Saturday 24 October 2020

Hey, Mr. ‘Prominent British Jew’: be a mensch and say “I’m sorry!”

 I know, I know: we are way past Yom Kippur.  But who says it’s only on that one day a year that we must say “I’m sorry”?

As yet another Arab country (Sudan) agrees to normalise relations with the Jewish state, quite a few people owe us all (and to themselves) a heartfelt apology.


The decay of journalism is one of the greatest challenges to 21st century democracy.  Real journalists (read: people who value objectivity, have respect for facts and are capable of insights) are becoming rare and far between; those depleting ranks are being filled with political activists for whom ‘journalism’ is a weapon, rather than a vocation.  And the saddest thing is that they can get away with not even having to admit they were wrong; mainly, perhaps, because most people did not pay attention to their pathetic screeches – in the first place.

Zvi Bar’el, for instance, would probably describe himself as a senior journalist.  He sports the rather serious-sounding title of Middle East Affairs Analyst for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz; he even has a PhD in the History of the Middle East.  One of his ‘analyses’ was published a few weeks ago (after the UAE deal announcement), under the assertive title:

“Israel's Deal With the UAE Spells New Conditions for Ties With Arab States”.

Some may say that’s only stating the obvious – and I couldn’t agree more.  But I’m not complaining about the lack of insight – I’ve come to expect that; the problem is that nowhere in his learned article does Analyst Bar’el utter the words: ‘I got it wrong, folks – I’m sorry!’

Because Mr. Bar’el’s previous ‘analyses’ (i.e. before the UAE announcement) were rather radically different.  For instance, the one he published under the no-less sententious title:

“Without Solution to Palestinian Issue, No Arab State Will Seek Relations With Israel”

Mr. Bar’el began that previous ‘analysis’ by quoting Netanyahu’s statement, delivered at the UN:

“Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab World. But these days I think it may work the other way around: Namely that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And therefore, to achieve that peace, we must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere.”

Ha’aretz’s Middle East Affairs Analyst then proceeded to ridicule Netanyahu for that statement.  No, Arab country, declared our friend Zvi with iron-clad certitude, will “seek relations” with Israel unless the latter first magics up a “Solution to [the] Palestinian Issue”.  Well, the UAE (an Arab country by all accounts, including its name) did.  And two others (so far!) followed.

Hmm… so who looks ridiculous now?  Forgive my French, but I’d say that Zvi Bar’el has made a bit of an ass of himself.  Someone should tell him that, despite the partial homophony, the title of ‘Analyst’ does not derive from the word ‘anal’!

It is a sorry state of affairs when ‘Analysts’ (and journalists in general) are utterly ignorant of what is happening – until the moment it becomes public knowledge.  There were plenty of clues for Mr. Bar’el to pick up.  For years now, Netanyahu has been throwing thick hints about impending peace with the Arab world; so did Trump.  That there was considerable rapprochement was common knowledge.  And, if nothing else, it was clearly spelled out in the latest Coalition Agreement.  No, not the part about ‘annexation’ – leave that one to the hapless ‘analysts’; no, the part that says:

“The Prime Minister and Substitute Prime Minister will act together and in a coordinated fashion to advance peace agreements with all our neighbours and to advance regional cooperation […] all this while aiming to protect the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, including the need to preserve regional security, uphold existing peace agreements and strive towards future peace agreements.”

The words “peace agreements” feature no less than three times in that one paragraph.  Enough of a clue – you’d think – to pique the curiosity of even a thick, jaded Ha’aretz Analyst.

But ‘journalists’ like Bar’el aren’t attuned to facts or evidence; they are driven by ideology, by beliefs.  According to Mr. Bar’el’s ‘secular religion’, Netanyahu and Trump are perennial liars – never to be believed; Israel’s desire for peace is forever suspect – lip service designed to hide nefarious intentions; and the plight of the Palestinian Arabs is the #1 issue in the whole wide blimming world.  For a certain ilk of pseudo-liberals, the above statements are Gospel – and one does not question scripture!

Now, I don’t wish to be too harsh: valued Middle East Analysts (even those with a PhD and – incredibly, I know – even those writing for Ha’aretz) are of course allowed to make mistakes, just like the rest of us.  But… forgive me if I humbly opine that, besides being a mark of character, admitting one’s mistakes should be a minimum requirement for retaining one’s credibility; if not one’s job.

But let’s stop picking on poor Zvi Bar’el – he is far from the only culprit: pretty much every other ‘Analyst’ (and probably his dog, too) agreed with him.  Until very recently, they all said that, while the Gulf Arab countries did not mind having the political equivalent of furtive sex with the Jewish state, they wouldn’t dreeeeam of formalising that relationship without Palestinian blessing.  And I have yet to hear one of those ‘analysts’ saying the magic words: ‘I was wrong’.

Which brings me to the next category.

The ‘anti-annexation’ activists

Anything involving Israel and the Palestinians is guaranteed to attract a disproportionate amount of attention from ‘activists’ with an axe to grind.  But few things caused such a berserk torrent of unbridled criticism like the ‘annexation’.  Convinced (mainly by their own prejudice) that all Netanyahu ever wanted was to despoil the Palestinians of ‘their’ land, lots and lots of people – from New Israel Fund, Yachad, J-Street and other ‘usual suspects’ to Western European politicians and US Democratic Party senators – came out to ‘express their grave concern’ with ‘the annexation plans’.  After all, as all of them declared (without even bothering to explain why) ‘annexation’ spells the death knell of the two-state solution – doesn’t it?

Even some of the people who are genuinely pro-Israel were baffled.  Why would a previously very cautious Netanyahu suddenly seem so keen to do something ’so radical’?  Well, as many an organisational behaviour consultant will tell you, most people don’t like change: given a choice, they tend to choose the ‘devil they know’; or at least to put off getting acquainted with the new fiend.  To effect a change, sometimes it is necessary to manufacture a crisis…

We know now that the UAE deal has been in the making for many months.  And one does not need a PhD in Middle East History to understand why it ultimately happened.

The threat of ‘annexation’ did that – and more.  In the words of ‘a White House official’ (quoted by Walla and the Times of Israel):

“We have been talking about this [the Israel-UAE normalisation] for over a year, but the issue of annexation created the atmosphere in which a deal became more attainable.”

This only sounds counter-intuitive to clueless ‘analysts’ and green (and I don’t mean just ‘Green Party’) European politicians.  In Middle Eastern politics, the ‘annexation’ was never an impending ‘catastrophe’; no, it was a brilliant gambit: it provided the Emiratis with the opportunity to ‘save the Palestinians’ and ‘to save peace’ – all while doing what they wanted to do anyway.  As for Netanyahu, he ‘reluctantly agreed’ to forgo something he didn’t really want to do in the first place (except under much more propitious circumstances), in return for peace with Arab world’s rising star.  Both sides achieved not just their purpose – but also found a way to sell that outcome to their domestic constituencies.

But was it really a gambit, I hear you asking?  Or was Netanyahu somehow ‘dissuaded’ at the last moment from putting in practice those nefarious ‘annexation plans’?

Well, what plans – pray tell me?  ‘Annexing’ land (i.e. governing it as part of Israel’s sovereign territory) is a rather large logistic operation.  It involves establishing (or at least re-deploying) government offices, security installations, centers of authority.  At a minimum, it involves re-deploying military assets.  Yet no preparations were made – or even sketched; no plans were submitted for approval; no sites were earmarked, not one army unit was moved.  Not just people in the street, but ministers and military commanders were left wondering what – if anything – was going to be annexed: a few symbolic dunams?  The Jordan Valley?  30% of the West Bank?

Plans?  There were no ‘plans’.  And why do you think that is?

The ‘annexation’ was a manufactured crisis, which enabled UAE leaders to present normalisation as the solution.

As for ‘anti-annexation activists’, none – to the best of my knowledge – has so far admitted they were wrong.  In fact, a few saw fit to express their great relief at the ‘suspension of annexation plans’.  Demonstrating either intellectual dishonesty or – more likely – just sheer stupidity.


There is more to apologise about than merely going over the top about ‘the annexation’.  A couple of years ago, I happened to have a discussion with a leading activist from New Israel Fund – UK.  We were in a small group and she launched into a rant about ‘the blatant racism’ that – in her view – was taking over the Israeli society; she rather aggressively asked me to condemn it.  I replied that I unreservedly condemn it; I added that, unfortunately, there is indeed despicable racism in Israel – just as there is in the UK, USA and elsewhere.  ‘Oh, no,’ she said with something I can only describe as cold anger.  ‘There is much, much more racism in Israel.’  I wanted to ask her for the evidence behind such grave accusation – but she gave every indication that, if I wasn’t going to admit that Israel was more racist than other countries, she wasn’t interested in any further debate with me.

For years now, it has become fashionable in certain circles to accuse not just Netanyahu, not just ‘the Israeli government’, but ‘the Israeli society’ en-bloc of racism, of callousness and lack of desire for peace, of ‘land theft’ and other sins.

The ‘evidence’ typically consists of ‘Israeli behaviour’ (as narrated and interpreted by the accusers), politicised opinion surveys (with questions the like of which are only ever asked of Israelis) and ‘anecdotal evidence’ – all of which demonstrate ‘deeply-entrenched anti-Arab racism’ and other such base attitudes.

These ‘Israeli attitudes’ are then employed to call for international ‘pressure’ on Israelis – who, as racist warmongers, cannot be expected to make peace of their own volition.

Speaking about opinion polls, however, one was performed after the UAE announcement: it seems that nearly 80% of ‘the Israeli society’ supports the agreement with UAE over ‘the annexation’; less than 17% expressed the opposite view.  In fact, since the announcement, the entire country has been in a celebratory mood.  It seems that, despite their engrained anti-Arab racism and their lack of desire for peace – Israelis dream of traveling to the UAE, of doing business there, of having Emirati Arabs visit and do business in the Jewish state.  Hundreds of Israelis were visible on Twitter, seeking to make friends with the Arabs they purportedly despise out of racial prejudice…

And it wasn’t just people in the street: the much maligned ‘right-wing Israeli government’ voted unanimously in favour of the Abraham Accords – as did parliamentarians representing ‘extreme right’ opposition parties.  In fact, the only Israeli party that voted against peaceful relations with the United Arab Emirates was… the Joint (Arab) List!  Needless to say, none of the ‘peace activists’ criticised the Israeli Arab parliamentarians for that stance.  Pseudo-liberals – as we know – only see faults in Jews.

‘Prominent British Jews’

But there’s somebody else who owes the Israeli public – and their own community – an apology.  A few months ago, 40 ‘prominent British Jews’ wrote a letter to Israel’s Ambassador to London, protesting ‘the annexation’.  So what’s wrong with this, you ask?  Surely British Jews – whether ‘prominent’ or not, are entitled to write to the ambassador of the Jewish state?  Of course they are; but they chose a rather weird way to do it.  You see, if I want to send a letter (whether to an ambassador or to the lovely man who sweeps the street in front of the Embassy, it does not matter), I use the good services of the Royal Mail.  Of course, I’m not ‘prominent’; if I were a bit posh, I might use a courier – or send my personal valet to drop the letter at the Embassy.  But that’s not what our ‘Prominent Jews’ did; no, they published their letter in the newspaper.  Which newspaper, you’re asking?  Why, Ha’aretz of course – what else?! 

And what did they write, these ‘prominents’?  Well, they expressed their “unprecedented level of concern”.  As well as the following ‘analysis’:

“We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step.  Instead, it would in our view be a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”

Needless to say, there were other, even saucier passages, all faithfully and gleefully reproduced by other “friends of Israel” – such as The Guardian and the BBC.

Judging by the above emphatic pronouncement, one would be tempted to think that ‘the Prominents’ are all high-level experts in Middle East politics.  But… no, they’re not.  They’re not even Ha’aretz Middle East Affairs Analysts.  Most of them are politicians and businessmen, a few even political activists masquerading as Rabbis.

What is unclear is: why do these people (who live in Britain, pay taxes in Britain, vote in Britain and do not have to serve in the army in Britain) presume to publicly tell Israelis what to do?  I wonder how would they feel if 40 ‘prominent Israeli Jews’ would have published a letter in The Guardian, declaring something like ‘we are still to see an argument that convinces us that Brexit is a constructive step’?

Why do these arrogant pricks think they understand Israel’s needs and interests better than the elected representatives of the Israeli public?  Why do they see themselves as responsible adults, while viewing Israeli leaders (some of whom have fulfilled for many years positions of vast responsibility in government and/or security forces) as little more than children?

Most believed that Netanyahu – the new Genghis Khan, just as reckless, primitive and bent on destruction as the old one – was about to inflict a huuuge catastrophe upon the Jewish state and on the entire Jewish people.  But a cooler, more sober, more ‘anal’ analysis might have concluded that Netanyahu is anything but reckless.  Sure, like Trump, Netanyahu isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.  Hate the man, if you so wish; despise him for his cigars, his ice-cream, his alleged corruption, his spiteful wife or his undeniable achievements.  But reckless?  No, this guy’s a calculated son of a bitch – if ever there was one.  Netanyahu may play for high stakes – but his game is chess, not backgammon: he does not roll the dice.

By and large, the demarché of the ‘prominents’ was no surprise – most of them have said and done stupid, outrageous things in the past.  Unfortunately, this time their ranks included also people like Howard Jacobson, whom I respect.  What possessed you to add your distinguished name to that shameful list, dear Howard?

I know, I know: we are way past Yom Kippur.  But not past redemption, not yet.  It’s not too late.  Please: would you be a mensch and say “I’m sorry”?


  1. Another brilliant and piercing analysis. I assume you are not expecting too many apologies any time soon...

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  3. Noru, if, as you suggest, all the talk about annexation was just a ruse and Netanyahu never intended to proceed with it, are we to assume that Trump’s peace plan of January 2020 (which allowed Israel to retain up to a third of the West Bank) was part of the ruse?
    And if the whole thing was intended merely to give the UAE cover for a deal with Israel, why has Netanyahu, since signing the deal with the UAE, said he intends to go ahead with the annexation? Surely, if he does so, the deal will unravel.
    And if annexation is the major logistical exercise you claim, how come those who genuinely looked forward to the annexation, failed to spot the lack of preparation as the July deadline approached?
    One more thing: you will recall that Benny Gantz asked Netantahu to delay the annexation and prioritise the pandemic. Was this plea genuine or was Gantz in on the act?

    1. Thanks for the questions, Geoff.
      I think it's a mistake to amalgamate Trump's Peace Plan with the 'annexation'. The Plan included no mention of unilateral annexation -- that was a separate ploy. However, it also had an influence, by showing the PLO once again as stultified and rejectionist. The PLO made a huge mistake by not engaging with Trump. If they wanted to, they could have said: "Look, even the most pro-Israel US Administration admits that there is a Palestinian people entitled to a Palestinian state. We'll take that, thank you very much. As for the rest, it needs to be negotiated..." Remember that the Plan itself talked about negotiations and Kushner said several times that the Plan is not set in stone, but open for discussions and changes.
      Netanyahu still talks about annexation, as he did previously, while doing nothing about it. I believe he does this for several reasons: a) He plays to those parts of his domestic constituency which want 'annexation', or are uncomfortable with the idea of a Prime Minister performing a U-turn; b) what worked once with one Arab country may work again, there is nothing to be lost and potentially something to gain down the line by keeping the idea warm, albeit on the back burner; c) It creates a sort of counter-balance to the idea of the Palestinians 'owning' already the territory east of the Green Line -- potentially improving Israel's position in negotiations, if serious negotiations ever happen; d) if they don't happen, it gives Israel the option to unilaterally determine her eastern border at some point, depending on future circumstances.
      Some people indeed realised the lack of any practical preparations for 'annexation' on the ground. See for instance But people tended to blame this on Netanyahu's management style, rather than suspecting a ruse. It is of course easier to analyse things with the benefit of hindsight.
      Regarding Gantz, I don't really know. He has said several things, including in support of 'annexation'. At some point he said that he was not in on the deal with UAE -- but that may have been another ruse, related to the F-35 sale to UAE, which was separately negotiated between USA and Israel. It is all very complex and not easy to decipher. There are deals within deals within deals and on top of everything there is the rivalry between Netanyahu and Gantz. I believe the latter sees Netanyahu as a lame duck and wants to ease himself into the consciousness of Israelis as the next Prime Minister.
      Bottom line, however, there were many hints (including by UAE officials) that it was the threat of annexation that acted as the catalyst to the deal. We cannot expect to find the level of evidence that you would like; but on the balance of probabilities, it was quite clearly a ruse.

    2. Noru, allow me to propose an alternative to your ruse hypothesis. I have no doubt that Netanyahu genuinely wishes to annex as much of the West Bank as he’s allowed by the international community and by the US in particular. Plans to annex part of the WB were drawn up and, according to the Financial Times, were submitted to Jared Kushner for consideration.
      The plans for annexation, however, were scuppered by the European Union making threats and, more importantly, by the US getting cold feet. It was at this juncture that the UAE realised it could strike a deal with Israel (which both sides had been working towards for years) and which would get the latter off the annexation hook – wanting to annex territory but knowing that it couldn’t. So that’s my version of the story. Talk of annexation was not a ruse. It was genuine, but in the event, undoable.