Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?

The Independent has an article on Gideon Levy asking whether he is the most hated man in Israel or the most heroic.

It is possible to be both, especially as Levy asks questions which most Israelis have no interest in considering, let alone answering.

But I found Levy's take on Israeli attitudes to be fascinating. He begins by describing the narrative through which all Israelis are taught to view the conflict.

There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us? So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”
And one can see why so many Israelis hate him, for he speaks with a truth which must be very hard for many of them to accept.
“How can you say it is a democracy when, in 62 years, there was not one single Arab village established? I don’t have to tell you how many Jewish towns and villages were established. Not one Arab village. How can you say it’s a democracy when research has shown repeatedly that Jews and Arabs get different punishments for the same crime? How can you say it’s a democracy when a Palestinian student can hardly rent an apartment in Tel Aviv, because when they hear his accent or his name almost nobody will rent to him? How can you say Israel is a democracy when Jerusalem invests 577 shekels a year in a pupil in [Palestinian] East Jerusalem and 2372 shekels a year in a pupil from [Jewish] West Jerusalem. Four times less, only because of the child’s ethnicity! Every part of our society is racist.”
And he makes an argument which I have always agreed with, that good friends of Israel should not stand silently by whilst she engages in actions which will ultimately harm her.
“A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies – who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war – are the nation’s true friends.” The people who defend Israel’s current course are “betraying the country” by encouraging it on “the path to disaster."
And he shares the doubts of many of us about the sincerity of Netanyahu when it comes to the current peace talks.
“There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.”
Then, he identifies why he believes Netanyahu is taking part in the current peace talks.
“If there are negotiations, there won’t be international pressure. Quiet, we’re in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations. Under the cover of such talks, the chances for peace will grow even dimmer... The clear subtext is Netanyahu’s desire to get American support for bombing Iran. To do that, he thinks he needs to at least pay lip-service to Obama’s requests for talks. That’s why he’s doing this.”
It's terribly depressing, because everything he states rings so true. And yet he does identify some positives in this insane narrative, the first of which is that most Israelis do believe in a two state solution.
According to the opinion polls, most Israelis support a two-state solution – yet they elect governments that expand the settlements and so make a two-state solution impossible. “You would need a psychiatrist to explain this contradiction,” Levy says. “Do they expect two states to fall from the sky? Today, the Israelis have no reason to make any changes,” he continues. “Life in Israel is wonderful. You can sit in Tel Aviv and have a great life. Nobody talks about the occupation. So why would they bother [to change]? The majority of Israelis think about the next vacation and the next jeep and all the rest doesn’t interest them any more.” They are drenched in history, and yet oblivious to it.
And he sounds, at times, as if he is making the case for the boycotting of Israel, but his position is much more nuanced than that.
“Firstly, the Israeli opposition to the boycott is incredibly hypocritical. Israel itself is one of the world’s most prolific boycotters. Not only does it boycott, it preaches to others, at times even forces others, to follow in tow. Israel has imposed a cultural, academic, political, economic and military boycott on the territories. The most brutal, naked boycott is, of course, the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas. At Israel's behest, nearly all Western countries signed onto the boycott with inexplicable alacrity. This is not just a siege that has left Gaza in a state of shortage for three years. It's a series of cultural, academic, humanitarian and economic boycotts. Israel is also urging the world to boycott Iran. So Israelis cannot complain if this is used against them.”
But, because most Israelis have been brought up to see Israel - and Israel alone - as the victim, he fears that any boycott would only feed into that mindset and confirm for many Israelis their belief that most of the world is anti-Semitic.
If [a boycott was] seen as the judgement of the world they would be effective. But Israelis are more likely to take them as ‘proof’ the world is anti-Semitic and will always hate us.”
And he identifies the only solution to the problem to be the intervention of the President of the United States.
“The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. Israel is totally isolated today, except for America."
Which is true, but terribly depressing. As we have already seen the pressure brought to bear on Obama for even daring to attempt to be even handed in this dispute.
He was initially hopeful that Barack Obama would do this – he recalls having tears in his eyes as he delivered his victory speech in Grant Park – but he says he has only promoted “tiny steps, almost nothing, when big steps are needed.” It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?”
When Obama came to office I thought he, certainly much more than his predecessor, was serious about bringing a peaceful solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But every time Obama attempted to bring pressure on the Israelis members of the House and Senate would quickly condemn him.
Schumer, along with a majority of members of the House and Senate, signed on to letters politely suggesting the U.S. keep its disagreements with Israel private, a tacit objection to the administration's very public rebuke of the Jewish State over construction in Jerusalem last month.
These American politicians are part of the problem, not the solution. They are the equivalent of a kind uncle feeding an obese child chocolate. They make the solution to this problem impossible to achieve.

The irony is that they really do think that they are acting in Israel's best interests by making a two state solution unachievable, oblivious to the fact that any one state solution will almost certainly result in the end of the country they are seeking to defend.

And should Netanyahu be playing along with these talks without being serious about coming to a deal with the Palestinians, these same American Senators will be the first people to applaud him and to condemn Obama should he speak out in condemnation.

I wish Obama well, but the task he is confronting will be a seriously lonely road. And the first people to ambush him will be members of his own House and Senate.

Levy's article is fascinating and can be read here.

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