Peres and the Zionist nightmare

2016-10-02 06:03
Former Israeli President Shimon Peres. (Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images)

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres. (Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images)

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The Russians once invented a translating machine.

To test it, they inserted the English phrase, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The result, in Russian, came out, “The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten.”

Shimon Peres, the former president and prime minister of Israel, who died this week aged 93, is this kind of distorted reproduction, just as his Labour Party is.

Peres is an apparatchik — of an apparat that no longer functions because its motor is dead.

The motor was once fuelled by the original spirit of Zionism in its socialist version: a dream of two generations of humble prophets and naive visionaries.

Of Zionism not just as another national liberation movement, but as an experience in humanity.

A dream not only to create a new Jew in a new homeland, but a new specimen of humankind.

That dream has been turned into a nightmare by the experience of statehood and the needs of realpolitik, and the Israeli Labour Party is responsible.

This party is to blame for the face that Israel is now wearing – that of former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, of military oppression and moral decline.

Begin was not elected to power; he fell into it, having been sucked into the vacuum created by the Labour Party and its chief architect, David Ben-Gurion.


Ben-Gurion, a strong and charismatic person, was the only statesman of his generation who did not comprehend the new map of the world after 1945.

He neither foresaw nor understood the break-up of old empires, the end of colonialism, the rise of new nations and the emergence of the Third World.

Until 1956, when France and Britain withdrew from the Suez and the Middle East forever, he still believed that these were powers in the world to rely on.

In the mid-1940s, illuminated by the flame of the Holocaust, a war raged in Palestine between the Jews and the British Empire.

The former were led by the left wing fighting force of the Palmach (the military defence force of the Jewish underground army) and the smaller non-leftist groups of Zionist paramilitary organisations the Irgun and the Stern.

In 1948, Ben-Gurion had them liquidate one another and disappear from political life so that their anti-imperialism would not affect the course of the newly born state of Israel. Ben-Gurion still did not believe that imperialism was dead.

He then seized an opportunity to drive Palestinian Arabs from Palestine, an opportunity provided not only by the guilty conscience of the West after the Holocaust, but also by the fact that the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs had collaborated with Hitler.

The ancient Arab regimes that subsequently invaded Israel were driven off in a genuinely heroic fight.

But they were driven together with the bulk of the Arab population, which was then left to pay in refugee camps for the crime of corrupt leaders.

The crime of Deir Yassin, although not committed by Ben-Gurion, was a benediction for him.

This refers to a massacre which took place weeks before Israel’s independence, when about 120 fighters from the Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi attacked Deir Yassin, a Palestinian Arab village near Jerusalem, to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem by Palestinian Arab forces during the civil war that preceded the end of British rule in Palestine.

This tragedy, the root of all evil, all problems, in the area, was then sealed by a conspiracy between Ben-Gurion and King Abdullah of Jordan, at the time a British puppet.

Jordan would get the West Bank — where the Palestinians had hoped to establish a separate state — to absorb and replace any Palestinian nation, and Israel would see the Palestinian problem vanish forever.

Ben-Gurion thus set Israel on a collision course with Arab hopes.

He did not believe in coexistence with the Arabs and did not trust a single Arab leader. He sought all his life to make the West provide an umbrella for Israel’s protection, forcing the West always to choose between “us” and “them”.


This is the political school to which Peres went. Military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, too, learnt there.

This was the Dayan who had been instrumental in sealing the pact with Abdullah, who invaded Egypt in 1956 and brought the 1973 Yom Kippur war on Israel.

Peres found refuge as the deputy minister of defence under Ben-Gurion. He developed Israeli relations with France, which at the time was engaged in the Algerian war of independence.

Israeli soldiers were trained in French military camps and Israeli experts helped French administrators in Algeria.

Meanwhile, the Israeli secret service was helping King Hassan II of Morocco quell domestic opposition and reportedly had a hand in the assassination of Ben Barka, Morocco’s promising opposition leader.

Israel also was involved in arms shipments to Cuba’s president Fulgencio Batista, strange secret military relations with South Africa and nuclear research projects with the French.

This is the world in which Peres grew to become a full-scale apparatchik and gradually accumulated power.

On the Palestinian issue, Peres was no less rigid than his mentor. He invented the fiction of a “Jordanian solution” that was rejected by Jordan and opposed by the Palestinians.

Even to his dying day his position was not far from that of Begin. Like Begin, he believed the Lebanon war was a good way to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organisation and clear the way for a Middle East settlement in which the Palestinians would be forever excluded.

The only difference in policy between the two was that Peres would be willing to give Jordan back part of the West Bank as a token “territorial compromise”, whereas Begin would allow Jordan to stay as it is and surrender to Israeli peace terms as well.

No less than his right wing opponents, Peres believed facts on the ground could change geography and become history.

Yet he had a different strategy.

He believed the Arabs had to be pushed, gently but perpetually, not letting them feel how, one by one, newly created “facts” would keep pushing them.

“One should never make these stupid noises that Begin is making,” he would say. “Don’t boast, don’t threaten, don’t overkill. Just push.”

In this way, Peres believed — as the Labour Party believes — facts could change geography and thus become history. But one cannot change geography.

And any geopolitical map on which Palestinians do not exist as a sovereign entity is invalid. That is why Peres cannot replace Begin as prime minister.


Not that there is much practical likelihood of that. There are social circumstances that make it almost impossible for a socialist to be elected, be it Peres, Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin or anybody else.

In Israel, white-collar workers vote Peres, blue-collar masses vote Begin.

In Israel, Oriental Jews have low status, income and education. European Jews have high status and high positions in the social, political and military structure.

In Israel, the Peace Now demonstrators are white, blond and blue-eyed; the pro-war demonstrators have black hair and eyes.

And as long as peace with the Arabs is represented by socialists who took the fat of the land and left the poor in the slums, there will be no peace and no Labour Party prime minister.

The poor cannot be fooled by this Labour Party; they would rather have an honest bourgeois party robbing them to death but offering them sweet revenge, some pride and a sense of power.

Israel is an inferno for old-school Marxists. It acts crazily under a Marxist microscope. It gives the right answers only to the wrong questions.

In such a perverted situation, Peres sticks out as a very tragic hero of an unfunny comedy.

Peres is not a bad guy — he lacks the dimension. But neither is he a nice guy.

There is no way to paint a portrait of such a person as a portrait can only be drawn from life. All we have here is a skeleton, and one can only make a reconstruction from that.

A skeleton of what once was the socialist Labour Party. And a skeleton cannot have a human face.

Kenan (1927-2009) was an Israeli novelist, sculptor and journalist. This article was published in The Nation in October 1982

Read more on:    shimon peres  |  israel

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