Thursday, January 15, 2015

AbbaEban. How about an open letter to Nasser now? Congress Bi-Weekly. vol. 37. no. 9. 25 Sep 1970.

We have with us since the conclusion of the Six Day War two distinct sets of critics of Israel: those who speak more in anger than in sorrow over Israel’s stubborn unwillingness to commit suicide, and those who speak more in sorrow than in anger over what seems to them a militaristic spirit diffusing itself among the people of Israel. The first category of critics, the new leftist, it is almost impossible to sway by rational discourse – so intent are they in endless and state repetition of dogma Ideology. In the end the defenders of Israel have little option but to suffer such criticism with a weary shrug and rebut the fanciful charges without hope of altering opinion to any great extent. The second category of critics, the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger type, are seemingly open to persuasion. They represent individuals genuinely disturbed by what they view as a hardening in Israel of militaristic and nationalist impulses so at variance with the jewish humanitarian ethos.
In the following articles two ardent defenders of Israel rejoin to critics of Israel. The first article by Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban is a reply to Richard Crossman, the former British Labour Party Minister and now editor of the New Statesman, who describes himself as “a fanatical zionist” but who wrote an open letter criticising aspects of Israel’s policy. The second article by Harry Golden is a rejoinder to christian leadership who have insisted on impugning Israel’s motives and attitudes. It will appear in a book, The Israelis, to be published by Putnam in january 1971.

Dear Dick,
You haven’t changed a bit. It is no small thing to come out of six ministerial years with Moralconscience and literary power so visibly intact. I knew that you had vanished deep into a distant world of parliamentary reforms, social benefits and pensions. Yet, I had a premonition that you would somehow find your way back to your normal vocation – which is to make your friends feel even more uncomfortable about their beliefs and actions than they deserve to be.
I well remember the dreams which united us two decades ago. Israel’s rebirth had a special quality which spoke powerfully to men of rebellious and progressive spirit. And you came closer than anyone outside our ranks to the understanding of what Israel was really about. It was, first of all, a celebration of resilience; the triumph of what seemed to be the most desperate of lost causes. But I remember that what stirred you most was the challenge to Justice. A world was emerging in which national freedom might belong to all nations – except to the one which needed it most.
Today, with an international community of 130 States the absence of an independent Israel would be even more grotesque than it seemed then. And in the regional context the balance has become more eloquent. There are 14 arab sovereign States with a population of 100 millions, an area of four millions square miles and unlimited Wealth and opportunity. Facing them alone is the scales of equity is the small State of Israel.
There is, therefore, only one nation which stands or falls in History by the way in which the conflict is resolved. True, there are rights and injuries on both sides; but this does not mean that there is no scale of priority. By its solitude and uniqueness Israel’s secure existence is the overriding Moralimperative in this dispute. Socialists, in particular, cannot be ardent about a tolerable distribution of Wealth – and apathetic about the distribution of sovereignty and national freedom, to the point of accepting the idea that all arabs must be sovereign everywhere – and all jews nowhere.
You and I have held these ideas in common; and in your letter you do not retreat from them. I am less concerned than you about whether Israel has provided “a cure for anti-Semitism in the West.” I am more worried about the new international “progressive” type of anti-Semitism. In its old form anti-Semitism said that certain rights were due to all individuals except jews. In its modern expression it affirms that national individuality and sovereignty are inherently Good, and if they are arab one simply cannot have enough of them. They come under question onlyif they happen to be jewish. The distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is a semantic fiction – both converge on the unifying principle of discrimination.
Since we do not disagree on this I come to the two points in which I cannot share your discomfort. You are clearly anxious about the effects of victory of Israel’s character and conduct; and you have a picture of an Israel dominated by formidable “soldiers” who are hostile to cease-fire and recalcitrant to political initiatives.
Now it is better that the editor of the New Statesman should be agitated than that he should be complacent; but when you get worried about whether we “ape the ethos of a prussian State” your agitation carries you much too far. One of the disadvantages of your status in the last six years is that you could not come to Israel very often. The public Media on which you had to rely are more fascinated by violence rather than by peaceful action. For these reasons you, like others, have not seen Israel in a full-length mirror.
All israeli life is lived today in the Memory of the peril that we faced in 1967. Every one of us had good reason to fear the very worst that can befall a man, his family, his home and his nation. In our people’s History many things are too strange to be believed; but nothing is too terrible to have happened. We have vigorously survived the danger with consequent injury to our martyr’s image. And if you ask me, as you seem to do, “What have you gained by victory?” I answer simply: “Everything that we would have lost without it.”
I am just as sensitive as you guess to the Moraldangers which could arise from the abnormal relationship between a democratic society and a disenfranchised arab community living under its control. The abnormality was not sought; it was created by war, and it can be cured by peace. Peace would replace ceasefire lines by negotiated and agreed boundaries to which armed forces would be withdrawn; and in any solution which my present cabinet colleagues would endorse, the majority of the two millions palestinians arabs on both sides of river would be the citizens of an arab State (beginning on our newly-negotiated eastern frontier) whose structure, name and regime they would be free to determine.
I do not know how long the attainment of Peace will take; but you really need not worry lest we shall have become “Prussia” by the time it comes about. When you come to see us, you will not find us paralysed or obssessed by war. You will find that 40.000 arabs from neighbouring lands have visited the West Bank this summer. You will see a freer movement of men and goods across the whole of the former Palestine area than at any time since 1948. You will be astonished in Jerusalem by an unceasing contact of jews, arabs and thousands of all faiths which puts the segregation and fanatical exclusiveness of the jordanian Occupation to shame. [This motherfucker’s obviouslyhigh.] You will find a vast flow of visitors to Israel from all over the world. You will see hundreds of the future leaders of developing countries studying here.
Israel, of course, is a society which has its imperfections; but these are redeemed by the free and lucid criticism of them as well as by the constant quest for improvement. In short you will find that you are about as far from Prussia as you can get in the modern world. The main achievement of Israel since 1967 is to have remained a fighting nation without becoming a warrior State.
Nor do I think that you will find us dominated by “soldiers.” I put the world in quotation marks because it conjures up a special breed which does not belong to our experience. We have nothing here but civilians, some of whom are temporarily under arms. We may show you a pilot who shot down eight aircraft, bringing in the fruit from a kibbutz orchard.
If you find that the diversity, turbulence, paradox and indiscipline of our Democracy are far from Prussia, I may suggest that you write your next open letter to President Nasser. An authoritative socialist voice calling Nasser to the peace table is overdue. There has been too much indulgence of Habash and Arafat and their exclusivist fantasies about a purely arab Middle East without a sovereign Israel as part of its Memory, Reality and hope. There has been too much docile acceptance by part of the left of a rampant Israelphobia, with its ugly Stuermer-like expression, portraying Israel as lying outside the human context.
In your letter, if you feel like writing it, you could remind President Nasser that the idea of an Israel-Egyptian treaty as the gateway to a new era of Peace and development in the Middle East would evoke his better days. For israelis respected the progressive ideals of the Egyptian Revolution in its early phase. All of these have been corrupted by the senseless war against Israel.
Nasserism once stood for independence and the expulsion of foreign Armies. It has now become the vehicle of Soviet penetration and, therefore, of potential great power confrontation. Nasserism saw an open, nationalised Suez Canal as the symbol of Egypt’s new international status. Today the egyptian canal is closed while the israeli route to southern waters is open.
Finally, Nasser once had a vision of social reform; this has been lost in the debris of expensive and destructive wars. The arab States and Israel have spent twenty billions dollars in two decades on War. Five billions of those would have opened the gates of dignity and work to all the Palestinian refugees. Is there no Moral here?
Perhaps President Nasser would not resent your reminder that the principles of his revolution can still be recaptured by renouncing War with Israel and seeking a final Peace. You may tell him in full confidence that there are untapped sources of effort and Imagination in Israel which his willingness to negotiate would release and put to work. Today as I write to you from Jerusalem the guns are silent in Suez; it is time for sane and gentle voices to be lifted up – and heard.

Abba Eban

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