Saturday 15 July 2023

Dov is Hebrew for bear

We were visiting friends of my wife in Amstelveen. An older couple, retirees like us.
Both came from poor working class homes. The husband had started his working life as an assistant to a watchmaker. The wife had started work in a hat store after leaving school.

They had worked themselves up the career ladder. He had become an adviser (for what I do not know) with the Dutch Ministry of Education. She was the craft teacher at the primary school where my wife had also worked.

They were loyal lifelong supporters of the Dutch Labour Party. The husband was (he died later of bowel cancer) the dominant half. It was such dominance that I mused about the possibility of kinky sexual behaviour.
That probably says more about me than about them.

He was sitting on the couch smoking his pipe, a glass of whisky in one hand, listening to some avant-garde cacophony of sounds. That was conform the image he always tried to project.
We were sitting around a table with my wife's girlfriend. She had drunk a bit too much wine and was in a happy mood.

My wife told her that my name Dov is Hebrew for bear and then proceeded to tell the story of the first time she saw me on my kibbutz:
She was sunbathing near the swimming pool with her travelling companion. The swimming pool, like the rest of the kibbutz, was built on strategically higher ground. They looked down and saw a big cloud of sand approaching.
What is it?
At a certain moment the cloud started to fade and the surrounding air began to shimmer, like it does in the desert.

The first thing they saw emerging from the shimmering air was me, riding without a saddle and stirrups on a black Arabian horse. I was only wearing shorts and sandals.
Behind me was a large flock of sheep.

They looked at each other and said, “I want him”. They made a bet about it.
My wife ends the story with, “I won”, and I usually smile sheepishly.

After my wife had finished the story, her girlfriend turned towards me wide-eyed.
She pointed at me, shouted “you?” and burst out laughing.

It must have been some 45 years ago that I met Gidon again. He said he had spoken to Shmuel (who later became some kind of guru in Australia) who had mentioned me.
I asked, what did he say?
Gidon replied, he said he had heard you had become a Dutch teddy bear.

Sunday 2 July 2023

A moral stain that taints us all

When I was in the Israeli paratroopers there were restful periods when we had lessons.

The lessons were about strategy and the values of the IDF. I remember one lesson on how we should treat prisoners.
In my time the Palestinians did not exist, and Israel's enemies were the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. They were also existential enemies.

We were told to treat prisoners in a humane manner.
One of the reasons was: we were not the German army. As we were the first generation after the Holocaust, that was a good enough reason for us.
At that time we were expected to live up to the values of the Jewish state. The values of the prophets and the Declaration of Independence.
It was not about right-wing or left-wing. These were shared values, a clear moral compass.

Nowadays it is different.
Where was the Israeli government's clear and unequivocal condemnation of the settler rampage in Arab villages? They beat up random Arabs, torched cars and houses and ripped up Muslim holy books.
Yet the language of government disapproval was euphemistic. Two parties in the government were full of understanding for these actions. One minister even called the thugs, "sweet boys".

Corbyn could never condemn antisemitism without condemning all forms of racism. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu could not condemn the settler rampage without condemning Druze protests and civil disobedience against the government-proposed judicial overhaul.
Everybody must obey the law, he said.
Hedging his bets, not taking a clear, moral position. Comparing violent, pogrom type attacks to civil disobedience by his political enemies because they were both unlawful.

There were some positives. The heads of the army, Shin Bet and police did unequivocally condemn the rampages, that they called terrorism.
A government minister was so incensed with this condemnation, that she (initially) compared the non-political heads of security to the Wagner Group.

Netanyahu once again hedged his bets. He objected to the minister's criticism of the security heads.
However, he also added that he had ordered an investigation into “allegations of the use of excessive force by the security forces” against settlers in the West Bank.

Eventually there did come a clear moral message - from a settler rabbi.
Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, the co-head of the prestigious Har Etzion religious seminary in the Alon Shvut settlement in the West Bank, issued a vehement condemnation of the settler attacks.

He called their actions “a moral stain that taints us all.”

Friday 2 June 2023

A nice Dutch Jewish girl.

I remember her parents.
During my university study of politics I was part of a small doctoral study group researching Arab nationalism.
Her parents were two of the fellow-students who sometimes came to listen to our lectures and discussions. They were already stalwart members of the Dutch Labour Party, continuing the rich tradition of Amsterdam Jews.
They were nice as well.

In her quiet, unassuming and friendly way she was in the news again, promoting peace and love in the Middle East.

She is not like me, she is neutral.
She does not feel at home in either a pro-Palestinian or a pro-Israel demonstration.
Though a remark like "many Jews stand behind Israel despite what is happening," does not seem that neutral.

She makes documentaries for a woke public and writes columns for newspapers who cater to that public. Her views are coincidentally tailor-made for the people who pay her.

It does not seem to bother her that Hamas calls for the murder of all Jews because, according to its covenant, that is the only way to rid the world of evil.
Perhaps she does not think it is important.

I have the impression she is constantly trying to prove to her multicultural friends she is one of the nice, "good" Jews.
A bit sad, as Hamas-supporters do not differentiate between "good" and "bad" Jews.

"I worry about both. My Palestinian friends, but also my Israeli ones from whom I get videos from the shelters."
Now that is really nice.

Audrey Hepburn and Collective Dutch Myths

Audrey (Adriaantje) Kathleen van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, better known as (the actress) Audrey Hepburn, was 10-years-old in 1940 when the Germans occupied the Netherlands, where she lived with her mother.
The internet in English will tell you that she was some kind of teenage anti-Nazi heroine. American sites in particular love to gush about her bravery.

According to the Airborne Museum in the Netherlands there are actually some 20 stories about her heroism. They investigated all of them.
None of them are true. They are myths.

Both her parents were active Nazis, almost from the time Hitler came to power in 1933.
Her father was Joseph Ruston, a British subject.
The British security services watched him closely from 1933 onwards. He had strong links with National Socialists in Belgium and Germany, and the security services regarded him as a potential traitor and spy.

Ruston adopted the name Hepburn-Ruston in 1939.
During the Second World War he was detained in the UK under Regulation 18B, that allowed the government to detain people who they thought were a danger for security.

Audrey's mother was Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch citizen.
She was a committed Nazi as well.
In 1935 Ella van Heemstra wrote two articles for a British fascist newspaper called The Blackshirt.
In the first one she glorified "The Call of Fascism".
In the second she glorified Hitler and Germany under the Nazis: "the Germans, under Nazi rule, are a splendid example to the white races of the world."

During the Second World War, van Heemstra's lover was a Dutch Nazi.
Witnesses have claimed there were Nazi regalia on display in her apartment.
The Dutch Resistance newspaper 'Oranjekrant" listed “Ella van Heemstra, Arnhem” as being “Gestapo.”

Yet, the Canadian officer who interviewed Audrey's mother after the war during the denazification process was lenient.
He wrote that she was "silly" and only "politically unreliable". She claimed that she had disavowed Fascism and had helped the resistance.

After the war, collaborators were tried by the Dutch government and sent to prison.
However, there were so many of them that the prisons became overcrowded and the economy was suffering.
The government decided to stop prosecuting collaborators. The incriminating documents were not destroyed but filed, and up till now nobody has been given access to them.

The collective Dutch myths that started after the war were basically a denial of the collaboration with the occupier and a denial of any involvement with the Dutch Holocaust.

75% of Dutch Jewry were murdered. 
This was the highest percentage in West Europe. One of the reasons for the high percentage was the extensive collaboration in the isolation, rounding up and deportation of the Jews by Dutch individuals and authorities,
Yet, according to the stories I have heard from people since I have lived in the Netherlands, the Dutch were not involved.
This is the first myth.

Then there is the myth about the large size of the resistance helping the Jews.
As, according to the myth, so many people were helping Jews, it seems remarkable that any were killed at all.

The final myth is about the Dutch volunteers for the SS. 
The Netherlands had the highest number of non-German volunteers for the SS from the whole of occupied Europe.
According to the myth, they were only "adventurers". The Dutch authorities accepted this explanation. Those who wanted to, were integrated into the Dutch army.

Later some diaries were found that had belonged to the Dutch SS volunteers. They were full of proud stories about how they killed Jews.
An example: “I forgot to tell you how great it was to hang a chief rabbi from the tower of his synagogue and then torch the synagogue with the Jews inside.”

After the collective Dutch myths came the individual ones, like the myths about Audrey Hepburn. If the story of her Nazi parents had broken without any redeeming feature, it could have destroyed her career.

All that is known for sure is that she was 10-years-old when the war started and 15-years-old when it ended.

Sunday 21 May 2023

A nice Jewish boy

Nowadays, a large majority of Jews enthusiastically support Israel.
In the early 1960s in my London Jewish community there was support, but it was less enthusiastic.
I was a nice Jewish boy.
I am not sure what that means exactly, but it had something to do with the fact that I went to a grammar school and was destined to become a lawyer.
My parents were proud of me. During card games they could brag about my future prospects, just as much as the other card players could brag about the future prospects of their children.
Then I decided to emigrate (make Aliyah) to Israel.
Go there and work on a farm for a short time, OK. But actually live there? That was unusual.
And where did I go in Israel? I went to a kibbutz in the desert where I milked sheep.
Nobody cheered. The only support I received was from my 3 non-Jewish friends.
Not much to brag about either.
Definitely a disappointment.
What a difference a war can make.
After the Six Day War, I shot up the bragging tree. Having a son in the Israeli paratroopers trumped the doctors and the lawyers.
There was not much competition. In my time in the IDF I never met another soldier from Britain.
However, I was no longer that "nice". Neither was anybody else in my platoon.

Friday 2 December 2022

The Will of the People

I am arrogant.
Tired of discussing with nitwits who have strongly held opinions about subjects they know little about. Tired of discussing with zealots without any critical doubt who worship a person, party or ideology.

Put another way: nitwits and zealots should not waste their time discussing with me. It is more rewarding for them to interact with members of their own herds.

The latest banality is Jews in and outside Israel proclaiming that western democracy is only about giving all power to 50% plus 1 of the population.

Jew-hatred in the past has often been supported by a majority. 
It was only with the embedding of majority-rule societies in the context of protection for minorities and individuals that persecution of Jews stopped. 
No, the pogroms were not "democratic", even if they were supported by a majority of the population, even if they were "the will of the people".

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Goodbye sabra

When I lived in Israel in the 1960s there were deep political and social differences. I remember someone remarking that if it were not for the Arabs we might have a civil war.
At that time, the Arabs meant the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. These armies were an existential threat to Israel. 

Despite all the political and social disagreements there was no real danger of a civil war, because of the underlying feeling of solidarity and kinship in the country.
Israeli society was like the sabra, the fruit of the cactus: prickly on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside.

Then, the very idea that someone would assassinate a prime minister and others would rejoice, was beyond the realms of my vivid imagination.
Yet it did happen later and the people who supported that are poised to become part of the government.

Now there are comparable deep political and social differences in the country. However, without the underlying feeling of solidarity and kinship.
Say goodbye to the sabra, only the cactus is left.