By Contributor on October 04, 2013

By Uri Avnery

Benjamin Netanyahu aroused my pity. From my 10 years of membership in the Knesset I know how unpleasant it is to speak before an empty hall. His die-hard followers — a pathetic residue of casino magnates and burnt-out Zionist right-wingers — sat in the gallery of the U.N. Assembly and an overblown Israeli delegation sat in the hall, but they only underlined the general emptiness. How different from President Hassan Rouhani’s reception! Then the hall was overcrowded, the General Secretary and the other dignitaries leapt from their seats to congratulate him at the end, and the international media could not get enough of him. Much of Netanyahu’s misfortune was just bad luck. It was the end of the session, everybody was eager to get home or go shopping, no one was in the mood to listen to yet another lecture on Jewish history. Enough is enough.

Worse, the speech was totally eclipsed by a world-shaking event – the shutdown of the U.S. government. The breakdown of the celebrated US system of governance was a riveting sight. Netanyahu – Netanya who? – just could not compete. Perhaps there was also a tiny bit of schadenfreude in the delegates’ reaction to our prime minister. In his General Assembly speech last year, he assumed the role of the world’s primary school teacher, using primitive teaching aids on the rostrum, drawing a line in red ink on a third-grade presentation of the Bomb. For weeks now Israeli propaganda has been telling the world’s leaders that they are childishly naive or just plain stupid. Perhaps they didn’t didn't appreciate being told that. Perhaps it was just one arrogant speech too many. All this is very sad. Sad for Netanyahu. He invested so much effort in this speech. For him, a speech before the General Assembly (or the U.S. Congress) is like a major battle for a renowned general, a historic event. He lives from speech to speech, weighing in advance every sentence, practicing over and over again the body language, the inflections, like the accomplished actor he is. And here he was, the great Shakespearean, declaiming “to be or not to be” before an empty hall, rudely disturbed by the snoring of the sole gentleman in the second row. Could Israel’s propaganda line have been less boring? Of course it could. Before setting foot on American soil, Netanyahu knew that the world was sighing with relief at the signs of the new Iranian attitude. Though he may be convinced that the ayatollahs were cheating (as usual, he would say), was it wise to appear as a serial killjoy? He could have said: “We welcome the new tones coming out of Tehran. We listened with much sympathy to Mr. Rouhani's speech. Together with the entire world, represented by this august assembly, we very much hope that the Iranian leadership is sincere, and that in serious negotiations a fair and effective solution can be found. However, we cannot ignore the possibility that this charm offensive is but a smokescreen behind which Mr. Rouhani’s internal enemies continue to build the nuclear bomb, which threatens all of us. Therefore we expect all of us will exercise utmost caution in conducting the negotiations...” It’s the tone that makes the music.

Instead, he threatened Iran again – and more sharply than ever – with an Israeli attack. He brandished a revolver which, everybody knows, is empty. This possibility — an Israeli attack on Iran — never really existed. Geography, world economic and political circumstances make an attack on Iran impossible. But even if it had been real at some time, it is quite out of the question now. The world is against it. The US public is most definitely against it. An attack by Israel acting alone, in face of resolute American opposition, is as probable as an Israeli settlement on the moon. Slightly unlikely. I don’t know about the military feasibility. Could it be done? Could our Air Force do it without U.S. assistance and support? Even if the answer were positive, the political circumstances forbid it. Indeed, our military chiefs seem singularly uninterested in such an adventure. The climax of the speech was Netanyahu’s grandiose declaration: “if we have to stand alone, we shall stand alone!” What did it remind me of? In late 1940 there appeared in Palestine – and, I suppose, throughout the British Empire – a superb propaganda poster. France had fallen, Hitler had not yet invaded the Soviet Union, the U.S. was still far from intervening. The poster showed Winston Churchill, undaunted, and a slogan: “Alright then, alone!” Netanyahu could not remember this, though his memory does seem to be pre-natal. I call it “Alzheimer in reverse” – vividly remembering things that never happened. (He once recounted at length how he, as a boy, had a discussion with a British soldier in the streets of Jerusalem – though the last British soldier left the country more than a year before he was born.) Does Netanyahu see himself as the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, standing proud and undaunted against a continent engulfed by the Nazis? And where does that leave Barack Obama? We know where. Netanyahu and his followers constantly remind us. Obama is the modern Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain the Appeaser. The man who flourished a piece of paper in the fall of 1938 and proclaimed “Peace in Our Time.” The statesman who almost brought about the destruction of his country. Historical analogies are always dangerous, especially in the hands of politicians and commentators with only superficial historical knowledge. Let’s see about Munich. In the analogy, Hitler’s place is taken by Ali Khamenei, or perhaps Hassan Rouhani. Indeed? Do they have the world’s strongest military machine, as Hitler already had at that time? And does Netanyahu himself look like Eduard Benes, the Czech president who trembled before Hitler? And President Obama, does he resemble Chamberlain, the leader of an enfeebled and practically defenseless Britain, in desperate need of time to rearm? Does Obama surrender to a fanatical dictator? Or is it Iran that is giving up – or pretending to give up – its nuclear ambitions, brought to its knees by the stringent set of American-dictated international sanctions? (By the way, the Munich analogy was even more cockeyed when it was recently applied in Israel to the American-Russian agreement about Syria. There, Bashar al-Assad assumed the role of the victorious Hitler, and Obama was the naïve Englishman with the umbrella. Yet it was Assad who gave up his precious chemical weapons, while Obama gave nothing, except a postponement of military action. What kind of a “Munich” was that?) Coming back to reality: There is nothing splendid about the isolation of Israel these days. Our isolation means weakness, a loss of power, a diminishing of security. It is the job of a statesman to find allies, to build partnerships, to strengthen the international position of his country. Netanyahu has lately taken to quoting our ancient sages: “If I am not for me, who is for me?” He forgets the next part of that same sentence: “And if I am for myself, what am I?” Photo: Copyright by World Economic Forum, Creative Commons licensed. Photo credit: swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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