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The Joe Golan Affair By Tom Segev
Posted on January 28, 2006

In early 1962, an Israeli citizen named Yosef (Joe) Golan came to Israel 's consulate in New York to renew his passport. He filled out the necessary forms and paid the fee, but then the consul himself, Benjamin Eliav, came out and informed him that, unfortunately, his passport could not be renewed. Sometime later, Golan learned that Eliav had acted in accordance with instructions he received from his boss, then foreign minister Golda Meir. And so began "the Joe Golan affair."

Golan, the adviser on Arab affairs for the World Jewish Congress (WJC), pursued an alternative foreign policy; he held contacts with Arab statesmen, including leaders of the National Movement in Algeria . Meir tried to ground him.

Countless events and scandals that have occurred in the 43 years since then have pushed Joe Golan's story into near oblivion, but this week, his widow is publishing a book of memoirs (published in Hebrew and entitled "Dapim miyoman," or "Pages From a Diary," by the Carmel Press) that he left behind, and it is highly intriguing.

The passport scandal, which was also the subject of a Knesset discussion, played out, as usual in Israel, without most Israelis being allowed to know what it was all about: Meir basically made use of a classified file prepared for her by then Mossad espionage agency chief Isser Harel, which portrayed Golan as "a security risk," who therefore must not be allowed to leave the country. Golan's version of events is quite astonishing and together with other chapters in the book, leads one to conclude that the history of the immigration to Israel from North Africa - and perhaps the basis of the relationship between Israel and the entire Jewish world - ought to be reexamined.

In 1961, Golan wondered what would become of the Jews of Algeria after the National Liberation Front (FLN) expelled the French and established an independent state. He traveled to Tunisia and met there with one of the FLN leaders, Karim Belkacem. Belkacem welcomed Golan as a friend who supported Algerian independence, but left no room for doubt: Algerian Jews had tied their fate to France . Many of them were involved in the oppression of the population, including interrogations and torture. The best thing he could advise Algerian Jews would be to leave the country before it was too late: "We cannot guarantee their welfare and protect them from the anger of the masses," Belkacem said.

Golan believed that Algerian Jewry should be warned. This was only 16 years after the end of World War II. One of Golan's superiors in the WJC was Gerhard Riegner, the man who brought to the attention of the world one of the first reports of the plan to exterminate European Jewry. Golan met with Golda Meir. She began with a scathing rebuke: Who gave him permission to travel to Tunisia ? As an Israeli citizen, he was forbidden to have contact with Arabs. The FLN is a terror organization and having contact with its people is a reckless act that could harm relations between Israel and France . France supplies arms to Israel ; France asked Israel for Algerian Jews to stay where they are. Therefore, the FLN's warning must not be passed on to them, Meir declared - according to Golan. The French security services will protect them, she argued. Golan asked himself if she really believed that: "You'd have to be an idiot to believe it," he wrote in his journal, and decided to take action contrary to her orders.

"There are times when a person knows for certain that he is right," he wrote. "Had I obeyed Golda's instructions, hundreds of Algerian Jews, maybe even thousands, would have been murdered."

Golan composed a report about his talk with Karim Belkacem and relayed it - via a secret and complex operation - to the chief rabbi of Algeria , David Ashkenazi. As a result, he writes, Algerian Jews started to leave the country, in an organized fashion and not in a panicked rush: "Due to my action, hundreds, if not thousands, of lives of Algerian Jews were saved," he concludes.

Golan died about two and a half years ago. He wrote his memoirs in French. He was born in Alexandria and grew up in Damascus . His Russian-born father sold sewing machines and served together with Yosef Trumpeldor in a muleteer regiment. Golan served in the Haganah and got to know the leaders of Mapai. Later on, he served in the Israel Defense Forces' intelligence corps, studied in Paris and found work there as an adviser on Arab affairs to the WJC. The president of the congress at the time, Nahum Goldman, put together a Jewish foreign policy that didn't always mesh with the definitions of Israel 's interest as formulated by David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. Relations between them were a mixture of respect and hostility, and ongoing competition, combined with jealousy and quarrels originating in personal differences. In the midst of this, Goldman searched for ways to have a dialogue with officials in Arab states, without coordination with the Foreign Ministry or the Mossad.

Golan and the Mossad people also bristled at the behind-the-scenes activity in preparation for getting the Jews of Morocco out of that country. Golan reports extensively on three conversations with King Mohammad V of Morocco . The king accepted him as a representative of the Jewish people and unlike the FLN leaders in Algeria , expressed deep sorrow over the Jews' departure; Golan says the king wanted them to stay. Among other things, he spoke with Golan about what happened to Moroccan Jews when they arrived in Israel : He knew that they were being housed in transit camps and discriminated against. The king was familiar with the principles of Zionist ideology, but felt that the Jews of Morocco would have a better life if they stayed in his country.

Golan accuses the Ashkenazi establishment of ethnic discrimination deriving from the racist fear that Israel might become a Levantine state. The biggest villain in his story is Dr. Haim Sheba: "Ben-Gurion's confidant ... managed to convince the Mapai leadership ... that the encounter with Moroccan Jewry would weaken the human biological texture of Israeli society and cause its degeneration ... because the harsh physical conditions in which Moroccan Jews live, particularly those who live in towns and villages, has undermined their health and the encounter with them will cause irreversible damage to the `super-race' of Sabras" - Golan claims.

Golan writes very scathingly about the "selection" policy that guided Israel in the first stage - the choice of young and strong people who could benefit the state, and the abandonment of the weak, the old and the sick. After a while, the state decided to take in all of them and even paid the Moroccan authorities for each person.

Golan's position on this is not clear. He doesn't say explicitly that it would have been better for the Moroccan Jews had they stayed in Morocco , but his book invites a renewed discussion of some basic questions: Why did the Jews of Morocco leave? Did they make the right decision when they were assisted in this by Israel ? And, above all, did Israel encourage their departure in order to protect them as Jews, or is the opposite true: Did the interest of the State of Israel cause the destruction of the Jewish community in Morocco ?

Golan frequently criticizes Isser Harel, who supplied Golda Meir with the pretext for rescinding his passport, in the most scathing terms. "It was an elegantly carried out character assassination that recalls the work methods that Goebbels successfully developed. Isser Harel looks like a diligent student of his," is just one example. About the hearing in the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he writes: "This session in the Knesset symbolizes the dark, shameful and sad period in the political life of my country, which in those days lost its honor and sold its soul to the devil. Those were the days of Golda Meir's government."

His passport was returned to him a few months later.

Golan devoted a large part of his work as a diplomat for the WJC to efforts to improve ties between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church, yet the main question raised by his book is whether Israel missed opportunities to settle its relations with the Arabs, without wars. Golan was one of the initiators of the meetings between Israelis and Arabs that took place in Florence ; he writes about a long conversation with the Egyptian journalist Mohammed Hasanain Haikal, and with one of Nasser 's close aides.

His book does not prove that Israel missed something and he does not make that argument: It seems possible today to make the claim that until the Six-Day War, Israel had nothing to offer to the Arabs, apart from demonstrations of good will, like those organized by people like Joe Golan. It's hard to make the claim that the Six-Day War could have been prevented had Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir also adopted the " Florence spirit." Still, the value of alternative diplomacy, of the type nurtured by Uri Avnery and later Yossi Beilin and others, ought not to be undervalued: It led, among other things, to the Oslo and Geneva Accords.

In his last years, Golan worked as a diplomat-adviser in the service of several African countries, and was much respected and admired as a friend in all of them. When the president of Senegal , Leopold Senghor, heard that Golda Meir had rescinded his passport - he granted Golan and his wife Esther Senegalese citizenship. Esther Golan, who lives in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem , still holds a valid Senegalese passport. Hey, you never know when you might need it.

Soggy saga of a used-book shop

For 25 years, Moshe Bar sold jeans, but he never forgot his first love - for used books. Seven years ago he went back to it and opened Hagalleria Lesifrut (the Book Gallery) on Shatz Street in downtown Jerusalem . His selection is very extensive. The trade in used books saves them from death; therefore, such shops should be viewed as cultural enrichment institutions.

A few years ago, major road works began on Shatz Street . Apparently, one of the bulldozers damaged the foundations of the shop's cellar and ever since, whenever God blesses Uri Lupolianski's city with rain - the shop is flooded with water. Bar has gone to the municipality about it, but the latter, instead of apologizing and sending someone to seal up the walls, gave him such a runaround that he was forced to go to court and the hearings have been continuing from one winter to the next. Last weekend, very heavy rains fell. Bar had to work for many hours to save the books in his shop, and then he decided that he'd had enough, that it was impossible to go on this way.

The next day he composed a small ad that was published in Haaretz. In it, Bar made an emotional appeal to all book lovers in Israel and abroad, to scholars, poets, writers, journalists and even to Israel 's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, who once visited the store. He also called upon government ministers and professors to raise their voices, too, to help save the shop.

Tal Merom, a spokeswoman for the municipality: "This is a claim that should be settled with the insurance company, not with the municipality."

This little saga of the used book shop epitomizes Jerusalem as many of its inhabitants still view it in their minds, and as many of those who have left the city like to remember it - as a hub of erudition and culture. The streams of water ruining the pages of the old books are symbolic of the way the city is drowning in hopeless backwardness and neglect. And becoming increasingly deserted, like a sinking ship. (Ha؟aretz, 30 December 2005)


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