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Special Reports Last Updated: Dec 31st, 2005 - 13:52:10

Amir Peretz: The next drama in the Land of Milk and Honey
By Louis Farshee
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 21, 2005, 16:51

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Because of all the violence and mayhem on the international scene these days relatively little attention is paid to Israeli domestic politics.

For example, most uninformed observers of the Israeli scene imagine that there is a genuine political difference between the Labor and Likud parties. Recall 1978 when up to that time Israeli politics had been controlled by David Ben-Gurion�s Labor Party. The Labor candidate in the election that year was Shimon Peres; the Likud (Herut) candidate was Menachem Begin. When a reporter asked who he favored, an anonymous Palestinian remarked, �They are the same; the only difference is one will kill us by hanging the other by drowning.�

Begin won the election and ultra-right Zionists came to power. When he was criticized for his enunciation of aggressive policies, Begin retorted that he was doing nothing that Ben-Gurion had not done. His remark was met with skepticism and led to new research about Ben-Gurion and the first years of the Jewish State. This helped launch the careers of the so-called New Historians; a group of Israeli scholars who sifted through state achieves that become available that year. As a general rule, Israeli archives are opened after 30 years and Begin came to power 30 years after the founding of the Jewish State.

From these historians came revelations about Zionist military aggression and terrorism against Palestinians in 1948 (Simha Flapan), Zionist collusion with King Adbullah of Jordan on the division of Arab Palestine (Avi Schlaim), causes of the flight of the Palestinians and the birth of the refugee problem (Benny Morris), the outright theft of Palestinian land and property (Tom Segev), and others of lesser academic and print fame.

Simultaneously, there were �new Arab historians� not identified as such who accessed the same archives and wrote articles and books that debunked Israel�s founding myths and alleged Zionist altruistic aspirations. As it turned out Begin was right, he was doing nothing openly that Ben-Gurion had not done surreptitiously.

In May 1948, when the Jewish State was declared, its new prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, Polish �migr� and �George Washington of Israel,� expected the new State and eventually the remnants of Mandate Palestine to be flooded by European and Western Jews. But, to his dismay, few came. In an outburst of frustration he stated that any Jew in the Diaspora who did not make Aliyeh (immigration to Israel) was anti-Semitic. To fill the Jewish State with Jewish bodies it was arranged to airlift the Jews of Yemen to Israel. Still, the new state needed bodies.

The next major event was the Mossad acting as agents provocateurs and terrorizing Iraqi Jews (see either edition of David Hirst The Gun and the Olive Branch). Their eventual evacuation to Israel under the guise of escaping Iraqi persecution brought more than 100,000 Jews to Zionist Paradise. In 1987, during a conversation in Jerusalem with a Knesset member, a Jew who came from Iraq to Israel at age 12, told me that Iraqi Jews lived better in Iraq than in Israel and many Iraqi Jews regretted their move to Israel.

During this same period, the early 1950s, Jews from other Arab countries began to be expelled by their respective governments in retaliation for Israel�s exile of the Palestinians. Ben-Gurion began to see his dreams fulfilled. Moroccan Jews were not expelled but were encouraged by the Israelis to come to Israel. Many of them did, although the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel remains in Morocco. The big pond, however, the Soviet Union, refused to allow Jewish emigration and the flood gates were not opened until the early 1990s.

Israel today has a population consisting of Jews from over 100 different countries. They are divided into basically two groups, the Ashkenazi Jews from Europe and the Sephardic Jews from Middle Eastern and Arab countries. To the European Jews, the Sephardics are �niggers,� only one level above the loathed Arabs of Israel and not on the same elite level as the Ashkenazis. There has never been a Sephardic prime minister, but during the 1990s it appeared they would come to power under the leadership of David Levy, a Sephardic from Morocco, but the influx of Russian Jews tilted the population balance in favor of a stronger Ashkenazi voting bloc.

Meanwhile Shimon Peres was always on the scene. He was the last of Ben-Gurion�s proteges and was mentioned in Chaim Weizmann�s autobiography Trial and Error (1949) as a leader of the future. Those familiar with Zionist history will recall that Weizmann was the diplomatic face of Zionism prior to the establishment of Israel and, after its founding, its first president. The political structures of the new state were configured by Ben-Gurion to block Weizmann�s power, a move that proved of little value because Weizmann died in the early 1950s. However, those structures remain and are the source of problems related to the Israeli political construct.

Every government that has come to power has been a coalition which has proved to be relatively easy to topple through parliamentary processes. But Peres had prevailed until his recent unseating as leader of the Labor Party by Amir Peretz.

The defeat of Peres is noteworthy because of his political longevity although he had his fingers in certain scandals including the egregious Lavon Affair of the mid 1950s, according to some of the New Historians and others. He has also filled the Weizmann role of being the �reasonable face� of Zionism Israel presents to the world. Remember that he and Yitzhak Rabin along with Yasser Arafat were Nobel Peace Laureates after they all signed the Oslo Accords. This momentous event touted as the answer to everyone�s prayers, in fact, transformed the PLO from an economically and politically bankrupt national liberation movement into a �peace loving� Israeli police force and �partner for peace� and its leader, Yasser Arafat into a Zionist collaborator.

Rabin was assassinated by an ostensibly religious Jew, but Labor remained in power until its defeat by Ariel Sharon in 2000. Sharon promised to deliver Israel from its enemies and bring peace to the Holy Land, something no Israeli politician has been able to accomplish. As a result of his failed administration rumblings have emerged throughout the Israeli electorate.

Enter Amir Peretz. He is the face of the Sephardic Jews and has stripped away the veneer of Israeli social and political homogeneity. His challenge to the leadership of Ariel Sharon is a serious matter and not to be compared to the 1978 campaign between Peres and Begin. What his real agenda might be is not public information, but his stated political platform sounds more like a leader addressing domestic problems rather than creating external crises.

This could be a major turning point in history. If and perhaps this is a big if, Peretz can convince the Russian Jews that he is their best bet and maintain the Sephardic support, which should be relatively easy, he could unseat Sharon. Also, recall that ethnic Arabs constitute about 20 percent of Israel�s population and their support of Peretz could offset the Russian bloc.

If Peretz became Prime Minister of Israel, George W. Bush would be in serious trouble. Since 9-11, Sharon has used the so-called War on Terror to expand Zionist colonization and land seizures in the Occupied Territories and thwart the creation of a Palestinian State. He has made stirring the pot with Syria and Iran a favorite pastime, while Peretz has said little if anything about Iran, wants to settle with the Palestinians, possibly address Israel�s confrontation with Syria over Israel�s occupation of the Golan Heights and try to resolve or lessen Israel�s domestic problems.

This is the real story behind the front page. If Sharon falls to a more domestic-minded and less belligerent leader and George Bush remains mired in corruption scandals that boil over every day in Washington, substantive changes will occur in US foreign policy, within Israel and certainly in Iraq. With or without Tony Blair, George Bush would be in mortal political danger if Amir Peretz is successful in his bid to become prime minister. Then, perhaps, the merry-go-round of obfuscation over the question of Palestine and dreams of an Imperial Greater Israel will come to an end.

Louis Farshee M.A. is a freelance writer and independent businessman living in the Pacific Northwest. He can be reached at

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