Uri Avnery's Column 

With Friends Like These…

LATELY WE are flooded with friends. The Great of the Earth, past and present, come here to flatter us, to fawn on us, to grovel at our feet.

"God, save me from my friends, my enemies I can deal with myself!" says an old prayer.

They disgust me.

LET'S TAKE for example the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her pandering was free of any criticism and she reached new heights of obsequiousness in her speech to the Knesset. I was invited to attend. I relinquished the privilege.

I shall also pass the pleasure when I am invited to the session with the hyper-active Nicholas Sarkozy, who will try to break the flattery record of his German rival.

Before that we were visited by John McCain's mentor, the evangelical pastor John Hagee, the one who described the Catholic Church as a monster. Oozing sanctimonious flattery from every pore, he forbade us, in the name of (his) God, to give up even one inch of the Holy Land and commanded us to fight to the last drop of (our) blood.

However, not one of them has come close to George Bush. Approaching the end of the most disastrous presidency in the annals of the Republic, he really forced a lighted match into the hand of our government, encouraging it to ignite the barrel of gunpowder between our feet.

BUT THE list of present-day leaders who participate in the pandering competition pales in comparison with the long parade of Has-Beens who lay siege to our gates.

A world-wide swarm of Has-Beens is flying from place to place like bees, all for one and one for all. This week they alighted in Jerusalem, on the invitation of Has-Been No. 1: Shimon Peres, a politician who in all the 84 years of his life has never won an election, and who was finally handed, out of sheer compassion, the largely meaningless title of President of Israel.

The common denominator of this group is that their prestige at home is close to nil, while their standing abroad is sky-high. Their mutual adoration compensates them for the lack of respect in their own countries.

One of the senior members of this club is Tony Blair, who has been pushed from power in his own country but is not content to enjoy his pension and raise roses. As a consolation prize he has been granted the pleasure of playing around with our conflict. Every few weeks he convenes a press conference to present the good tidings of his phenomenal success in ameliorating the lot of the Palestinians, while the actual situation in the occupied territories goes from bad to worse. Our security establishment treats him like a bore who has to be thrown a crumb from time to time to keep him happy.

In the conference that took place this week there were also some good people, but the scene was stolen by the Has-Beens, from the retired war criminal Henry Kissinger to the dethroned peace hero Mikhail Gorbachev (whom I still consider a hero for preventing bloodshed during the collapse of the Soviet empire.) Pity to see him in this company.

All the participants in this orgy heaped mountains of fawning adulation on Israel. Not one of them had a word of criticism. No occupation. No settlements. No Gaza blockade. No daily killings. Just a wonderful, peace-loving state that the bad, bad terrorists want to throw into the sea.

Not one of the guests stood up to warn us against going on with the present policy. Not one of them stood up to proclaim the truth: that the continuation of this policy may lead our state to disaster.

He who has friends like these has no need for enemies. A person who sees his friend playing Russian roulette and offers him bullets - is he a real friend? One who sees his friend standing on the brink of an abyss and tells him "go ahead" - is he a friend?

AMONG THE fraternity of flatterers, the ones that attracted the most attention were the Jewish billionaires from America (who also paid for the extravaganza).

Several of them were summoned to police headquarters immediately on arrival to give evidence on the affair that is rocking Israel now - the corruption investigation of Ehud Olmert.

A smell of corruption has accompanied Olmert right from his beginnings in politics, 45 years ago. But this time, the smell is overpowering. The police has made it known that the American-Jewish billionaire Moshe Morris Talansky has been supplying him with cash-filled envelopes for years.

Where have we seen this before? Of course, in American movies and TV-series. Somebody opens a suitcase stuffed with bundles of banknotes. The donor invariably belongs to the Mafia, and the recipient is generally a corrupt politician. Can it be that Olmert has never seen these films - he of all people, who started his career with demagogic speeches denouncing "Organized Crime"?

But it is not Olmert who interests me in this affair so much as Talansky.

He belongs to a species of "Israel-loving" billionaires, most of them resident in the US, but also in Canada and Switzerland, Austria and Australia and other places.

They are all Israeli patriots. They are all philanthropists. All contribute millions to Israeli politicians. And almost all of them support our extreme Right.

What makes them run? What induces these billionaires to do what they are doing?

A research in depth discovers that a great many of them made their money in dark corners. Some are gambling barons, casino-owners with all the inevitable connections with violence, crime and exploitation. One at least made his fortunes from brothels. Another was involved in a scandal involving old people's homes. Yet another is a scion of a family who made their money bootlegging during prohibition days. Some are arms merchants of the most despicable kind, selling weapons to the political gangs which sow death and destruction in Africa.

But money, as is well known, does not smell.

Most of the multi-millionaires of this kind feel that they are not receiving the honor due to them. Their co-billionaires, high society people, treat them with disdain. A person reaching this position is not satisfied with money alone. He craves honor. Such honor can be bought in Israel, on the cheap.

Israel is selling honor of all kinds, no questions asked. For a suitable donation, even a gambling-hell owner will be received by the Prime Minister, dine with the President, put his name on a university building.

(Once I wrote a light-hearted piece about the Third Temple, may God build it soon, Amen: the Rosenstein Holy of Holiest, the Rosenzweig altar, the Rosenberg cherubim, etc.)

Just after the Six-day War, during the great days of our generals, a new fashion spread among the best Jewish billionaires: to keep an Israeli general, in order to present him to friends as a pet. Some generals found no fault in this. It was owed to them, after all.

One billionaire kept Ezer Weizman, the Air Force hero (who had to resign from the presidency when it came out). Two billionaires adopted Ariel Sharon and set him up in the largest farm in the country. Shimon Peres was no general (and not even a soldier), but at least three billionaires took him under their golden wings.

No billionaire ever lost money by keeping an Israeli general, supporting an Israeli politician or making a generous donation to an Israeli cause. Ego is ego, patriotism is patriotism, but business is business.

That's where the corruption set in. A person who donates millions to a politician in Israel (or, for that matter, the US, or Italy or any other place on the globe) knows full well that he will get it back with interest. When the politician becomes a minister, or Prime Minister, or President, the supporter has hit the jackpot.

In politics there is no innocent donation. One way or another, the donor will reap his reward - many times over. That's true in the US, that's true in Italy, that's true in Israel, too. If the donor declares to the police that he has no business interests in Israel, all it means is that they must dig deeper.

THE OLMERT affair confirms anew what we have known for a long time: the fuel Israeli politics runs on is not just money, but money from abroad. To win primaries and campaign in elections, a candidate needs millions, and these almost always come from foreign donors.

Foreign billionaires financed Olmert in the party primaries, and they financed him in the general elections, in which he was assured of becoming Prime Minister. After being elected, he started Lebanon War II, with all its death and destruction. It can be said: American Jewish billionaires killed the soldiers and civilians, Israeli and Lebanese, who lost their lives in the war.

In his speech to the Jerusalem conference, Shimon Peres lauded Israeli chutzpa. What we need is more chutzpa, he said. That sounded fetching and naughty, but was pure poppycock.

I want to speak about another chutzpa. Not metaphorical, but real. Simple chutzpa. The chutzpa of billionaires in New York and Geneva and all the other places who interfere in our elections and determine the fate of our nation. The chutzpa of donating for a war in which not their sons, but ours, are killed. The chutzpa of sending billions for the establishment of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and especially in Jerusalem, which are put there for the express purpose of preventing peace and imposing on us a permanent war, a war that threatens our future - not theirs.

Let's be clear: I am not criticizing well-meaning donors, who feel a moral need to contribute to a hospital wing or a university building in Israel. I appreciate people who send a few hundred dollars to a political cause close to their heart. I object to foreign billionaires who aspire to dictate the direction of our state.

Perhaps in other countries, too, politicians receive donations from foreign sources. But it is generally a marginal phenomenon. Here it is a major factor.

That is one of the ill effects of the definition of Israel as a "Jewish State". Because of this, these donors do not look like what they are - impertinent foreigners who interfere in our lives and corrupt our state - but like "warmhearted Jews" who support a state that belongs to them as well.

Gideon Levy has recently written an article in which he begged them to "leave us alone". Being a less refined person than he, I shall say this in a ruder way: Go home and take your money with you. We are not for sale. Stop trying to manage our life (and death)!