Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prof. Suleiman against Mossad t-shirt

(Translated from Hebrew by George Malent)

Below is a description by my friend Prof. Ramzi Suleiman, former head of the Psychology Department at the University of Haifa, of an incredible incident that occurred at the beginning of April and which reflects in various ways the pathological situation in Israel. Ramzi, like many others who fear the completion of the ethnic cleansing in Palestine, was not at all amused by an expression of Israeli "humour" that really kills.
In a restaurant in Haifa owned by a Palestinian, this international expert on game theory encountered a barman wearing a "funny" t-shirt on which was written "Institute [Mossad] for Special Children" produced by a company that goes by the name of "Naughty":

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Haifa, 5 April 2009
Goodbye, Isabella – and I won't see you later!

Two weeks had not passed from the day on which I participated in a conference on the struggle against racism that the Musawa organization organized in Acre, and already I managed to taste the revolting taste of the new domestically-produced Israeli racism. As will become clear below, the use of imagery related to the sense of taste is not a mere metaphor, for the incident occurred when I and my daughter had just eaten at the Isabella restaurant in the City Centre building in Haifa. In a strange configuration of events, at the very moment when I had just told my daughter about the pathological humour in the t-shirts that glorify murder, which units in the Israeli army ordered [i] recently, and the existence of which was revealed two weeks ago in a shocking article in the Haaretz newspaper – at that very moment, I noticed the shirt of the barman on duty, a nice-looking young man in his twenties. Unlike the other workers in the restaurant, who were wearing black t-shirts with the logo of the restaurant printed on them, he was wearing a black t-shirt with the legend: "Institute for Special Children" [ii] The crosshairs that appeared in the word "institute" [in Hebrew – "Mossad". – see note – trans.] left no room for doubt that this was one of those shirts that glorify the murder of children in the killing fields of Gaza. I could have asked for my bill and gotten up and left the place immediately. In retrospect I tell myself that maybe is what I should have done. But at that moment I could not restrain myself. In the face of such a blatant provocation I could not act wisely. My blood boiled, and in an instant I found myself standing in front of the barman, questioning him about the shirt, explaining to him what he was wearing in my opinion, and asking him to remove it immediately and replace it with a different one. The situation deteriorated quite fast. The owner of the place (who to my shame turned out to be an Arab!), heard the argument, rushed towards us and began to take part in the argument. My daughter too joined in the verbal quarrel. In summary, all my efforts, as well as my daughter's efforts, to explain the seriousness of the matter were to no avail. It was made clear to us by the owner that "it's not Palestine here", that if we don't like it then we should not come to his restaurant, and that "we are Israelis, and we have the right to do what we feel like, and whoever does not like that should not come here any more." We informed him that there was no need to evict us, because we had no intention of visiting his restaurant any more, but apparently he was not satisfied with bringing the scene to a close that way. In order to make clear to the Jewish clients in the restaurant which side he was on, he walked behind us as far as the exit door and with a theatrical gesture pointed the way out while growling at us to "get out!"

I am writing about this because I want you to know about what happened, but also because I am trying to put into words the confusion, humiliation and helplessness that I experienced along with my daughter.

What is the meaning of the strange role of the Arab owner of the restaurant in the whole story? Is there no limit to the degree of identification with the aggressor? And why did the barman decide to show up with that provocative t-shirt in a neighbourhood that is regularly visited by many Palestinian Arabs? Was this an isolated event? Or the opening bars of a march that heralds the beginning of an era of racism after Gaza?
Good night,


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The double-entendre of "Institute for Special Children" can be interpreted in various ways:

  1. The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (the "Mossad") is an organization of whose membership is composed of those who used to be called "disturbed children" and are referred to in contemporary euphemistic language as "special".
  2. The "Mossad" deals in its well-known ways with children who have emotional problems or learning disabilities ("Special treatment" is what the Nazis called the destruction of the Jews).
  3. The "Mossad" deals with Arab children in its well-known ways.
A look at the Internet website of the company that sells this wonderful product alongside other original pearls ( ) suffices to eliminate the first possibility. That is despite the fact that there is a certain resemblance between the conjunction of words "Special Operations" [Hebrew: "tafqidim meyuhadim"] and "Special Childen" [Hebrew: "yeladim meyuhadim"] and there is definitely cause to wonder about the psychological state of many Mossad employees. The creators of the shirt are two students who think they are very funny, and they are successfully selling "cool" shirts that are in their words: "of a nature that is humoristic, chauvinistic, sexist[ic] and every other word that ends with '-istic' [Hebrew: "-isti"]."

That is to say there is a most plausible suspicion that someone who appreciates a shirt on which is written "If you're a woman don't drive" [Hebrew: "im nashim – lo nohagim", which is a weak pun on "im shotim – lo nohagim" – "If you drink don't drive" – trans.] and other delightful racist and sexist sayings (against Polish women and against Moroccans) will find incitement against Arabs to be super cool. Indeed a member of the staff of Naughty who identified himself by the name of Nir denied any intention of calling for the killing of children in Gaza. But as the linguist Ron Kuzar pointed out, this can be seen as pure disingenuousness. And even if it is not disingenuousness, at least the very least it bespeaks a strong internalization of violent racism. This internalization is so effective that they are no longer even aware of it.

Regarding the two other possibilities, the killing of all children with learning disabilities or just those who are Arabs, the former is indeed worse than the latter. But the latter likelihood is higher, for as we know, the Mossad "liquidates" (in German that sounds really horrible) mainly Arabs.

When I try briefly to explain Jewish Israeli culture to Europeans, I say that in that culture "chutzpah" (audacity or "naughtiness") is generally considered a virtue. Apparently loutishness and cruelty should be added to that. That would appear to be the major success of the Zionist enterprise, "negation of the Diaspora" at its "best" which is also a transition from Eastern European Jewish humour, which is mainly self-mocking, to brutal Israeli humour which mainly mocks others. It is indeed clear that the humour in which the narrators laugh at themselves falls short in quality only to that in which the listeners are to understand that someone else is laughing at them.

There is a qualitative difference between Israeli-Jewish humour and Eastern European "Diaspora" humour. It is illustrated by the joke about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman who in 1948 is addressing her husband and says to him: "Moishele, did you hear that they proclaimed the State of Israel? What will we do?" "Don't worry, Sureleh," replied Reb Moishe, "we have survived so many hardships and persecutions, even Hitler we survived. We will also survive the State of Israel."

Examples of Israeli-Jewish humour can be found in abundance on many internet websites and not only among these t-shirt producers, who are nearly refined in comparison.

The "Mossad" t-shirt belongs not only to the t-shirt culture of Operation Cast Lead [i.e. the Israeli military operation in Gaza that ended in January 2009 – trans.] that has come to light recently; it comes from a more venerable tradition. It is one of the legacies of the Palmach and even a legacy of Rabin, if you will. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, members of the Palmach and the youth movements merrily sang and danced to the song "Serasnukha Ya Muhammad" ("We castrated you, Muhammad"), set to the tune of the famous Neapolitan folk song "Tiritomba" (unforgettably performed here by the Jewish tenor Josef Schmidt who died as a result of racially-motivated criminal medical negligence as a refugee in Switzerland on 16 November 1942 ).
The song "We Castrated You", which is attributed to Haim Hefer, was written after a true incident that is also described on the Palmach website [Hebrew]. Muhammad was actually Ahmad – Aref Ahmad Shatawi, from Beisan (Beit Shean) who was suspected of having attempted in late 1943 to rape a young Jewish woman from Kibbutz Mesilot when she got off a bus. Because they did not want to initiate a blood-feud, they decided to settle for castrating him. The plan was approved at high levels (by Sha'ul Avigur who was also the commander of the Mossad le-Aliyah Bet, and Yigal Allon, the deputy commander of the Palmach). According to the Palmachnik Gamaliel Cohen (in his book "The First Mista'arvim"), who quotes documents from the IDF archives, the operation was executed out by Yochai Ben-Nun (later the commander of the navy) and Amos Horev (later the president of the Technion). They received professional guidance from Ein Herod's doctor before they went into action in January 1944.

Full text of the song:

Judgement day is great
Judgement day is great
We castrated you, Muhammad
Because you raped, because you raped, because you raped
Instead of bass you will sing soprano, Muhammad
Ahaha aha aha
Judgement day is great
Judgement day is great

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A different version:
Muhammad Muhammad Saragossa
Without narkoza [anaesthesia] without narkoza
Judgement day is great
Judgement day is great
We castrated you Muhammad
Judgement day is great
Judgement day is great
Yom al-din akbar
Yom al-din akbar
Your balls are in a jar of formaldehyde
Instead of bass you will sing soprano Muhammad
Judgement day is great
Judgement day is great

As far as I know there is even a recording of the song from the 1950s.

Even Ramzi's niece, the Tel Aviv celebrity Karin Arad, absorbed that "wonderful" legacy in her childhood. One day in the early 1970s she returned from her kindergarten in West Carmel (Haifa) and sang to her father Micha (of German-Jewish origin) the famous Tu bi-Shvat song in its unofficial version: "May the Arabs die on Tu bi-Shvat" [Heb: be-tu, tu tutu, she-ha-'aravim yamutu. Tu bi-Shvat is a spring Jewish holiday ]. Micha was surprised and asked: "Karin, who are the Arabs?" Karin: "People who speak Arabic." Micha: "And what language do grandpa and grandma speak?" Karin – who already then had a sharp tongue: "Abi [iii], you don't understand about songs."

Ramzi himself writes about this:

"Today I believe that the Arab identity of the owner of the restaurant adds a layer to the incident that is no less problematic. In my humble opinion, his behaviour expresses the plight of many Palestinian Arabs (which the writer Emile Habibi brilliantly described in his book 'The Pessoptimist') who do not have the privilege of acting like free people, and whom the Jewish majority makes to understand that if they are to make an honourable living, they have to fulfil the role that is destined for them, as 'loyal Israeli Arabs' according to Lieberman's conception. In fact, the owner of the restaurant who yelled at me and my daughter to go to Palestine, and that he, as an Israeli, 'will do what he feels like and how he feels like it,' was not talking to me and my daughter, but 'through us' was addressing the Jewish clients in the restaurant, whom he believed (because that is what his life experience taught him) expected him to say that. Later, in a conversation between him and Mr. Jaafar Farah, the well-known social activist, he said that he is no less Palestinian than we and that he is proud of his Palestinian identity. The point is that I believe him both when he is 'proud' and also when he is 'less proud', and mainly, as well as contempt I feel compassion for him. He may be interested to know that a few years ago I proposed a model of 'double marginality' in order to explain the dynamic of the development of the collective identity of the Palestinians in Israel. In the model I posited, on the basis of empirical data, that large parts of this minority are pressured by forces stronger than themselves into a situation of marginality regarding both their ethnic-national identity and their civil identity. And along comes this incident and fleshes out what I wrote (and of course it could be that the matter is nothing more than that I tend to interpret reality in accordance with my own outlook)."

This double personality in which the oppressed internalizes values of the oppressor was also well described by Frantz Fanon and is well known from the Jewish experience in Europe after the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala). For example, there is the case of the head of the Swiss Jewish community, Saly Mayer, who in the 1930s and 1940s tried on the one hand to be more Swiss than the Christian Swiss and on the other hand stubbornly fought for Jewish identity. As a Swiss not only did he struggle against the Jews who were prominent in public affairs and called for a "fight against the vermin" (German: Schaedlingsbekaempfung)", but he also cooperated with the Swiss authorities in their policy against Jewish refugees and was even a member of an extreme right-wing organization that operated under the banner of hatred of Jews and the struggle against those refugees. On the other hand, no other Swiss Jew did as much for the refugees as Mayer (but all more or less within bounds that were "reasonable" and tolerated by the authorities).

Among Ramzi's colleagues at the university there were many who preferred not to relate to the affair at all or who said that, although they are fond of Ramzi, this time he was exaggerating. Somehow it reminded me of the process through which I went from being a typical "Sabra" to a Diaspora Jew. At the end of the 1970s when I went to Switzerland, my wife at the time, who was a daughter of Jewish refugees who found asylum in this country, occasionally pointed out latent Judaeophobia among our non-Jewish friends. For a long time I claimed that she was simply exaggerating and that she was paranoid. Meanwhile I developed my own antenna and am now better able to understand Ramzi and his system of fears and defences.

I recall a workshop he did in Jerusalem in 1988/89 for psychologists who had come to protest against the policy of oppression. If memory serves, Ramzi read excerpts from various writings on the persecution of Jews in Europe during the Nazi era and asked those present if in time of need they would defend him or would act like the many Christians in Germany who abandoned their Jewish friends during that period. Instead of answering his clear question, those present preferred to talk about their own fears of the Arabs.

At that time the question was completely theoretical for Ramzi. Today he sees it differently. Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada, I have been trying to convince him that the ruling Israeli ruling elite decided then to complete the ethnic cleansing that began in 1948, along the lines of the "Field of Thorns" plan of the school of Moshe Yaalon, and that only American opposition is slowing that development, but it has not stopped it. For Ramzi as for other others, that analysis of mine was a little if not very unrealistic. Today, and especially after operation "Cast Lead", the rise of Liebermanism and other things, such a scenario is no longer so imaginary for Ramzi either.

The episode of Ramzi and the t-shirt received much coverage in the Arab media, whereas the only Hebrew newspaper that dealt with the subject, Haaretz, reported on the incident in its English edition only, for some reason (, despite the fact that Ramzi is definitely a person who is well-known to the Hebrew media.

[i] They were ordered by individual soldiers acting on their private initiative – trans.
[ii] In Hebrew: “ha-mosad li-yeladim meyuhadim”. The Hebrew “S”, which looks like Latin “O”, in the word “mosad” resembles a circle, and a sniper’s crosshairs appears in the middle of it. “Mosad” literally means “institute” or “institution”, and it also refers to the Israeli government’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Hebrew: ha-mosad le-modi’in u-le-tafqidim meyuhadim), which is Israel’s external intelligence agency, generally referred to in Hebrew simply as “mosad” or “ha-mosad”, and the English-speaking world – with the addition of an extra “S” in transliteration – as “Mossad” – trans.
[iii] Karin, whose mother is an Arab, said “my father” using the Arabic pronunciation (abi) instead of the Hebrew pronunciation (avi) – trans.

Hebrew Original:


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