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The 1967 War and the Political Legacy of Shimon Tzabar
Moshé Machover

Shimon was always a political person, with a rebellious spirit and revolutionary mind. But if not for the 1967 war he would probably not be remembered as a political activist who has left a significant political legacy.

The 1967 war was of course pivotal in the modern history of the Middle East. It was also pivotal in Shimon’s life. Less than a year after the war, he went into self-imposed political exile in England, where he died 39 years later.

Not long before leaving Israel, Shimon was the main mover behind the first public call against the occupation (“Let us get out of the occupied territories immediately”) to reach a wide audience in Israel, published as an advertisement in Ha’aretz on 22 September 1967. Reading that statement many years later, quite a few people have remarked that it was prophetic. But Shimon and the other 11 signatories did not possess supernatural clairvoyance. What was needed was clarity of political vision – and this quality was remarkably rare in the Israel of that time.

The decade preceding the 1967 war was the period in which the Israeli–Arab conflict was at its most quiescent, almost dormant. In the Suez War of October 1956, Israel had pounced, showing its expansionist claws in a bid to annex the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, which Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion hastened to declare parts of the “Third Kingdom of Israel”. But massive international pressure soon compelled Israel to withdraw back to its 1949 Armistice lines.

The general public soon forgot all about that episode. Israel seemed to be a more or less normal nation state, which just happens to have an unresolved border conflict with its neighbours. The basic nature of Israel as a Zionist state – not only a product of the Zionist colonization project, but also a tool for its further extension and expansion – seemed to recede into the background, and tended to be ignored or regarded as no longer relevant.

Of course, this was just an illusion. The whole of Israel’s domestic and foreign policy was in fact determined by its basic nature as a settlers’ state, actively engaged in an ongoing process of colonization. But so long as this involved a myriad of routine acts and practices rather than major moves, the common denominator of all these policies, the Zionist colonizing drive, could easily be ignored or denied.

So the majority of Israelis – like public opinion in the West – could easily be misled about the causes and aims of the 1967 war. Exploiting Nasser’s disastrous tactical errors, the Israeli government was able to fool almost all Israelis (as well as public opinion in the West) and present the war as one of Israeli self-defence.

Shimon was among the small minority of Israelis who could see through this propaganda, because he had not lost sight of the true nature of Israel as a Zionist settlers’ state. He gauged correctly the expansionist drive behind the war defensive façade, and was able to foresee clearly its long-term consequences. (His views on this issue were close to those of the socialist organization Matzpen; so it is no accident that four of the 12 signatories of the 22 September call were Matzpen members.)
Shimon also understood that Israel’s aggression and expansionism was made possible and encouraged by its role as a junior partner and local enforcer of Western imperial domination of the Middle East region. The struggle against Israeli occupation, colonization and annexationism therefore had a vital international dimension: progressive public opinion in the West had to be weaned away from its indulgent sentimental pro-Israeli bias.

So his going into exile was not merely an individual act of protest, or an expression of personal exasperation and disgust with the chauvinist intoxication of Israeli society; it was a calculated move to fight against the new Israeli empire by doing its dirty washing abroad, in full public view.

His main weapon in this fight was literary and graphic satire, at which he excelled.

This is how Israel Imperial News was conceived. The few issues that came out – almost entirely Shimon’s work, with a little help from his friends – are a classic of this genre and his unique style.

Learn more about Israel Imperial News and Shimon Tzabar here: www.shimontzabar.com