If I believed what I read in the newspapers, I’d be devoting this issue of BibiWATCH to the question of how the CIA kidnapped Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sometime during his visit to Washington, replacing him with a double — which was exposed, of course, during last week’s state visit to Cairo. (Egyptian President Mubarak was quoted as saying that the Netanyahu he met was a different man from the one who spoke to the U.S. Congress a week earlier.)
It makes for a hell of a conspiracy theory except for one thing : Bibi said nothing in Cairo that he hadn’t said in Washington. Unfortunately, the Bibi Mubarak met was the same one we elected in May.
Bibi Netanyahu possesses a secret and very powerful weapon, and it’s not his good looks nor his winning American-style charm. Until his election victory, about 50% of all Israelis thought he was a dangerous fanatic who would probably put an end to the peace process and might actually bring on the next war. But since that victory, many Israelis, including many opponents of the new government, are looking at Bibi differently.
And not only Israelis. Members of the U.S. Congress have been joined in recent days by the Egyptian President and other moderate Arab leaders in re-evaluating the new Israeli Prime Minister. Maybe, they’re saying, he’s not that bad. Maybe he really will want to move the peace process forward.
It’s pretty easy to prove that nothing of the kind is true. Netanyahu offered up to Mubarak concessions that the Likud has been promising since even before its election victory: respect (sort of) for those parts of the Oslo accord which have already been signed and an easing of the closure of the occupied territories. On the issues that really matter — like moving the Oslo process along, working out a complete solution to the complex Palestinian problem (including statehood, Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees) — there’s been no change at all in Netanyahu’s line.
So why is there a sudden optimistic sound coming out of the halls of Congress, and from the mouth of the Egyptian President? I think because sometimes we want something to happen so badly, we imagine that it has already happened. Or to put it another way, sometimes we fear something so much, we try to imagine it away. So it is with Binyamin Netanyahu.
No one — not in Israel and not anywhere — wants to believe that the peace process in which we placed so much hope is over. Even Likud supporters claim all the time that the process will continue. As I write these words, Bibi’s top advisor on Arab affairs, Dore Gold, is off in the Persian Gulf, reassuring moderate Arab dictators there of Bibi’s commitment to the peace process. David Levy is going to meet with Yassir Arafat at any moment. And the Bibi-Yassir handshake may only be days away.
Netanyahu is pretending to continue the peace process, and now he’s being joined in this ruse by Mubarak and by some U.S. politicians. Unfortunately, closing one’s eyes and pretending is not going to be enough. The peace process is over — until the Netanyahu government is ousted and a peace government re-elected in Israel. No comforting words from the Egyptian President can change this fact.
The Paralysis of the Opposition
The key to getting the peace process going is not by pretending that Bibi is going to do something,but by mobilizing to bring the rightist-religious government down. And the sooner the better. We cannot afford to wait four years.
The people who should be working on this day and night are first and foremost the leaders of the official Opposition, the Labor Party and Meretz.
But it seems as if Labor is focussing on trying to get the courts to overturn the election results and when not busy with that, engaging in its favorite past-time: in-fighting. The spectacle of Shimon Peres’ oldest, closest friends calling on him to step down, and Peres’ refusal to do so because what is at stake is “the future of the Jewish people” — well, it’s no sight for innocent eyes.
If Labor and Meretz are relatively paralyzed by their election defeat, one would have hoped that at least “Peace Now” would be out in the streets, in strength, demanding the redeployment of the IDF in Hebron and the continuation of the Oslo process. But except for a few small demos, “Peace Now” is laying low.
Several readers of BibiWATCH have suggested that the secular majority of Israelis could be mobilized against the encroaching religious fundamentalism which threatens to turn the country into a theocracy. But so far, the masses have not turned out. Last night, only a few hundred secular Jews turned out in Jerusalem to protest plans to close down one of the city’s main streets on Shabbat.
If the leadership of the opposition parties, the mainstream peace movement and the secular Jewish organizations are unable to organize a real opposition even now, two months after the election, one is tempted to say that Netanyahu is going to have an easy time of it. These are going to be a very long four years.
But I think that we’ve seen hopeful signs coming from that most unlikely of places –the Histadrut.
The Way Out
The Histadrut — does that old thing still exist? To tell the truth, just barely. Decades of Labor Party mismanagement and a couple of years of Haim Ramon’s “reforms” have withered the once powerful trade union movement in Israel down to a skeleton. In an article I wrote for the Jerusalem Post last month, I suggested that the Histadrut might play a role in building a real opposition to the new government (which had not even been named at that time). But I wasn’t particularly confident.
What happened, I think, was this: Netanyahu and Meridor looked at the numbers and flipped out. The government was in urgent need of raising more money, or massive spending cuts. Those cuts would naturally hit the poor hardest of all. But, as right wingers are quick to point out, because the poor are recipients of government aid, naturally budget cuts affect them the hardest.
So Bibi and his government — with the initial complicity of the “poor people’s party”, Shas — decided to increase the number of children in classrooms, begin charging everyone 10 shekels for doctor’s visits, raise fares for public transportation (and this from a government claiming to “wage war” on traffic accidents), and cut out millions of dollars of subsidies.
Histadrut leaders anticipating this policy, called a strike a couple of weeks ago, and it got some attention, but on the whole, working people seemed confused. Last week’s general strike, which brought out some 400,000 workers, was another story entirely. Those workers have begun to understand what the Histadrut leadership seems to have already figured out. This government is a ruthless, heartless enemy of working people and the poor. And the labor movement in this country must use whatever resources it has left to fight Netanyahu and Meridor until the end.
In 1977, the Likud ended three decades of Labor rule in part because it was able to mobilize poor people, mostly from the Sephardic communities. In 1992, Labor was able to come back to power in part because it attracted the support of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were suffering from neglect at the hands of the Shamir government. The Likud’s return to power this year is, in part, attributable to the return of poor and working people to the anti-Labor ranks.
If Labor is to return to power, it must first return to its roots — working people and the poor. No social democratic party anywhere in the world can win and hold power while ignoring those constituencies. The strike of the 400,000 last week — by far the largest protest so far against anything done by the Netanyahu government — is the first sign of what could be an interesting development in Israeli politics.
We may be seeing for the first time a politics based not on ethnicity, religion or ideology, but on class.
Letters from Readers
1. “Bibiwatch” is probably the best site on the web. I was thinking of creating such a left-winged page on Geocities, but it good to see somebody beat me to it. — Uri Dekel, Israel
2. I have read every issue of BibiWatch since you started it and have never been disappointed. Your frank honest assessments of BibiEvents are very refreshing and I believe they contain a lot of truth. Let’s hope, however, that your summary, “the peace process is finished”, of Bibi’s speech before the US Congress, does not become reality. I continue to believe and hope that Bibi will surprise us and genuinely pursue peace with the Palestinians. The alternative probably is a return to the days of Shamir and the Intifada, if Bibi follows traditional Likud tactics. Thank you for an insightful internet publication. — Terry N.
I wish I could agree with you, Terry, but — well, read my article in this issue.
3. I just wanted to congratulate you on this incredible site. For years I have been a strong supporter of the peace process (and specifically Meretz), especially this past year (which has been my first year in college) after Rabin’s assassination (I have done many different things on campus to promote peace and mourn Rabin, including a petition condemning his assassination which was signed by over 1,000 students, and organizing a group which attended the memorial in madison square garden, in addition to organizing our own memorial service on campus). On Sunday I will be returning to Israel (probably in late November I’ll be starting the army) — and I hope in the time I have to promote the prospect of peace and work, more or less, against Bibi’s ideas, which will now include promoting this web site. — Eyal Oron, Israel
For ideas on how to promote BibiWATCH, click here.
4. I just came across BibiWatch and think it’s great. We’re interested in keeping up with your work. — Mark Weiner, Project Nishma, Washington DC, USA
5. I have just come across Bibiwatch and am very pleased. I had already seen an article you’d put in PS magazine which I found very positive indeed. I agree with most of what you’d written. The Jewish community in Portugal is very small, yet I feel that at this crucial juncture for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, no effort is wasted in trying to bring consciousness in the ‘Diaspora’ of its political role. Only recently has an important current of non-expansionist politics become visible in the Diaspora. This has been heartening. Until recently the trend was to support the Israeli state regardless of the content of its politics. I intend to print a bulletin for the Portuguese community (which is fluent in English). I would like to use your material. Ok? — Alan Stoleroff, Instituto Superior das Ciencias do Trabalho e da Empresa, Lisbon, Portugal
Yes, please feel free to reprint articles that have appeared in BibiWATCH. But please remember to credit the source and to send on a copy to us. (Our snail mail address is: Eric Lee, Kibbutz Ein Dor, D.N. Yezreel 19335, Israel.)
6. I checked out BibiWatch today. Another insightful (inciteful) edition. Good for you. I forwarded a copy to a friend who does not use WWW — only e-mail. His immediate reactions was how can he get it by e-mail. Do you have plans of sending it by listserv or mass mailing? — Mark Blumberg, New Israel Fund, Toronto, Canada
We’re hoping to have a LISTSERV email mailing list up and running in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned.
7. You’re my kind of SOB! I was a member of the YPSL [Young Peoples Socialist League] before you were born ,I think! I am 81 years old. You can get some idea as to my background when I fell you that I worked for Walter Reuther as an international Representative of the UAW-CIO on the East coast during and after WW11. Where Bibi is most vulnerable is on the Freedom of Religion issue . This should be constantly raised . Most American Jews would be reluctant to take on Bibi at this time even though they supported Peres .However on the religious freedom issue they can be aroused. Give us items on the Religious draft dodgers and tax eating hypocrites. — Harry Stillman, USA
8. Your home page is terrific. Its refreshing to get firsthand grassroots information. — Shirley Lipschutz-Robinson, Hollywood, California, USA
9. The site is EXTREMELY successful content-wise and the top area of the front page is great, but the letters should be archived clickably and the presentation already requires more panache. Also, it’s high time a discussion forum ran off the thing. — Yori Yanover, Jewish Communications Network, USA
You’re right — and that’s why we’re considering some big changes around here in the days and weeks to come. Readers of BibiWATCH should already be checking out the JCN site.
10. Kol Hakavod. I wish you the best and if there is anything I can do from New York let me know. (What about Hebrew sites?) –Ron Zafrir, New York City, USA
We’re keeping our eyes out for Hebrew sites, but for now there’s almost nothing online that’s remotely similar to what we’re trying to do here. There’s a list of Israeli sites here; check it out from time to time.
11. Just a little note saying thank you for existing — be strong in the storms ahead — my strength after all those years is waning, but when I look at my 2 wonderful officer sons, I pick myself up and with your help — stagger on — ein brera [there’s no alternative]!! — Sidney Lan, Israel
12. I liked your site about bibi. I’ll add link to it from my bibi page later. I don’t know if you saw my page, it’s humorous: http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/8887/bb.html — Shlomo, Israel
13. It’s nice to see another kibbutznik doing good things on the web. I don’t know if a radio station is feasable. It costs a bit of money for the software and uses quite a bit of bandwidth. Check it out though. I will be adding your url to the political links of “gezernet”. If I can help in any way, let me know. — Shimon Gewing – Webmaster – Gezernet, Israel
Actually, the software (the Real Audio player and encoder) is free, and our server at Geocities is capable of serving up these kinds of files. So Internet Peace Radio is, in fact, a practical proposal on the table.
14. I will add your site to the Givat Haviva pages. Be a little less dramatic (censorship etc.) it makes the idea seem less reliable and to one sided. Good luck. — Shraga, Givat Haviva, Israel
15. The Likud Sins site will soon be available under: http://www.teletel.co.il/benny — Benny Kedem, Israel
16. I am interested to know who you are. Are you a frustrated journalist that hates Netanyahu? Are you a radical leftist, maybe a Meretz supporter? Do you get salary from Shimon Peres? Perhaps he sold some of his stocks in Tadiran to pay for your salary? I do not object any criticism on Netayahu, but I would like it to be fair. After all, not everything he does is so bad, even President Mubarak thinks so. — Yariv, Israel
A salary from Peres? Sounds like a good idea — are you listening Shimon?
17. Why in the name of God, can’t you accept the fact that more than 55 precent of the Jewish people have elected Nethanyahu??? Why can’t you accept the fact that bibi won, and you lost?! Now, it’s our time to sit in the chairs and watch you protest. Your page SUCKS!!!! Don’t bother to upgrade it… 🙂 Stay exactly as you are. I like that! — Yony Levav, Kiryat Haim, Israel
Just a couple of things, Yony. Bibi did not win the votes of 55% of the Jewish people; he won a majority of votes cast by Jewish voters in the State of Israel. Had a vote been taken among the Jewish people, meaning Jews everywhere, I doubt if Bibi would have won. But that’s not the important point. If Peres had won by a single vote, you Rightists would all be hollering that Peres’ mandate rested on Arab votes and was therefore illegitimate. That’s what you were all saying when Rabin was Prime Minister. “Rabin has no mandate” — that was your slogan (meaning: Arab votes don’t count). Hey, I accept the fact that Bibi won. Don’t I have the right — indeed, the responsibility — to act like an opposition.
18. Like Yael Dayan said, if we have even one vote more we have the majority and we could do whatever we want. Well have fun for four years complaining because I sure enjoy this government. –Eli Krakauer, Israel
19. The forces of the Left, led by the Histadrut, are slowly financially strangling the country and won’t relinquish their hold willingly as Israel enters the next century. Most socialist economies have self destructed except for Israel. And Israel is unique due to the financial subsidy of the U.S.; however, this will predictably come to a halt . . .The question arises: what are the socialist kibbutzim, the Histadrut, going to do to assist Israel on its way to a free market economy? The only response I see, except for rhetoric, is to call a general strike. — Murray Kahl
Does anyone understand — I mean really understand — the point of this letter?
20. Can you tell me who is Eric Lee? Is he related to Bruce? Is he American, israeli, Jewish, Arabic? Is he confident that giving land will create peace? What kind of piece is he talking about? If the overwhelming majority of Americans understand that there can be no one sided peace through surrender of land, why can’t Mr. Lee.? Are you a communist Eric LEE ? If not I expect to see this letter unedited in BibiWatch. — Charles Brum, Louisiana, USA
You got it, Chuck. Your letter has now appeared unedited in BibiWATCH. I guess this means I’m not a Communist. I am, however, related to Bruce Lee: I’m his secret Jewish son. Chop chop.
21. I am so sorry for you – It must be lonely being one of the few surviving throwbacks to the delusional belief system known as socialism. Maybe, after singing a few rounds of the “Internationale”, you should seriously consider finding a new place to express your views in a more “hospitable” environment…like Cuba. I’m sure that Fidel would welcome you with open arms, and you see what life in a socialist paradise is truly like. And if that’s too far removed for you from your current home, the progressive members of the PA would undoubtedly welcome you to Nablus or Jericho with open arms as a fellow traveller. — Jonathan Meola, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Mr. Meola, who is busy suggesting alternative places for me to live (I happen to like living here in Israel, thank you) posted this email from Atlanta, which — to the best of my knowledge — is not part of the Jewish state. When I pointed out this minor fact of geography, I was told that Mr. Meola’s credentials are impeccable — he actually visited Israel, and even (are you ready for this?) did some kind of Army duty here (which he mis-labelled “toranut”, I guess meaning “tironut”). Hey, I apologize. I thought I was dealing with someone who lived in America . . .
22. From what I understand, Sharansky, who spent 8 or so years in the soviet gulag for advocating human rights, supported Netanyahu, even though he never openly endorsed him. Nonetheless, it was quite clear that he did not support Peres. In addition his party platform is quite similar to that of the Likud. How did it happen that a humanitarian and a human rights advocate like Sharansky almost endorsed Bibi and even openly supported and advocated his reactionary economic policies? — Leonid Grinberg, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Anyody can make a mistake. By the way, while I have you and Mr. Meola (author of our previous letter) online, any way to get some free tickets to the Games?