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January 18, 2016 7:29 am

1948, American Antisemitism and Corrupt Politicians

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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Jerusalem during the 1948 War. Photo: wiki commons.

Jerusalem during the 1948 War. Photo: wiki commons.

Above and Beyond is a documentary produced by Nancy Spielberg that makes for fascinating and quite scary viewing. It tells the story of Jewish American pilots who, in 1948, secretly helped find armaments for Israel wherever they could, and also fought for the Jewish state in its war of independence. Israel had no air force — not one plane — whereas Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria did indeed have both fighter planes and bombers. It was a time when every world power refused to sell Israel the arms it needed to defend itself against the invasion of five well-armed Arab armies (generously supplied by Britain, France, Russia and the US).

Those few amazingly determined pilots found unwanted secondhand aircraft parts scattered around the US. They clandestinely assembled whatever cannibalized parts they could and patched together barely serviceable flying machines. Then, avoiding bans, surveillance and opposition, they flew them along circuitous routes across the Atlantic, around Europe, and finally into Israel, where their impact was more psychological than real.

Not only that, but the US State Department and FBI did whatever they could to prevent anyone from helping Israel and they actively, maliciously prosecuted many of those volunteers for years afterwards. The film is well worth watching, both for the history and the lesson.

The lesson is that antagonism towards Israel has a long pedigree, and one that is not just political but also anti-Jewish. It existed long before any issue of occupation or unfair treatment of Palestinians came to the fore. The US State Department and the Foreign Office in the UK have shameful records of prejudice. If it were simply a matter of preferring the Arab world, it might make sense — because there are far more of them, and their financial market is broader and wider. If it were a simple matter of political interest, I would understand even if I would disagree on endless counts. It is the visceral anti-Jewishness that has infected both governmental agencies for so long and is documented enough that it is not just subjective impression. If Israel has received support over the years, it has almost entirely been due to the US military or former generals like Alexander Hague.

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But the truth is that governments and their agencies in general are animated by self-interest, pragmatism and political considerations. Readers will not doubt be familiar with the witticism of Henry Wotton, the 17th century British Ambassador to Venice, to the effect that “a diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.” I agree with the second part. The first part, in my experience, is rarely true.

It is no different today. A recent report stated that the American State Department has fiddled with figures of human trafficking for fear of offending certain countries it has interests to be nice to.

China, Cuba, India, Mexico, Malaysia and Uzbekistan all have shocking records for human trafficking. That is turning blind eyes to women and children sold as slaves or into prostitution by criminal racketeers. But they were conveniently lifted out of the worst category because otherwise this would automatically result in restrictions on American trade. So State Department officials doctored the results and then tried to protest that they had not. And of course this is quite separate from the issue of whether or not the US does enough to tackle its own abuses.

Why am I not surprised by government agencies fiddling their statistics? Why does corruption no longer surprise me? Virtually all the politicians now contesting the upcoming US presidential elections are tainted. Some obviously more than others. Inevitably, whoever achieves power will pack governmental and legislative bodies with their favorites. Not that the European version of full-time civil service employees is any less prone to vested interests. And Angela Merkel’s policy on immigration has put dogma before reality. Wherever one looks, governments are either corrupt, dysfunctional, doctrinally paralyzed, or simply unwilling or incapable of acting objectively.

In my naïve way, I desperately hoped Israel would be different. But from the moment I stepped on its holy ground in 1958, I realized that “Protektzia” was the only way to get ahead. In those days, left-wing secular Zionists made sure their pet projects were funded and their cronies controlled government offices and finances. If you weren’t one of theirs, then you could, as the Bible so graphically puts it, “piss against the wall.” And of course when the Right Wing got into power the very same system continued, except now they gave all the good jobs, all the financial perks, all the government nationalized industries, banks, and utilities to their pals and backscratchers. Only very rarely did you find a politician like Menachem Begin, who got and took nothing for himself.

So I am not surprised that in Israel presidents, prime ministers, government ministers, police, and rabbis have all been found guilty of corruption of one sort or another. I am just grateful that there is a judicial system and oversight that can actually try to get the criminals.

I am frankly embarrassed and depressed that Aryeh Deri, a man convicted of bribery last time he was the minister of the interior, is now back there thanks to Israel’s system of bartering power. Yes, of course, he has done his time and should be given a chance to redeem himself. But you don’t put him right back into the cookie jar and not expect his sticky fingers to itch. It’s like putting a sex offender in charge of victims of sex abuse.

Would you believe it? Nothing has changed since the days of our great prophets who railed against corruption, oppression and inequality. Look at what they predicted!

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  • David Levavi

    So you left “corrupt” Israel to live in the antisemitic US? I look forward to your essay on the financial and social structure of the contemporary synagogue and the morality of the contemporary rabbinate. (No, I’m not talking about “Reform” synagogues and their “rabbis” who are beneath discussion.)

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