And the peace camp stood silent

Polls say most Israelis oppose Netanyahu on Iran, but there hasn’t been a protest, a press conference or even a bumper sticker to give them a voice

The world is worried more and more that Israel is going to attack Iran and start a Middle Eastern war, yet the Israeli peace camp, which used to put hundreds of thousands of people in the streets to protest war and occupation, is sitting there, excuse the expression, with its thumb up its ass.

Not one demonstration (unless you count a few dozen nuclear disarmament folks standing on the street), not a press conference, not a TV interview, not an ad in the newspapers, not a bumper sticker.

“I spoke out in the Knesset very clearly last month against any sort of megalomaniacal attack on Iran by this government,” Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On told me last week while Netanyahu was in Washington. Labor leader Sheli Yachimovich also came out against Bibi’s “megalomaniacal” designs late last year. There have been several statements by Israeli doves, but in terms of a sustained domestic campaign, it begins and ends with Meir Dagan.


“Nobody in the peace camp takes the idea of an [Israeli] attack on Iran seriously,” said Gal-On, suggesting that Netanyahu’s saber-rattling was meant to give him an issue to run on in the next election.

Uri Avnery said he wasn’t moved to protest because he was “totally certain” that Israel wouldn’t attack without American approval, which he was equally certain wouldn’t be forthcoming. He said he hadn’t thought about why the peace camp was in such a coma over Iran, but now that he did, he figured, “People don’t feel that anything like that could happen, it’s so remote and outside of anyone’s experience.”

Mohammed Barakeh, head of the Jewish-Arab Hadash party, said he, too, has spoken out in the Knesset, adding that the Iran issue “is always on the agenda at Hadash meetings.” The Arab media mention it now and then, “but the reaction is still mild, people aren’t aware of the danger yet.” There haven’t been any protests by Israeli Arabs, he said, and none are planned.

Peace Now’s Yariv Oppenheimer said the organization’s leadership has refrained from speaking out because “we don’t have the authority with the public on this subject that the security experts do, and we also didn’t want to put a ‘leftist’ label on opposition to an attack.” He added, however, that Peace Now is considering taking a stand against the war from a peace-oriented angle – by pointing out that it could endanger the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

Come on, folks. This is just wrong. True, the war isn’t upon us yet, there’s a chance it may never happen, and the occupation requires full-time attention – but a goddamn ad in the newspapers? Something? Poll after poll shows that a majority of the public does not want Israel to attack Iran (even if they would like America to do it), but this opposition is so silent, so unassertive, that it leaves Netanyahu free to go full speed ahead.

David Grossman, the strongest voice in the peace camp, spilled his guts in an interview with The Nation, and right afterward published an op-ed in Ha’aretz, which was terrific – but even he wasn’t ready to commit to a high-profile campaign. “If I feel it will be useful, then I will. But I’m not there yet,” he said. “For now, I’m speaking to people who may have influence.”

As for Amos Oz, he made a statement a few years ago, exaggerated for effect, that “in 15 years everyone will have nuclear weapons and there will be a balance of terror.” These days, he hasn’t been heard from. Rounding out Israel’s trio of great novelists for peace, A.B. Yehoshua wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth a week ago that he didn’t know what should or shouldn’t be done about Iran – except to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. Pretty tired and evasive.

Like Oppenheimer says, the people who could influence the public most powerfully on this issue are the retired generals and spymasters. The Council for Peace and Security has hundreds of them, but except for a couple of statements by its chairman, Nathan Sharony, there’s been nothing out of them.

I asked Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence who has warned that an attack on Iran would bring Israel’s “liquidation,” no less, whether he thought a coordinated campaign by retired warriors could start a public backlash against Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, thereby making it very hard for them to start such a hugely dangerous war.

“I don’t want to do it,” said Gazit. He reasoned that it was possible Netanyahu and Barak were bluffing so the world would pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear program, which would be the best solution – and if that’s what was going on, he certainly didn’t want to get in the way.

But by keeping quiet, I said, he was giving Netanyahu and Barak a free hand to bomb Iran, which he himself believed would be the end of this country. “What can I do?” he said over the phone. “I have nothing to tell you. I don’t want to talk about this, it’s a very delicate, sensitive issue.”

So here we are – this week, Netanyahu gives a Knesset speech that a TV newscaster sums up as follows: “Short of saying, ‘We’re bombing them now,’ he did everything to indicate that we will.” The editor of Israel Hayom, Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, writes a front-page editorial calling for an attack, Ha’aretz editor Aluf Benn says this is really Bibi talking, and Yediot star Nahum Barnea writes a column today titled “Winds of war.”

And we’re still all sitting around with our thumb up our ass.