Plots and characters in the Old Testament are a foretaste of what the descendants of Israel (ne Jacob) will encounter. Go to the Book of Numbers, to the portion titled “Balak” narrating a preposterous clash between a king, a curser for hire and a talking donkey. The clash, bells and whistles and all, was snucked by the boycott movement for its business model: since war after war failed to bring down Israel, cursing could make a better job of it.
The intrigue opens with the King of Moab at wits end how to stop Israelite escapees in their tracks. Unlikely juggernauts, they had notched improbable victories over real armies. Military might, so King Balak understood, had nothing to do with it. The mystical weapon was communication. In battle their leader Moses communicated with Israel’s God.
And this sets the king thinking. If words that please their God empower this rabble, what about words that anger Him? Not just words. Curses.
So the king contracts with a cursing wizard who is distantly related to Jacob. Balaam, you might say, was born for the job. A grandson of the supreme swindler Laban who was Jacob’s father-in-law, he learnt the art of the grudge on the knee of a granddad whom Jacob had swindled.
Until now Balaam has made a good living from cursing. The Near East in his day was rife with professional spoilers applying spells as their tool of trade. The results were erratic of course. Balaam however stood out. Clients relied on him because he relied on God to bring the targeted victim to book.
In this respect Balaam had the unprecedented gift of being able to fathom God’s mood. He knew the exact efficacious time to bring misdeeds before the Heavenly Court. Around midday the misdemeanours of all mankind come before it. No one is without sin but, bring attention to a sinner and God will do the rest.
So King Balak pays a king’s ransom for Balaam to bad mouth not just an individual but a whole nation. God’s favourite nation. The end game is not to wipe the Israelites off the face of the desert but to keep them from going onto the Promised Land.
“Let us drive them out,” says the king to the elders of Moab and Midian, fearful of the power that the Israelites will have in a sovereign state. Homeless and stateless, God’s chosen are not a problem. For all the elders care the Israelites are welcome to keep their difficult laws anywhere they like. But not in the Land flowing with milk and honey. The land of Israel would make them a force to reckon with. Pagans at peace with their deities and quaint perversions fear that a sovereign Israel will fundamentally impact the world. Moses and his multitude have to be cursed into spiritual oblivion.
Forward into the mists of time Israelis are now living, and thriving, in their land, and delegates meet on the side of a game-changing conference at the Indian Ocean city of Durban. The year is 2001 and plots are afoot.
Zionist brutality. Zionist oppression. Zionist occupation. Zionist Nazi.
The modus operandi is borrowed from the narrative in the Book of Numbers. Not that the plotters know what’s in the Bible. Did Hitler know that Pharaoh solved his Jewish problem with slave labour? Are the anti-Israel rulers of dry South Africa aware that Philistines were also prepared to do without water rather than depend on Isaac’s wells?
Oblivious of precedents, plotters against Israel take a leaf out of the Balaam methodology. His act is effectively their manual which relies on a strategy known as ‘Lawfare’. Israel accused of breaking international law will make it an outcast among the nations, a lone prey for waiting wolves. In Durban the non-military assault, a war of cursing, was launched.
Weaponise bad PR. Condemn and demonize Israel in forums and the media, on campuses and cable networks. Haul it before kangaroo courts. Bring human rights protectors with a fake halo brand on board. Turn the Jews into a pariah people. Infuse and unite the world with a loathing for Zionists. It was going to be a war that Israel can’t win.
The vision intoxicated, and many entities and people bristling with pent-up scores to settle are cock-a-hoop. What could be simpler than picking the worst crimes in the book of statutes and piling them on Israel. Apartheid – who wouldn’t hate a country that practiced it. Ethnic cleansing, war crimes and occupation followed close behind. The prospect made plotters drool. Add some imaginative marketing, draw on deep pockets to grease the wheels, and in no time you had a full-blown campaign.
Before Israel knew it the court of public opinion was onto its case. From there it was all downhill. Set an impossible bar to clear, Israel was coerced into fighting terrorism with kid gloves. A plus for the boycotters is that it cost Jewish lives. ‘Be not over righteous, nor too clever,’ Ecclesiastes 7:16 warns the nation. Shimon b. Lakish adds, ‘Whoever shows mercy to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to those deserving of mercy.’ The victims of terrorism were victims of morality – Israel’s army being kind to the cruel.
Zionist brutality. Zionist oppression. Zionist occupation. Zionist Nazi. The curses made Israelis, young and old, duck and dive like criminals. The cursers have been trained to avoid the ‘Jew’ word; it would be unpardonably self-destructive. Curse the Zionists all you like but don’t call them Jews. Protect our prime asset, the human rights halo. Keep it shining. Brandish the halo while you curse Israel into a corner.
A whole club of cursers is led by the Big Five: Amnesty, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, the UN Human Rights Council. Nominally those entities are humanitarian, not-for-profit and apolitical. In reality they are none of those things.
There are hundreds of second-tier bad-mouthers of Israel, a bewildering number of them in tiny Israel. B’Tselem, ‘Committee Against House Demolitions’, Jewish Voices for Peace,’ Breaking the Silence – all compete fiercely to bad mouth their own country. With cursing comes money; ultimately the human rights business, whether BDS or BLM, is about money.
A load of cash awaits anyone with a bad word to say about Israel. Moneybags George Soros coughs up hundreds of millions; the European Union is the cursers’ wallet. Trade is brisk, the money big and the players earnest. Activists live on Israeli crimes, the geese that lay golden eggs.
War by unarmed means was born in Durban. On its heels tumbled the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Awake to the smallest fault, inventive, bearers of tall tales, racists who presume to know better than Palestinian Arabs what’s good for them, and greedy.
Will they meet the fate of the wily wizard? In keeping with the bible the plotters’ vision fell painfully short. Getting nowhere as the devil’s advocate, BDS hopes were dashed by Israel’s burgeoning growth and success. The idea of stalling the mini juggernaut was no more than a tantalizer, a pipe dream.
When the Almighty told Balaam to hold his tongue he carried on. Dreaming of celebrity-hood he ransacked his whole bag of tricks. But the Almighty had other plans for Balaam. At the king’s bidding he went to the heights of Baal with him. He went to curse. Despite God, he meant to.
At the finishing post the wrong words tripped off his tongue, that mouth organ of militant curses, gadget of fortune and misfortune, master of a donkey wife. Born to curse, Balaam uttered the most sublime blessings in human annals.
He would have departed this life with the hurt rioting and rotting in his head. How beautiful are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel. For the tribute recited in prayer houses to this day thank a curser for hire. Odder yet, thank a lifetime hater of Israel.
Steve Apfel is an economist and costing specialist, but most of all a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction. His blog, ‘Balaam’s curse,’ is followed in 15 countries on 5 continents