Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kerry wasn't wrong: Israel's future is beginning to look a lot like apartheid | Mystery: Israel's Richest Man Moves to London

John Kerry said he was sorry for claiming that Israel was at risk of becoming an 'apartheid state' and that it was 'a word best left out of the debate'. But is it? Photograph: Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty

The howls of outrage from the pro-Israel lobby are probably the best indicator that John Kerry and his chief Middle East mediator, Martin Indyk, had it right.

Organizations claiming to speak for America's Jews – mostly too far to the right to be representative of most of them – reeled in horror after Kerry dared to say it two weeks ago: if Israel doesn't reach a deal on an independent Palestine it risks becoming an "apartheid state".

The second blow came a week later, when Indyk said that Binyamin Netanyahu's government had "sabotaged" the latest negotiations with another surge in Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories and large-scale expropriation of land that does not belong to Israel.

Israel called the envoy a hypocrite and blamed him for the failure of the latest talks. The secretary of state apologized for using the A-word, saying it was "best left out of the debate" in the US – even if it is used in Israel itself, including by two former prime ministers to sound similar warnings to Kerry's. 

But is "apartheid" really a word best left forgotten? 

Kerry's comment injected some unusually blunt and much-needed honesty to the public debate in his own country about what is really going on in Israel. Tellingly, Kerry's carefully worded apology said he accepted that Israel does not intend to become an apartheid state, which is not at all the same thing as saying it won't become one.

After years of traveling through the West Bank and South Africa, it's blindingly clear to me: the ever-expanding settlements are, indeed, carving out the geography of West Bank apartheid. And if Kerry was wrong, it was only in casting his warning as a prediction rather than about a present reality.

Israel's intent in the West Bank is an issue that has largely been off-limits in Washington. The pro-Israel lobby, with some help from Congress, has played an important role in determining the boundaries of criticism. It works tirelessly to portray Israeli governments as moderate and deeply committed to a just peace – if only the Palestinians were, too. Those who suggest otherwise are accused of "hating Israel" (or worse).

With their forthright statements, Kerry and Indyk cut some of the ground from under the weary mantra that settlements are not an obstacle to peace, that anyone who dares utter "apartheid" is an anti-semite. Kerry's use of the A-word stung because it challenged Israel's bedrock insistence that the occupation is solely driven by security and not an intent to discriminate or dominate.

But Israel needed challenging. For all their public professions of horror, influential members of Netanyahu's party and its allies were happy enough to see the peace talks collapse – and to have an excuse to scorn Kerry. They see an opportunity to diminish the American role, abandon lip service to the two-state solution and, eventually, move toward the very outcome Kerry warned about.

Danny Danon, the increasingly powerful chairman of the central committee of Netanyahu's Likud party and Israel's deputy defence minister, called Kerry's comment "unacceptable". But Danon openly opposes his own prime minister's professed support for a two-state solution – as, apparently, do a majority of Likud members who made him party chairman because he promised to stop Netanyahu from agreeing to a Palestinian state. Strange as it may seem, Israel's prime minister isn't trusted by much of his own party. 

Last week, Likud activists voted to increase Danon's powers as party chairman.

In an interview late last year, Danon told me that there is not going to be a Palestinian state, and that Netanyahu shouldn't worry what the Americans think:
I think that's why we have to do what is good for Israel and not to think about what sounds good in Washington.
Danon spoke of "managing the conflict" in the short term by maintaining the occupation, while "improving the way of living for the Palestinians".

After that, his aim might be drawn straight out of the South African playbook: Danon says bluntly that he wants to take the bulk of West Bank land – Judea and Samaria, as it's known in Israel – while ridding the Jewish state of responsibility for governing the mass of Palestinians. "Long-term, I am not talking about annexing the Palestinians. My goal is to annex – or 'apply sovereignty', as I prefer to call it – to the land in Judea and Samaria with the minimum amount of Palestinians," he told me. "So, if I am doing the map, yes, I want the majority of the land with the minimum amount of Palestinians."

That was, essentially, South Africa's 1960s blueprint for the supposedly self-governing Bantustan homelands intended to rid white South Africa of millions of black people while taking the best of their land. I saw that plan in force in South Africa so I put it to Danon that not only is his policy similar but that the end result might look much the same: a patchwork of Arab towns and cities in the West Bank surrounded by Israel. He didn't deny it.

"As long as there is enough place to develop, then it doesn't have to look good," Danon said. "You want the well-being of Palestinians to be good, so I would look at the actual life of the people rather than how it will look on the map."

Danon is not alone in this vision. Other members of Netanyahu's coalition, such as the economic minister Naftali Bennett, are equally determined there will not be a Palestinian state. By comparison, the voices countering them, such as the justice minister and chief Israeli peace negotiator, look increasingly beleaguered.

Others on the Israeli right would rather bring the Americans around to their way of thinking. Dani Dayan is the former leader of the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, the Yesha council, and now its foreign affairs envoy. He happened to be in Washington when Kerry made his controversial remark, working to wean American politicians off the "peace process".

Dayan tells me that Kerry is "damaging American interests" by pursuing talks that will inevitably fail and, in doing so, that he's making the US look weak. That plays well with some Republicans.

But Dayan admits the next step is a difficult sell in Washington: he wants the US to abandon what he describes as the illusion of a two state solution. He said that what Palestinians want more than a country is a better lifestyle. So, according to the plan, Israel should keep the occupation going for another couple of decades or more, just do it better – by improving living standards with better education, job opportunities and development. Then everyone can get back to talking about a political future. In the meantime, the expansion of the settlements will have marched on.

"Of course we will keep building," he said.

To be sure, Danny Danon is not Israel's prime minister, and Dani Dayan represents settlers, a group that accounts for only about one in 10 of Israel's 6m Jews. But their visions of a future for Israel – and the occupied territories that, like it or not, bear many of the hallmarks of apartheid – is gaining ground. Now it has the kind of political energy behind it that once drove the left and peace groups in Israel.

The powerful lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), led the attack on Kerry, calling his apartheid comment "offensive and inappropriate" and conjuring up a Disney-fied version of Israel as a "shining light for freedom". With the Republicans piling on, Kerry bowed to the political reality and took a step back.

But the US secretary of state saw the future far more clearly than his critics. 

A closer look at the diplomatic playing field ahead and the South African history behind – plus blunt statements from a rising set of Israeli right-wingers – reveals a different blueprint

Idan Ofer Forbes' Billionaires list

Legitimate questions for commoners may become irrelevantly ridiculous while asked to members of the stratospheric layers of society. Those with enough money to have financial interests similar to those of entire countries live in cages.

They are not free to decide on the location of their favorite house, heavy interests define that. They are not free to say to the army "I would like to be an infantry officer." They are sent to a position fitting the State's interests.
Idan Ofer
Oolong tea, exclusive parks, and a large theater district; are these enough reasons to live in London? Can they justify the immigration of foreigners to the imperial city?

No Rothschild is the Israeli richest man. Bankers+ are rich, but live under the State mercy and regulation; the French Rothschild learned that the hard way when their fortune was confiscated in the early 1980's.

No weapons' dealer is the Israeli richest man. They seldom live enough to amass a fortune.

No industrialist is the Israeli richest man. Even Stef Wertheimer* sold his company before achieving the top spot; near the top, temptations rule.

The richest Israeli man would be difficult to define if reading dry lists composed by Forbes on World’s Billionaires. Idan Ofer reached place 238 in their latest list, categorized simply as "drilling and shipping."

Idan Offer in Forbes
Idan Offer in Forbes' Billionaires list

Intrigued people trying to find details will start a very long walk through a dense forest. Is he also a media mogul? What is the "Hevra le'Israel?" Israel Chemicals, Haifa Oil Refineries, HaMizrahi Bank, Tower Semiconductors, and other hard currency factories appear in the Ofer-Angel family portfolio. 

Intrigued people approaching an Israeli would hear nothing of that. In the dry style created by the endless scorching of the Middle Eastern sun, an Israeli will answer with a single word: "Tzim," the Hebrew form of Zim, Israel's merchant fleet. 

The richest Israeli man owns the core of his fortune to transport businesses, a modern version of the country's Burma Road, a strategic road to Jerusalem constructed during the 1948 war.

Israel's Road to Burma

Israel being Israel, everything is related to the army, including the Zim Integrated Shipping Services, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, which was owned until their death in 2011 by the Ofer Brothers. 

Sammi and Yuli Ofer began their shipping business in Haifa during the British Mandate era and transformed it into an empire. In 2004, they bought Zim from the State and solidified their maritime monopoly within the Israeli market. 

Zim's importance is evident just by reading its history. It was founded in 1945, by the Jewish Agency, the Histadrut (General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel) and the Israel Maritime League. The first two were the civil organizations that laid the base for the future state. 

Zim's Flag
Zim's Flag Londonistan
Zim's flag is based on the one designed by Theodor Herzl in 1896 as the future national emblem of the State of Israel. Herzl's banner included seven six-pointed golden stars on a white field. No other civil organization in Israel can show such a patriotic pedigree and emblems.

In 1953, some of the money from the reparations agreement between Israel and West Germany was allocated to a massive expansion of its fleet (and I thought that the damages were intended for the refugees. Silly me!).

In 2004, the company was formally privatized; it was bought by the Ofer Brothers Group. This had little meaning; the brothers already had a significant ownership of the company before that. As with the banks it confiscated in the 1980's, the Israeli government sold the company at a fraction of its price to a single bidder chosen by the government. 

The state still has a State Share, which allows it to intervene in the company’s operation. In other words, Zim is just a front company of the State of Israel.

Zim is more than a strategic company, it is Israel's lifeline. It brings wheat and oil from the US: Israel does not produce enough food to feed its citizens and has no significant amounts of oil. The list goes on with every strategic product imaginable; secret cargo destined for special industries is Zim's norm. For example, Dow Chemical's Syltherm 800—described in The Cross of Bethlehem—for the nuclear plant in Dimona is brought from Senegal by this company.

An odd reminder of Zim's cover operations was disclosed by the tragic accident of the Mineral Dampier,$ Hebrew media hinted at the time that it was related to a sensitive cargo, probably uranium yellow cake.

Zim is strategically placed for this role, with a fleet of about a hundred vessels, 13 of them state-of-the-art high-TEU ships. They serve 180 ports of call around the world, with agents in 145 countries.

Moreover, it adds functionality to the submarine fleet capable of carrying nuclear weapons. If cooperating with Zim, in the fashion described in Six Million Ships and Six Million Submarines, the submarines can hit every city of over one million denizens, probably with the exemption of Urumqi in China.

Idan Ofer Era

When one inherits such an empire, freedom is a luxury. Oolong tea in London is a remote indulgence despite money not being a problem.

IDF Dabur
IDF Dabur (wasp) Gunboat Londonistan
Idan ("Era" in Hebrew) Ofer's army service was probably imposed. He was deputy commander of a Dabur gunboat, an attempt to make him understand better the role of Zim. In the weekends, he rested at the family's mansion in Caesarea.

In recent years he lived in Arsuf (see Guinea Says No to Israeli Corruption) and the Rothschild Tower in Tel Aviv.

On April 2013, Ofer announced that he will leave Israel and move to London due to tax considerations. In subsequent months he accomplished the move. His spokesman added "He is a global businessman and spends significant amounts of time out of Israel."

Offer entered now the list of London's billionaires. In May 2014, he was placed on the spot #25 among the 104 British billionaires. 

London is the world leader in this category, ahead of Moscow, which hosts only 48 billionaires.

Forbes claims that his personal fortune is $6 billion; in articles about London billionaires he is reported as owning $3.5 billion, probably the amount of assets that he has in the UK. Yet, he is part of a large family that owns a significant part of Israel and one of the world’s largest shipping companies. Both numbers are wild underestimations.

Israel and the Ofer family are unlikely to divorce; they have mutual interests and profit from working together. Israel likes to favor its oligarchy members. The handing of Bank HaPoalim, the country's largest bank, to the Arison family is a good example of that.

The claim of tax considerations would be dismissed by most of those acquainted with Israel. The State will gladly offer Ofer a special arrangement.

Something is being cooked, something involving a shipping company, the Israeli military and the Imperial Capital. Deploying an asset as Idan Ofer is not something done lightly. "Yesh dvarim bego," an Israeli would exclaim, "There are things on the back." Something big is being hidden.

Will Israel buy the Royal Navy? Proud Britons are unlikely to sell the pride of their former empire. International shipping businesses are centered in London, probably the abovementioned Hevra le'Israel (the Company for Israel, the formal owner of Zim) is about to purchase a significant shipping company and consolidate itself as a world leader in maritime transport.

Those submarines require so much uranium yellow cake for their toys! Idan Ofer, do you mind clarifying the mystery over a cup of Burmese chai?

ATachilek, Myanmar
Tachilek, Myanmar, Picture by Roi Tov, Related: Six Million Ships  Do you know? Six Million Submarines


  1. Israel is the mirror reflection of all that happens when the Homo Sapiens get convinced that there is a separation in the species. World Earth was made into a mess by the superstitions of our species, in fact the most abject terrified became the so called "leaders". 21 Century and we either do better than this, or not?

  2. Making up religion and then making up superstitions in general, money isn't but, a gigantic superstitious scam. The scam makers are criminally insane and now the whole world earth knows, but does the species have the brain chemistry to do different than worship superstitions? Examine all the APARTHEID intentionally manufactured as though 'thinking'!