On the New Left Project Jany Stern-Weiner has a long and very interesting interview with Gideon Levy of the newspaper Haaretz (which I found via the Mondoweiss blog).She met him in London where he presented his new book 'The Punishment of Gaza'. Levy is one of the few voices in Israel that with great regularity speak out against chauvisnist and nationalist tendencies, militarism, attacks at the freedom of speech and stigmatization of the Palestinians. Here I copy part of the interview, but the whole piece is absolutely a must read. You'll find it here
You close the introduction to your book with a tribute to the courage of Ha’aretz editors in standing by your writings and continuing to publish them in an atmosphere of increasing intolerance and chauvinism. How unique is Ha’aretz in this regard? I notice, for example, that B. Michael appears to have disappeared from Yedioth Ahronoth [Israel’s largest-circulation daily] after his columns criticising ‘Cast Lead’.
He was just fired. He didn’t ‘disappear’, he was just fired. [See here]
So is the Israeli media quite jingoistic in its coverage generally? How unique is Ha’aretz?
Why do you think the rest of the media “recruited itself” to supporting the occupation?
Ha’aretz has significant influence outside of Israel. Is it influential within Israel too?
Traditionally, yes. Ha’aretz was always the most influential newspaper in Israel, because the elite reads it and it traditionally had an influence not only on politicians and the economic elite, but also on other media. I think this influence has decreased in a way, but it’s still there – Ha’aretz still plays a role, it’s not being marginalised, not at all. So the influence of Ha’aretz is much wider than its circulation in Israel. And also the fact that it’s being read all over the world through the website, gives Ha’aretz a special position also within Israel, because people are aware that everyone in the world who has an interest in the Middle East is reading it. This gives Ha’aretz a lot of power within Israel, because they understand that it has influence outside. So from this point of view, Ha’aretz still has its influence – but let’s not exaggerate about it.
Dealing with ‘48
I’ve noticed a shift in your own writings, which seem to have become increasingly radical in their criticism. I’m thinking in particular of a recent column in which you argued that “[d]efining Israel as a Jewish state condemns us to living in a racist state”, and urged people to “recognize the racist nature of the state”. Has there been a shift in your writings, do you think, and if so, what’s behind it?
It’s not a shift, it’s a process. My views became more and more radical throughout the years, in contrast to the opposite stream of the entire society – the more Israel becomes nationalistic, the more the government becomes violent and aggressive, like in ‘Cast Lead’, like in the Second Lebanese War, like with the flotilla, all those developments put me in a much more radical position, obviously, because there is much more to protest against. So yes, I am becoming more and more radical, but you can’t put a finger to say one day I became a radical. It’s an ongoing process.
Would you accept the label ‘anti-Zionist’ to characterise your views?
It depends what is ‘Zionism’. Because Zionism is a very fluid concept – who can define what is Zionism? If Zionism means the right of the Jews to have a state, I am a Zionist. If Zionism means occupation, I’m an anti-Zionist. So I never know how to answer this question. If Zionism means to have a Jewish state at the expense of being a democratic state, then I am anti-Zionist, because I truly believe those two definitions are contradictory – ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’. For me, Israel should be a democratic state.
Absolutely. It should be a state for Jews that will be a just state, a democratic state, and if there will be a Palestinian majority, there will be a Palestinian majority. The idea is that Jews have to have their place, but it can’t be exclusively theirs, because this land is not exclusively theirs.
This brings us nicely to the ‘liberal Zionists’, of whom you’ve been very critical. You have written that “[a] left wing unwilling to dare to deal with 1948 is not a genuine left wing”. Firstly, in terms of the Palestinian refugees – do you have a view about whether they should be permitted to return?
First of all, something must be very clear – the problem must be solved. And as long as their problem will not be solved, nothing will be solved. Those hundreds of thousands of refugees cannot continue, generation after generation, to live in their conditions. They have rights. Now on the other hand, you can’t, and you don’t want, to solve the problem and to create a new problem. Full return means creating new refugees. The place I live in Tel Aviv belonged to a Palestinian village. If the owners of this village will come back, I will have to go somewhere else. All Israel is originally Palestinian – if not its villages then its land, its fields… almost all of it belonged to the Palestinians. So if you do a total return, you create a new problem. And also there are very few precedents in history in which everyone was allowed to return to his original home decades after the war. But it must be solved.
I think there could be a solution, but it requires Israel to have good will – which it doesn’t have. It would involve, first of all, Israel recognising its moral responsibility. That’s the first condition. It’s about time for Israel to take accountability for what happened in ’48 and realise and recognise that there was a kind of ethnic cleansing, and expelling 650,000 people from their lands was not inevitable and was criminal. I think that taking responsibility will be the first step. Second step, Israel has to participate in an international project of rehabilitating the refugees – some of them in the places where they live. The third stage, obviously, is full return to the Palestinian state, if there will be a Palestinian state. And the last stage should be a symbolic, limited return also into Israel. It goes without saying, Israel has absorbed within the last few years one million Russians, and half of them were not Jewish. Why can we absorb half a million non-Jewish Russians and not absorb a few hundred or tens of thousands of Palestinians, who belong to this place, whose families are living in Israel? So that’s the way I see it.
Do you have a preference – two-states against one state? And if you prefer a two-state settlement, what is that preference based on? For example, my ideal outcome would be a bi-national or one-state solution, but I think that for now the most just solution that can be achieved is a two-state settlement. So if you have a preference for a two-state settlement, is that because you think it’s the most just settlement, period, or merely the most just settlement that can realistically be achieved in the foreseeable future?
I’ve just finished reading Yitzhak Laor’s ‘Myths of Liberal Zionism’, which is obviously very critical of the ‘Zionist Left’. What do you think of the politics of people like David Grossman, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and Meretz? Do they offer a sufficiently radical critique of Israeli policy, and if not, why is their critique so compromised?
First of all, I had Oz and Yehoshua at my home for dinner a few weeks ago, so I have to be very cautious in what I say, but I am very critical about this kind of thinking. You can add [Israeli President] Shimon Peres and Labor to this. This is the typical Israeli hypocrisy, and I in many ways appreciate [Israel’s far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman more than Shimon Peres, because with Lieberman, at least, what you see is what you get. It’s very clear what he stands for. With people like Shimon Peres or Meretz – and I don’t say they are identical – or Oz and Yehoshua and Grossman, they want to eat the cake and leave it complete, as we say in Hebrew. This doesn’t work.
I think they lack courage, some of them. Others, like Shimon Peres, are hypocrites who talk about peace and do the opposite. I think that Oz and Yehoshua and Grossman, who I know very well personally, mean well. But in many ways they are still chained in the Zionistic ideology. They haven’t released themselves from the old Zionistic ideology, which basically hasn’t changed since ’48 – namely, that the Jews have the right to this land, almost the exclusive right. They are trying to find their way to be Zionistic, and to be for peace, and to be for justice. The problem is that Zionism in its present meaning, in its common meaning, is contradictory to human rights, to equality, to democracy, and they don’t recognise it. It’s too hard for them to recognise it, to realise it. And therefore their position is an impossible position, because they want everything: they want Zionism, they want democracy, they want a Jewish state, but they want also rights for the Palestinians… it’s very nice to want everything, but you have to make your choice and they are not courageous enough to make the choice.