Where’s A New Mandela When We Need Him or Her Now?

December 13, 2013   ·   0 Comments


By Murray Polner:

How many of our editorial writers, pundits and ordinary Americans know that Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu has articulate and informed opponents in Israel about Palestine and Iran? If you had no idea, you’ve been reading the wrong publications and watching the wrong TV news broadcasts. For insightful reporting and commentary you have to forego virtually all mainstream mass media and try some overlooked websites and publications. By solely relying on big media, we’re left to believe that Netanyahu, the rightwing settlers and his coalition of ultras have little or no serious political opposition inside Israel even as most Israelis have, since Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, become inured to real and imaginary cries of alarm.

Netanyahu’s Israeli opponents are true insiders who simply do not believe him when he regularly goes on about Palestine and Iran. An array of the most experienced former intelligence and security veterans, such as ex- Mossad director Meir Dagan, ex-Military Intelligence Director former Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin, the IDF’s former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former Military Intelligence Director Amos Yadlin and his predecessor Maj.Gen. Aharon Ze-evi-Farkash have all resisted Netanyahu’s tirades and oppose an Israeli attack on Iran. Dagan and Diskin have been arguing publicly that any future understanding with Iran, imperfect though it may be, will benefit both countries.

There are also many in the business and technical community, dependent as they are in doing business with the rest of the world, who are very uncomfortable with the PM’s bellicosity and especially the way Netanyahu deals with the U.S., the country’s benefactor. I have been unable to find any report of who said what at a public forum in early December in Tel Aviv other than in by the intrepid Ben Caspit, an Israeli journalist, who attended together with some 600 people, no doubt most of them critics of the government’s policies. The main speaker was former Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin, who sharply condemned Netanyahu’s Palestinian and Iranian policies. Caspit summarized what he said:

“It is time to preserve the sanctity of the people to the sanctity of the land, making Israel a home that does not require occupying another people. Israel must freeze the settlements [because] the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached such levels that no government will be able to evict them.”

And Iran?

Said Diskin: The “implications of failing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far more ‘existential’ –Netanyahu’s pet word to express alarm -- “than the Iranian nuclear issue.”

The Forward, the English language, not the historic Yiddish, version often has incisive reports. A recent report by J.J. Goldberg cites Ron Ben-Yishai, the military correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, writing about “the state of open warfare” about Iran between “Israel’s political leadership and intelligence professionals.” Goldberg then clarifies the real differences between Israeli intelligence” that is, what Mossad, the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence consider to be true and the phrase “Israel believes”—which most U.S. mass media usually cite and therefore most Americans believe— and which represents, “a closed circle of hard-line politicians, ideologues and think tankers surrounding Netanyahu.”

Another essential analyst is Rabbi Henry Siegman, one of our shrewdest commentators. He once ran the American Jewish Congress and is now head of the US-Middle East Project, whose board includes “Realists” Brent Scowcroft, Thomas Pickering, Lee Hamilton and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Most Americans, Siegman writes, simply do not understand that Netanyahu will never grant Palestinians anything more than a “pathetic statelet,” if that. Having never forsaken his dream of a Greater Israel, Netanyahu has opposed every previous peace move signed by those who came before him, including accords with Egypt, Jordan and Ariel Sharon’s removal of settlements planted in Gaza. It is an "illusion," Siegman rightly argues, that he will ever [not never!] allow an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian nation as the discarded Roadmap for Middle East Peace once urged.

Always in the background is the role of the U.S. in the Middle East as it hints at withdrawing a bit to turn toward China -- a potential enemy since American hawks must have enemies-- while simultaneously having to confront the new Saudi-Israeli connection, one with mountains of money and oil and the other with massive military might and a superb lobbying apparatus in Washington. There is also a fear, however far-fetched it may seem to some, that if Israel and its allies manage to wreck the Iranian accord and war should follow, will the American people view yet another war as they did in rejecting Obama’s inane scheme to bomb Syria, or will they support bombing Teheran and sending in troops to fight alongside Israelis in Iran?

In the midst of the thorny Palestinian and Iranian issues, Nelson Mandela died. Unlike a huge number of heads of state, Netanyahu did not attend the memorial ceremony because, as The Times of Israel reported, “the financial and logistical outlays” were too expensive for a trip to Johannesburg. South African Jews reacted negatively by making clear that a great opportunity had been missed since Israel had been a good friend of South Africa’s apartheid government. Whatever the reason, as Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle in a long ago vice-presidential debate, “Benyamin Netanyahu, you’re no Nelson Mandela,”

Murray Polner was editor of Present Tense, published by the American Jewish Committee from 1973-1990 and has written and edited books about Jewish life.


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