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Friday, November 24, 2006



By Tom Segev

One day, a few years ago, the historian Adel Manna attended the graduation
ceremony of his son, who had just obtained a law degree. The event was held at
the Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem. Toward the end of the ceremony, the Manna
family decided to leave, before the singing of "Hatikva," the national anthem.
They did not want to remain seated while everyone stood and sang, nor did they
want to stand.

Embarrassingly, they had not managed to reach the exit when the singing began,
and people shouted at them, "What's going on here? What kind of behavior is
this? You want equality, but you're not ready to respect the state?!"

Manna, who is generally a model of composure, lost his patience and responded,
"Shut up, already! You go on singing your Hatikva. It's not mine. What do you
want from me?"

Manna afterward described the incident to his colleagues in a working group
that was convened by the Israel Democracy Institute, with the aim of
formulating a charter to define and regularize the essence of the relations
between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

The group consisted of twelve Jews, headed by the jurist Mordechai Kremnitzer,
and eight Arabs, headed by Manna. None of the participants expressed the most
extreme view; they agreed that Israel should be a democracy. The Jews agreed
on a series of arrangements intended to reduce discrimination against the
Arabs, including land arrangements and affirmative action in various spheres,
and Kremnitzer even agreed to change the anthem, the flag and the state

They met once a month for two years, generated fascinating interpersonal
dynamics, and treated the charter they were asked to draft with profound
seriousness, as though it were to be a historic document, matching Israel's
Declaration of Independence in importance. Every word uttered in the meetings
was recorded, and in time hundreds of pages of transcripts piled up.
Journalist (and Haaretz columnist) Uzi Benziman has now edited them for

"Whose Country Is This?" (in Hebrew) is one of the most important, most
depressing and most worrisome books that has been published in a long time.
Because the talks broke down. The Jews demanded that the Arabs recognize that
Israel is a Jewish state, and the Arabs refused, because if Israel does not
define itself as the state of all its citizens it will not be a true democracy
and will perpetuate discrimination against the Arabs. The group broke up,

One of the guests who was invited to the discussions of the group of 20 was
the then head of the Shin Bet security service, Ami Ayalon. He tried his best
to give a businesslike, liberal impression. He has no objections to Israel's
Arabs serving in the Israel Defense Forces, if they so wish, and if they serve
in the IDF, they can also serve in the Shin Bet. He has no objections to an
Arab member of Knesset being a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee. He hopes to ease the security check that Arabs undergo at
Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The Shin Bet does not view the Arabs in Israel as a threat, Ayalon maintains,
but the organization's basic working assumption, as he described it, indicates
the opposite: "The degree of fear of the Jewish society in Israel [fear also
of Israel's Arabs] dictates everything. This is the basis for the construction
of consciousness and also for the shaping of the Shin Bet."

Ayalon also said that the Shin Bet should be involved in the Arab school
system (and in the Jewish one, too): "The serious educational messages of
extreme groups in the Arab and Jewish society get through and trickle into
[people's] hearts and consciousness through the education system, and
therefore the question of who teaches and who must not have the right to teach
has security implications."

Ahmad Saadi, from the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion
University of the Negev, responded to Ayalon's remarks: "One of the problems
with the Shin Bet's concept of the Arab population is the one you yourself
presented here. The thoughts are the source of the danger. In fact, your
thinking is the source of the danger."

About a year after the panel began to meet, the intifada broke out, together
with the "events of October." It is tempting to believe that the discussions
failed because of the violence; in retrospect, some of the participants
wondered whether they would have achieved more if the discussions had been
conducted differently. Like the first Zionists, the Jews in the group almost
begged the Arabs to define Israel as a Jewish state, but they spoke in
give-and-take terms: the underlying assumption was that the Arabs of Israel
are sort of sub-tenants who have to pay in return for the civil rights they
get from the Jewish landlord.

"They want to get all they want without paying anything," law professor Ruth
Gavison complained, looking back, and added, "You [Arabs] want National
Insurance, public education, health ... and on the other side there is a
state, a burden, problems ... Lend a hand! Lend a hand! ... You do not want to
lend a hand because 'it's theirs,' it belongs to the Jews. So go somewhere

Avigdor Lieberman couldn't have put it better, although he, at least, claims
he is offering the Arabs equality. Not Gavison: "One of the fraudulent things
about the Israeli-Jewish left is the statement that yes, there will be
equality. There will not be equality. There will be dispute. It will be better
than [elsewhere] in the region; it will be better than in many other places;
there will be a process; but there will not be equality ...." She likened the
Israeli Arabs to the Mizrahim - the Jews of Middle Eastern descent - in that
both groups are themselves to blame for the discrimination they have endured.

"A great deal of the distress of the Muslim-Arab population - not the
Christian - in Israel is due to the culture of large families, lack of
education and an unreliable and unqualified workforce for modern life. All of
that creates poverty, even without ethnic discrimination. From this point of
view, the Muslim Arabs resembled the Mizrahi Jews, who are not succeeding in
breaching the cycle of passive, uneducated, uncompetitive culture. This is a
major cultural problem in itself, and with the Arabs it is heightened by
another problem: their being Arabs."

On the road from the presidency of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
to the commission to investigate the second Lebanon war, Gavison moved right,
in a process which she describes in the following words: "For many years I had
an unpleasant feeling that we were not being fair to Israel's Arab citizens. I
will confess that, amid all the processes and events of recent years, in the
light of their attitudes and those of their political leadership, my feeling
of guilt toward them is gradually diminishing."

But the book's greatest disappointment is not Gavison - it's Kremnitzer. At
one point he threatened to resign as the group's facilitator. That happened
when it emerged that the Arab participants were refusing to accept the text
defining Israel as a Jewish state.

"That was a moment of truth," Kremnitzer, a law professor, recalled afterward.
"On this question the distance is vast and unbridgeable, both from the Jews'
point of view and from the Arabs' point of view ...."

He tried to persuade the Arabs with politics: "Without an explicit statement
concerning the state's Jewish character, the document will be shorn of most of
its power to influence, because it will be perceived by the majority of the
population as a list of demands or requests which are intended to strengthen
the Arabs at the expense of Israel's character as a Jewish state."

He put forward a legal argument: anyone who does not recognize that this is a
Jewish state is liable to act against it, in violation of the law. But at this
point, the discussions went deeper, below the shell of politics and the law,
and presented Kremnitzer with the need to examine the foundation of his
identity. Committed to human and civil rights, a possible candidate for the
Supreme Court, he clung to his identity as a Zionist. Everyone displayed good
will and ignored the difficulty of defining who is a Jew, but at the moment of
truth reverted to the first square of Zionism: a Jewish state.

Adel Manna summed up: "The discussion exposed the internal contradiction in
people who define themselves as democrats and liberals. Effectively, they want
two opposite things. On the one hand they want equality and democracy in
Israel, while on the other they want the Arab population to recognize the
character of the State of Israel, which is not democratic but anti-democratic,
in return for various arrangements they [the Arabs] will be granted."

The belief in a Jewish and democratic Israel has made life pleasant for many
Israelis, much like the belief in peace. In the crucible of the group of 20,
that belief turned out to be an illusion, if not a fraud. In the meantime,
more and more Israelis have also stopped believing in peace. A lot of
disillusionment for one decade.

Gellermania strikes again

To the best of my recollection, it happened in 1970: Uri Geller wowed the
country. The Israelis needed him. The country was confused, between the chimes
of redemption sounded by the victory in the Six-Day War and the despair
created by the War of Attrition. The situation in the Gaza Strip also looked

We were three correspondents on the editorial board of "Hayom Hazeh," Israel
Radio's newsmagazine: Dan Halperin, the editor, Michael Karpin and me. We
decided to prove that Uri Geller was a fraud. We needed that scoop, because
people were increasingly abandoning the radio newsmagazine in favor of the
television news. Geller promised to drive Karpin and me through the streets of
Jerusalem, using four senses only, his eyes covered by a black blindfold. A
dangerous profession, journalism. We went with him. We were not killed: Geller
peeked out of the blindfold.

Halperin interviewed him live from the Jerusalem studio; Geller was in Tel
Aviv. Who is sitting next to me, what am I doing, what am I wearing, what does
my watch look like, Halperin asked, and poor Geller stuttered and apologized:
I can't know, I'm wearing short pants. Does it depend on the length of your
pants? Halperin fired back. Geller, overwrought, left the studio and shortly
afterward left the country. I learned how to do one of his great tricks and
make the hands of a watch move, supposedly. It's simple.

Thirty-five years older and a few million dollars richer, he's back, big-time.
Israel is again confused and despair is gnawing at the country, the situation
in Gaza again looks hopeless, and once again Israel needs Geller. Karpin, this
week, in a philosophical tone: "From a local, temporary perspective it can be
said that we screwed him. From a historic and universal perspective, Geller
made it big. Look at him and look at us."

Cancel that invasion

Less than a month before the United States invaded Iraq, the journalist David
Rose met with Richard Perle, an adviser to President Bush, and heard a private
lecture on the need for and the possibility of winning the war. Iraq is very
well suited for democratic reform, Perle said. He is considered one of the
leaders of the neoconservatives who surrounded the president, shaped his
worldview and influenced his policy decisions. A whole group, an entire
ideological current - many of them Jews.

Recently Rose returned to them, and the monthly Vanity Fair is about to
publish his findings. The neocons express disappointment and regret, and some
of them are in despair. Not all of them think that an American defeat is
inevitable, but they all agree that there will be no joy in this funeral.
Perle says that he still believes in the causes that led him to recommend
invasion: Saddam Hussein developed weapons of mass destruction and was about
to supply them to terrorist organizations. But if he could reverse the course
of history, Perle would not make the same recommendation, he says.

The "prince of darkness," as he was dubbed, still tries to defend himself: he
is not to blame. The president and his men are to blame. The conception was
correct, the implementation bungled. Three months after the war in Lebanon -
and who knows how long before the next war? - that has a familiar ring to it.

Kenneth Adelman, a veteran neocon, promised the readers of the Washington Post
that the liberation of Iraq would be a "cakewalk." His present evaluation is
that the war in Iraq is eliminating, for an entire generation at least, the
conservative belief that a foreign policy based on the use of power can
further a moral agenda. David Frum, who was one of the president's
speechwriters, and helped coin the term "axis of evil," describes the great
shock he sustained in the White House: "I always believed as a speechwriter
that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words,
he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And
the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he
just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

The January issue of Vanity Fair hits the stands in December. Required reading
for every Israeli.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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