposing the proposed divestment, placed by our pair of national authors on the desk of the Berkeley senate, the two present a particularly selective historical narrative. They completely ignore the fact that Palestinian land theft by the Israeli government has been going on for 62 years, as an ideological pillar of the State of Israel. For them, the history of the conflict and its solution begins in 1967, and they deliberately ignore the consistently racist policy of their state towards the Palestinian citizens and civilians since the founding of Israel / the Nakba (and this policy is intensifying). The two distinguished gentlemen have also failed to disclose, in their letter to the students, their recurring betrayal of the peace camp and their consistent support of all the wars of choice which Israel has embarked on. Their view is the view of a prophet looking upward, but their deeds are the deeds of sycophant priests (Kohanim). Sometimes it seems as if the designated role of the leftist author is to perform a verbal whitewashing of Israeli racism. This time too, Oz and Yehoshua have chosen to attack those who act to end the occupation in non-violent ways, instead of joining hands with them.

Pivotal questions about contemporary Jewish thought arise from the debate on divestment from companies that profit from the occupation. The first question regards the ideological conflict between Jews who define their Jewish identity without resorting to the “Israel as the Jewish center” thesis, to Zionists living in Israel. Must this debate always include the scorning of the former, some of the finest people among us, by the latter? Are those Jews who do not see Israel as the center of their existence not allowed to strive to help Israel become a moral state for all its citizens?

One could also ask whether the time has not come for every Israeli Jew with democratic aspirations to realize once and for all that the future of the land between the river and the sea cannot be dictated by negotiation between right wing Jews and left wing Jews. It should be determined through full inclusion of the Palestinians, whether we support a one state solution or a two state solution.

A non-violent Palestinian campaign, through a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), can lead to real cooperation between the entire Jewish peace movement and the Palestinian organizers of the campaign. It is no wonder that Jewish Voice for Peace, a group with 100,000 supporters, has fully endorsed the senate resolution and participated in the campaign, prior to the voting. This was an exemplary display of solidarity, acceptance and cooperation. The Berkeley resolution, one must remember, was adopted by Palestinians, Jews and Israelis acting and voting together not as enemies, not even as the “other ones” (to one another), but as brothers and sisters sharing a future.

Unfortunately, but not to our surprise, Oz and Yehoshua have opted once more for a tribal policy, and have sided with occupiers, abusers and land grabbers, just because these people are Jewish.

Some people are constantly asking “Why [pick on] us?” After all, Hamas too committed war crimes according to the Goldstone report. Well, the Berkeley students did support American divestment from Hamas because of this report, but such investments – are not to be found…America invests only in Israel’s war crimes, not in the occupied people’s war crimes.

Out of an honest attempt to broaden the circles of the peace camp, the Berkeley students have adopted only a part of the Palestinian call for BDS, opting for a moderate resolution which should easily be supported by conscientious US Jews and other citizens. Oz and Yehoshua should have welcomed this resolution. Instead, they rejected it disgracefully. Thus, for the zillionth time, our intellectuals have proven that when the moment comes, their actions contradict their words. When “duty calls”, they respond obsequiously, functioning as an integral part of the Israeli occupation apparatus.

Thus Spoke the Left: A Political-Cultural Lexicon Following the Document Called “The Manifesto of the National Left”

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

A Jew does not censor a Jew1! “The only democracy in the Middle East” got into action in order to protect The Manifesto of the National Left, whose selling in Israeli bookstores an ultra-nationalist group has managed to cancel.

The Manifesto was written by former aide to PM Ehud Barak and by a playwright

It is an attempt to draw conclusions from the ongoing electoral failure of the so-called Zionist left and to redefine it in a manner which will render it a viable “patriotic” political force with the ability to lead the nation.

Having read the document of the national left, one can establish that if it is to be drawn out of the bookstores, it is due to its populist qualities, the clichés and the ignorance which borders on slander.

The authors of the Manifesto write the following about themselves:

“What will happen should we discover our positions are not “left”, and that we are in fact right wing -supporters2 in the closet?”

Well, after reading the Manifesto, it turns out that it was written in order to flank the right from the right regarding racism, and from below regarding populism. The entire text is written in the language of an aging, nationalist, arrogant Palmach3 veteran, as if Rehavam Ze’evi’s spirit4 gained control over the authors.

When we focus on a few terms from the text, the ideological world of the national “left”5 is exposed.

National “Left” / Humanistic Left

Almost in any period throughout history when the terms “left” and “national” or “socialism” and “national” merged into one word, a fascist heavy-handed monster arose. This syntax is valid also for the state of Israel, and so we, a group of left activists, have decided to accept the derogatory term “small” (an erroneous spelling of the Hebrew word for “left”, hinting also at the English word “small”) and wear it proudly, as a badge that separates us from the national “left”.

The UN Resolution – the Rock of Our Existence

The authors of the Manifesto claim that the Jews accepted the UN’s 1947 partition plan, and that the Palestinians did not. That’s why a war broke out, and the Palestinians goofed up; that’s life. That is, the existence of the state of Israel is justified by the UN resolution. Without getting into the historical debate on what exactly happened, there is a consensus that at the end of the war, following the armistice agreement, one state remained – the state of Israel. As the state of Palestine had not been established, the UN adopted resolution 194: the right of the refugees to return.

So if Israel draws its legitimacy from the UN resolution, the right of return of the refugees is legally intertwined in this legitimacy, and there is no legitimacy for Israel without acknowledging the right of return.

The national “left” denies another truth: it is mainly its spiritual ancestors who are responsible for the refugee problem, for the violation of the UN resolution, and for the main practice of the state of Israel ever since the armistice agreement, which is the expropriation of the indigenous population’s lands and their transfer to the hands of the new lords of the land, namely the Jews of the state of Israel. What started in Iqrit and Kafr Bir’im6 has never stopped for a moment, and is still taking place in Sheikh Jarrah, Ajami and Bil’in7. The authors of the Manifesto are proud of these actions.

Right and “Left” / Left

The authors of the Manifesto write:

Rehavam (Gandhi) Ze’evi’s “Moledet”8 movement once had a slogan: “we [shall be] here – they [shall be] there”. “Meretz”9 once had the slogan: “to bid the Territories farewell [“shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace]”. Actually, this is the same principle.

As opposed to the national “left”, which sees itself as part of the national right and seeks to make the Palestinian vanish on the other side of the wall, for us on the left, the bi-national reality (whether by means of a one-state or a two-state solution) is not merely compulsory: it is mainly the realization of a dream for both Jewish and Palestinian emancipation.

Settlers / Leftists

The national “left” blames the settlers for the entire occupation, as if the settlers are an external group which is not a part of the state of Israel.
The left, on the other hand, knows that the national “left” is almost solely responsible for the occupation, and that the settlers are merely the sighthounds. The latter, as well as the former, serve as an integral part of the occupation’s machinery, of the injustices. The national “left” acts as the master who, having sicked his dog on the neighbors’ son, claims in his defense: “It’s not me, it’s him” (pointing at the dog).

Left / Ultra-Orthodox

The left asks the Hasidim of Belz to remain in the Shenkin area10 and live together. The left sympathizes with the ultra-Orthodox, as these carry the scent of the Diaspora, and are still not immersed in militarism.

The Wall / Life in Common (Ta’ayush11)

The national “left” adores the wall, the left loathes it. The wall is not a protective means, but a means for domination and land theft. The wall not only separates Palestinians from Jews, but also Palestinians from other Palestinians. It does not cover the entire border, and any young, healthy Palestinian can climb his way across it in many places (it is not the wall, as is widely believed, but complex political circumstances, that have caused the number of terror attacks in Israel to decrease.) The national “left” has helped to crush the Palestinians into five distinct groups, that cannot even intermarry (East Jerusalem, Israel’s 1948 borders, the West Bank, Gaza, the Palestinian Diaspora). As long as the five cannot be one, this way or another, there is no equality, there is no justice, and there is no left.
The left believes in coexisting in the same place, even when groups are not able to generate common ground, as any other possibility marks the next refugee. Thus on the left you will see a lesbian marching together with a Palestinian woman, both fighting against the separation wall, you will see Menachem Begin’s grandson with Ehud Olmert’s daughter marching with them, and alongside all these people, you will see a secular Muslim shoulder to shoulder with a religious Jew, all against the separation wall.

Jabotinsky / Ben-Gurion / Begin / Peres

The authors of the Manifesto distort history and write:

“The left believes that you and I will change the world. … The right believes that if what exists now continues until the end of eternity we shall all reach salvation.”

The Manifesto describes Jabotinsky and his disciples as the ones to oppose any change, and the Ben-Gurion left as dynamic and revolutionary. Don’t confuse them with the facts. Jabotinsky wrote: “There he shall quench his thirst with plenty and happiness, the son of Arabia, son of Nazareth and my son”. It was Begin, Jabotinsky’s disciple, who signed the agreement that gave back land12, and it was he who opposed the imposition of a military regime in the Galilee and the Triangle13, where the Israeli apartheid state was established. Their complete opposite is Shimon Peres, who has managed to sabotage every dialog for peace, and who has founded the Peres Center for Peace on Arab land in Jaffa; a man whose only revolutions were the introduction of nuclear arms to the Middle East (the authors of the Manifesto take pride in this dubious achievement) and the creation of the settlement precedent in Qedumim-Sebastia.

Yasser Arafat / Yitzhak Rabin

The authors of the Manifesto describe Arafat thus:

“A vile scoundrel, a ridiculous clown, an abhorrent murderer who robbed billions donated by the world for the Palestinian people and deposited them in his antipathetic wife’s private accounts.”

This is clearly a repulsive text, which degrades the leader and symbol of the Palestinian people, much like false anti-Semitic writings. The Manifesto lauds Yitzhak Rabin for his efforts for peace and his ability to change. Rabin and Arafat got along well and trusted each other in the months that preceded the murder.14 The left, as opposed to the “left”, does not sympathize with the two. It never admired them or the Oslo Accords.15 But the left knew to credit them for the brave move. Only a rare combination of insolence, lies and racism enables praising Rabin while denouncing Arafat. They did it together, for crying out loud!

The use of the claims about Arafat’s corruption in order to deprive the Palestinian state of its right to exist also repeats itself throughout the Manifesto, against the backdrop of our current reality, when every day we hear something new about corruption among most of the Israeli leadership.

Yaniv and Hasfari write that “people are judged by their deeds”. Well, Arafat signed in Sharm el-Sheikh, and it doesn’t matter if it happened only because Mubarak cursed him. For his people, Arafat slept on an iron bed. Ehud Barak jumped-ship and did not sign, and slept in his luxurious home at Tel Aviv’s Alrov Towers.

The Hilltop Youth16 / the IDF

The authors of the Manifesto write the following about the hilltop youth:

“Jewish youths who are capable of beating an old Palestinian woman who is trying to harvest the olives in her family’s lot, as did her ancestors for hundreds of years, have lost the right to be called Jews. They burn the crop in Palestinian fields, they cut and uproot olive trees, they beat and shoot infants and elderly people … You look at them and your eyes can not believe what they see.”

It is true, but half the truth is worse than a lie. It is not hilltop youths who stand at the checkpoints where women about to give birth are greeted with burning contempt, and it is not hilltop youths who sowed terrible death in Gaza. It is not hilltop youths who shoot us in cold blood in Bil’in, and it is not hilltop youths who stand guard with cocked weapons to supervise the apartheid land theft committed by… the hilltop youth. It is the IDF which does all that, on behalf of most of the Jews in Zion, and thus, according to your principles, it is the Jews in Zion who lose the right to be called Jews!

Left (2)

And that small group of “small” leftists which you mock for the presence in Bil’in against the wall every Friday – on Thursdays they protect Sudanese refugees. And on Wednesdays they can be found at the Akerstein factory in Yeruham, aiding exploited workers (Jews, by the way). Not only do they dismantle the terrible wall between Jews and Arabs, they also guard the wall of the morals of the prophets, which are the opposite of the morals of the occupiers.

Professor Leibowitz17 Is Turning Over in his Grave

The authors of the Manifesto write about Professor Leibowitz:

“He was probably the smartest Jew in the last century.”

The mere comparison, expressed in the Manifesto, between obeying the laws of the state and following the religious commandments would horrify Professor Leibowitz. For him the state was but a necessary tool, certainly not the object of love and awe.

Leibowitz would have probably begun his article about the Manifesto in the following manner: “I have yet to decide whether the authors of the Manifesto are completely ignorant or completely evil.”

Piggish Capitalism / Capitalism as Piggery

A whole chapter is dedicated to the capitalist pigs, but they are then led back in through the back door, and God forbid if you dare say “socialism”. Unfortunately, it is not enough to talk about the capitalist pigs, and one should also speak of the piggery that is the essence of capitalism. Capitalist pigs change but the method always remains. And how can attorney Eldad Yaniv who represents the capital-occupation symbiosis (for example, he represents the municipality of Ariel18 and powerful employers) preach?

The Woman Does Not Exist

The left believes that the two most important struggles in the realm that lies between the (Mediterranean) Sea and the (Jordan) River are liberation and equality for the Palestinian and liberation and equality for the woman. The left believes it is a joint complementary struggle. The woman, in our realm, is traded as a sex slave on Allenby Street19, in what is called “an erotic club”, and is murdered in Ramle or in Acre, for what is called “family honor”, and there is no protector, for the Manifesto of the National Left is so masculine, that the woman has been left out and forgotten…

Fixing the Sewer – Present Absentee

The authors of the Manifesto write:

“If you want to talk to them (to the Arabs) about national service20, connect them to the sewerage.”

For historic justice, the only ones to have ever done that, if only for a short period, were Aryeh Deri from the Shas party21 and Moshe Arens from the Likud. If their counterparts from the national “left” have ever done anything, it was but to win votes. It cannot be helped: “our Arabs” are Palestinians, and when the national “left” sent its glorious army to sow destruction in Gaza, it turned out that many families from the Galilee lost their dear ones, and realized once again that they are Palestinians. And when Eldad Yaniv called for “killing Gaza without mercy and without batting an eyelid”, the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens realized that even if he solved all of their sewer problems, he would continue to wish for them to be transparent when walking on their land.

The conclusion should be clear. Only when the manifesto of the left is written and signed by both Palestinians and Jews living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, will it be a true relevant document of the left. Only then shall we – the “small” – take off our badge, and once again proudly call ourselves left.

1 A paraphrase on the slogan used in the anti-pullout campaign

2 “Likud” is the main right-wing party in Israel, currently led by PM Binyamin Netanyahu

3 The regular fighting force of the unofficial army of the Jewish community during the British mandate in Palestine; its members later formed the backbone of the IDF high command for many years, and were prominent in Israeli politics, literature and culture.

4 A right-wing Israeli general, politician and historian (assassinated in 2001)

5 As we in the radical left do not consider most of the so-called “national left” or “Zionist left” as a true left, we will refer to it with quotation marks, and reserve the use of the word without quotation marks for the radical left. As explained, in Israel the national “left” is often referred to using the normal Hebrew word for left, whereas for the radical left a derogatory term is used.

6 Christian Palestinian villages whose inhabitants were forced to flee during the 1948 war, having been given a promise they would be allowed to return once the war was over. That promise was never fulfilled, even after a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court to allow the return.

7 Bil’in has become the symbol of the Palestinian non-violent struggle against the occupation after years of weekly demonstrations against the wall. That struggle has recently reached the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, whose Palestinian residents are being evicted while Jewish settlers occupy their homes. Ajami is an Arab neighborhood in Jaffa, which right wing religious groups are now trying to take over.

8 Hebrew for “homeland”; a small right-wing party advocating the notion of a “voluntary” transfer of the Arab population of the West Bank

9 A left-wing Zionist party, partly associated with the radical left, partly with the national left

10 Located in the center of the city and presenting a diverse assortment of shops, restaurants, cafés, other businesses and street shows, Shenkin Street is a symbol of the young, open and liberal culture of Tel Aviv. Secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews reside in the neighborhood peacefully side by side.

11 Arabic for “coexistence” or “life in common”, and the name of a group formed by Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs,- which works against the occupation and against the discrimination of Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank

12 As part of the peace treaty with Egypt, signed in 1979, Israel had totally withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula by 1982.

13 Areas in northern Israel, where many Arab citizens of Israel reside (in the Triangle they are the vast majority)

14 PM Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995.

15 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, officially signed in Washington, DC on September 13, 1993 in the presence of Arafat, Rabin and US President Bill Clinton

16 A term for young Jewish lads who settle in illegal outposts on uninhabited hills in the West Bank

17 Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an Israeli philosopher and scientist known for his outspoken, often controversial opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics

18 One of the largest settlements, located in the central West Bank

19 A major street in Tel Aviv

20 Exempt from military service – which is compulsory for other ethnicities in Israel – Israeli Arabs are often criticized for not opting for voluntary national service.

21 An ultra-Orthodox party identified with Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews