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Honoring Evil

Boulevard named after Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi



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There is a well-known book named Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt; one of its few worthy sentences relates to evil acts, which according to the author are often perpetrated by “mild-mannered individuals who believe that business is business.” On, March 5, 2012, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi inaugurated a boulevard named after him in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv. Remembering Arendt’s words as the general gently uncovered the shiny street sign was unavoidable.


General Who?


Gabi Ashkenazi Boulevard

Gabi Ashkenazi Boulevard
Or Yehuda

Barak and Ashkenazi

Barak and Ashkenazi (right)

Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi was born in Moshav Hagor. Kibbutz and moshav were two types of quasi-communist settlements designed by the Zionists as social precursors of the State of Israel. Kibbutzim were settled mainly by Ashkenazim, while Moshavim were settled mainly by Mizrahim. Of course, there are famous exceptions; Moshe Dayan was from Nahalal, a moshav. Once in the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi joined Golani Brigade #1. An infantry brigade, it is known as a Mizrahi stronghold. On the other side is the Paratroopers Brigade #35– an Ashkenazi stronghold; the commando unit of the last brigade is mockingly known as “The Blonds.” Years later Ashkenazi achieved the rank of major general, and left the army in 2005. As a Mizrahi he had no chance of becoming Lieutenant General and general commander of the IDF. Then something happened. In 2006, Israel was utterly defeated in Lebanon.

The army commander back then was Dan Halutz, an air force officer. It is unusual for a “blue” (someone from the air force in Hebrew slang) to reach such a position. Halutz held back the “greens” (ground forces) during the operation because he “didn’t trust them” and sent the air force ahead. It was a disaster. The fact that in the morning of the attack he found time to contact his broker and sell his stock in Tel Aviv Stock Exchange didn’t help his public image. He left the army humiliated. It was time for a major change. Halutz—like his predecessors—was Ashkenazi. In 2007, Minister of Defense Amir Peretz—a Mizrahi Jew—called Gabi Ashkenazi back to the army as general commander.


“Wait a sec… you are mixing up things here!”


While visiting the USA, I was questioned regarding the surname “Ashkenazi.” The person that asked was very surprised when I commented it was a popular name among Moroccan (and other Oriental) Jews. “That can’t be true!” was his answer. As usual, things in the Jewish community are complex and the popularized conceptions are—to say the least—oversimplified. “Ashkenaz” is a name given by Pharisaic-Jews to the area now known as Germany. An “i” added at the end of a noun in Hebrew denotes possession. “Ashkenazi” means “from Germany.” So how come a Moroccan Jew is called Ashkenazi?

In fact, it will be very hard to find a German Jew named Ashkenazi. The best way of illustrating this is taking the issue into neutral grounds. Imagine a Canadian family moving to Honduras and settling down there. It wouldn’t take long before some neighbor would refer to them just as the “Canadians.” In some cases, this nickname would stick. In the case of Moroccan Jews the name is related to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Some of them moved northwards, and settled down all over northern Europe, including “Ashkenaz.” Some of them failed to settle down, and moved back south, toward the warm Mediterranean sun. Spain was closed, thus they moved to the nearest country, where modern Morocco is. They were “Germans” among “Moroccans,” i.e. “Ashkenazis.” The same is true in all settlements of Oriental Jews.

Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi’s father was a Bulgarian Jew (most consider this community closer to Oriental than to Western Jewish practices) and his mother was a Syrian Jew. With such a background, he is considered an Oriental Jew in Israel.

Discrimination characterizes all Jewish communities. “Spharad” means “Spain” in Hebrew. “Sephardic Jews” means “Spaniard Jews.” In Israel the use of the term regarding Moroccan, Libyan and other Oriental Jewish communities may be heard, but it is wrong. The term “Mizrahi” (“z” like in “zen,” “h” like “ch” in “loch”) means “Oriental” in Hebrew and is the preferred term for Jews from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern areas.

There are nuances also in the use of these terms. Yitzhak Navon, the fifth president of the State of Israel (1978-1983), became the first Sephardic Jew to be nominated to a leading position (though in Israel the president holds just an honorific job). Instead of attempting to advance the position of Mizrahi Jews in the Israeli society, he kept sayingad nauseum—that he was a “Sameh-Tet.” This is the abbreviation for “Pure-Sephardic,” (Sepharadi-Tahor) meaning that he was a descendant of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 without any blood from Mizrahi Jews. The victim of discrimination became an ugly racist himself. In an attempt to upgrade himself (as per his racist views), he married an Ashkenazi woman. Thus Mizrahi is kept as a general denominator, while Sephardic has a certain aristocratic aura to it. However, in General Ashkenazi’s case, Ashkenazi is a Mizrahi name.


Back to General Terror


Is this a happy end story? Hollywood regurgitated in a Middle Eastern army? Did General Ashkenazi become a brave hero bringing honor to his community after having defeated evil single-handed? Not quite so. The now Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi became a violent beast, he needed to prove himself better than the surrounding Ashkenazim.

Gabi Ashkenazi

Gabi Ashkenazi Inaugurates the Street

At the end of February 2008, Ashkenazi commanded Operation Hot Winter during which the IDF attacked Gaza. The fighting ended in a truce between Israel and Hamas. At the end of 2008 and in early 2009 Ashkenazi commanded Operation Cast Lead. The last was investigated by the UN and led to the definition of Israel as a terrorist organization in article 1690 of the Goldstone Report, which was accepted by the UN Human Rights Commission on October 16, 2009. Under these circumstances, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi became a war criminal.

“Wait a sec… you are mixing up things again!”

“You’re widely exaggerating for the sake of your miserable rating!” some readers may be thinking by now. “General Ashkenazi is a respectable person in his society. Since that society is at war, others will have a bias against him. Israel is honoring one of its heroes and there is nothing wrong with that,” their next sentence would be. Oddly enough, among the many pictures of the boulevard inauguration event published by the Hebrew media, one caught my attention. Gabi Ashkenazi is seen in the picture standing next to the archetypal Shin Beth bodyguard (see picture). General Terror can’t walk alone even in Jewish Or Yehuda while being honored by the local community.

This was not casual, the terror he applied in Gaza was nothing but a precursor to odd events within the Ministry of Defense. On the same day Gabi Ashkenazi inaugurated a street, he reached the headlines for another reason. Yesterday, Israel’s State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a draft report on the investigation of the “Harpaz Document,” a forged document outlining a purported plan to promote General Galant’s candidacy to become the IDF’s Chief of General Staff. In his report, Lindenstrauss dropped strong hints that Ashkenazi was linked to efforts in 2010 to discredit Barak and Galant. The latter was too stained by the Cast Lead Operation to become Chief of Staff; instead, the post was given to General Ganz, who was the military attaché in Washington during Cast Lead, and thus could not be blamed for its crimes. Today, Gabi Ashkenazi answered the State Comptroller report. He said that he had made mistakes during the affair. “I will study the report and learn its lessons,” he said in a jargon typical of IDF officers. He added that there should never be such tense relations between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff, as there were between him and Ehud Barak. The state comptroller made clear in the report that he did not see Ashkenazi and Barak as equals: “As insufferable as Barak can be, he was clearly Ashkenazi’s superior.” “Ashkenazi, as the military man, was obligated to submit to the demands of the political echelon,” he added. Ashkenazi is expected to lead a legal and public campaign to alter the final version of the report.

Gabi Ashkenazi and Bodyguard

Gabi Ashkenazi and Bodyguard
General Terror can’t walk alone

“For exactly 40 years I wore my IDF uniform with pride. ... I am proud of my service. ... It pains me that during my mission as Chief of General Staff I got caught up, not to my benefit, in an unprecedented attack,” Ashkenazi said. It is unclear if he was referring to the Harpaz Document Affair, or to his terrorist attack on Gaza.


Banality of Evil


The banality of evil: evil acts are often perpetrated by “mild-mannered individuals who believe that business is business.” The banality of evil: mild acts aimed at commemorating true evil. Inaugurating a street named after the general that allowed the assassination of grannies, mothers and children (Hebrew report) by cowardly snipers hidden in the distance. The banality of evil: in-office manipulation for the promotion of an accomplice in the crimes. General Ashkenazi, not even by Israeli standards are you an honorable man.

Yet, you are being oddly honored. Few get a street named after them while still breathing. By doing do, the Israeli society has a message for the world. It is proclaiming that it shares your values, and as such it has rightfully acquired the UN ruling as a “terror inflicting society.”

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