Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2006 13:07:29 -0400
From: John Vincent
To: Robert V Keeley
Two independent Israeli public intellectuals, Avi Azrieli and Uri
Avnery, present their respective reasons why they think the time has
come for Israel to stop being, as one of them put it, "America's
Rottweiler" in the Middle East and instead place its long term focus on
transforming itself into a genuine Middle Eastern society and state that
could hope to work out a mutually acceptable basis for productive
co-existance with its Arab neighbors.
International Herald Tribune <http://www.iht.com/>
*Talking to the neighbors: It's time Israel embraced the Mideast *
*Avi Azrieli International Herald Tribune *
TUESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2006
*PARADISE VALLEY, Arizona*
Israel's recent hopes for peace, fueled by the disengagement from Gaza
and elections won on plans to cede the West Bank, have given way to
another war and to grim talk of eternal fighting. Israelis now speak of
the Arabs' hate as a chronic disease that Israel is destined to live -
or die - with. To revive its hopes, Israel must dare to consider a
change of paradigm: transform itself into a Middle Eastern country.
While Israel has flourished economically and technologically by modeling
itself on the Western European culture of its early Ashkenazi pioneers,
the cultural alienation from its neighbors has intensified Israel's
pariah status in the region. Even the peace with Egypt and Jordan
remains cold, while hate toward Israel in the Arab street heats up to
Israel's current predicament is particularly unfortunate: Just as it had
once been America's Middle Eastern front against the Soviet Union, it
has now become a focal point in the conflict with Iran.
A change of paradigm for the intensely besieged Israeli society would
not be easy, and embracing the culture of the enemy could be confusing,
if not outright repulsive. Yet it is necessary and possible. Israelis
must accept that the people surrounding them are not only their current
enemies, but also long-term cohabitants of the same troubled part of the
The immediate effort should center on language. Few Israelis speak
Arabic, even though it is one of Israel's two official languages,
alongside Hebrew. The government should fund a campaign to teach Arabic
to every Israeli.
Fluency in Arabic should be a condition for a high- school diploma, for
a government job and for a professional license of any kind. National
television and radio stations should offer parallel Arabic programming.
All government and business documents should be written in both Hebrew
and Arabic, all laws adopted in both languages, and agencies should be
ready to serve the public in Hebrew and Arabic.
Complementing its embrace of Arabic, Israel should absorb Arab culture.
Israel's decidedly Westernized self-identity has implied a rejection of
everything that is Arab. Israelis need to engage in a dialogue with the
Arab people in order to understand their aspirations and frustrations.
This should begin by following the Jewish edict that "charity begins at
home." Currently, more than 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs,
including Muslims, Christians and Druze, many of whom complain of being
treated as second-rate citizens. Israel should secure positions for
Arabs in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of its
government. Public services and facilities in the Arab sector should be
brought up to par with the rest of Israel.
Is there a contradiction between Arabism and Zionism? The answer is no.
In his seminal work "Old New Land," Theodor Herzl, modern Zionism's
founder, envisioned a national homeland that would accept every Jew, not
an exclusive state that would reject all others.
The driving force behind the early pioneers' energy was not messianic
fantasies of biblical fulfillment, but socialist pragmatism. They sought
to create a safe haven from murderous anti-Semitism and to substitute
diaspora life with self-ruling Jewish society founded on democracy and
equality. (Ironically, both goals failed: Israel is the most dangerous
place for Jews in the world today, and its democratic aspirations are
suspended by its 30-year military occupation of a large Arab population
in the Palestinian territories.)
Nothing in modern Zionism contradicts an acceptance of Arab culture.
Some Jews have always sought to understand their neighbors better. My
great-grandfather and namesake, the rabbi of a farming community on
Mount Carmel a century ago, learned Arabic in order to converse with his
neighbors. (Unfortunately, he and his family were massacred while
visiting relatives in Hebron during the 1929 Arab riots.)
Would the Arab world accept such a Jewish state into its fold? Islamic
extremists aside, Arab society traditionally embraced religious and
ethnic pluralism. There are millions of Arabs who are not Muslims, and
millions of Muslims who aren't Arabs.
Many religions and ethnic groups have prospered as part of the Arab
world, such as the Druze, Kurds, Bahai, Copts, Christians and Jews.
Islam itself is permeated with different varieties, most prominently
Shiite and Sunni.
Power-sharing between various groups is common in the Arab world because
of its diversity of faiths and ethnicities. Jews, in particular, were
once prominent in politics, law, medicine and trade throughout the Arab
world. Jewish scholars produced prolific works in Arab lands, some
forming the mainstream of Judaism, including Maimonides, Nachmanides,
Yosef Karo (author of Shulhan Aruch, the definitive code of Jewish law),
and the great Jewish poet Ibn Ezra. The Talmud itself was written in
what is now Iraq.
Only with the rise of modern Zionism, perceived by the Arabs as a form
of European colonialism, were Jews forced to flee Arab countries to
Israel, where their culture and language were dismissed as primitive by
the Ashkenazi establishment. In hindsight, this original sin has
contributed to Israel's sore-thumb status in the region.
Those who would ridicule the idea of a whole nation learning to speak
Arabic should remember that a little over 100 years ago, Hebrew was
solely a liturgical language. The challenge of turning it into a spoken
language was much greater than learning Arabic, an established, rich
language spoken by Israel's own minorities and by all its neighbors.
By making Arabic a true national language beside Hebrew, Israel would
send a clear message to its neighbors: We respect you and we are here to
The process of shifting from survival by intimidation and isolation to
accommodation and dialogue would demonstrate Israel's respect for the
Arabs and its desire to belong in the region. Coupled with the eventual
settlement of territorial disputes, such a cultural shift would deflate
much of the hostility against Israel and marginalize the voices of
It would be naïve to contend that Israel could douse overnight the fire
raging around it. To paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt, Israel
must "speak Arabic and carry a big stick."
Yet an Israel that accepts its identity as a Middle Eastern country
would be harder to demonize. Its efforts would foster a perception of
indigenousness and spread seeds of personal bonds that would trickle up
to the political and ideological spheres, ultimately reversing the tide
of destructive enmity.
With time, the Arabs would discover that the combative Israelis are even
more passionate as friends, and thus more valuable as allies than as
While Israel might still have to live by its sword for a long time, by
integrating into the Arab world, a smaller Israel would become an
indispensable bridge to the West, a Singapore for the Middle East.
/Avi Azrieli is a veteran Israel Defense Force officer and the author of
"One Step Ahead: A Mother of Seven Escaping Hitler's Claws."/
International Herald Tribune <http://www.iht.com/> Copyright © 2006 The
International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com <http://www.iht.com/>
My comment: A non-conformist Israeli intellectual comments on the
path-not-taken by the Zionist movement ever since 1881 and that the
endless cycle of violence that the path-taken has prompted argues for a
new formulation of what Israel's long term goals should be as a Jewish
society and nation-state in the Middle East.
Go to Original <http://www.avnery-news.co.il
By Uri Avnery
Saturday 26 August 2006
In his latest speech, which infuriated so many people, Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad uttered a sentence that deserves attention:
"Every new Arab generation hates Israel more than the previous one."
Of all that has been said about the Second Lebanon War, these are
perhaps the most important words.
The main product of this war is hatred. The pictures of death and
destruction in Lebanon entered every Arab home, indeed every Muslim
home, from Indonesia to Morocco, from Yemen to the Muslim ghettos in
London and Berlin. Not for an hour, not for a day, but for 33 successive
days - day after day, hour after hour. The mangled bodies of babies, the
women weeping over the ruins of their homes, Israeli children writing
"greetings" on shells about to be fired at villages, Ehud Olmert
blabbering about "the most moral army in the world" while the screen
showed a heap of bodies.
Israelis ignored these sights, indeed they were scarcely shown on
our TV. Of course, we could see them on Aljazeera and some Western
channels, but Israelis were much too busy with the damage wrought in our
Northern towns. Feelings of pity and empathy for non-Jews have been
blunted here a long time ago.
But it is a terrible mistake to ignore this result of the war. It is
far more important than the stationing of a few thousand European troops
along our border, with the kind consent of Hizbullah. It may still be
bothering generations of Israelis, when the names Olmert and Halutz have
long been forgotten, and when even Nasrallah no longer remember the name
IN ORDER for the significance of Assad's words to become clear, they
have to be viewed in a historical context.
The whole Zionist enterprise has been compared to the
transplantation of an organ into the body of a human being. The natural
immunity system rises up against the foreign implant, the body mobilizes
all its power to reject it. The doctors use a heavy dosage of medicines
in order to overcome the rejection. That can go on for a long time,
sometimes until the eventual death of the body itself, including the
(Of course, this analogy, like any other, should be treated
cautiously. An analogy can help in understanding things, but no more
The Zionist movement has planted a foreign body in this country,
which was then a part of the Arab-Muslim space. The inhabitants of the
country, and the entire Arab region, rejected the Zionist entity.
Meanwhile, the Jewish settlement has taken roots and become an authentic
new nation rooted in the country. Its defensive power against the
rejection has grown. This struggle has been going on for 125 years,
becoming more violent from generation to generation. The last war was
yet another episode.
WHAT IS our historic objective in this confrontation?
A fool will say: to stand up to the rejection with a growing dosage
of medicaments, provided by America and World Jewry. The greatest fools
will add: There is no solution. This situation will last forever. There
is nothing to be done about it but to defend ourselves in war after war
after war. And the next war is already knocking on the door.
The wise will say: our objective is to cause the body to accept the
transplant as one of its organs, so that the immune system will no
longer treat us as an enemy that must be removed at any price. And if
this is the aim, it must become the main axis of our efforts. Meaning:
each of our actions must be judged according to a simple criterion: does
it serve this aim or obstruct it?
According to this criterion, the Second Lebanon War was a disaster.
FIFTY NINE years ago, two months before the outbreak of our War of
Independence, I published a booklet entitled "War or Peace in the
Semitic Region". Its opening words were:
"When our Zionist fathers decided to set up a 'safe haven' in
Palestine, they had a choice between two ways:
"They could appear in West Asia as a European conqueror, who sees
himself as a bridge-head of the 'white' race and a master of the
'natives', like the Spanish Conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonists
in America. That is what the Crusaders did in Palestine.
"The second way was to consider themselves as an Asian nation
returning to its home - a nation that sees itself as an heir to the
political and cultural heritage of the Semitic race, and which is
prepared to join the peoples of the Semitic region in their war of
liberation from European exploitation."
As is well known, the State of Israel, which was established a few
months later, chose the first way. It gave its hand to colonial France,
tried to help Britain to return to the Suez Canal and, since 1967, has
become the little sister of the United States.
That was not inevitable. On the contrary, in the course of years
there have been a growing number of indications that the immune system
of the Arab-Muslim body is starting to incorporate the transplant - as a
human body accepts the organ of a close relative - and is ready to
accept us. Such an indication was the visit of Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem.
Such was the peace treaty signed with us by King Hussein, a descendent
of the Prophet. And, most importantly, the historic decision of Yasser
Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian people, to make peace with Israel.
But after every huge step forward, there came an Israeli step
backward. It is as if the transplant rejects the body's acceptance of
it. As if it has become so accustomed to being rejected, that it does
all it can to induce the body to reject it even more.
It is against this background that one should weigh the words spoken
by Assad Jr., a member of the new Arab generation, at the end of the
AFTER EVERY single one of the war aims put forward by our government
had evaporated, one after the other, another reason was brought up: this
war was a part of the "clash of civilizations", the great campaign of
the Western world and its lofty values against the barbarian darkness of
the Islamic world.
That reminds one, of course, of the words written 110 years ago by
the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, in the founding document of
the Zionist movement: "In Palestine, we shall constitute for Europe a
part of the wall against Asia, and serve as the vanguard of civilization
against barbarism." Without knowing, Olmert almost repeated this formula
in his justification of his war, in order to please President Bush.
It happens from time to time in the United States that somebody
invents an empty but easily digested slogan, which then dominates the
public discourse for some time. It seems that the more stupid the slogan
is, the better its chances of becoming the guiding light for academia
and the media - until another slogan appears and supersedes it. The
latest example is the slogan "Clash of Civilizations", coined by Samuel
P. Huntington in 1993 (taking over from the "End of History").
What clash of ideas is there between Muslim Indonesia and Christian
Chile? What eternal struggle between Poland and Morocco? What is it that
unifies Malaysia and Kosovo, two Muslim nations? Or two Christian
nations like Sweden and Ethiopia?
In what way are the ideas of the West more sublime than those of the
East? The Jews that fled the flames of the auto-da-fe of the Christian
Inquisition in Spain were received with open arms by the Muslim Ottoman
Empire. The most cultured of European nations democratically elected
Adolf Hitler as its leader and perpetrated the Holocaust, without the
Pope raising his voice in protest.
In what way are the spiritual values of the United States, today's
Empire of the West, superior to those of India and China, the rising
stars of the East? Huntington himself was compelled to admit: "The West
won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion,
but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners
often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do." In the West, too,
women won the vote only in the 20th century, and slavery was abolished
there only in the second half of the 19th. And in the leading nation of
the West, fundamentalism is now also raising its head.
What interest, for goodness sake, have we in volunteering to be a
political and military vanguard of the West in this imagined clash?
THE TRUTH is, of course, that this entire story of the clash of
civilizations is nothing but an ideological cover for something that has
no connection with ideas and values: the determination of the United
States to dominate the world's resources, and especially oil.
The Second Lebanon War is considered by many as a "War by Proxy".
That's to say: Hizbullah is the Dobermann of Iran, we are the Rottweiler
of America. Hizbullah gets money, rockets and support from the Islamic
Republic, we get money, cluster bombs and support from the United States
That is certainly exaggerated. Hizbullah is an authentic Lebanese
movement, deeply rooted in the Shiite community. The Israeli government
has its own interests (the occupied territories) that do not depend on
America. But there is no doubt that there is much truth in the argument
that this was also a war by substitutes.
The US is fighting against Iran, because Iran has a key role in the
region where the most important oil reserves in the world are located.
Not only does Iran itself sit on huge oil deposits, but through its
revolutionary Islamic ideology it also menaces American control over the
near-by oil countries. The declining resource oil becomes more and more
essential in the modern economy. He who controls the oil controls the world.
The US would viciously attack Iran even it were peopled with pigmies
devoted to the religion of the Dalai Lama. There is a shocking
similarity between George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the one has
personal conversations with Jesus, the other has a line to Allah. But
the name of the game is domination.
What interest do we have to get involved in this struggle? What
interest do we have in being regarded - accurately - as the servants of
the greatest enemy of the Muslim world in general and the Arab world in
We want to live here in 100 years, in 500 years. Our most basic
national interests demand that we extend our hands to the Arab nations
that accept us, and act together with them for the rehabilitation of
this region. That was true 59 years ago, and that will be true 59 years
Little politicians like Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are unable to
think in these terms. They can hardly see as far as the end of their
noses. But where are the intellectuals, who should be more far-sighted?
Bashar al-Assad may not be one of the world's Great Thinkers. But
his remark should certainly give us pause for thought.
/Uri Avnery <http://zope.gush-shalom.org