Tag Archives: Yitzhak Rabin

A Dishonourable Knighthood: Why Shimon Shouldn’t Have Gone

During my first couple of years in Israel, I used to take my shoes to be repaired by a cobbler on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. The lovely old gentleman was born and grew up under the British Mandate for Palestine (1920-1948). When I first told him I was British, far from throwing my shoes back in my face, his eyes lit up as he reminisced, with no little nostalgia, how wonderfully polite the British soldiers were during that period, almost as if wishing them back.

This is not the reaction one would expect from a cold study of the history books. Even if the British could have explained away the 1939 White Paper – severely restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine – as political necessity, the turning back of ships packed with survivors of German death camps smacked of unimaginable cruelty.

But the deferential Israeli attitude to everything British prevails to this day. When the English football team and fans visited Tel Aviv for a European Championship qualifier, in March of last year, the authorities bedecked the Tel Aviv promenade in the flag of St. George, turning it into a Middle Eastern Southend-on-Sea. And the annual British Film Festival, at the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa Cinematheques, is more popular than any other.

But there is something more than a little patronising about Britain’s attitude towards Israel. And it defies logic.

Whatever his many detractors in Israel might say about him, no one can deny that President Shimon Peres has devoted much of his life to masterminding the survival of Israel and its citizens, through unremitting wars with Arab neighbours to daring operations like Entebbe (of which he is widely considered to have been the brains). The Queen and Prince Philip, on the other hand, have spent much of theirs gallivanting around the Commonwealth, gazing at natives’ bouncing dangly bits, in one “Bongo-Bongo Land” or another (let’s face it, I’m sure that’s how the wonderfully un-PC Prince would view them) .

Not a single member of the Royal Family has ever been on an official visit to Israel. During her 56-year reign, the Queen has undertaken over 250 official visits to more than 130 different countries. Her total abstinence from Israel is all the more remarkable when one considers her constitutional role as Head of the Church of England. Has no one ever informed her that some pretty heavy Christian sh*t has gone down here too?

A leaked email exchange between his aides, last year, suggested that Prince Charles – who has visited Israel once (for the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin) – was unlikely to do so again, as Israel might use any such visit to bolster its international image (God forbid). And the heir to the throne did not respond to a fresh invitation, last week, from President Peres – in town to receive an honorary knighthood from the Queen at Buckingham Palace – despite having said that it was his lifelong dream to visit the grave of his grandmother (Prince Philip’s mother), on the Mount of Olives (I suppose that cash flow could be an issue for the Prince, in these recessionary times).

In view, especially, of Britain’s deep, problematic involvement in the history of this Land (the effects of which are still felt here), the Royal reticence towards Israel does the Family a disservice and Israel a dishonour.

With the man’s penchant for international recognition, it was never going to happen, but President Peres should have politely declined this dishonourable knighthood.

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Using Yitzhak: The Rabin Trade

Last week witnessed a host of events and ceremonies, across the country, marking the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

An estimated 100,000 attended the main rally on Saturday evening, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, the site of Rabin’s murder (at the hands of Yigal Amir on 4 November 1995). A friend asked me to accompany her. But I refused. I rarely attend such rallies. I tried explaining myself. But, other than telling her what she already knows (that I am contrary), I couldn’t.

The state memorial, on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on Monday, however, reminded me exactly why – because they have been hijacked by too many opportunists and self-publicists, who milk the ‘Rabin brand’ for every drop of benefit it can provide their own agendas and careers.

The main culprit this year (you may not be surprised to hear) was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. With his undistinguished tenure drawing to a close, and embroiled in allegations of corruption, he chose the memorial to show himself as a peace-loving visionary, following in the Oslo footsteps of Rabin.

Olmert has had three years to work on realising his claimed vision – of an Israel back at its 1967 borders, with a divided Jerusalem as its capital – but only now, as a ‘lame duck’, is he espousing it, thus burdening his successor in the Kadimah party (and also perhaps as Prime Minister), Tzipi Livni, with an unreasonable weight of expectation. Whether out of spite (Olmert and Livni are not best pals these days), or in an attempt to go down in history as a visionary rather than a criminal, only he knows.

Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, Livni’s closest rival for the top job, used the special Knesset memorial session following the state one to speak out against incitement. Yes, the very same ‘Bibi’ who took part in right-wing demonstrations – in which Rabin was denounced as a traitor, and portrayed in SS uniform (though Netanyahu distanced himself from both) – just a month before the assassination.

But it is not just Israel’s right that uses Yitzhak. Leftists continually prescribe the correct path for the country based on what Rabin would have wanted. No one knows, however, how things might have turned out were he still with us. Rabin himself went through so many transformations that it is not inconceivable that he might have returned, from the Rabin of the Oslo Accords, to his former hawkish self – as Defence Minister, he was quoted as saying “We will break their [the Palestinians’] bones” – had suicide bombers struck with as much murderous ferocity during his lifetime as they did after his death.

There are also a host of musicians who enjoy the publicity that the Rabin Square rally, in particular, earns them (though once can hardly blame them for accepting such an opportunity). Even if not entirely unsavoury, however, there is very little truly ‘Rabinesque’ about these events either, and I, for one, prefer to stay away.

Left-wing commentator and former politician,Yossi Sarid, put it far more eloquently than I ever could, in this weekend’s Ha’aretz: “Poor Yitzhak Rabin, whose memory was desecrated this week: Who hasn’t ripped off one of his limbs, amputated an arm or a leg of his heritage, and scurried off to his lair to gnaw on it? Suddenly, they were all his sons, all of them are the heirs to his way.”

The Tired End of the Zionist Dream?

What the pihuck (Hebrew for yawn) is this country coming to? A President accused of rape, a Prime Minister under investigation for bribery, a Deputy Prime Minister convicted of forcing his tongue down a female soldier’s throat, a Finance Minister accused of massive embezzlement, and now this . . . a soldier caught yawning.

The shocking story, IDF soldier jailed for yawning during Rabin memorial service, which first hit the headlines yesterday, has taken the country by storm. Does it signal the true end of the Zionist dream, and everything we (well, not me) have fought for?

Most right-thinking people are up in arms that the unnamed offender has been sentenced to 21 days in a military jail. Only three weeks? For a crime involving moral turpitude, and one that can only undermine the very fabric and foundations of Israeli society and democracy?

Many are advocating that the offender’s mother should join him in prison, after claiming that her son was not disrespectful, but tired, and that yawning is an uncontrollable physical act. My God, why would a young man possibly need to yawn? And a soldier at that?

Thankfully, the young blighter wasn’t caught picking his nose or breaking wind, for which surely only a life sentence (with certain exceptions, Israel abolished the death penalty in 1954) would have sufficed.

Amir Benayoun: A Society Divided, Even in Music

One doesn’t have to do very much to uncover the deep chasms in Israeli society, as I recently found out when I purchased a new compact disc. It wasn’t a standard purchase, but the purchase by an Ashkenazi Jew (i.e., one of European origins) of a CD by a Sephardi/Mizrachi Jew (i.e., of North African or Middle Eastern descent).

About a month ago, I had fallen asleep during the Champions League highlights (probably another win for Manchester United in the 19th minute of injury time), only to be awoken by a divine voice passionately exclaiming the most powerful of lyrics, in a live studio performance.

Now, good music is good music. Or so you’d think. But when I asked for the new Amir Benayoun CD in the Carmel Market, the following Friday morning, I was met with quizzical looks by the Mizrachi stall owner: “What would you be wanting with that?!”

And the bemusement has come from my ‘side’ too. One friend said that she would rather get out of my car, during a recent trip to Jerusalem, than be subjected to Mizrachi music, which she associates with “everything bad in Israeli society”, and whose proponents, she claims, are a bunch of petty criminals and drug addicts.

amir-benayoun2Amir Benayoun, I understand, also has his past. But he has found God. And the guy is not just good, in my opinion, but a phenomenon – a cross, if you like, between Shlomo Carlebach and (a thinking man’s) Eyal Golan. Check him out on YouTube. His new album, Omed Ba’sha’ar (“Standing at the Gate”), is simply stunning and the best I have heard in recent years, Israeli or otherwise. It has much of the passion and spirituality of Dylan’s ‘born again’ albums, Slow Train Coming and Saved (and there is no higher praise than that).

And Benayoun is not scared of tackling the issues. The track, Loh Kechol, Loh Lavan (“Not Blue, Nor White” [referring to the colours of the Israeli flag]) criticises, inter alia, the government’s treatment of Holocaust survivors, its indifference to the bombardment from Gaza of Sderot, and dares even do the unthinkable here – criticise assassinated Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who it brands “an arrogant drunk”.

Neither is Benayoun scared of tackling the music industry. Fed up with being robbed, he has set up a private label to manufacture and distribute his music.

Another friend, whose opinion on all matters cultural I value, admits, with discernible reluctance, that Benayoun is talented. But he has a “problem” with him being, since his ‘conversion’, “too right-wing”.

“If you were not brought up here, you just can’t understand,” my car friend, perhaps somewhat ashamed by her own prejudices, attempts to explain. If it means that I am free of them, then perhaps growing up in Hendon, rather than in Israel, was not altogether a bad thing.