Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gideon Levy

Haaretz Portrays Judaism as the Obstacle to Peace

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.

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Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.

As is often the case with such events, one can tell a great deal about the nature of this conference through what’s not being discussed, as well as who isn’t in attendance. Despite Israel’s location in one of the most violent and illiberal regions of the world, the conference does not deem the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, or the conquest of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq by the Islamists of ISIS, as worthy of a separate session–evidently, all that is secondary to the fate of the Palestinians. However, since two prominent Palestinian leaders, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat and businessman Munib al Masri, have already pulled out of the conference, citing as a reason “respect” for the “feelings of the Palestinian people” in the light of “the developments of the last few days,” one might legitimately wonder whether the Palestinians share the conviction of the Israeli left that in times of crisis, dialogue is of paramount importance.

Yet to portray this conference as a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians–as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon does, in an op-ed that praises “Israeli civil society” for “its vibrancy in speaking out against incitement,” while ignoring the integral role that incitement plays in the articulation of Palestinian goals­–rather misses the point. There is another agenda here, one that centers upon promoting the idea among Jews that racism and bigotry are inherent in the notion of a “Jewish state.”

That is why, in the collection of articles assembled by Haaretz to accompany the conference, you will find Gideon Levy, one of the paper’s resident anti-Zionists, declaring preposterously that “a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only.” You will find an official Haaretz editorial insisting that the murderers of the Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, are the “descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance that is nurtured and fertilized by the guides of ‘the Jewish state.’” And you will find a longer meditation on the same theme by Avraham Burg, the scion of a leading Zionist family and the former Speaker of the Knesset, who concludes that the root of Israel’s problem lies (as he describes it) in the anti-gentile culture that distinguishes the Jewish faith.

To anyone familiar with the historical trajectory of anti-Zionism, this linkage between an antagonism towards non-Jews that is underscored by Jewish religious beliefs with the very existence of a Jewish state is nothing new. In “Judaism Without Embellishment,” a notorious anti-Semitic screed published by the Soviet Union in 1963, Trofim Kichko asserted that “all of Judaic ideology is impregnated with narrow practicality, with greed, the love of money, and the spirit of egoism.” The Jewish state, Kichko went on, expresses these values through its discrimination against non-Jews.

What is new and worrying, however, is the revival of this discredited anti-Judaic discourse by those Jews and Israelis for whom a Jewish state is, by definition, a racist endeavor. Writing in a tone that is slightly less contemptuous than that adopted by Kichko, Burg says, in his Haaretz piece, “The element of distrust of other nations is woven into the fabric of the way Jews operate. This stems not only from persecution and hatred, ghettos and bloodshed: It is also an internal and active choice expressed through our normative system of halakha (traditional Jewish law), which ensured this mode of thinking.”

For Burg, this emphasis on Jewish separatism, embodied in dietary laws, Sabbath observance, and restrictions on intermarriage, has been incorporated into the “pathological view of Jewish-gentile relations” practiced by the State of Israel. Three millennia of fiendishly complex history are summarized thusly: “The State of Israel is continuing to employ the strategy of alienation that was always practiced by the Jewish people. We cast all our cumulative historic accounting onto our Palestinian adversaries. They fulfill the present needs; in the past we had Pharaoh, Haman, Antiochus, Khmelnytsky and Hitler. Now it’s the Palestinians’ turn.”

It’s tempting to submit that no form of Judaism would pass Burg’s ethical test. Had Judaism claimed for itself, as Christianity and Islam did, the status of universal, transcendent truth, he would be denouncing its imperial character. As it is, Judaism’s acceptance of its lot as a minority faith, along with the rules and practices that such minorities necessarily adopt to preserve their independence, is defamed as a form of racism. The logic of such a mindset determines that anti-Jewish persecution, insofar as it reinforced these separatist tendencies, was a perverse gift to the “ideologues” of Jewish separation.

A century ago, the sin of the Jews was their perceived internationalism. Hitler railed against “international Jewish financiers,” while Stalin’s prosecutors denounced the influence of “rootless cosmopolitans.” These days, the polar opposite is true: now, the perceived sin of the Jews is their aggressive, religiously-centered nationalism, which prevents them from realizing that the attainment of peace, as Burg argues, “is the total, completely beneficial alternative to all our historical phobias–a condition that can replace or erase them.” Never mind Hamas, Iran, ISIS, or Mahmoud Abbas’s double talk: the true enemy resides within us.

Doubtless, Burg’s message will resonate with those who, in another era, would have warmly endorsed Karl Marx’s maxim that “the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” The fact that we are still having this same conversation is precisely what should alarm us.

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Terror and the Truth About the Middle East

For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.

That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:

If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.

Levy believes such that such efforts are justified because he claims Israelis have blocked all other paths for the Palestinians except violence. This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. It is the Palestinian Arabs who have consistently and repeatedly rejected offers of peace and statehood from the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 through the Palestinian Authority’s four “no’s” over the last 15 years. But where Levy is right is when he writes of the Palestinians seeing their existence as inextricably tied to the war against Israel. Palestinian national identity has become inextricably tied to terror, whether in the form of missile barrages, kidnappings, or suicide bombings aimed at maiming and killing as many Jews as possible.

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For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.

That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:

If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.

Levy believes such that such efforts are justified because he claims Israelis have blocked all other paths for the Palestinians except violence. This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. It is the Palestinian Arabs who have consistently and repeatedly rejected offers of peace and statehood from the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 through the Palestinian Authority’s four “no’s” over the last 15 years. But where Levy is right is when he writes of the Palestinians seeing their existence as inextricably tied to the war against Israel. Palestinian national identity has become inextricably tied to terror, whether in the form of missile barrages, kidnappings, or suicide bombings aimed at maiming and killing as many Jews as possible.

Levy writes that the idea “that settlers could live in security in the territories” is getting a “wake-up call” about what lies ahead. This stems from his belief that the presence of Jews anywhere in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem is illegitimate. In making such an argument, Levy is echoing an intolerable, indeed indefensible notion that is routinely put forward by Israel’s enemies that seems rooted more in anti-Semitism than a belief in Palestinian rights. But even if we were to accept the idea that peace could be actually be achieved by Israel withdrawing from every centimeter of those parts of its ancient homeland that came into its possession during the Six-Day War, the notion that terrorism constitutes a proper response to a diplomatic standoff says a lot more about the political culture of the Palestinians than it does about Israeli settlement policies.

Put simply, the notion that anti-Israel terrorism is justified is one that accepts the premise that the Palestinians have the right to evict Jews from any territory that they claim. In Levy’s formulation, Palestinian efforts to murder Jews are indistinguishable from those of the Israel Defense Forces to prevent or punish murder of Jews. In such an upside-down moral universe, Jews are guilty by definition merely by existing even when they are teenage religious students and Palestinians are sympathetic even when engaged in acts of egregious terror.

Yet as absurd as this may sound, Levy’s arguments are the foundation of much of the criticism of Israel and its policies even by those who are too fastidious to justify terrorism. But in writing in this manner, Levy and the countless anti-Israel writers elsewhere who share his point of view are merely proving that the conflict isn’t about territory, settlements, or an occupation but an existential struggle in which Jewish sovereignty or self-defense conducted anywhere in the country, regardless of where its borders are drawn, is viewed as illegitimate.

The majority of Israelis have rightly come to believe that until this culture of hate that dictates Palestinian rejectionism changes, there is no point in further endangering their country by making concessions to the Palestinians. As much as they deplore the rare instances of Israeli vandalism or violence against Arabs, they understand that what happened to the three teenagers is widely supported by Palestinian opinion. No matter what your opinion about what the ideal solution to the Middle East conflict might look like, the justifications of Palestinian terror makes plain that what is at stake here isn’t settlements or settlers but a war against Jews.

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