Uri Avnery, a Dissident Israel Voice of Non-Racist Zionism

Uri Avnery passed away on August 20th, a man who challenged the Israeli government and demanded rights for Palestinians throughout his life

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: On Monday, August 20, Uri Avnery passed away from a stroke, shortly before his 94th birthday. Uri Avnery was a dissident voice in Israel; a staunch fighter for equal rights and democracy without giving up his patriotism. He believed in what he called Hebrew-Arab solidarity.

Born in Germany in 1923, his Jewish family fled to Palestine when he was just 10 years old when the Nazis came to power.

URI AVNERY: Israelis have been conditioned by Jewish, by the Jewish past as it is being taught in Israeli schools, and of course by the Holocaust, into a kind of psychology of the whole world is against us. We are against the whole world.

MARC STEINER: When he was 15, Avnery joined the paramilitary Zionist group known as the Irgun, which launched attacks against Palestinians and against British imperial forces. Avnery later candidly referred to his membership in the Irgun as his time being a terrorist. He quit that organization over their anti-Arab ideology and their bombings of Arab markets.

URI AVNERY: I was a member of that terrorist organization when I was 15 years old. I believe I understand the psychology of young people who join organisations which are called terrorists by their enemies, but which themselves think of themselves as freedom fighters.

MARC STEINER: After the establishment of the state of Israel, Avnery’s views shifted even more. He believed that a democratic and stable state of Israel would only be possible if Palestinians had their own independent state, and if the Palestinians of Israel were full and equal citizens.

URI AVNERY: In order to achieve peace with the Palestinian people, Israel must end the occupation with the war from the occupied territories and enable the Palestinians to set up their own independent nation-state, the state of Palestine. That’s what it’s all about.

MARC STEINER: Uri Avneri bought a weekly magazine called HaOlam HaZeh- It means This World- where he used sensational journalism on the high society of Tel Aviv and sexy photos to draw readers to read political articles criticizing the Israeli government. The magazine was so effective that the Israeli secret police concocted a failed plot to denounce Avnery as a Soviet spy and have him arrested.

In 1965, he founded a political party and became a member of the Israeli parliament, called the Knesset, where he was the voice of opposition, part of what was called the left campm once giving up his parliamentary seat to a Palestinian.

In 1974, Avnery survived an assassination attempt and sustained several knife wounds. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Avnery and two other journalists blatantly violated Israeli law by interviewing Yasser Arafat, who was head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

YASSER ARAFAT: I know the future is one state. This is the future. Because, you see, you can’t be away from the heart of this area. We are looking to make one Arab state, from Morocco to Aden. You have your own situation, and I know, I have to respect it.

MARC STEINER: Avnery proceeded to found the political organization Gush Shalom, meaning Peace Block, in 1994. The organization called for the boycott of all products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Though he always, to the consternation of many activists, remained opposed to the BTS movement and its boycott of all products from Israel.

URI AVNERY: We are not anymore the little David fighting for his life against dozens of nations who want to destroy us. But rather we’ve become the Goliath.

MARC STEINER: In Israeli society, Uri Avnery was never accepted into the mainstream. After his death, a news anchor compared him to Palestinian terrorists, and right-wing activists expressed joy at his death.

NEWS ANCHOR: And today eulogies were dedicated to him by the President of the State Reuven Rivlin, but also by British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and also the chairman of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen, those who have no problem to eulogize terrorists as a matter of routine.

MARC STEINER: We lost a man who dedicated his entire life to the fight for equal rights and justice. He believed that Zionism did not have to be racist, and defined himself as a post-Zionist. To his last breath, Uri Avnery remained an optimist about a peaceful future between Israelis and Palestinians. He was an atheist. His body was cremated, with his ashes thrown to the sea. And as Bennett Muraskin wrote, he enjoyed eating fish, and he wanted to return the favor.