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Racism Among the Beautiful Souls

David Bar-Illan,
Jerusalem Post,
February 7, 1992

For a month now, a media storm has been raging about Dahn Ben-Amotz, late guru to Israel’s leftist bohemia. Exposed in Amnon Dankner’s recently published biography as a drug pusher and seducer of minors, facts well known in his close circle, Ben-Amotz is enjoying more notoriety now than in his lifetime.

Commentators have been lining up to express righteous indignation about the venerated guru’s sexual crimes against children – after all, the liberal avant garde which once worshiped his “free” life style is prominent in the fight against child abuse – and against the conspiracy of silence with which his coterie protected him from the law and society’s censure.

Others have been trying to defend Ben-Amotz by attacking Dankner’s credibility, calling him a chronic liar, fantasist and unscrupulous, greedy betrayer of friends.

There is good reason to believe that both sides are telling the truth.

Even Newsweek reporter Theodore Stanger, a tireless researcher into Israeli social mores, has gotten into the act in the magazine’s February 3 issue. Incredibly, Stanger does not blame Israel’s settlement policy for Ben-Amotz’s pedophilia, as he does for well-nigh every other fault he finds with Israeli society. And he does recognize that “The uproar entails more than just an indictment of Ben-Amotz. It also condemns Israel’s intellectual, left-wing milieu, the so-called Yefei Hanefesh (Beautiful Souls).” But Stanger judiciously spares his readers the fact that the very same fringe bohemia is the main source of the venom about Israeli policies which he and his colleagues swallow and regurgitate so avidly and indiscriminately.

Totally missing in the pious outrage is even a trace of indignation over Ben-Amotz’s other crime, sedition, of which he made no greater secret than he did of his penchant for pre-pubescent children. A year before he died he commemorated the anniversary of the Lebanon War in his weekly column by publishing the names of all those who had given their lives in that operation. Mocking them as fools and suckers, he suggested that all right-thinking young men should refuse service in the Israel Defense Forces.

Not one single eyebrow was raised at the time. Nor has anyone mentioned it in the current assault on Ben-Amotz’s memory. Those who are forgiven for seducing children in their lifetime are obviously exempt from other legal and national obligations as well.

But while sedition and sexual abuse of children may not be on the political far-left’s strictly-no-no list, the crime of racism most certainly is. Or so it seems. Is there anything the Beautiful Souls purport to abhor more, is there in their lexicon an epithet more insulting than “racist?”

And yet the author of the Ben-Amotz biography, the very same Dankner who now rakes in the shekels from his sensational runaway best-seller as he clucks with incredulous revulsion over his hero’s hypocrisy, once wrote an article in which he described Sephardi Jews as inferior to Ashkenazim.

Nor is he the only exemplar of outspoken bigotry among the Beautiful Souls. Ma’ariv columnist and former Ha’olam Hazeh editor-publisher Uri Avnery is perhaps the only writer who can claim Ben-Amotz’s mantle as a guru of the Left. Having unbounded faith in the righteousness, justice and fairness of the Palestinian struggle – he even hugged Arafat in his bunker in Beirut – he possesses the necessary qualifications. And when it comes to targeting Israeli society and government policies his draw, like Ben-Amotz’s, is faster than the Sundance Kid’s.

But a few months ago he wrote an article which should have outraged every Beautiful Soul in creation. It was devoted to savaging women journalists. Naming them “barracudas,” he described them as devious, conniving, treacherous, bitchy viragos, who took special pleasure in gaining the confidence of men in public life only to tear them apart in print.

Not for a moment would Avnery entertain the notion that there might be male journalists guilty of such underhanded practises. With humorless conviction he rejected protests of women who were shocked by his sweeping generalizations. It was an unadulterated, unadorned display of vicious, male-chauvinist sexism.

And as if to prove the liberal adage that sexists are usually also racists, Avnery has now published a book about his travels in Eastern Europe. Titled Lenin Does Not Live Here Anymore, it describes the author’s experiences in the former Soviet empire.

As columnist Tom Segev reports in Ha’aretz, there is a chapter in the book on Gypsies which is racism incarnate. It could have been copied from the most nauseating samples of Nazi literature. “The Gypsies, whose stealing skills are positively artistic, have retained their racial uniqueness,” Avnery writes. There are six references in the book to how dirty Gypsies are, and a revolting description of how “impossible” it is to live near them.

“They do terrible things in their apartments,” Avnery quotes another journalist as saying. “Some have thrown out their bathtubs. One family brought in a horse!” At one point he refers to them as a swarm of ants or a pack of wolves – an echo of the depiction of Jews as rats in Hitler’s most notorious film, The Eternal Jew.

Gypsies are also, according to Avnery, lazy, exploitative, dumb, drunk, violent and most likely sex-crazed, which explains why they spawn so many children. (Shades of that memorable diatribe against haredi Jews by Beautiful Soul Yigal Tumarkin, the sculptor-writer who once said, “When I see those black-coated people with side-curls and the children they spawn swarming into my neighborhood, I begin to understand the Holocaust.”)

Ma’ariv, which published excerpts from Avnery’s book, received a letter from a Haifa student who protested against the flagrant racism of the chapter. “Whoever attributes the crimes of individuals to a whole group or nation is a racist,” he wrote, “even if he has nurtured a liberal facade for years.”

Ma’ariv did not publish the letter.

Perhaps someone should remind the Beautiful Souls that a million Gypsies perished in the Holocaust. Their killers found little difference between them and Jews, even when the latter did not wear black coats.