On October 15th BBC Radio 4 aired a half-hour long programme called “My Father’s Israel” that is described in its synopsis as follows:
“How a bitter dispute over Israel’s future split a country and divided a family. In June 1967, Israel had just won the Six Day War, defeating the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and occupying much new territory. Israelis sensed a transformation in their country’s destiny. Most were euphoric. A few were fearful. Two declarations drawn up in neighbouring Tel Aviv cafes and published on the same day symbolised this bitter divide.
One, now seen as hugely significant in shaping Israeli history, declared that ‘The Land of Israel is now in the hands of the Jewish people’. It was signed by more than fifty members of the country’s leading cultural and political elites. It encouraged the wave of settlements that would arise in the territories which Israel had recently occupied. The other declaration, concocted by two friends over an espresso, warned that the Israeli victory was a ‘fateful’ moment, and that holding onto occupied territories ‘will make us a nation of murderers and murdered’. It was signed by just 12 people.
These heretical views, published in a leading daily newspaper, prompted intense criticism and its signatories were called traitors to the Zionist cause. Some received threats of violence, amongst them Shimon Tzabar, who was one of the authors. In this programme, his son Rami explores what this moment of dramatic change meant for Israel, and for his family. He travels to Tel Aviv and talks to those involved in making the two declarations, as they recall the extraordinary atmosphere surrounding them.
This is also a personal story, as Rami discovers the consequences of his father’s passionate actions. After ostracism in Israel, his father went into exile in London (where Rami was born), and continued his campaigns with weapons of art, satire and unshakeable faith in his cause. The cost for the family was high.
Arguments still rage today about Israel’s actions and destiny – an argument within Israeli society, within the international community and among individuals. This programme reveals, in one dramatic story, the roots of that argument, and how it reverberated so strongly across a family’s life.”
Neither in the programme’s trailer, its synopsis nor in the programme itself are audiences informed of the relevant fact that the narrator and producer Rami Tzabar is a BBC employee.
The programme itself is likewise dogged by omission. At no point are listeners told that Shimon Tzabar – who is described as “playful, profound and …just a little bit annoying” – was a member of the Communist Party of Israel (Maki). Later on, while in conversation with one of two of the featured co-signatories to Shimon Tzabar’s “declaration” – Moshe Machover (who was recently expelled from the UK Labour Party and is still doing the anti-Zionist rounds) – Rami Tzabar describes his father as a “naughty boy” and a “thorn in (the) side” of “the establishment” without bothering to mention his association with the extreme-left anti-Zionist group ‘Matzpen’.
Omission likewise plagues the programme’s portrayal of the event that led to Shimon Tzabar’s “declaration”. Listeners hear nothing of the background and context to the Six Day War or the Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria.
“Jerusalem – always hugely symbolic in the region – was a divided city between 1948 and ’67; the east controlled by Jordan, the west by Israel. But with victory the city was united once more.”
Neither does Rami Tzabar make any mention of the attacks launched upon Israelis before the Six Day War – for example from the Golan Heights – which are crucial to the understanding of his commentary at 14:32.
“What’s so surprising about the greater land of Israel petition is that these are not the people you tend to associate with the settlement movement today: the religious parties. These were poets, philosophers, artists, writers. Zionists, of course, but secular ones, many aligned with the centre left Labour movement. And though the settlement project would later be led by religious groups, then it was rooted in the elites of the political mainstream.”
While Shimon Tzabar is described by his son as an “exile”, a reading of his own writings later clarifies that his departure from Israel was self-imposed.
“At the beginning of December 1967 I left my wife and my son in Tel Aviv and embarked on a Turkish liner at Haifa and sailed to Marseilles. I had no intention of leaving Israel for good. I just wanted to do something, to carry on the fight against the occupation abroad and then to return home.”
Listeners even hear a cheap stereotype when Rami Tzabar describes his parents as being:
“…argumentative, of course, but that’s Israelis for you.”
Towards the end of the programme Rami Tzabar tells listeners that his father designed a “new flag” for Israel featuring a tank instead of the Star of David and that he was sued for copyright infringement after publishing a “Michelin guide to Israeli prisons”. Tzabar neglects to tell listeners that the full title of that booklet was “Guide to Israeli prisons, jails, concentration camps and torture chambers” or that in it, his father promoted Nazi analogies.
Framed as a ‘family story’, this one-sided, romanticised account makes no effort to explain to Radio 4 listeners why Shimon Tzabar’s demand for immediate and unconditional withdrawal from the land taken during the Six Day War was so unpopular with a nation that had at the time been under existential threat throughout the nineteen years of its existence.