[This article was written in London, where the author has been living since September 1968. It was published in Matzpen 50, August 1969. Translated from Hebrew by the author.]
A few weeks ago I received a letter from a personal friend of mine in Israel.
“Lately”, he writes, “the press is full of attacks against you people. The style of the stories is very infuriating. In none of them, for example, have they seen fit to quote a single sentence from you. And without describing what you actually do the reports make it “clear” that you are traitors. Today, for example, Ma’ariv printed a report headed “Jews in the service of Fatah in London”, in which it is said, “Dr. Machover will surely be very angered by me calling him a Jew”. You know that in substance I do not share your views, but I am infuriated by the inflammatory tone of the stories; especially because after reading them you would either like to tear Dr. Machover to pieces or shrug your shoulders, but in either case you don’t really know what he is supposed to have done”.
The Ma’ariv story mentioned in the letter — which is one of many in the same vein — was written by Gabriel Strassman, Ma’ariv’s London correspondent, and was published on May 6, 1969. And, true enough, whoever read that story carefully and critically, as did my friend, realized at once that it contained absolutely nothing about the substance of what “Dr. Machover and his friends of the Matzpen group” say in London. Indeed, the factual content of that story — as of all others of the same kind — is very meager. (And here I must add something that my friend could not have inferred from reading that material: even the few “facts” that Mr. Strassman’s story cites are distorted. For example, he mentions a meeting organized by the Arab students in London, and implies that I was one of the platform speakers there. Yet the truth is that I made no speech from the platform but took part in the discussion that followed the speeches, in which also other Israelis participated from the floor, like me. The only difference was that I did not defend the official Israeli position but utterly dissociated myself from it).
I am unable — even had I been so inclined — to enter into a debate with Mr. Strassman and the other authors of the inflammatory stories. There is simply nothing to debate about. At most, it would be possible to list several dozen more or less blatant factual distortions. But that would bore both the reader and me; and in any case it is unimportant. Because, in the best demagogic tradition, the facts (even the distorted ones) do not constitute the substance of the incitement, but only an embellishment designed to mislead the unguarded reader and lend the defamatory articles a credible air of “factuality”. As my friend discovered on careful and critical reading, the main incitement is in the form of very general evaluations and allegations such as: what is said by the members of Matzpen abroad is “poisonous” and “serves the seditionists of al-Fatah.”
So a debate is not called for. Neither is it necessary to give a detailed account of what we do say, because what we say abroad is exactly the same as what our comrades say in Israel, with which readers of Matzpen are in any case familiar through reading this paper.
Instead, it is much more interesting to consider the following question: Why is the Israeli press so enraged? Why is the Israeli establishment so indignant? What has caused this furious campaign of baiting, libel, and incitement?
The answer is quite simple. The incitement campaign is a symptom, a cry of pain. The Israeli establishment has been wounded in a sensitive weak spot.
Israel is not the only state that practices oppression and denial of rights of members of “inferior” peoples (or races); neither is it the only state located geographically in the midst of the third world and serving there as a partner and buttress of global imperialist powers. There are many examples of such states, some less bad, some worse: for example, South Africa. But South Africa does not expect to have the sympathy of world public opinion (let alone that of the international left). The rulers of South Africa have long been accustomed to the world’s condemnation; and they can also afford to thumb their noses at it. They rule over a rich industrialized country that does not depend on charitable funds or American subsidy. On the contrary, the present regime of South Africa enables the huge American and British capital invested there to extract fat profits. Therefore those racists are not too bothered by the world’s antipathy. And the rest of the world for its part has long been used to seeing South Africa in its true light. For the South African press is printed in European languages that can be widely read abroad, and the whole world can easily read it and witness the depth of moral and political vileness of its dominant ideology.
Israel has no rich natural resources. The Israeli establishment does not rely on exploiting diamond and iron mines but on exploiting the sympathy of world public opinion. (To be precise, this is its second most important mainstay; the first one is the common interest of imperialism and Zionism, but this lies outside the topic under discussion here).
The State of Israel holds the world record in balance-of-trade deficit. The deficit is covered by an enormous flow — unparalleled in size and the length of time during which it has kept flowing — of money from outside. A major part of this money comes in the form of tax-free donations. This is how it works. A Jew in New York, for example, donates $1,000 to the United Jewish Appeal. The US Treasury recognizes this as a “charitable” donation, free of income tax. Had that $1,000 not been paid to the UJA, most of it (say $770) would have had to be paid to the Treasury [In 1969 the top rate of US federal income tax was 77 percent]. It follows that in reality only $230 are donated by the donor, while $770 are donated by the US government.
This arrangement — which exists also in other Western countries — depends on two conditions. First, the treasury department of the country in question must recognize the donation as “charitable”; second, the Jewish donor must prefer the UJA to other appeals for charity. If local public opinion will turn its back to Israel, both of these conditions would be put in doubt. The treasury department would find it difficult to resist public pressure and continue recognizing donations to Israel as “charity”; and many Jewish donors — who also form part of public opinion, and influence it as well as being influenced by it — would prefer donating their money to other causes, such as animal welfare.
Now since the June war the true face of the Israeli authorities has been uncovered, and the world’s sympathy is progressively vanishing. Of course, the main cause for this is not the “failures of Israeli hasbarah [propaganda]” or the “hate propaganda of the al-Fatah inciters and their Matzpen helpers” — but simply the facts themselves. For example, the fact that Israel plays thoroughly the role of occupier — the whole world smiles ruefully at the pious “liberal” pretensions of various occupiers — and shows very clear signs of having an appetite for annexations.
How far has this gone? Take one example. Piet Naak is a Dutch docker, an ordinary person, but a very brave one, as well as what is known in Israel as “Righteous among the Nations”. During the Nazi occupation he organized a movement of strikes and demonstrations against the deportation of Jews to extermination camps.
At present he is the secretary of the Dutch Palestine Committee, devoted to mobilizing support for the Palestinian struggle; and he makes public appearances and declares that a few years ago, when he agreed to accept an honorary citizenship of Israel, he was still unaware of the true nature of its policy, whereas now he thinks that Moshe Dayan is Nazi-like.
Should we then be surprised by the furious rage of the Israeli establishment?
As I pointed out, the change in public opinion is not mainly due to some kind of deliberate propaganda. It is stupid to believe that a tiny handful of dissident Israelis staying abroad is able — even with the greatest effort — to cause such a great change of public mood. But we, this handful, can easily do something quite simple: we can translate into European languages the thoughts of the Israeli establishment, as they are published in Hebrew, in the Israeli press. In doing this we topple one of the natural defensive walls behind which the establishment used to hide from the world’s scrutiny.
Who, in the great wide world, can read Hebrew? Which important international paper would bother publishing a detailed survey of what is printed in the Israeli press?
It seems that up till now Israel has been able to indulge in a luxury that is not available to other states of its kind: it could manage a domestic public opinion inflamed by nationalist and militarist preaching, by a chauvinist press that utters in a nonchalant tone stuff that would horrify every decent person around the world — and at the same time conduct abroad pious propaganda wrapped in a cloak of humanist values. These two propaganda worlds are separated by the natural barrier of language. And the Israeli correspondents of the world press — the great majority of whom are Zionist Jews — do little to breach this barrier. But now this handful of Israelis turn up and publish translations of what is printed in the Israeli press. This too causes the establishment great pain, and it reacts hysterically.
We do not wish to exaggerate the importance of our public educational work, but we are convinced that it is not only absolutely legitimate but also good for the hygiene of Israel’s internal political life: let those who conduct racist and chauvinist propaganda in Israel know that what they say is being heard abroad. We shall go on translating.
Especially hysterical is the incitement and haranguing issued by those Israeli journalists who are in the habit of wrapping themselves in a cloak of “decency” and even “progressiveness”, and who like to pretend that they are not quite happy about the Israeli establishment.
- Amos Kenan has gone very far in publishing in Yedi’ot Aharonot a series of incitement articles against the whole of the international left, and in particular against Matzpen. I recall that when Mr. Kenan started to work for Dr. Herzl Rosenblum’s paper, I wondered how a person who wishes to be regarded as a progressive can write regularly for a clearly reactionary evening paper. Some people then told me, with a knowing wink, that the editor of Yedi’ot Aharonot is an elderly person, whose views do not carry much weight, and so Amos Kenan can fool him and smuggle some progressive views into that bastion of reaction. Why not use that forum? But now it has become clear who is using whom. Amos Kenan has become the paper’s expert in unbridled attacks against the left.
- Boaz Evron is also one of those “progressive” journalists who work on Dr. Rosenblum’s paper and who “fool” him by smuggling into the weekend issue of that esteemed evening paper attacks on the international and Israeli left. This fastidious professional intelligentual [This untranslatable dismissive made-up word is in the original Hebrew text] does not shrink from telling outright lies. In his article entitled “Neo Anti-Semitism” (April 25, 1969) he tries to prove that the left is and has always been anti-Semitic. And in the final part of that profound article he authoritatively reports that “the Israeli, Moshé Machover, member of the Israeli Matzpen group, published in [the French daily] Le Monde an article in which he praised, among other things, the attack by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on an El-Al plane in Athens”. Mr. Evron knows very well that this is a lie (in my article I pointedly and explicitly refrained from going into the question as to whether the Athens attack was morally or pragmatically justifiable), but he assumes that ordinary readers would not bother to verify his allegation and just take his word for it.
- Knesset member Uri Avnery goes so far as to make himself ridiculous. In the June 4, 1969, issue of Ha’olam Hazeh he published an article in which he accuses ISRAC (a pamphlet published in London by the Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee abroad) of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. The principal “proof” of this is a cartoon that appeared in ISRAC, showing a nasty-looking man standing in a field strewn with corpses; a balloon coming out of the man’s mouth contains the words “say it with flowers”. Mr. Avnery avers: “This is, literally, an anti-Semitic cartoon. Anyone who has any knowledge at all of the history of anti-Semitic psychopathology will recognize it”. Why? Because the image of the man in the cartoon is very familiar to the English reader as being anti-Semitic — so the cartoon expert Mr. Avnery asserts categorically. Of course, an expert like him does not notice small details, such as the fact that the cartoon in question — except for the “say it with flowers” balloon — is a well-known lithograph by the French artist Honoré Daumier (whose signature appears in the bottom left-hand corner). It was originally published about a hundred years ago, and had nothing at all to do with Jews or anti-Semitism. Describing the man in the lithograph as “the stereotypical image of the Jew in British anti-Semitic drawings” is due to astonishing ignorance combined with a sick and malevolent imagination [The ISRAC pamphlet in question can be viewed and downloaded].
By the way, in the same article Mr. Avnery casts a personal complaint against us. The ISRAC pamphlet included a translation of an article by him about the situation in the Gaza Strip. In one part of the article, in which Mr. Avnery spoke about the annexationist tendencies of all the parties in the Israeli government coalition, there was a note added by the ISRAC translator, reminding the non-Israeli reader that Mr. Avnery himself had voted in the Knesset for the annexation of eastern Jerusalem [Avnery’s article is at pp. 12–13 of the pamphlet. The translator’s parenthetical note is at p. 13]. Now Mr. Avnery complains that we did not bother to add that at the time of that vote, and many times thereafter, he declared that he was “for making the united city of Jerusalem the joint capital of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine”. We would like to take this opportunity of apologizing to Mr. Avnery. He is right; we ought to have explained to the non-Israeli reader that Mr. Avnery’s support for the annexation of eastern Jerusalem is part of his scheme for an “Israel-Palestine” federation. This would have shown the reader what a lovely “federation” it is supposed to be: in order to establish it, its intended capital must first be annexed by Israel.
Again, also in the case of people such as Kenan, Evron, or Avnery, there is not much point in detailing the many falsehoods, both large and small, that they spread about us. The really interesting question is why it is they who lead this campaign of incitement against the international and Israeli left.
Here too, it is not hard to guess the real reason. These people would very much like to keep normal relations both with the Israeli establishment and with progressive public opinion. To criticize the government a little, to play at being a parliamentary opposition — why not? This is very nice and very satisfying. But to get into total conflict with the establishment and uphold openly views that are absolutely rejected by an inflamed public opinion — no, not that. That is not so amusing; it is even a bit unwise from a journalistic viewpoint.
When a war breaks out, our cute heroes start swimming very vigorously …no, not against the current. Thus, following the 1956 Suez-Sinai war Uri Avnery called for the annexation of the Gaza Strip; and during the June 1967 days he published a short-lived evening paper called Daf (page) that excelled in its extreme militaristic and nationalistic tone; and following that he voted for the annexation to Israel of eastern Jerusalem (as part of the scheme for… an “Israel-Palestine federation”). But all this does not prevent him from posing in the great outside world as a courageous combatant for peace. Very impressive!
The only trouble with this is that those Matzpen rascals spoil this lovely game. They reveal to the outside world the true face of the peace heroes that swim with the current, the annexers of Jerusalem “for the sake of the federation”, the writers of intelligentual articles in Dr. Herzl Rosenblum’s newspaper. Even worse: those Matzpen guttersnipes occasionally tingle the conscience that has been anesthetized and wrapped in thick layers of opportunism.
Therefore it is necessary to incite and taunt, to spread fantastic lies about Matzpen and its supporters abroad. Therefore Avnery has to call [our comrade] Dinah Hecht “the al-Fatah girl” and spread the deliberate lie that the [Palestinian solidarity] demonstration at which she made a speech (in London’s Trafalgar Square on May 11, 1969) was an “al-Fatah demonstration”; therefore it is necessary to describe the works of Honoré Daumier that are reproduced in ISRAC as “anti-Semitic cartoons in British style”; therefore Evron and Kenan must write lengthy articles against the new left and Matzpen.
For our part, we are not too upset by the campaign of incitement waged by the Strassmans and by Avnery-Kenan-Evron. On the contrary, we see it as proof that we have managed to hit their weak spot. This is why the liars rage.