A Voice Of Reason In Israel
Harley Sorensen, Special to SF Gate
Monday, April 21, 2003

In recent years, my relationships with my Jewish friends and Jews in general has become somewhat strained. I can discuss world affairs with my friends, and we pretty much agree -- until the subject turns to Israel.

Then the agreement becomes unraveled. In brief, I abhor the abuse of the Palestinians by the Israelis, and my Jewish friends defend and justify it. That's pretty much a conversation stopper, because we're both adamant in our views.

Also, over the past year, I've been appalled by the number of normally pacifist American Jews in public life who suddenly turned pro-war, favoring a war against Iraq, a war that, incidentally, was thought to be greatly in Israel's interest.

So my former 99 percent favorable rating for Jews and Israelis has diminished somewhat lately. Thus, it was a great joy for me a few weeks ago, and a relief, to have Uri Avnery brought to my attention. Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist. He defends neither Israel's excesses nor America's. He is the best proof I know of that not all Israelis support the mistreatment, murder and ethnic cleansing of Israel's Palestinian underclass.

You can read all about Avnery on his Web site. Following are some samples of his writing, reprinted here with his kind permission:

On Donald Rumsfeld: "Sometimes, the entire character of a person is encapsulated in one single word of theirs. This happened last week to Donald Rumsfeld.

"The world saw the terrible pictures of what's happening in Baghdad under the eyes of the occupation forces. Baghdad was ransacked as in the days of the Mongols. The mob did not plunder only the government buildings, without which no modern society can function, but also hospitals and museums. Priceless cultural treasures from the cradle of human civilization were destroyed or plundered -- one of the worst cultural disasters in the history of mankind.... A city of many millions was turned over to the mob.

"When Rumsfeld was asked about it, the man who is responsible for this catastrophe said dismissively, 'When a regime falls, there is always some untidiness.' Untidiness! One word that speaks volumes. About the man himself."

On the next war: "After the hostilities in Iraq, the world will be faced with two decisive facts:

"First, the immense superiority of American arms can beat any people in the world ...

"Second, the small group that initiated this war -- an alliance of Christian fundamentalists and Jewish neo-conservatives -- has won big, and from now on it will control Washington almost without limits.

"The combination of these two facts constitutes a danger to the world, and especially to the Middle East, the Arab peoples and the future of Israel. Because this alliance is the enemy of peaceful solution, the enemy of the Arab governments, the enemy of the Palestinian people and especially the enemy of the Israeli peace camp.

"[This alliance] does not dream only about an American empire, in the style of the Roman one, but also of an Israeli mini-empire, under the control of the extreme right and the settlers. It wants to change the regimes in all Arab countries. It will cause permanent chaos in the region, the consequences of which are impossible to foresee.

"Its mental world consists of a mixture of ideological fervor and crass material interests, an exaggerated American patriotism and right-wing Zionism.

"This is a dangerous mixture. There is in it something of the spirit of Ariel Sharon, a man who has always had grandiose plans for changing the region, consisting of a mixture of creative imagination, unbridled chauvinism and a primitive faith in brute force."

Elsewhere, Avnery writes, "Seemingly, all this is good for Israel. America controls the world, we control America. Never before have Jews exerted such an immense influence on the center of world power.

"But this tendency troubles me. We are like a gambler who bets all his money and his future on one horse. A good horse, a horse with no current competitor, but still one horse."

On "The Disinformation Force": "This war was waged simultaneously in two arenas: in the field and on television. There was hardly any resemblance between the two....

"From now on, TV is a component of the armed forces, along with the army, the navy and the air force. Like them, it is directed by the command structure.

"Much thought and effort was devoted to this arm. General Myers, the No. 1 soldier in Washington, and General Franks, the commander of the actual campaign, personally took part in the action. (It was a stroke of genius to put a black general into the center of the picture.)

"The aim is to engender in the mind of the home audience, world public opinion and perhaps even in the mind of the enemy a picture of the war that has no connection with reality. That is easy, because there is no more mendacious instrument than television. He who controls it, controls the picture of reality, and thereby the mind of the viewer.

"For example, in order to support the claim that the aim of the war was to 'liberate' the Iraqi people, it was essential to show the Iraqi population welcoming the liberators with joy. Television delivered the goods.

"Nothing easier: Simply fill the frame with a hundred jumping and shouting people, in order to create the impression the whole country is jumping and shouting. Nobody will ask: Who the hell are they? Where did they come from? Who called them together? Did they get anything in return? Aren't they, by chance, the same people who jumped and shouted a few days ago 'with our soul and blood we will redeem you, Saddam?' And where are the other 5 million inhabitants of Baghdad? What do they think and feel?

"During five very long hours, all Western TV stations (and Al Jazeera as well) concentrated on showing a crowd of Iraqis trying to bring down a giant statue of Saddam in the center of Baghdad. A discerning eye could notice that the crowd was no more than a hundred people, certainly half of them journalists. The statue smashers acted manifestly for the camera. But, television wise, that was 'the Iraqi people.' This picture will remain fixed in the mind of the world as the defining image of the 'liberation.'"

I can't begin to do Avnery justice in the short space of this column, so I plead with you to go to his Web site and read his words of wisdom for yourself. If you have trouble reaching the site (I did last Friday), do a Google search for "Uri Avnery," and you should find a link that works.

If you have the time to read his work, I think you'll find it extremely rewarding.

Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist and liberal iconoclast.

©2003 SF Gate