Gideon Levy, single-minded

Gideon Levy has long cut a melancholic figure within Israeli journalism, as if he is carrying the burden of all Israel’s indiscretions upon his shoulders. His work covering the indignities of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for Ha’aretz has been admirable, and for it, Levy has become foreign media’s go-to guy for grim, matter-of-fact quotes about the state of the State, giving out bleak pronouncements on matters ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the position of Tel Aviv within Israel as a bubble, separated from the main.

As a loyal reader of Ha’aretz, I adopted the same deference, and continued to read his columns even as the tone grew darker, the voice more monotonous, the claims bolder. Perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps I should have stopped after October 23, 2012, when Ha’aretz published a frontpage splash of Levy’s under the headline, “Most Israelis Support Apartheid Regime in Israel,” even though as it transpired the polling data didn’t even back-up Levy’s premise. As Erez Tadmor covers in his essay in The Tower, Ha’aretz was compelled to issue the following retraction:

The wording of the main headline, “Most Israelis Support Apartheid Regime in Israel” (Haaretz, Oct. 23), did not precisely reflect the findings of the Dialog poll. The question to which a majority of respondents answered in the negative did not relate to any current state of affairs, but to a hypothetical future one: “If Israel were to annex the territories of Judea and Samaria [i.e., the West Bank], would you support granting 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote in Knesset elections?”

This isn’t simply a case of sloppy journalism, or sloppy writing, but sloppy thinking, lazy thinking, unthinking. It demonstrates a want for something to be true, even when it patently isn’t or can’t be, something which can also be said of Levy’s most recent column, “Time to be single-minded,” in which he argues for one state for two peoples, a binational entity between the river and the sea, and the “end of Zionism in its existing form”. It is an article littered with half-thoughts and unsubstantiated assertions:

At home, an egalitarian country like this would defuse most of the hatreds that bubble up from within. Arab citizens and Palestinians, with equal rights, will lose their subversive drive against the state that alienated them and dispossessed them of their rights. It will become their country. The Jews are likely to find that most of their fears were for naught: the moment that justice is established, the dangers – real and imagined – will be subdued.

Prior to the establishment of Israel, the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine was a matter of land and statehood, or failing that, autonomy. For the past sixty-five years, the principal grievance for the Arab population has been the loss of land and an absence of real self-determination in the land they have, or should have. Levy’s one-state would do essentially nothing in this regard in terms of settling injustices, perceived or real. On the one hand, Palestinians would not be able, even in a one state, to fulfil the fantasy of return. A few could go to Haifa or Jaffa, but certainly not en masse, while the villages of the Mandate are now a memory, the soil having been turned over and new lives began on the remnants of the old.

But nor as compensation would they have a homeland of their own, a space with defined borders including a capital in East Jerusalem where new dreams can be fulfilled, new lives constructed, new identities created. Instead, Palestinians would be sharing a larger state with six million Jews (and rising), and with nothing fully or satisfactorily resolved, it stands to reason that all the disputes and fissures that presently mark the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would simply be transferred into the new entity, with Jews and Arabs permanently vying for control within local and national governmental structures. And on the subject of Jewish fears that Levy so lightly brushes over, such dangers are not imagined but are the product of real lived experience, namely the forced mass exodus of Jews from Middle Eastern and north African states after 1948, in addition to the waves of Palestinian terror that have occurred throughout the history of the State up until the present day.

But there’s more:

Even more dramatic will be the disintegration of external threats. Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest of the “Axis of Evil” will lose the basis for their hatred. Who, then, will Iran threaten? A Jewish-Palestinian state? And who will Hezbollah and Hamas fire their missiles at? Against a Jewish-Palestinian consensus? Even the international stature of the new state will change in an instant: the world will excitedly embrace it and hurry to funnel large-scale aid to it.

This is scarcely believable and rather masochistic. Levy’s premise is based on an assertion that the problem Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas have is the existence of a state for Jews and not the existence of Jews in their state. The charter of Hamas is quite clear when it says that the “struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave”, that their goal is to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”, that “in order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad”. This is not the language of compromise and coexistence. Hamas, when last I checked, do not seek a single binational state where its members would live side-by-side in peace and security on moshavim with Labor and Meretz activists.

In his conclusion, Levy says, “At least two are required for this tango, and at present there isn’t even one”. This sentence is twice-revealing. It demonstrates the conceptual flaw in Levy’s dream, that it is one held by neither Jews nor Arabs. In the case of the latter, the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people desires a national homeland on the West Bank and in Gaza, while the aims of Hamas at present have already been laid out. For the Jewish population, there exists no desire within the mainstream to surrender Zionism – as evidenced by the support for Zionist parties of all stripes at the last election – while a decent majority continue to favour in opinion polling a two-state solution, based upon the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps.

That sentence is therefore a sentence of surrender. To advocate a solution that is desired by neither side and would not end the conflict but transfer all its problems into a new state is to advocate for no solution at all. What Levy is doing in effect, then, is ending his participation in the essential, existential debate. Rather than combat those who seek an altogether different and despicable kind of one-state solution – an Israeli apartheid state or Islamist Judenrein entity – Levy has elected to wash his hands of the whole thing and simply walk off into the night.

This is unserious, and unworthy of someone who for many decades has been, in spite of his faults, an important voice on the diplomatic issue.

About the Author
Liam Hoare, a freelance writer on politics and literature, has written for The Atlantic, The Forward, and The Daily Beast