I just got a chance to read a post by Ben-Dror Yemini refuting Gideon Levy’s spin of a poll as if it were confirming that Israelis support an apartheid state. Yemini is for the most part an excellent writer and moderate nuanced thinker, though some of his specific arguments and rebuttals in this case are a bit strained. The sad fact is that Israel, a country and people I deeply love and admire, does suffer from a tendency to discriminate, and this often regrettably borders on racism against Arabs and Muslims. But Yemini is correct in distinguishing that from the more extremist characterization of an Israeli majority as supporting apartheid, which may sell newspapers with its sensationalism but is plainly untrue. Israelis in the broad majority are proud of freedom and democracy and will defend it including through institutions like the Supreme Court, civil society, and old and new media – even if all those have come under attack from the current Israeli administration.
More broadly, as far as this issue of sad stereotypes and attitudes by Israeli Jews towards Arabs and Muslim is concerned, I try to understand the context, and I similarly do not judge or blame Palestinians for any corresponding attitudes, which I am certain are at least as intolerant in their disregard for Israelis and Jews.
Certainly tons of work needs to be done to overcome these tribal hatreds and mistrust borne of a deep conflict, an occupation, and ignorance by both sides about the other. But that is the point. Anyone who spends all their time passing judgement against one side or another should have a bit more humility to understand the context – and the other side. So long as the status quo continues, both peoples will understandably and tragically be diminished by their parochial generalized hatreds.
But the inability to contextualize and provide perspective is not what most bothers me about Gideon Levy. What bothers me is his cowardice and his bias and his abuse of his position as an Israeli ‘expert.’ As much as I disagree with him for his extremist stances, I actually respect and admire his courage to challenge Israelis, which is his democratic prerogative.
Alas, what most Israelis do not realize is that he takes his pony show to International fora managed by Palestinians (such as the UN Committee on the inalienable right of Palestinian people whose precise even longer name escapes me) and he poses as if he were a prototypical Israeli before these audiences – which often include international attendees who have never met any other Israeli – and proceeds to demonize all Israelis as a caricature of monstrosity, without once even pointing to the Israeli narrative and concerns about Palestinian missteps.
I saw this first hand, of all places, in China. And I didn’t see it over the last two years, where perhaps one could excuse some Israeli leftists from forcefully arguing purely against the Netanyahu administration’s gigantically disrespectful and abominable missteps not just against the Palestinian people, but just as much against Israelis and the world. Even then, though, if you are invited to represent your people’s viewpoint, you should have the courage to explain the prevailing perspective, even if uncomfortable. Or if you cannot, then you should not accept the role of representative of the Israeli viewpoint.
Some time in the early 2000s, Gideon Levy was invited and clearly billed as the Israeli representative to a meeting dominated by Palestinian, Perspectives. I was among only perhaps two out of 200 participants (and one out of some 20 speakers) who tried (quite imperfectly, I should acknowledge) to speak truth to both sides and share the vantage point of the other. Only this way do we have a chance of moving in a positive direction. Gideon Levy, the sole Israeli representative, did not have the courage to explain to Palestinians and international participants at the conference even the most basic Israeli perspective or vantage point. He lambasted Barak as well as Sharon and every other Israeli official and policy. That would maybe even be acceptable if he then would have gone on to also point out what Palestinians had done wrong from the Israeli perspective – not the least of which was launching the second intifadah and the Ramallah lynching as a response to the failed camp david negotiations of 2000. Palestinians and Israelis have totally different narratives most times. And Levy hurt the process by making it seem like there was no Israeli narrative to consider. The result is like totalitarian societies where freedom of speech is suppressed and underlying problems seethe and don’t get resolved.
I find it fascinating that Levy has the courage to say all Israelis are doing wrong (and particularly nowadays there is a ton to be said!) But he has neither courage nor intellect to constructively share with the world and the Palestinian community what they need to do, or to at least explain Valid Israeli concerns.
We do a huge disservice to both sides when we lack the courage to say what needs to be said. At its most basic essence it is this: Israelis, you need to come to terms that you ARE occupying another nation, and you need to end the OCCUPATION, including giving Palestinians reign over Arab areas of East Jerusalem. Palestinians, you need to come to terms that you have to coexist with Israel and will not achieve a better future for your future generations if you are unwilling to PUBLICLY END ALL CLAIMS, give up fantasies for a phased approach to a Greater Palestine, and acknowledge Jews’ right to a homeland alongside yours, as part of a comprehensive final solution.
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