Thursday, March 20, 2008

Checkpoints and dire necessity

The Israel Policy Forum is a leftwing, pro-Zionist organisation based in Washington DC. In a recent post ( they express their concern over redundant checkpoints on the West Bank, which no longer serve a useful purpose but magnify the humiliation and resentments of Palestinians living there.

We need not suppose deliberate ill-will on the part of the IDF to understand that bureaucratic inertia and stupidity can allow this sort of thing to happen. The remedy is in the hands of Israelis primarily, who must insist that "security" or "inertia" is not used to justify unnecessary brutality and unethical behaviour. We in the diaspora, who do not face the 3 year army stint and other demands carried by Israelis, must bear this in mind when criticising Israeli actions.

At the same time, the diaspora is part of the global Jewish nation which Israel needs as much as it needs Israel. Hence, as committed world citizens of Israel, we also have a right and obligation to express our views, especially on matters relating to Israel's ethical and security position. We hope that these views will be conveyed by the Israeli Embassy to Israel and that they will support those Israeli citizens who wish to ensure that Israel lives up to to its own best ideals.

To get some idea of the potential existential threats facing Israel see

Both sites in this post can be reached by copying the addresses in blue and pasting into the address window of your browser.

Mike Berger

Me and the collective.

There is one issue that should be addressed up front: am I an agent or spokesperson for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies of the South African Zionist Federation?

To answer that properly some brief history is needed. I have been traditionally a marginalised Jew in the sense that I am irretrievably (but not militantly) secular, have never been involved with Jewish communal organisations - which I perceived as peripheral to my own concerns, and boring to boot - and a "progressive pluralist" by instinct. At the same time I had a clear-cut sense of Jewish identity and a committment to Israel's right to exist as a secure and fully accepted equal in the global community of nations.

What, if anything, has changed in the past decade? Firstly, about the time of the start of the second Intifada in 2000, I became more aware of the extremely biased, almost vindictive approach of the local press to Israel and found myself writing articles in its defence. As a result of further research, I found my previous instinctively progressive and borderline anti-Zionist perspectives undergoing some transformation to what I hope is a more realistic view.

More specifically, my experience both of the "new" South Africa and of Israel's predicament in the Middle East, together with an increasingly informed interest in politics and history, made me more conscious of the limits of the "moral stance" in relation to real life. This is a complex issue to be pursued elsewhere but I took up the cudgels in defence of Israel in the face of a clear propaganda campaign of delegitimisation.

For my pains I found myself on the local Media Team (under the joint auspices of the Jewish Board of Deputies, Cape Province and the WPZC), and then its chairman from about mid 2007 to the end of the year. Again to cut a long story short, that close relationship came to an amicable end a few months ago, due mostly to the fact that I wished to retain my independence and focus of action.

This is all to the good. I am a completely independent agent. I receive no financial support of any kind either directly or indirectly from either of these organisations or any of their affiliates. I am NOT their spokesperson in any way and am completely free to criticise if and when I feel that is desirable. I remain a much more realistic "progressive pluralist".

At the same time, I share many of the concerns and committments of our communal representatives. I am on good terms with members of these organisations and make use of their links to information and contacts. This I believe is an entirely ethical and pragmatic relationship. Should it change in any way - either positively or negatively - I would make this known on this blog site.

This information is supplied in the interests of clarification and transparency.

Mike Berger

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mea Culpa... etc

A brief mea culpa. I reread my post on Propaganda with some embarrassment. It sounded like I knew all the answers. In fact, I don't and possibly there is no single answer. One danger is that one becomes shrill and one-dimensional in the heat of battle. We all (myself included) need to take some care, while not becoming timid and wet.

Trevor Shaff has pointed out the problem with conducting debate in the open, so I suggest that we stick to the BCC column when engaged in public debate.

Those who wish to UNSUBSCRIBE from my updates, write

Franchising Apartheid

I want to draw your attention to an outstanding and carefully documented essay, entitled 'Franchising “Apartheid”: Why South Africans Push the Analogy' written by Rhoda Kadalie and Julia Bertelsmann (her daugher) at

Here are the opening words: On a cold night in Johannesburg last year, a bus pulled up outside the American consulate. It was the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War in the Middle East—June being a winter month in South Africa—and several dozen activists planned to mark the occasion by protesting U.S. support for “Apartheid Israel.”...


The nuts and bolts

This is a response to a link comment from someone named George. I apologise for the strong language at the end (sensitive viewers should be warned!), but it sets out what one may call the "nuts and bolts" of my own perspective. More simple than that one cannot get.

Dear George
I don't really bother seriously answering people like you anymore. If Zionism is not apartheid, it's colonialism. If not colonialism it's racism. If it's not this, it's that. The list of grievances is endless since the "guilty" verdict is assumed: it now rests on finding a crime (any bloody crime) to pin on the Jews. It's nothing new. Fifty years, a hundred years, 300 years - you'll hairsplit to the end of time to create your guilty verdict.
You know what? A handful of Jewish refugees started to return to Palestine 100 to 150 years ago to escape the murderous persecution of the Europeans. They encountered scattered Arabs (and others) living there under Ottoman rule. In the ensuing free-for-all the Jews won - won against all odds. Won because they were desperate and because they were better organised than their opponents.
Many hundreds of Jews were killed and mutilated by Arabs (not just Palestinian residents, the whole bangshoot). The Arabs were fully equipped by the Soviet Union. In the course of all these wars and existential fights for existence, some Jews behaved with undue brutality and cruelty - that is a fact. It is also a fact that the Jews fought ruthlessly for survival. That is another fact.
They fought ruthlessly because the Arabs told them in no uncertain terms that they intended to massacre them and to destroy their tiny sanctuary in the Middle East - their own ancient homeland. And when they had a chance, that is precisely what they did.
But the Jews won. Get used to it. They built a modern, prosperous, robust, democratic state in the backward and despotic Middle East.
Get used to it. They are not leaving. Get used to that too. So take your bile and prissy hatreds and go fuck yourself.

Fence Sitting

It may surprise Steven Robins to know that I am as familiar with Israeli imperfections as he is (Cape Times 18 March). It may surprise him even more to learn that on two occasions I have written to the Israeli Embassy bringing my concerns forcefully to their attention.

But I do differ from Prof Robins in two essential respects. I am indeed committed to the right of Israel to exist as a normal country in peace and security (and, as a corollary of that, am immensely proud of her heroic achievements in every sphere).

And, secondly, I understand as Robins apparently does (or will) not, that Israel faces an existential threat essentially similar to that faced by European Jewry in the pre-Nazi era and that her “crimes” in context are minor indeed.

Possibly Robins has kept himself unaware of the multi-pronged strategy being pursued to undermine Israel and to offset her advantage in military hardware and general expertise. The Palestinians are a key element in this strategy and constitute a dagger directed at Israel’s heart.

By simultaneously serving as hotbed of violent aggression and as victims, the Gazans under Hamas (though Fatah is hardly better) intends to keep Israel permanently destabilized while simultaneously provoking civilian casualties to gain the sympathy of Western progressives.

The extraordinarily low number of civilian casualties amongst the Gazans, after years of unprovoked rocket and mortar fire and despite every effort on the part of Hamas to maximise collateral damage, is an amazing testament to Israeli restraint and skill.

As any sane person realises, Israel would like nothing more than to see normality return to her borders. This will never be allowed to happen; under one pretext or another, the border will be maintained in a state of constant threat for reasons already explained above.

Needless, to say this is perfectly well understood by Israel, and indeed by anyone seriously engaged with international politics. It is only a band of Western progressives, “culpable innocents” is the kindest term I can think of, who think they are engaged in ivory tower debate and use Israel’s existential struggle to polish their credentials.

For, like it or not, there is a fence which is not possible to straddle. I know what side of the fence I am on, but until Robins acknowledges the existence of the fence, he will continue to lend aid and comfort to those committed to the destruction of Israel and to much of what the progressive West holds dear.

Mike Berger

Pilgerian propaganda

So, according to John Pilger, 6.5 million Jews on a tiny piece of semi-desert set amongst 300 million Arab-Muslims is the 4th largest military power in the world (M & G, 14 March). I suppose it all depends on how one defines military power, but Pilger in full propaganda mode couldn’t be bothered with such niceties.

Nevertheless, given the undoubted punch of Israel’s military hardware the death of 120 Gazans (mainly terrorists to give them their proper name) following years of rocket and mortar attacks, represents a triumph of almost inhuman restraint, skill and grim determination to minimise civilian casualties.

Why a single decent car bomb in Baghdad or a crowded Pakistani street market exceeds that. Imagine what Israel could do if it wanted to.

But of course, as any sane person knows, Israel wants nothing more than to be left alone. Contrary to Pilger’s idiotic suggestion that Israel has an interest in the destruction of Palestinian society and the creation of more violent militants on its borders, it prays only for simple normality.

For this reason it withdrew fully from Gaza handing over a host of functional facilities as inducement to the Gazan population to create a viable state. These were promptly destroyed by fanatics and thugs to ensure that such sanity would never emerge to mitigate their apocalyptic vision of endless war until Israel itself was destroyed.

Thus, Israel is constantly goaded and threatened by suicide bombers, rockets and mortars directed indiscriminately at its civilian population so that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the other terror groups flourishing in that benighted region, can present their Western allies and their own population with the necessary civilian casualties for propaganda purposes.

This strategy also suits some of the states in the region who play the dangerous but profitable game of keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the boil in pursuit of their own regional and global ambitions.

And the surviving remnants of the Stalinist Left in the West have a new cause: to reverse the hundred years of heroic Zionist struggle culminating in the creation of a tiny democratic oasis in the Middle East and the recognition of Israel as an independent state by the United Nations. What a glorious victory that would be.

There is little doubt that history will see the systematic demonisation of Israel as a yet another chapter in the long history of anti-semitism, fully consonant with the vile lies and myths preceeding the Holocaust.

But there is one thing that has changed; Jews will never again go quietly to their destruction. Israel will persist despite its enemies and despite the fears, doubts and imperfections of its own people. It will also persist because decent people everywhere will eventually turn against the purveyors of hatred and death.

Mike Berger

Monday, March 17, 2008


Globally and daily Jews are faced with anti-Israel commentary in the media.

It is not surprising that we get a host of different responses from different members of the Jewish community and, being human and especially being Jewish, this sets us squabbling between ourselves. It's worth taking a closer look at the anti-Israeli comment, especially from a South African perspective, in order to create a more effective response. Since this is a blog, not a textbook, I'll cut right to the chase and simplify!!!

There are 2 broad types of anti-Israel comment:

The Jihadists of various stripes. I define Jihadist in this context, as people who have made a career of anti-Zionist propaganda. Some are religious Islamists using Israel to recruit and motivate Jihad. Some are simply other Muslims who have hitched a ride on the Islamist bandwagon for their own personal (criminal, political, whatever) ends but don't really care much about the religious motivation. In addition, there are Western Jihadists, mainly from the radical, secular Left, who have made the destruction of Israel a personal mission. And there is a strong fringe of anti-semites with no single philosophy but simply motivated by hatred and prejudice. I call them all Jihadists since they are not susceptible to reason or facts.

This mixed bunch run the anti-Israel propaganda mill in the sympathetic Western media, on the Internet, in Mosques, and elsewhere - tailoring the message to suit the different audiences and the occasion. This "campaign" is not run from a single command centre, but there is undoubtedly a significant degree of coordination at all levels ranging from local to even global via e-mail and other modern means of communication. Much of it is institutionalised and will be incredibly resistant to change.

It is a waste of time "debating" Jihadists as though argument and facts counted for something. They are not interested in "truth" but in either destroying Israel or in using it to promote their own agendas. One must respond to them on their own terms with the techniques of counterpropaganda and, where necessary, using diplomatic, economic and military means.

In South Africa there are factions within the Muslim community who definitely belong in this category. Kasrils is the archetype of the Leftist Jihadist who is making anti-Zionism a personal mission. Papers like the M & G and some of the Independent stable lend themselves to this campaign and are unlikely to be turned by appeals to reason or fact. Pilger and Fisk are professional assassins called in to hurt Israel as much as possible using clever propaganda techniques.

I'm going to lump the rest into the camp of "innocents". Many, including Jews, are concerned about aspects of Israeli reality or policy and wish to have this changed through open debate. Most of these individuals do not want to see Israel destroyed and many are open to debate. They often have concerns shared by ardent supporters of Israel. What they lack, however, is an appreciation of the existential nature of the threat to Israel (and possibly to Jews more generally).

On the other end of the "innocents" spectrum are those on the fringes of Jihadism. They are more vehement and resistant to counterargument, maybe for psychological, social and career reasons. Perhaps much of the Western liberal media is penetrated by people like these who become accomplices to anti-Israeli Jihadism. They differ mainly in degree and possibly to persuasion and social pressure.

Whatever the reason is besides the point. Innocents can add to the flood of anti-Israel propaganda and can spill into the "useful idiot" category.

In response to "innocents" one can point out that, the world has many evil people who abuse the conscience of the liberal sector to promote their hateful ends. Thus one can call for moderation in the expression of concern, an awareness of political context and also some appreciation of the realistic issues which face Israel and to adjust their expectations to take account of the possible and not the ideal.

What is the best way of defending Israel?

Clearly there is more than one way depending on who one is addressing and context. It is important to realise, however, that defending Israel is NOT the same as open debate. Defending Israel is a political act in which one weighs consequences of one's words, actions and tone on the audience. It needs awareness of others, self-discipline, coolness, intuition, skill and endurance.

Debate is something different and takes place between people who share a minimum commitment to resolution Debate is accompanied by honesty and respect for "truth" as an ultimate value.

In general, there are some no-nos for those who wish to defend Israel.
  • Don't try to suppress freedom of speech even when it is being abused.
  • Don't simply insult your opponent and don't call him or her an anti-semite unless the direct evidence is available.
  • Don't misquote or exaggerate facts.
  • Keep your arguments simple but not too simplistic.
  • Don't sound too self-pitying.
  • Don't go overboard and know when enough is enough.
Propaganda (rhetoric) is an art acquired by hard work and practice. It can serve a good purpose when used with integrity and discretion. Sometimes the weapon can be blunt but often subtlety is best.

Mike Berger