Today I am very happy to introduce you to David Wapner, an Israeli Jew, born in Buenos Aires in 1958 who moved to Israel in 1998 and quickly understood the trap of Zionist ideology.
He is a narrator, poet, musician, singer, playwriter and puppeteer. He studied medicine, music therapy, and history and is the co-founder of the tango-rock band Guttural. He was also the editor of the tabloid of poetry and fictions “Correo Extremaficción.”
His extensive and award-winning playbooks include “A Novel of Thousand Pages,” “Violenta Parra,” “Tragacomedias-Sacrificciones,” “Bulu-Bulu” and children’s books like “The Other Gardel,” “The Eagle,” “Inspector Martinuchi,” “Some are animals,” “Determined Song,” “Los Piojemas del Piojo Peddy” (Peddy Louse’s Lousongs), “Icarus,” “Pequeña Guía de la Gaturbe” (Catown’s Small Guide), “Cabía un vez” (Fit one time) and “Bigotel.” In 2009, he published “Tierra Metida” (The Missed Land), a chronicle about the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in the same year.
His biography and his honest way of dealing with Israel, Zionism, and injustice, can be an eye-opener for many Westerners who still blindly support Israel, instead of fighting against its racist and colonialist system. Israel is a colonial state and will remain one if we do not stand up and say NO to apartheid, NO to militarism, NO to racial, religious, political discrimination.
And unless we say NO to violence and to continuous abuse and aggression against the Palestinian population, there can never be a just peace in the region.
David is not optimistic, as he says himself in the end … but his political utopia is a state where all can leave together. And this is also my dream. A peaceful state without Zionist war lobbies and oppression. This is my wish after a violent Ramadan month characterized by cruelty, blindness, dehumanization, and, in particular, by total moral emptiness.
I would like to thank David for his time and support.
The main question is: How should we redeem this evil? We will in a way or in another, because this way war will be perpetuated and peace completely destroyed.
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Dr. Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik: How did you see Israel and Zionism before coming to Israel?
David Wapner: I never thought that one day I would end up living in Israel; it was something unthinkable to me, even if Rabin had not been assassinated and had advanced seriously in a peace process. I did not care, did not see the point.
I have strong ties with Latin American and Jewish cultures, I felt alien to the Israeli world. From a young age, I was a harsh critic of the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, and I regarded Zionism as a distorted idea but understandable. I kind of think of it as a liberation movement with socialist roots, turned colonialist. However, life gives us surprises that do not always fit our way of thinking and feeling. In 1987, I got sick and had to go through various surgeries. My wife, Ana, also became seriously ill. We were two artists with little savings.
Under Argentinean president Menen, our economic problems became even greater. This period, from 1989 to 1999, represented the most infamous and corrupted period our country experienced since the restoration of the democracy in 1983. Jobs were lost, unemployment skyrocketed. Several of the publications in which I published fired their collaborations. That’s what happened to me too.
Thousands of Argentines were forced to emigrate. This is why we, like many other Argentineans, left our country. Israel was the only country that would pay our airfare, subsidize our luggage and one entire year of living. In addition, we were guaranteed a health system and almost immediate citizenship. We were subject to the Law of Return, the cornerstone of Zionism.
David Wapner performs “Tango de bote y muelle” and “Blues de la fauna al garete,” inspired by his book “Bigotel”
MR: What did you realize first when you came to Israel?
DW: The immigrants’ first steps in their adopted country are key moments, especially if they are illiterate in the new language, which is quite different from their mother tongue, and written in an unknown alphabet. This was not one hundred per cent the case with me, as I remembered some things from my childhood and I knew how to write. However, for functional purposes, I was illiterate until, two months after our arrival, we began to study intensively.
At the beginning, the country is perceived by newcomers with a great sensory intensity and intuition power, and should not be discarded as soon as Hebrew literacy is reached, and understanding becomes analytical. I saw a society still marked by the time of Rabin and the Oslo accords. Netanyahu ruled in his first term. However, some signs caught my attention: in schools there was no excess of patriotic symbols. Students did not have to sing the national anthem, not raise the flag as they had to do in Argentine schools. I considered this part of a military education was absent here.
Still Palestine was a pronounceable word among people. You could talk openly of the Palestinians, or an opinion in favour of a peace agreement was not an anathema yet. To confirm this feeling, soon after Netanyahu’s government fell, Ehud Barak, the Labour candidate, was elected. With him, the ideologues of the Oslo accords returned to power. Barak immediately resumed negotiations with the PLO and, in parallel, with the Syrian regime headed by Hafez Assad. To complete the trilogy, Barak ended the invasion of Lebanon and withdrew Israeli troops from there.
Teens in Israeli schools read Palestinian poetry through the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, thanks to the Minister of Education, Yossif Sarid. On television, one could see journalistic productions on the exchange between Israelis and Palestinians: both of them enjoying dinner at the same restaurant in Jericho, discussions on a future together, each with their country. There was talk of the end of obligatory military service, and the arrival of Prime Minister Shimon Peres to the newly opened international airport in Gaza was broadcast live … Peres’s plane never landed, and that was a sign of the collapse that came shortly after.
Another challenge to all my senses was the meeting with the Soviets. The Soviet Union does not exist anymore. And the situation will not change. One million women and men whose country no longer existed and did not understand where they were standing, but on reflection of survival, these new immigrants, defended the natives’ nationalistic convictions. To come here, these Soviets had already passed a first selection, as who Jews could immigrate, or who could certify having a Jewish grandmother.
There are many stories about this. People who forged birth certificates, or bought degrees. The Soviets had never considered a possibility of immigrating to Israel before. And the Jewish Agency was concerned that Soviet Jews should only immigrate to Israel, often citing Russian immigration laws that never existed. Natan Sharansky, a historic leader of Soviet Jews, who was imprisoned for many years in prisons and Soviet labour camps, symbol of the Jewish resistance to communism, was triumphantly received and designated chairman of the Jewish Agency. A short time later, Sharansky founded the first political party representing Soviet immigration. This was a right-wing, anti-Palestinian party, “Israel bealyah” (Israel New Immigrants Party), that, after a few years, was eventually absorbed by the Likud, but that marked the political course of the new immigrants, with their votes and military, strict and ethnocentric white ethos. Abigdor Liberman, a Russian Jew leader of Moldovan origin, took advantage of the strength of Israel bealyah to found the far-right xenophobic party “Israel Batenu” (Israel Our House). Many of them had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and now they were ready to do the same against the Arabs. The Army encouraged Arabophobia against these immigrants.
With the arrival of the former Soviet Jewish native and veteran population, these immigrants immediately suffered discrimination. They were suspected of not being real Jews. And their women, prostitutes. The natives rejected their culinary habits and aesthetics, accused them of being dirty, smelling bad, and ridiculed them for speaking Hebrew with a Russian accent. They also accused them of receiving too much support from the State. Finally, they were placed in jobs usually done by Palestinians. At the same time, the new immigrants isolated themselves in their own community and created their own party. They became very strong and influential.
Regarding the Bedouins, I met one in particular, who was the partner of a South African veterinarian Jew in a company producing camel milk and derivatives thereof. To me the Bedouins were the true original inhabitants of this land and region. They inspired a deep respect in me. We saw them every day in Beer Sheva market, selling fruits and vegetables, breads, and other products. To me they had a mythological air, a legendary mythological air. I wandered what they would think of me. I felt shame, and also, I have to admit, fear. We learned to read and write quickly, and our world widened. As the peace process failed, the second intifada began and Ariel Sharon ascended to power.
MR: What are the conclusions you can draw today?
DW: From the time we arrived to Israel until now, the world, and the Middle East in particular, have suffered catastrophic changes. Iraq and its leaders no longer exist, the United States first, and Salafism later, have devastated this former country (what we now know as Iraq is a drag of something that once was and is no longer). Syria is about to cease to exist, Libya too. Africa and the ancient Fertile Crescent expel humans as a volcano expels its lava. Gaza has been devastated, isolated, and its inhabitants languish among the ruins.
All progressive Palestinian leaders that assumed a hope to build a state have been killed or are being held in Israeli prisons. In Ramallah, maybe in coalition with Israel, the government is an inoperative elite, the heirs of Yasser Arafat. Successive Israeli governments have been guilty and responsible for this tragedy. The colonial occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the direct or indirect collaboration of corrupted Arab states, is the mother of all problems in the region. Israel has been taken over by an evil, fundamentalist and warlike generation as a direct result of colonial occupation and the action of violent and unscrupulous leaders.
This is what I learned as I could take increasing portions of this complex reality and experience in daily life. The occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza during the 1967 war was the beginning of the end of the illusion that Zionism could be a tool of liberation for the Jews. In 1967, Zionism began to be openly what Stalinism meant for the Soviet Revolution. The emergence of American fanatical ideologues, financed by the United States, with the clear and express purpose of boosting Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (“Gush Emunim” is the most notorious group) definitely turned the balance towards the worst possible future.
MR: How do you experience Judaism in Israel?
DW: I am a secular Jew, a Marxist of the Marx Brothers, a Cohen as in Leonard and the Coen Brothers. When he was here, about five years ago, Leonard Cohen did not feel at ease, and I’m sure that Groucho, Chico and Harpo, Joel and Etan would not neither. The same happens to me. I cannot be Groucho-Marxist in a country with official Judaism. There is everything here. From fundamentalist and colonialist sects, through all variants of orthodoxy, to so-called “traditionalists” who are most practitioners, as the rites according to the origin of each community have survived: so there are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Yemenite.
A separate chapter are the Ethiopian Jews, who, before being brought to Israel, practiced a pre-Talmudic Judaism, with their own priests and were forced to convert to Orthodoxy to be recognized as Jews. This caused them a lot of suffering. Many of them killed themselves due to depression or a lack of identity. The only valid marriages are those who follow the Orthodox ritual. Kashrut hygiene rules apply to 90 percent of food. These rules are practically the same as in Islam and, on that point, Jews and Muslims, for once, are united.
Then there are still little groups of old socialists, and very few but active anarchist groups. Nevertheless, real secularism does not exist in Israel, because we are in the Middle East and laicism is a European-Western concept. Above all, there is a state religion, and this is what rules everything. To me, a state cannot be defined by a religion, because the religion of state means a method of exclusion. And this is the case of Israel. The state religion is a version of Judaism merged with Zionism, and this attempt prevented any possibility of real secular Jewish ideology.
As a result we experience here a sort of Stalinism with Jewish “ayatollahs” disguised as real democrats. Judaism in its national-Zionist version, characterised by its territorialist ideology, violent and warmongering. This ideology has rotted and corrupted everything. So I could not really enjoy any form of Judaism here. Only a few weeks ago, a concert offered by the minstrel Shlomo Bar, a Moroccan Jew, made me remember things I never knew I remembered, but I approached my primary feelings as a Jew. With his singing and visceral poetry, he said “we received the Torah in the desert, do not forget this Ashkenazim,” and I was moved, and sanh songs along with other members of the public. Drawing from the Occupation, to take that Utopian step would be like going back to the desert, to the essence and build something new from there.
MR: What are the main aspects of opposition between Judaism as religion and Zionism?
DW: Zionism attempted to run as a secular doctrine that would replace religious Judaism in the daily practice of the Jewish people. Zionism was born in Austria, as a response to nationalism, the idea of the nation-state, which was booming in Europe. All people who inhabited Europe, which had belonged in the past to larger political units (empires, kingdoms), were self-defined and independent in a territory with which they identified and which they called nation. The Jews of Europe aspired to the same, but there were not in a territory they could call “theirs.”
Europeans had treated them as foreigners. Jews were foreigners. With more or less tolerance, with violence, discriminatory laws, Europe was always hostile to Jews. But the Jews had Israel in their mind, so, this is why Zionism was born. Zionism was a secular liberation movement, but with strong origins in religion. Zion means Jerusalem. The Jews always prayed facing Jerusalem, the city to which all dream… of returning, and where the sorrows and persecutions end. A place of the Jews, as France is for the French or Germany for the Germans. This religious utopia of Zionism would materialize in action. Zionism could never overcome this contradiction, because it does not contradict Judaism … as it is born from it.
Jews needed a homeland for the Jewish nation, Jewish religion, and Jewish nationality. The Promised Land of the Torah is what Zionism aims at. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, Zionism could not impose a secular constitution. Orthodox Jews do not believe in this state, because Israel can only come back to life after the arrival of the Messiah. Then a stream comes that will determine the life of the state and take destroy it completely from an ethical point of view: and this force is religious Zionism, which combines religion with Zionism. And this is the force which, through its various political incarnations, will be the arbiter of governmental decisions in the State of Israel. Finally there is the “Jewish National Home” which has been identified with the so called “Jewish state.” Religious Zionism aims to go beyond the intrinsic contradiction between religion and state. And so Zionist ideology becomes the political-religious-ethical basis of the colonial Israeli state.
MR: How are Zionism, racism, Apartheid, and militarism connected in Israeli society today?
DW: Zionism, in its origins, was no different in essence from European nationalism, their aspirations were similar. And, in turn, it contained the seeds of its flaws: ethnocentrism and colonialism. But that does not detract from the fact that it was a legitimate aspiration and widely justified by history. Anti-Semitism was rooted in Europe for centuries, both in political power, and in religious (which was often the same), and from there down to the masses. Persecution, prohibition to exercise certain trades or professions, pogroms, massacres, expulsions, stigmatization, kept going over hundreds of years.
Once a need for a liberation movement for the Jews was strong enough, the discussion emerged as follows: Do Jews have to join a Marxist and socialist movement that would redeem the oppressed of the world, without distinctions of race or origin? A revolution that would end religion’s opium of the people, the source of all injustice? Or, conversely, should they unite under Zionism, because redemption for the Jews would be in their own country, on their own land, where they would be independent, masters of their own destiny?
Meanwhile, many others, especially those with privileged access to higher education and from Eastern Europe, as noted by the great Joseph Roth, settled in Western Europe, opted for assimilation, by becoming European citizens and being loyal to the countries where they had been entrenched. However, history proved that Europe, after the Shoah, disowned the surviving Jews, and after the “Final Solution” Nazis promoted the Zionist solution. Neither the socialist revolution was the best way, nor the purges, assassinations and Stalinist gulags ordered to exterminate the Jewish Bolshevik elite.
Russians made up the main part of the elite of the Zionist movement. The Zionists began arriving in Palestine in the late nineteenth century, transplanting ideas and concepts from Europe, including kibbutz, the socialist collective farms. I will not detail here how the conflict with local inhabitants took place, because I want to reach the seed and trigger that led to Israel and Zionism as it has become today: the post-war division of the world between the USSR and the United States. When the European carnage was reaching its end, in 1945, Jews were well established in Palestine governed by the British Mandate, had a growing economy and active and trained guerrillas and, somehow, had turned their back to their European brothers. The creation of Israel did not aim to give home to survivors of the Nazi genocide (although complying with European desires to oust the Jews) but the partition of Palestine was a key move in the Cold War that kept the US and USSR with their respective allies. The USSR was keen to take the upcoming State of Israel on its side. It acted in that direction and was the first to promote its declaration of independence at the United Nations.
Many Zionist leaders, the future prime minister David Ben Gurion, repeatedly travelled to the USSR to study the Soviet model. Nevertheless, England, in particular, operated to prevent this transfer, and Israel remained within the “free” world. As a result, the USSR turned towards Arab countries, which were in their orbit and supported the replacement of governments as monarchies emerged from revolutions. This was the scenario that led to the outbreak of war after war, to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and pushed Israel towards its transformation from a draft national home for the Jews to a state-enclave, colonialist and, finally, segregationist.
This was the scene, too, which led, in the sixties, to the consolidation of the Palestinian identity and the creation of the PLO, founded by Yasser Arafat, at the suggestion of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, catalysing their national aspirations. The occupation of the Palestinian territories led to an apartheid-like situation, denying people national aspirations, while depriving them of the same rights as the Jews.
Now, I can affirm that the situation in Gaza is worse than apartheid. Zionism is not a racist but an ethnocentric country. Racism in Israel has a strong European influence. Ethiopian Jews, for example, are discriminated by the colour of their skin. White Jews are not used to the idea that an African country has developed an ancient Jewish community. Black Jews? There is a biblical name that contemporary Israeli used to refer to blacks: kushi, the ancient kingdom of Kush, which in the Bible refers to the current Sudan but today has the same linguistic connotations with “nigger.” The neighbourhoods where Ethiopians rent houses loose their property value. They are seen as “special” people with “social adaptation difficulties” and under these and other marks of racist inspiration, Ethiopians are rarely able to move up the social ladder. In addition, Jewish politicians of European origin (Ashkenazi) often see the Maghrebi Jewish or those who came from Arab countries as barbarians. Therefore, we can follow.
So, all these so different forces finally united only when they confronted the Palestinian enemy. In a state of war, everybody can feel that this is a country for everybody. This is the way Zionism works, and its current incarnation is fascism. Zionism has transformed the Israelis into a hostile and xenophobic people, be they rightist or even leftist.
MR: What can Jews and Non-Jews do to change this situation and to build peace for all people living in the Middle East?
DW: Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. Lately I have felt that the powers are too strong. Europe, America, fundamentalist tyrannies with billionaires monarchs, scorched earth everywhere. At this moment, the expansion of the Nazi-Salafist madness of the Islamic State. I am not optimistic.
For some time, we have wanted to move to Abu Gosh, an Arab village near Jerusalem. Many poorer Israeli Jews are moving there and to other Arab villages. They are well received and live in an atmosphere of pluralism. And maybe good news comes that way, a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews, a movement beyond sectarian interests. A future of cities for all, a country-for-all, a unique land to redeem so much evil.
Originally published by ProMosaik.
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