Last week, the Israeli police recommended indicting Prime Minister Netanyahu on two separate corruption charges. The cases have been under discussion for a long time now. Jonathan Cook previously demonstrated a pattern of this corruption over a year ago claiming the scandals “reflect corruption at the heart of Israeli society”.
I will not go into further detail regarding Netanyahu in this writing, as I will explain later. Right now, I want to relate to another publication from last week, and draw a comparison to Netanyahu. This is an interview with Israeli author Tom Segev, who has just published a new book called “David Ben-Gurion: A State at All Costs”. He was interviewed by Ofer Aderet in Haaretz, and the piece is titled “In Bed With Israel’s First Prime Minister: Historian Exposes David Ben-Gurion as You Never Knew Him”.
Indeed, as the title suggests, the novel aspect of this new book appears to be the new discoveries about Ben-Gurion’s sex life – where he had four mistresses, and where one of them was a steady sexual relationship lasting 40 years from 1926. Segev managed to reach these details through archives that were saved under the name of the mistress Rivka Katznelson. Segev’s curiosity about the relationship surged when the archive of the Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry, which has a file under the name “Rivka Katznelson,” refused to open it to the public “for reasons of personal privacy.” Segev nonetheless managed to access Katznelson’s personal material in the Genazim archive, after Katznelson’s niece gave her consent to his perusal of the documents.
What I found even more interesting than Segev’s revelations, were his appraisals in the interview, of why this mattered, and what he thought of Ben-Gurion in light of this.
Segev responds to the question of where the boundary runs between cheap gossip and material of historical value, and why he interested himself in Ben-Gurion’s sex life: “The first answer is the standard one – that if the leader isn’t faithful to his wife, maybe he’s not faithful to his voters, either. If he cheats on her, maybe he cheats on them, too,” he says.
That’s fair enough. And this brings us immediately to the bridging notion between marital unfaithfulness and cheating in general. Corruption is cheating, in general, so I would say there’s a connection.
But interestingly, Segev opines that “Ben-Gurion was not a corrupt person”. He says this just after comparing him to Netanyahu:
“Ben-Gurion has become very popular in recent years,” he notes. “There’s hardly a day when he isn’t mentioned in a newspaper.”
(Aderet): What’s the reason, do you think?
(Segev): “There are powerful longings for a leader with integrity. The explanation, of course, lies in one word: Netanyahu.”
So for Segev, Ben Gurion is still “not corrupt”, and he’s indirectly suggesting he was a leader with integrity (albeit beset by “weaknesses and distress” as he calls it).
Segev again alludes to Netanyahu in pointing out just how Ben Gurion was “not corrupt”:
“He didn’t smoke cigars, didn’t drink champagne, and he chose to go third-class on a ship and share his cabin with other people”, Segev says.
Segev lightly mentions that it still is possible to talk about corruption in connection with Ben Gurion:
“For example, there’s a problem regarding the house he bought in Tel Aviv, because it can’t be definitely established that he paid back all the loans he received from the Histadrut [labor federation] and from the bank. He also didn’t always pay for the thousands of books he bought”, Segev says (detailed reference for this here).
But all in all, Segev appears to believe that Ben-Gurion was definitely not corrupt – supposedly because he didn’t smoke cigars or drink champagne, even though he had systematic extra-marital affairs and even though he didn’t pay for his books and house.
Alright, let’s pause there.
We know that smoking cigars and drinking champagne are not crimes in themselves. It is always about something other than the appearance. It does not matter if Netanyahu did not ever cheat on his wife. Still, he could be corrupt by other means. The champagne and cigars don’t corrupt him per se. It’s about a bigger picture, that can have many appearances.
Now, was Ben-Gurion really a “man of integrity”?
When I was about 15, I had attended a lecture by the legendary professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Leibowitz is the one who coined the term ‘Judeo-Nazis’, and was hailed as “one of the greatest figures in the life of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in recent generations” by Former President Ezer Weizman, who added that he was “a spiritual conscience for many in Israel.” Leibowitz said something at that lecture which I never forgot. It was one short sentence:
“Ben-Gurion was a man of many virtues. Truth was not one of them”.
At the point, I was ignorant of the details of Ben Gurion’s deceptions. Nonetheless, Leibowitz’s sentence was etched in my consciousness, perhaps due to the shock effect of having this heroic persona (Ben-Gurion) simply being called a liar. It was only many years later, that I began to learn about the details of Ben Gurion’s corruption on the grand national scale.
In 1937, Ben-Gurion wrote to his son Amos how acceptance of Partition (it was the Peel Commission partition plan) was not an end but a beginning:
“My assumption (which is why I am a fervent proponent of a state, even though it is now linked to partition) is that a Jewish state on only part of the land is not the end but the beginning. When we acquire one thousand or 10,000 dunams, we feel elated. It does not hurt our feelings that by this acquisition we are not in possession of the whole land. This is because this increase in possession is of consequence not only in itself, but because through it we increase our strength, and every increase in strength helps in the possession of the land as a whole. The establishment of a state, even if only on a portion of the land, is the maximal reinforcement of our strength at the present time and a powerful boost to our historical endeavors to liberate the entire country.”
In other words, Ben-Gurion knew fully well, that any acceptance of a partial territory is not committing. It’s just a means of getting some legitimacy, from which to grow power and with which to eventually “liberate the entire country”.
When it came to 1948 and the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the US Truman administration wanted to know precisely what borders the Declaration referred to (as it was vague in territorial matters, although referring to UN 181 ‘Partition Plan’ as its ‘legitimacy’ and that it was ‘irrevocable’). Jewish Agency agent Eliahu Sasson thus wrote a memo to President Truman, stating that “the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within the frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution of November 29th, 1947” (resolution 181). It took Truman only a few minutes to make the official recognition.
But Ben-Gurion knew that such ‘frontiers’ were only a start, and not an end.
It turns out, that in April 1947, five months before the 1947 UN ‘Partition Plan’, Ben Gurion was proposing his own ‘partition map’ to the British Cabinet. This also appears in Segev’s new book, and he managed to track down the map in the British National Achive (it is provided in the Haaretz article). The map is strikingly similar to the ‘Green line’ of the 1949 ceasefire lines (which ended up being 78% of historical Palestine), albeit appropriating the whole of the Gaza strip to the Jewish State.
Segev opines that “Ben-Gurion already had the results in his head”.
And why was the west Bank not part of the Jewish State in Ben-Gurion’s map? Well, let’s remember, that this still had to resemble “partition” rather than a complete Zionist takeover. The British had their own plans, which involved what has been referred to as the policy of “Greater Transjordan”. The Jordanians would get a part of Palestine, and in return, they would not unleash their force against the Jewish State.
Israeli-British historian Avi Shlaim:
“The policy of Greater Transjordan implied discreet support for a bid by Abdullah [King of Transjordan], nicknamed ‘Mr Bevin’s little king’ by the officials at the Foreign Office [Bevin was Foreign Secretary], to enlarge his kingdom by taking over the West Bank. At a secret meting in London on 7 February 1948, Bevin gave Tawfiq Abul Huda, Jordan’s Prime Minister, the green light to send the Arab Legion into Palestine immediately following the departure of the British forces. But Bevin also warned Jordan not to invade the area allocated by the UN to the Jews. An attack on Jewish state territory, he said, would compel Britain to withdraw her subsidy and officers from the Arab Legion. [….] If Bevin was guilty of conspiring to unleash the Arab Legion, his target was not the Jews but the Palestinians. [….][B]y supporting Abdullah’s bid to capture the Arab part of Palestine adjacent to his kingdom, Bevin indirectly helped to ensure that the Palestinian state envisaged in the UN partition plan would be still-born.”
So Ben-Gurion was aware that imperialist concerns need to be taken into account. And he went with it for a while. It is doubtful that without such arrangements, the nascent Israel could actually have succeeded to conquer so much more of historical Palestine as it did in 1948.
But as Ben-Gurion wrote to his son above, “this increase in possession is of consequence not only in itself, but because through it we increase our strength, and every increase in strength helps in the possession of the land as a whole”. And then came 1967, and the task was territorially completed.
All these things are colonialist conspiracies which are corrupt in their very essence. In fact, Israel’s second Prime Minister Moshe Sharett had noted this aspect clearly:
“I have learned that the state of Israel cannot be ruled in our generation without deceit and adventurism. These are historical facts that cannot be altered”, he said.
So even according to Sharett, Ben Gurion had to be a deceitful leader.
Now, has this essentially changed much? I would say not. The deceit that Zionism applies in order to cover up for its colonialist designs to erase Palestine is a constant factor, and the goal is always corrupt. It’s even genocidal in its very essence. Author and journalist Ben Ehrenreich:
“The question about genocide– yes, it’s an incremental genocide. And I think that’s a word that gives a lot of people pause and it certainly should. We don’t see the absolutely mass slaughters, although in Gaza I think we’ve seen something very much like it that we usually associate with genocide. But– the attempts to erase a people, to just erase them, to erase their history, I think follow a logic that can only be called genocidal.”
So what is the place of corruption at the level of bribery, extra-marital affairs, unpaid bills, cigars and champagne measured against that grand-scale horror? Indeed, the bigger picture brings these things into perspective.
This is why Netanyahu’s personal corruptions, measured against the grand scale, are somewhat irrelevant to Palestinians. And it’s not like there’s hope ahead, even if he does resign. Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy wrote last week that “we may miss Netanyahu yet”, listing the options, and focusing particularly on the ‘centrist liberal’ Yair Lapid, whom I call ‘the pretty face of ultranationalism’ – the man with the motto “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”. Levy says about Netanyahu that “his heirs may steer clear of cigars and champagne, but none of them can fix Israel’s great corruption – the institutionalized state corruption arising from 50 years of occupation”.
I think Levy is being too generous, too mild, even too apologetic. That corruption goes back way further than 50 years.
Personally, I have generally refrained from going into detail of Netanyahu’s personal corruptions in all my writings so far. I have instinctively felt, that doing so contained the danger of distracting from the greater national corruption. This is also why I haven’t gone into detail here. I’m not saying Netanyahu’s personal corruption or Ben-Gurion’s personal corruption are irrelevant. But if you really think about the Palestinians, they have been nationally raped by Zionism from the start. You can’t do that and still be a “man [or woman] of integrity”.