Who's Trying to Scare Israelis into Nuclear War with Iran?
Every evening, at around eight, I take a four-minute bike ride to the G buildings complex, a luxury apartment building in Tel Aviv that is home to both Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and a long-term demonstration against the war Israel's politicians seem determined to cook up with Iran.
The daily demonstration is now into its fourth week. Many demonstrators have grown tired, and can no longer make it to the demo every day. Several still do: Movie directors, such as Doron Tzabari and Rani Blair, poets such as myself and young politicians such as Tel Aviv council member Tamar Zandberg, a single mother who usually arrives with her five-year-old daughter, Avigail, who helps us prepare placards.
Last Wednesday, only about 30 people made it to the demo. The megaphone didn't arrive on time, and when it did, it didn't work. We shouted "No to war," raised a home-made placard and marched around the luxury apartment complex, which including the prestigious Elba Restaurant.
Outside the restaurant, two exorbitantly wealthy looking women sat eating grouper tartare with a colonel, and stared at us in disbelief. Conversely, the waiters are always sympathetic and wave at us as we go by. I recognise one of the bartenders, since she used to sell Mayaan, the poetry periodical I edit, at fairs. It's interesting that the restaurant on the first floor of the G building is named Elba, after the island Napoleon was exiled to following one defeat too many. Ehud Barak has earned the nickname Napoleon due to the fact that he's a relatively small man who loves big weapons and curling up in the lap of luxury (though he's yet to enjoy any of Napoleon's successes).
From the Facebook Page of Ehud Barak: Ehud Barak in Singapore's Air Show, February 2012
That Wednesday we were actually rather quiet, but one of the neighbours from the second floor, a good looking yuppie, came down and began screaming at an older demonstrator who was drumming, saying that because of him his children have been unable to sleep at night. He was all in a rage, and swore at us. The activists told him that we were holding the demos to save children from death, his included, but that didn't impress him too much. He simply grabbed the drum from the demonstrator and went on raging.
The first gathering, advertised at short notice on Facebook and Twitter, brought hundreds of angry anti-war demonstrators to the courtyard beneath Barak's home. I cut a vacation short, and headed straight for the demonstration with my underwear still wet from the beach.
That only a few dozen people now attend the daily demonstrations does not mean that the rest support a strike on Iran. Forty-six percent of the population oppose the war, in spite of an unprecedented campaign on behalf of the prime minister, who compares Ahmadinejad to Hitler at every opportunity. On Friday, as I travelled by train to my father's birthday, an ultra-Orthodox man passed among the carriages, and offered tefillin to the soldiers, explaining that this Sabbath's section of the Torah opens with the words: "When you go to wage war on your enemies." One of the soldiers recited whatever the religious man asked him to recite. Later, at home, I opened the Bible, and realised that the verse more or less legitimises rape during war.
Last week, all the newspapers presented supposedly frightening photos of buildings – that may or may not have been places where Iran has been making nuclear weapons – sheathed in pink tarpaulin as "proof" that Israel must immediately attack its neighbour. One Knesset Member even came out in agreement, and said that we now had a free licence to attack Iran. Still, even when scrutinised, the photo only shows a pink sheet hung on a military building. In short, a nation with a larger army than that of the UK is frightened by a pink sheet someone hung in Iran.
Yet, among all the sabre-rattling, there is also an unprecedented campaign against the war. President Shimon Peres, while holding only a symbolic role, opposes the strike. Many of the top military brass are also opposed, arousing the hostility of the prime minister. Yediot Ahronot, which, until recently was the most popular Israeli newspaper, has always supported Israel's wars, yet it stands against this one.
The reason behind this sudden rationality is dubious: it is angry with the free-press newspaper Yisrael Hayom, which is sponsored by US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, because it overtook Yediot Ahronot as the most popular daily. Since Yisrael Hayom is, in fact, Netanyahu's mouthpiece, Yediot Ahronot automatically opposes everything Netanyahu is bent on doing. It's a childish mud war, but it may help save the Middle East and the world as a whole from nuclear war.
On the other hand, the military correspondents just love wars. Last summer, which was all about the tents and social protests, they were all but banished from the screens that were suddenly filled with women with long hair. When war breaks out, the military correspondents dress in sexy military gear and get to pose next to jet fighters, and feel young and dashing again, filled with adrenalin, despite being grey and tired.
So why are Netanyahu and Barak pushing for war? Barak was the head of the Labour Party, historically the body that established the state of Israel, and despite running against Netanyahu, he joined his government as Defence Minister literally moments after the ballots were counted.
Barak's interests in war extend as well to good, old-fashioned self-interest. In order to fully comprehend Barak's electoral value, one need only look at the moment he left the Labour Party, which went from having eight to 22 seats in parliament after the next polls. Mathematically, this means that Barak is worth minus 14 seats. Assuming that, as a politician, he hopes to survive, Barak needs something to happen and war might just be it.
For Netanyahu, the matter seems slightly more ideological. Netanyahu has an Auschwitz complex, and will attach a Hitler moustache to any Arab leader who forgot to shave for 48 hours. The PM also believes that a war is the only thing that can get his buddy Mitt Romney (the pair are both sponsored by Sheldon Adelson, the Obama-hating billionaire who basically runs Vegas) elected to power in the US. Another thing the war can do is wipe out the social protests that began resurfacing in the summer, and that reached their peak with the tragic self-immolation of Moshe Silman. By happenstance, the place where Silman set himself on fire for fear of becoming homeless is situated barely 50 metres from the spot where we demonstrate, under Barak's luxury apartment complex.
The Most Dangerous Person on Earth
Five months ago, the Spaceship Gallery in Tel Aviv hosted an exhibition against the Iran war, which I curated along with Joshua Simon and Ari Libsker. Many of the works examined Israeli hysteria and the fear of another Auschwitz. Despite the many years that have passed – and the fact that Israel is now full of shopping malls and beaches where men play tennis with wooden racquets and rubber balls, trying to hit girls in bikinis – despite all this, The Holocaust is still the central experience. Polls also demonstrate that many Israelis think an Iranian nuclear bomb would be tantamount to a second Holocaust.
One of the most interesting works in the exhibition was a mockumentary video that shows a present-day attack of the Israeli Air Force on the concentration camp sites in Poland. Another work was a wax statue of Ehud Barak, entitled "The Most Dangerous
Person on Earth". Nimrod Kamer created a work that ridicules all wars: a man dressed as an Arab pita bread fighting a man disguised as a traditional Jewish roll in the street.
The work which caused the largest splash was that of Guy Briller, who placed a missile on the roof of the gallery, aiming it at the nearby US Embassy. Embassy staff came over three times to examine the missile and we showed them time and time again that it was no more than a pipe. Still, they insisted that we aim it ten degrees to the right.
VICE's Milene Larsson met Guy Briller and his missile back in July. You can watch the conversation and some other pretty interesting stuff she got up to while there by clicking here.
The degree of success of these demonstrations and artistic works is yet unclear. Israelis tend to be enthusiastic about wars in the first few days, and only then begin to object. The question is: What else can young people in a democratic state do when they know their country is on its way to a disaster that would risk their lives, the lives of their families and the whole world?
Follow Roy on Twitter @chickos99
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