Many years ago, Haim Hefer produced a Hebrew adaptation of Norman Byfield Thomas’ “Naughty Little Flea“, depicting an ambitious young flea who, born in the hair of a lousy mouse, kept leaping up from dog to donkey to horse, paving its way all the way up to Cabinet. “Always be a yes-man,” stated the song’s rhymed moral, “and you’ll be able to leap up”. Hefer – a prominent mainstream songwriter, poet and columnist, identified with Rabin’s camp within the Labor Party – neither confirmed nor bothered to deny the popular belief that his Little Flea was inspired by no other than Shimon Peres. In return, when Hefer died in 2012, Peres – Israel’s President at the time – laconically expressed his condolences, but refrained from attending his funeral.
That incident came to mind these days, as a heated debate was aroused by the decision of the Joint List (the Knesset representatives of several Israeli-Arab parties) not to attend Peres’ funeral. The decision was explained by recalling some less-celebrated scenes in Peres’ long public career, from his role in the military regime imposed on Israel’s Arabs in 1948-1966, through his pivotal role in obtaining Israel’s nuclear arsenal, to attending neither Arafat’s funeral (with whom he had won the Nobel Peace Prize), nor that of any prominent Israeli-Arab leader.
This non-attendance ignited a public outrage that lasted for several days. This procedure has become an Israeli-Jewish ritual: once in a while, we all come together in a heated debate on “our” misbehaving Arabs. A good opportunity for many suspected Peaceniks to prove, as the “leader” of the Labor Party recently put it, that they are not Arab-lovers, and won’t hesitate to attack the Arabs whenever they deserve it – and they always do. Previous instances of this ritual include the Arab Party’s objection to define Lebanon’s Hizbollah as a terrorist group, or its refusal to sign a surplus vote agreement with the Zionist liberal-left party Meretz, a grave offense indeed. The ritual consists of public expressions of sorrow and disappointment at our Arabs, usually preceded by a disclaimer like “there is no denial of the discrimination of Israeli Arabs, but…”, or “I’ve always been a strong supporter of peace, but this time…”. In the next stage, Arab public figures are summoned to television – to prove our open-mindedness – but only to be humiliated by a flock of vociferous interviewers, trying to surpass one another in silencing their Arab guest, pouring on him or her their “disappointment” and offering their “benevolent advice” as to how a good Arab in Israel should behave. This time it was Israel’s most popular Channel2 to perform the public lynch, with a right-wing analyst mumbling “you missed it, you missed it” while Ayman Odeh’s, head of the Joint List, was reasoning his position, whereas a liberal colleague showed his progressiveness by suggesting that boycotting Peres’ funeral was “perhaps justified, but definitely unwise”.
Especially revealing is a line of argument – recycled by Ha’aretz‘s Uri Misgav and many others – that played off Mahmoud Abbas, Head of the Palestinian Authority, against the Israeli-Arab representatives. Is Abbas “not Palestinian enough” for Ayman Odeh?! If Abbas could attend Peres’ funeral (humiliatingly pushed to a back row, not even mentioned in Netanyahu’s speech, but who cares), why couldn’t the representative of Israel’s Palestinians attend it? After all, unlike Abbas and his ilk, they are free Israeli citizens, and Peres was their president too.
This line of argument is revealing because it exposes a typical Jewish-Israeli attitude: first, we know better than the Palestinians what’s good for them (and not attending the funeral was therefore “wrong”); the notion that Odeh represents his voters rather than the exclusively-Jewish panelists at Channel2 seems to have never crossed their minds. Second, there should be a standard for authentic Palestinianness, and all Palestinians should conform to it; Palestinians diverging from it are “wrong”, “extremist”, “disappointing” etc. And who is the authentic Palestinian for us? The one who accepts the Israeli narrative, and does attend the funeral of “Israel’s great man of Peace”.
Let’s compare Abbas to Odeh: 81-year-old Abbas has never been elected, his commitment to his alleged electorate is minimal, he survives thanks to Israel’s (and American) economic, diplomatic and military support, granted to him for keeping the West Bank relatively quiet: a puppet leader serving the Israeli occupation (with occasional tokens of symbolic protest, mainly in United Nations forums). Unlike Abbas, 41-year-old Ayman Odeh was elected by almost 11% of Israel’s citizens, most of them Arabs, whom he represents in the Knesset as the head of Israel’s third-biggest party. Now who is more likely to express a free, representative and "authentic" Palestinian voice? –For many Israeli leftists, it’s obviously Abbas. They’d rather be flattered by a puppet-dictator than listen to an elected Palestinian-Israeli leader; they even use their puppet against that elected leader. That’s Colonialism par excellence, just like the absurd expectation that all Palestinians be the same: “we” are sophisticated and entitled each to his or her own opinion, but “they” are all primitive and must share the same view. By the way: they don’t. Odeh’s absence from Peres’ funeral – as well as Abbas’ attendance – have both come under heavy fire within the Palestinian camp. Believe it or not, different people have different thoughts, even if they are Arabs.
The Funeral of Peace
“Shimon Peres’ Funeral Proved That anti-Semitism Is Dead,” wrote Gideon Levy: with scores and dozens of world leaders attending – President Obama and his predecessor Clinton, US flag at half-staff etc. – Israel’s self-victimization of “the whole world is against us” sounds more absurd than ever. Nice try, Mr. Levy, but no cigar: the extreme right-wing (comprising Netanyahu’s government and its wide margins in both directions) already has a answer at hand, developed to combat the indisputable global tribute to the Holocaust: “the Gentiles love us only when we are dead”. Or when we make territorial concessions, which is just the same.
This time, it is Ha’aretz’s Rogel Alpher who has hit the nail on its head. Since Peres cannot be viewed apart from the so-called Oslo Peace Process, Alpher claims, and since rejectionist Israel views Oslo as a mistake, not to say “crime”, Peres’ glorious funeral aroused a dissonance: All this honor – for a terrible political mistake?! The dissonance has been solved by a simple solution: portraying Oslo and Peres as the incarnation of Israel’s yearning for peace. We tried everything, even our heroic Peres, the tireless optimist, this “Last Giant” (in the pathetic words of Ari Shavit, the pompous mouthpiece of the Israeli mainstream), tried his best – but, significantly, it all failed because of the other side. In Alpher’s penetrating words: “Peres proved in Oslo that peace was impossible, for which we are grateful. He definitely deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.” Rebuking the Israeli Palestinians is part of this narrative, as expressed in one of the arguments repeatedly hurled at them: “if Peres isn’t good enough for you, who is?” The Joint List’s refusal to attend the funeral should be interpreted along these lines: as a refusal to join the narrative that blames the Palestinians for the lack of peace.