Israeli columnist Gideon Levy confronts the journalists, the depth of racism in Israeli society, and asks which is the murderous society
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner.
Benny Ziffer is the Editor of the Culture and Literature supplement for the Israeli paper Ha’aretz. He recently wrote on his Facebook page after paying a condolence visit on a settlement. Here’s the quote: “En route, I looked at Palestinian villages alongside the Jewish communities and I thought of how the Palestinians’ murder is a type of sport or enjoyment, perhaps a substitute for erotica. From that perspective, we will never have anything culturally in common with them. Regardless, there’s evil and undignified people living among us. We can only yearn for land to vomit it out because it isn’t worthy of this land, which is full of Jewish blood that has been spilled.” On the heels of that, veteran Israeli TV personality Yaron London in criticizing the controversial HBO movie Our Boys, the drama, said on his show, “Arabs are savages. They don’t only hate Jews. They kill their own first and foremost.” He said that, though later he apologized for it.
Our guest today, Gideon Levy, wrote an opinion piece challenging these two statements that also confronts Israeli society as a whole and he calls them “abominable lies.” Gideon Levy is an award-winning author and journalist who writes a weekly column entitled the Twilight Zone and opinion pieces for Ha’aretz. He is a member of the editorial board. Gideon Levy, welcome to The Real News. Good to have you with us.
GIDEON LEVY: Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER: Let me just start with the title of the piece as I read it, at least as it was translated into English, “If there is such a thing as a murderous culture, then it exists in Israel.” Take a step backwards just a moment. I’d like to paint this arc because the vision idea that many of us and you perhaps as well in your younger days had of Israel was much different than what we have to wrestle with today. So how did it become this murderous culture? What does that mean?
GIDEON LEVY: Look, it’s a different culture. I wouldn’t say it if those two intellectuals that I must say both London and Ziffer are from the best of the best of Israeli journalists and by far not the worst of them, but when they claim that the wild Arabs with their murder culture, they hinted that we, the white ones, the civilized ones, the liberal ones, the Western ones, we don’t do those terrible things. This I couldn’t take anymore because Israel had so much blood on its hands ever since ’48 and even before that it’s not in a position at all. No Israeli is in a position at all to judge other cultures before we do something about our own culture. I just mentioned one of the operation in Gaza in which Israel killed 100 times more than the Palestinians did, but it’s not only about killing. It’s about stealing their lands.
Look what we have been doing to this Palestinian people in the last 100 years, in the last 100 bloody years. What didn’t we do to them? We took their lands. We took their jobs. We took their honor. We took their freedom. We took their dignity. We took their even identity. And after this, to go and to give them a lesson in culture, give them a lesson in humanity? This was too much for me.
MARC STEINER: So I wonder, I was thinking about when you wrote about Gaza during the war in 2014, I remember this well, there were people who wanted to call you to be put on trial for treason. I remember that. And so I wonder, here in United States we wrestle all the time with how you create a conversation around racism for all people in our country to wrestle with and to deal with. How do you create the conversation inside Israel itself? Is it possible to create that conversation? What happens when you try?
GIDEON LEVY: Very hard and it’s almost impossible, and for sure in times of war, then it’s not only impossible, it might become dangerous because the Israeli brainwash system, brainwashing machinery is so efficient. Really nobody is open to listen to any kind of criticism, but it’s by far deeper than this because the brainwash system of Israel, the brainwash machinery became so efficient in recent years and so systematic by dehumanizing the Palestinians, by demonizing them, and by losing any kind of tolerance to any kind of alternative voices. So to tell you that to raise an alternative voice in Israel is also the mission, almost impossible because you are immediately delegitimized and immediately nobody will listen to you.
MARC STEINER: So I mean, and I’m curious, what do you think happened? People like Benny Ziffer were considered a part of the left, as you even wrote. I don’t know a lot about Yaron London’s politics, but I know Ziffer’s politics. I mean, so this is not just a question of being on the right, being part of a very right-wing movement, which has taken a hold of Israel. This is beyond that. I mean it covers, it seems to me, a lot of political strains in thinking inside Israel itself. Has it always been there, do you think? Did something trigger it?
GIDEON LEVY: Many things triggered it, but the outcome is that racism became politically correct in Israel and that’s the main change because racism is everywhere including in your country, but it was in Israel throughout the years, the big change is that it became politically correct. You don’t pay any price for being a racist in Israel. Nobody is going to condemn you. The government is a racist government. The media becomes more and more racist. It becomes part of the vocabulary, part of the dictionary, being racist mainly towards the Palestinians, but not always toward Palestinians. I must remind you the campaign here against the asylum seekers, which is a shameful campaign led by the government, but also by the civil society. So by the end of the day, we are facing a society in which it’s not only living in denial to the occupation, not only is totally blind to all kinds of moral questions, it’s becoming more and more racist and you saw it even in some official expressions like the nation-state law, which by definition is a racist law.
MARC STEINER: I mean, do you think, I wrote this the other day, I’m just curious your thoughts after reading your most recent pieces, that sometimes when I see what’s happening with Israeli policy and the racism inside of Israel, you said against the mostly African asylum seekers, against the Palestinians, and even with Ethiopian Jews who I’ve interviewed who feel the same thing inside of Israel, that in some ways after 2,000 years of people trying to kill the Jews, which is the history of the world, there’s no denying what people tried to do to wipe us out, but it seems to me we’re at a point where the policies of Israel, maybe you’ll disagree with this, I just want to see your thoughts, that the policies of Israel itself are threatening the survival of Jewish people. [crosstalk] Is that true?
GIDEON LEVY: You might be right sure, but I wouldn’t put all the— as we say in Hebrew— all the eggs in one basket because it differs. It still differs. When it comes to the Palestinians, we are dealing with the natives. We are dealing with those who have been here before us. We are dealing not with immigrants, not with asylum seekers, not with foreigners, but with a people which is equally as big as the Jewish people in Israel. I mean, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, we are facing now a very rare moment in which it’s 50/50 Palestinians and Jews, so you even don’t speak about a minority. You are speaking about another people who should have been equal to you— not only in size, but also in rights.
Nothing like this happens in reality. I mean, the apartheid policy, which started in the occupied territories, is part and parcel now of the state of Israel with all the consequences of this. So let’s separate the Israeli-Palestinian relations from all the other expressions of racism, nationalism and others because it is different.
MARC STEINER: So when you just said that the occupied territories are basically now part of Israel, and you saw most of the polls would say in different variations that most Israelis would like to see it a part of Israel proper, so is it too late to even talk about a two-state solution? Are we way beyond that, given the reality of the settlements, given the reality of Palestinians who live in Israel itself, and what’s happening on the West Bank? I mean, are we past that point?
GIDEON LEVY: It’s not only too late, Marc, I think that it is even destructive to speak about the two-state solution because we all know or most of us know, part of us don’t admit, but we know there will never be a viable Palestinian state in a viable piece of land. This train left the station already. Continuing to talk about it is playing into the hands of Israel and playing into the hands of the occupation because it means wasting more time with the road which leads to nowhere because no one is going to evacuate 700,000 settlers, and no Palestinian state will be viable without the evacuation of all the settlers. Therefore, continuing to talk about the two-state solution means wasting more time.
I personally think that Israel never meant for the two-state solution. There was not one single Israeli prime minister who really meant to put an end to the occupation, none of them. But now it is the critical time in which we have to admit that the settlers won and we lost, and we have to think about a new discourse because otherwise we will remain with the current status quo forever.
It might very be that this apartheid reality will continue forever. Israel is strong enough; the Palestinians are weak enough for this. Therefore, continuing to speak about the two-state solution means that there is a solution around the corner and we just wait for something miraculous to happen, and then there will be end of occupation. This is a masquerade.
MARC STEINER: So to conclude, I’d like to just conclude with how you concluded your article, to just wrestling with this whole deep issue of racism inside of Israel and how you see that future as well. I mean, because that is something. I mean, people often say the only way that you overcome that kind of hatred and racism is through common struggle together, which I don’t see happening tomorrow morning. I mean, but that is what you’re warning about. You’re warning about the depths of racism inside of Israel and what that can mean for its own future.
GIDEON LEVY: Yeah, and this will not be changed before there will be a political solution. Unfortunately, it is so deep-rooted that I don’t think that it will come from within the Israeli society. First, Israel has to pay for the occupation and be punished for the occupation. Once Israel will be punished and Israelis will pay for the occupation, they might start to ask themselves, “Was it worth it? Are we ready to pay the price?” Because they never paid any price for the occupation. Only then, when those questions will be raised— and my guess is that most of the Israelis will be very easy in giving up the occupation if there will be a price paid— then we can start to build a new set of values, new set of beliefs, new set of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, but it must start with a political solution. It will not come by itself.
MARC STEINER: Well, Gideon Levy, I wish we had a-whole-nother hour or more just to continue this conversation, but we’ll do more in the future. I appreciate your writing. I appreciate you taking the time with us this evening in Israel to join us here on The Real News Network.
GIDEON LEVY: Thank you so much for having me.
MARC STEINER: Thank you so much. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Let us know what you think. Take care.