Kibbutz where Jerry Seinfeld picked bananas, finally gives up on communism

February 27, 2007

* Seinfeld, who volunteered in 1971: “I didn’t like the kibbutz. Nice Jewish boys from Long Island don’t like to get up at six in the morning to pick bananas.”

* Film star Sigourney Weaver: “On the kibbutz, I dreamt we’d all be working out in the fields like pioneers, singing away. Not at all. We were stuck in the kitchen. I operated a potato-peeling machine.”

* Bob Hoskins during the 1967 Six-Day War: “I was very good at ploughing. I loved it and the birds [girls] were amazing. I was happy being a kibbutznik but they said to me ‘You gotta join the army’ and I said ‘But I’m not Jewish’, and they said ‘It don’t matter’, so I left.”

Plus: Stressed-out Israeli bus passengers learn yoga during morning commute

 

CONTENTS

1. New on MySpace: The State of Israel
2. Wikipedia removes anti-Semitic posting
3. For first time, Christian Aid notes Israelis suffered too
4. Sharon celebrates 79th birthday in deep coma
5. From today, Israel to get acting Druze as president
6. “West Bank Story,” a musical set in conflict, wins Oscar
7. Kuwaiti newspaper: Three Gulf states agree to Israeli flights en route to hit Iran
8. The “yoga bus” takes off from Tel Aviv
9. “Titanic” director Cameron claims to have found Jesus’ Coffin
10. The remarkable story of a Moroccan Muslim in Tel Aviv
11. “I came from the Great Mother of Communism and she only lasted 70 years. We made it to nearly a hundred”
12. Israel should not be the target of “civil society initiatives”
13. “Stressed-out bus passengers learn yoga during morning commute in Israel” (AP, Feb. 20, 2007)
14. “A Moroccan in Israel” (Yediot Ahronot, Feb. 21, 2007)
15. “After nearly a century, Israel’s first kibbutz calls time on communism” (London Times, Feb. 24, 2007)
16. “Manipulating ‘civil society’” (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 20, 2007)



[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch concerns developments in and about Israel. Some are political; others are of a more human interest nature.

NEW ON MYSPACE: THE STATE OF ISRAEL

A “space” for the State of Israel has opened on the MySpace web site, in an effort by the Israeli government to bring “normal” Israel to young people around the world. MySpace, which was purchased over a year ago by media magnate Rupert Murdoch for $500 million, has 154 million registered members with 300,000 new members joining daily.

Describing herself as a 58-year-old female whose zodiac sign is Taurus, the address for Israel is www.myspace.com/state_of_israel. Among the first to join the “friend list” were fan clubs of actors George Clooney, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Natalie Portman (who is Israeli-born) and Leonardo DiCaprio (who has an Israeli girlfriend), pop star Amy Winehouse, and footballer (soccer player) David Beckham, who has said he is “very proud of having a Jewish grandfather.”

The Israeli “space” includes links to clips like “Cool Facts about Israel,” “Scenes from Tel Aviv,” and “Who is Israeli?” An Internet television channel intended for Christian viewers is to be launched shortly.

Israel’s My Space will be monitored daily to make sure any anti-Israeli material posted there is removed.

* For more on Rupert Murdoch, see Hollywood stars blast Nasrallah, but Spielberg, Streisand and others remain silent (Aug. 20, 2006), where it was reported that Murdoch initiated a strongly-worded advertisement in The Los Angeles Times last summer condemning Hizbullah and Hamas terror attacks on Israeli civilians signed by 84 high-profile Hollywood stars, directors and studio heads.

* For more on David Beckham, see “Mazal tov Beckham, you’re Jewish” (& World’s oldest living married couple) (Aug. 8, 2005), where it was noted that when the English national soccer team played in Poland, at Beckham’s insistence most of the English national team visited the Auschwitz museum the day before the match.

* For more on Natalie Portman, see the second article in the dispatch Dr Ruth and “Star Wars” Queen stand up for Israel (July 1, 2002).

WIKIPEDIA REMOVES ANTI-SEMITIC POSTING

Wikipedia, the popular online “people’s encyclopedia” has removed a posting which stated that “the bones of Palestinian children” were one of the five components Jews needed to make unleavened bread for Passover. A spokesman for Wikipedia said the site would be vigilantly monitored in order to remove other anti-Semitic and hate material.

FOR FIRST TIME, CHRISTIAN AID NOTES ISRAELIS SUFFERED TOO

The major British-based charity Christian Aid has for the first time included an Israeli victim of a terror attack in its promotional material. Christian Aid’s new campaign, “A Better World is Possible,” includes a quote from Ayelet Shahak, whose young daughter was murdered in a Yasser Arafat-inspired suicide attack in Tel Aviv in 1996. Christian Aid has on countless occasions highlighted Palestinian victims.

The charity is thought to be responding to harsh criticism following recent anti-Semitic remarks about British Jews by its trustee, politician Baroness Jenny Tonge. (Tonge has since been forced to resign as a Christian Aid trustee. She was promoted to the British House of Lords by her Liberal Party leader following her initial remarks in 2004 defending the suicide bombing of Israelis.)

Christian Aid has itself been accused of anti-Semitism in the past, for example for its campaign concerning international “trade justice” which appeared to blame Jews for this phenomenon.

Some Anglicans had been so upset with Christian Aid’s previously vicious views on Israel that they set up a website titled “Christian Hate?”

* For more on Jenny Tonge, see For and against: the British MP who would be a suicide bomber (Jan. 26, 2004).

* For more on Christian Aid, see the note in the dispatch YWCA says Israel is “just like Hitler” (Feb. 25, 2005).

SHARON CELEBRATES 79TH BIRTHDAY IN DEEP COMA

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon turned 79 years old yesterday, remaining deep in a coma more than 13 months after his devastating second stroke. There was no celebration in his closely-guarded room at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv. A hospital spokesman said his condition was “unchanged.”

For more on Sharon, see my article “Ariel Sharon, ‘A colossus of our time’”.

FROM TODAY, ISRAEL TO GET ACTING DRUZE AS PRESIDENT

Israel will appoint Majali Wahabe its first acting Druze president today, to replace acting president Dalia Itzik who leaves for a week-long visit to the U.S. Wahabe, from the ruling Kadima party, will also serve as Acting Knesset Speaker during Itzik’s absence.

Under Israeli law, the Knesset speaker becomes acting president, if the incumbent is absent. Itzik took up the post in late January after Moshe Katsav took leave of absence following the Israeli attorney-general’s recommendation to indict him on sex crime charges.

The Druze, a breakaway sect from Islam, are found mainly in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan. Most Druze in Israel are loyal to the state.

“WEST BANK STORY,” A MUSICAL SET IN CONFLICT, WINS OSCAR

West Bank Story, a musical satire about dueling Arab and Israeli falafel stands on the West Bank took home an Oscar on Sunday for Best Live Action Short Film at the 79th Annual Academy Awards. American filmmaker Ari Sandel spoofed the Hollywood classic West Side Story with a plot involving tensions between the owners of Palestinian humus and Israeli falafel stands competing side by side, while David, an Israeli soldier, falls in love with Fatima, the daughter of the humus-stand owning family.

Sandel, 32, the film’s director and co-writer, is active in several political organizations, including Peace Now. Sandel, whose mother is American and whose father is Israeli, has stressed in interviews that he was careful to maintain balance in his film.

KUWAITI NEWSPAPER: THREE GULF STATES AGREE TO ISRAELI FLIGHTS EN ROUTE TO HIT IRAN

The Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Siyasa, reported on Sunday that three Arab states in the Persian Gulf would be willing to allow the Israeli Air Force to enter their airspace in order to reach Iran in case of an attack on its nuclear facilities.

The report states that a diplomat from one of the Gulf States visiting Washington last weekend said Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have told the United States that they would not object to Israel using their airspace, despite fears of an Iranian response.

The newspaper added that NATO leaders are urging Turkey to open its airspace for an attack on Iran. According to a British diplomat who spoke to an Al-Siyasa correspondent, Turkey will not repeat the mistake it made in 2003, when it refused to open its airspace to U.S. Air Force overflights en route to attacking Iraq.

On Saturday the (London) Daily Telegraph reported that Israel is negotiating with the U.S. over permission for an “air corridor” over Iraq, should an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities become necessary.

Ephraim Sneh, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, denied the claim. “This is baseless information. Maybe people like to divert (attention from) the need for immediate economic sanctions (with) stories about imminent Israeli action, which is not on the agenda,” he said.

Were the report true, this would not mark the first time IAF planes passed through Iraqi airspace. On June 17, 1981 an IAF air strike demolished the Osirak nuclear reactor being constructed under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

THE “YOGA BUS” TAKES OFF FROM TEL AVIV

The first article attached below, from AP, reports that “Stressed-out commuters got a peaceful surprise as they boarded an Israeli bus on Tuesday: a yoga instructor with a microphone coaching them how to breathe correctly.”

The yoga bus, which has run every Tuesday for three weeks in Tel Aviv, has been a success: “Most of the passengers on the bus participated, and many said they felt relaxed and more ready for work.”

“Because of our history of terror on buses,” the instructor said, “it’s very important to do yoga to relax and to show everyone that life is stronger than the fear.”

“TITANIC” DIRECTOR CAMERON CLAIMS TO HAVE FOUND JESUS’ COFFIN

Academy Award-winning director James Cameron of “Titanic” fame claims to have discovered the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” and his family. According to Cameron’s new documentary, to be broadcast next week on the Discovery TV Channel, construction for a new industrial park in the Talpiot neighborhood in southern Jerusalem in 1980 revealed a 2,000-year-old cave in which 10 stone coffins were discovered.

In the documentary, Cameron cites as proof transcriptions of the names on the coffins as those of Jesus and his family including Mary Magdalene and their supposed son Judah. The 90-minute film is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel in the U.S. as well as channels in the U.K., Israel and Canada.

The film also suggests that the so-called “James, Brother of Jesus” ossuary, which surfaced in 2002 in the collection of Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, may also have come from the tomb. The “James” ossuary made world headlines, but has been branded a forgery by the Israel Antiquities Authority though it still has many defenders.

Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who oversaw work at the tomb when it was uncovered in 1980, said the claims made in Cameron’s documentary were “impossible” and “nonsense”.

THE REMARKABLE STORY OF A MOROCCAN MUSLIM IN TEL AVIV

The second article below, from Yediot Ahronot, tells the story of Fayce (not his real name), a Muslim Moroccan from a poor neighborhood of Casablanca, who arrived in Israel in 1997 on a student visa, to study at Tel Aviv University.

His unusual story has been turned into a book in French, which he authored. Fayce, who is now an employee for a Tel Aviv hi-tech company says “I feel completely Tel Avivian... Tel Aviv and Casablanca are two sides of one large Mediterranean culture, and I have both of them in me. I’m neither here nor there,” he adds.

He has fallen out with Israeli Arabs after defending Israel in political arguments, and come close to being a victim of a Palestinian suicide bomb attack on the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium club, which killed 21 Israelis, mostly teenagers. He met his girlfriend while she was serving as an IDF soldier, and fell in love for the first time in Israel.

Whilst he was studying at Tel Aviv University, Fayce encountered Israeli Arab students who found it difficult to understand what he was doing in Israel. “One of them asked me, ‘why did you choose to study here? Why not go to Egypt?’ I replied: ‘Why should I go to Egypt, the education here is much better.’ He was very insulted, and called me a ‘traitor.’ I asked him who I was betraying, and he said, ‘us’.”

“I told him, ‘let me say something that you don’t know. You are the only Arabs in the world who know what democracy is. There is no other place that can you criticize so openly like this. If you did it in Morocco, you’d find yourself in jail. If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go study in Egypt?’”

He added: “Before I came to Israel, I saw the Arab TV coverage. In the Arab world, they are taught to think that it’s all armed Israelis against rock throwing Palestinians. Of course, it’s not like that at all,” he said.

Fayce’s book has an introduction by Shimon Peres.

“I CAME FROM THE GREAT MOTHER OF COMMUNISM AND SHE ONLY LASTED 70 YEARS. WE MADE IT TO NEARLY A HUNDRED”

Degania, Israel’s first kibbutz, has called time on communism and has voted to privatize itself.

According to the Times of London (third article below), “The kibbutz movement has been in crisis for more than a decade but news that its pioneer is ushering in its own version of perestroika has shaken Israel. Degania has been overrun by television news crews seeking to document the passing of a way of life that the vast majority of Israelis never experienced but which, nevertheless served to define their identity.”

Degania was founded in 1910 when ten men and two women rode on horseback across the River Jordan and established a camp at Umm Juni on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund.

Eliezer Gal, aged 82, who served in the Red Army as a platoon tank commander at the siege of Leningrad, and escaped to West Berlin after being marked down by Stalin for the labor camps, said: “I’m only surprised that it survived for so long. I came from the Great Mother of Communism and she only lasted 70 years. We made it to nearly a hundred.”

ISRAEL SHOULD NOT BE THE TARGET OF “CIVIL SOCIETY INITIATIVES”

The final article below, by Gerald Steinberg (a longtime subscriber to this list), castigates the British government because the British Embassy in Tel Aviv is funding an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) known as “Bimkom Planners for Planning Rights” to research the impact of the security barrier on Palestinian villages caught in the middle, and since Bimkom is a highly political organization, the outcome, he says, is a forgone conclusion.

Steinberg writes: “In this way, the British government will receive an analysis from an Israeli group that supports London’s position against the route of the barrier. The same information could have been obtained through official government channels, (i.e., intelligence) but without the important political dimension.” (The Danish government also provided Bimkom with $200,000 for a project on “Palestinian neighborhoods.”)

Steinberg continues, “For years, European governments have used the same approach by providing funding to well-known Israeli domestic political groups, such as Peace Now, B’Tselem, and the Peres Center. The Swiss Foreign Ministry and the European Union, among others, supported the failed public relations campaign to sell the Israel public the Geneva Initiative a track-two peace proposal led by Yossi Beilin and his Palestinian counterparts.

“And under the misleading label of ‘partners for peace,’ the EU Delegation in Tel Aviv is funding a group known as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which promotes anti-Israel boycotts and divestment. It also funds Israeli-Arab groups, such as Mossawa and Adallah, which ostensibly advocate for social and economic justice for the Arabs of Israel, but have done their fair share to demonize the Jewish state.

“... How would they react in London if Israel’s embassy was to fund research on a British organization that is trying to promote ... propaganda ... on the Northern Ireland conflict, or in support of separatist movements in France (Corsica) or Spain (ETA).

“... Israel, as a vibrant democracy, does not need, and should not be the target of ‘civil society initiatives’ engineered by foreign governments, whether well-meaning or hostile. From this perspective, the example of Bimkom, the security barrier, and the British Embassy is small but highly illustrative.”

I attach four articles below.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

“LIFE IS STRONGER THAN THE FEAR”

Stressed-out bus passengers learn yoga during morning commute in Israel
The Associated Press
February 20, 2007

www.mytelus.com/news/article.do?pageID=cp_oddities_home&articleID=2553348

Stressed-out commuters got a peaceful surprise as they boarded an Israeli bus on Tuesday: a yoga instructor with a microphone coaching them how to breathe correctly.

The passengers stretched their hands toward the ceiling and bent their heads forward as Miri Harovi, a 21-year veteran yoga teacher, guided them through a set of exercises that can be performed while sitting down.

“I think that because of our history of terror on buses,” Harovi said, referring to past suicide attacks that have targeted crowded buses. “It’s very important to do yoga to relax and to show everyone that life is stronger than the fear.”

Harovi said the idea of for a yoga bus came to her in the middle of the night while she was sleeping. She talked to the Tel Aviv bus company and they jumped on the idea.

Most of the passengers on the bus participated, and many said they felt relaxed and more ready for work. The yoga bus has run every Tuesday for three weeks, but Harovi hopes that the program will continue and expand. She and her husband, Gilad Harovi, have worked for years to promote yoga on Israeli television and in public schools.

“We want people to try yoga and feel how good it is,” Harovi said.

 

A MOROCCAN IN ISRAEL

A Moroccan in Israel
How did a Muslim Moroccan come to live in Tel Aviv? The remarkable story of Fayce
By Yaakov Lappin
Yediot Ahronot
February 21, 2007

www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3367914,00.html

At first glance, Fayce (not his real name), looks like a normal, young Tel Aviv resident. His native sounding unaccented Hebrew complete with all of the Israeli slang and his mannerisms bear all the hallmarks of someone who has lived in Israel for a long time.

But Fayce is actually a Muslim Moroccan from a poor Casablanca district, who arrived in Israel in1997 on a student visa, to study at Tel Aviv University.

His remarkable story has been turned into a book in French, which he authored, and which is being published by Beni Issembert, an Israeli journalist who made aliyah from France.

Since arriving in Israel, Fayce has quickly adopted what he calls “the hutzpa here,” which he has come to admire.

He has fallen out with Israeli Arabs after defending Israel in political arguments, and come close to being a victim of a Palestinian suicide bomb attack on the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium club, which killed 21 Israelis, mostly teenagers. He met his girlfriend while she was serving as an IDF soldier, and fell in love for the first time in Israel.

Fayce has also formed a close knit group of Israeli friends. “I feel completely Tel Avivian,” he declares proudly. “Tel Aviv and Casablanca are two sides of one large Mediterranean culture, and I have both of them in me. I’m neither here nor there,” he adds.

Now, an employee for a Tel Aviv hi-tech company, two years after his student visa has run out, he is facing an uphill struggle against the Ministry of Interior to have his visa extended, so that he can pay off his student debts and leave “with my head proudly held up,” he says.

“My story began when I went to a Jewish school in Casablanca,” Fayce explains. “My mother worked for a lawyer who was the president of the Casablanca Jewish community, and she arranged for me to go to that school as it gave me a real edge and a potential to succeed in the future,” he adds.

That already marked him out as different in Morocco, Fayce says. As he grew up, Fayce became interested in medicine, but was rejected from a Paris institute. He heard about Tel Aviv University’s medical course, and decided to give it a shot.

‘Never coming back’

“When they accepted me, my mother immediately arranged my air ticket and packed all of my cloths. She knew I would not return, but she wanted me to have an opportunity to make it in life,” Fayce says. “Next thing I knew, I was flying, for the first time in my life, out of Morocco.

After a stop over in London, I landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.” During his first night in Israel hungry, scared, and completely disoriented - Fayce was checked by security guards at the airport several times, as he was wearing a jacket in the summer.

After realizing he was not a terrorist, each guard told Fayce, Baruch Haba (Hebrew for: Welcome). “I thought it was a curse,” Fayce recalls. “I didn’t understand why the security guards in Israel cursed after examining me, so I cursed back in Moroccan Arabic, which they didn’t understand. They nodded me through.”

Fayce received a helping hand to manage his degree financially from the Institute for Higher Education, and also took on a job to help pay for his education.

Encountering Israeli Arabs

On Tel Aviv University’s campus, Fayce said, he encountered Israeli Arabs who found it difficult to understand what he was doing in Israel. “One of them asked me, ‘why did you choose to study here? Why not go to Egypt?’ I replied: Why should I go to Egypt, the education here is much better. He was very insulted, and called me a ‘traitor.’ I asked him who I was betraying, and he said, ‘us,’” Fayce recounted.

“I told him, ‘let me say something that you don’t know. You are the only the Arabs in the world who know what democracy is. There is no other place that can you criticize so openly like this. If you did it in Morocco, you’d find yourself in jail. If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go study in Egypt,” he added.

“Only people who live here have a right to make comments about the situation,” Fayce said, recalling how close he came to being killed in the 2001 Dolphonarium bombing. Fayce was on his way to the club when the suicide bomber attacked, and was saved because he was a few minutes late. “I saw the horrific after-effect of that,” Fayce said, moving uncomfortably.

“Before I came to Israel, I saw the Arab TV coverage. In the Arab world, they are taught to think that it’s all armed Israelis against rock throwing Palestinians. Of course, it’s not like that at all,” he said.

As he quickly learned Hebrew, Fayce became acquainted with the Sabbath in Israel. “I once asked shopkeepers why they were closing the stores early on Friday afternoons. Was there a war or something? They would say, ‘Did you fall on your head? It’s Shabbat!’ I was embarrassed, so I’d say, I know, just kidding,” Fayce recalls with a smile.

“During the first Yom Kippur I experienced, I had no idea where everyone went. The campus suddenly became empty. I was mystified,” he adds.

Backing by Shimon Peres

Fayce’s book has an introduction by Vice Premier Shimon Peres. “For him, Fayce represents the true meaning of peace someone who goes out to look for an education, and finds it irrespective of race or religion,” Beni Issembert, the book’s publisher says. “This story is outstanding, literally, it completely stands out among stories,” he adds.

“I was attracted to the book because it represents real peace between people and I hope its message is absorbed in France, where there are tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims,” he says.

“Fayce’s story also has all the elements of struggles represented by immigrants, irrespective of any country,” Issembert adds.

“Israel is centrally important to me,” Fayce says. He is now planning a trip to India and Nepal with his girlfriend, “to relax a little.”

“Wherever I go from here, I’ll thrive and survive, because I made it here in Israel,” he says.

Fayce, written by Faycal G. and published by Ram Editions, will shortly be released in France.

 

(ALMOST) THE LAST BASTION OF COMMUNISM

After nearly a century, Israel’s first kibbutz calls time on communism
By David Sharrock
London Times
February 24, 2007

When Eliezer Gal arrived at Israel’s first kibbutz he had already served in the Red Army as a platoon tank commander at the siege of Leningrad, escaped to West Berlin after being marked down by Stalin for the labour camps and been turned away by the British when he arrived in Palestine aboard the Jewish refugee ship Exodus.

Mr Gal took a lowly job in the cow shed for 18 years and married Michal, a daughter of the kibbutz’s founders, raising his family in the pastoral version of Zionist communism.

Now, aged 82, he is living one final adventure, which he and the other members of Degania call Shinui (The Change). The kibbutz has just voted to privatise itself and assume the trappings of capitalism.

His verdict? “It’s a lot more comfortable. We get a lot more independence, both economically and generally.

“I have seen the other world, I was born in a different world. When I came here it was the real, pure communism. But I knew then that it couldn’t survive forever because people abused it.

“I’m only surprised that it survived for so long. I came from the Great Mother of Communism and she only lasted 70 years. We made it to nearly a hundred.”

The kibbutz movement has been in crisis for more than a decade but news that its pioneer is ushering in its own version of perestroika has shaken Israel.

Degania has been overrun by television news crews seeking to document the passing of a way of life that the vast majority of Israelis never experienced but which, nevertheless served to define their identity.

Kibbutznik Tzali Kuperstein, a leading promoter of Shinui, said: “Israel has passed a lot of broken milestones in recent times, with corruption in high places, resignation from the armed forces chief and investigations of our top politicians.

“We found ourselves in a different way of life. We have to adjust, and the way we are going means that we will keep the kibbutz movement alive.”

This is a view shared by Daniel Ben-Simon, a veteran commentator for Ha’aretz newspaper. “In order to understand Israel you have to go to Degania because it all started there,” he said.

“Israelis have a love-hate relationship with it because the kibbutzim were the country’s security shield for so many years and their members were the brightest and the best. They ran the elite military units. All the first political leaders came from there. They were so few but so influential.

“When the poor, new immigrants began arriving, the kibbutzniks became objects of hatred, and when the movement began to collapse there was not much sympathy. But Degania is like a first child: when it became vulnerable like the rest of us we could finally afford to have some sympathy. It is a symbol of a simpler time, of what Israel once was.”

Degania’s members insist that they are still proud socialists. “As silly as it may sound we remain one big family,” said Ze’ev Bar-Gal, Mr Gal’s 43-year-old son-in-law, whose monthly income has doubled as the kibbutz’s computer services manager.

“What used to bother many of us was that some members were putting a lot of money into the pot and there were others giving nothing and still receiving more than the big contributors,” he said.

Degania was founded in 1910 when ten men and two women rode on horseback across the River Jordan and established a camp at Umm Juni on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund.

The pioneers built a defensive quadrangle of work buildings from locally quarried basalt. At the time they wrote: “We came to establish an independent settlement of Hebrew labourers, on national land, a collective settlement with neither exploiters nor exploited a commune”.

Its 320 members paid their salaries into a communal account and received an allowance based on need.

A year ago the kibbutz quietly transferred to a trial system where members were paid according to ability and allowed to keep their earnings. In return, they paid for services and a “progressive” income tax destined to support the elderly and less well-off.

Now the Change has been confirmed as permanent by the votes of 85 per cent of the kibbutz, an improvement on the 66 per cent who gave their consent for the one-year trial.

“We have only privatised the service side, not the businesses,” explained Mr Bar-Gal. “It’s more a change of mentality than anything else and it has put social responsibility into people’s heads.”

His wife, Tamar, a third-generation kibbutznik, thinks The Change is wonderful. “I don’t feel that capitalism has invaded our lives. I think that our socialism has matured. Our new rules are extremely socialistic. When my grandparents came here they couldn’t live without the commune because it was hot, swampy and dangerous. But times change. Our socialism is definitely not dead.”

 

“A VIOLATION OF SOVEREIGNTY AND A CLEAR EXAMPLE OF NEOCOLONIALISM”

Manipulating ‘civil society’
By Gerald M Steinberg
The Jerusalem Post
February 20, 2007

www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1171894478646&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

The differences between Europe and the Israeli government over the status of the West Bank Judea and Samaria are well known. In London, Paris and Brussels, this area is viewed as “occupied territory,” while for Jerusalem, the area is “disputed.”

A similar debate is taking place within Israeli society, as groups with different ideologies challenge the government’s policies, including the expansion or removal of settlements and the route of the security barrier. This discussion is important, legitimate and extremely complex.

But when foreign governments team up with and provide financial support to private Israeli groups in order to oppose policies that are set by democratically elected leaders, this is a problem. It is also a violation of sovereignty, and a clear example of neocolonialism.

Nevertheless, the recent discovery that the British Embassy in Tel Aviv is funding an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) known as “Bimkom Planners for Planning Rights” is not surprising. The ostensible focus of the “research” is on the impact of the security barrier on Palestinian villages caught in the middle, and since Bimkom is a political organization, the outcome is a forgone conclusion.

In this way, the British government will receive an analysis from an Israeli group that supports London’s position against the route of the barrier. The same information could have been obtained through official government channels, (i.e., intelligence) but without the important political dimension. (The Danish government provided Bimkom with $200,000 for a project on “Palestinian neighborhoods.”)

For years, European governments have used the same approach by providing funding to well-known Israeli domestic political groups, such as Peace Now, B’Tselem, and the Peres Center. The Swiss Foreign Ministry and the European Union, among others, supported the failed public relations campaign to sell the Israel public the Geneva Initiative a track-two peace proposal led by Yossi Beilin and his Palestinian counterparts.

And under the misleading label of “partners for peace,” the EU Delegation in Tel Aviv is funding a group known as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which promotes anti-Israel boycotts and divestment. It also funds Israeli-Arab groups, such as Mossawa and Adallah, which ostensibly advocate for social and economic justice for the Arabs of Israel, but have done their fair share to demonize the Jewish state.

What is new in the case of Bimkom is the response of the Foreign Ministry, which stated: “It is interference by Britain in an internal Israeli matter. How would they react in London if our embassy was to fund research on a British organization that is trying to promote an agenda that is critical of [the government]?”

The language is a diplomatic and understated indeed, almost English reaction to a fundamental defect in European policy toward Israel. A more blunt response might have provided a hypothetical examples such as an advertising campaign funded by the US government in London or Paris promoting a hard-line anti-abortion position. Or a propaganda effort on the Northern Ireland conflict, or in support of separatist movements in France (Corsica) or Spain (ETA).

Furthermore, the scale of European government funding for Israeli and Palestinian political organizations that claim to promote human rights, peace and democracy is huge, and largely hidden. The massive Euro-bureaucracy has created a complex network of funding agencies for “civil society” in the region, and no central index or reporting system exists.

Until last year, the EU office in Tel Aviv violated its own principles of transparency and kept the list of Israeli NGO beneficiaries secret, ostensibly due to threats of violence. NGO Monitor’s investigations led to a change in this instance, but funding for Palestinian NGOs is still largely covert.

The change in Israeli government policy and a willingness to confront such anti-democratic manipulation, particularly by European governments (including non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland), marks an important step. Going beyond the terse statement, the Israeli representatives should bring a detailed file on the funding provided for politicized NGOs to every meeting between heads of state, foreign ministers and government officials.

If Europe expects to play a more important role in regional security and diplomacy, it cannot also continue to provide funding designed to undermine the Israeli government’s positions, both internally and in the international arena.

In Europe, the amorphous entities known as “civil society organizations” and NGOs also need close scrutiny. These bodies are unelected, and their officials are not accountable.

In democratic societies, government officials who provide funds to these entities generally use this as a means to promote their own interests and objectives, without checks and balances or transparency. In closed non-democratic societies, such as Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, foreign government assistance for NGOs that promote democracy, tolerance, and human rights may have a positive impact, but only if this support is carefully monitored to prevent abuse. Europe’s failure to provide such monitoring exacerbates the damage.

Israel, as a vibrant democracy, does not need, and should not be the target of “civil society initiatives” engineered by foreign governments, whether well-meaning or hostile. From this perspective, the example of Bimkom, the security barrier, and the British Embassy is small but highly illustrative.

The time has come to end this misguided and patronizing policy.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.