I went to hear Gideon Levy talk at Amnesty in London last night. He’s in the UK to promote his book The Punishment of Gaza and last night he was in conversation with John Snow (Snow presents Channel 4’s Seven O’clock news and seems fond of chairing anti-Israel events).
It was nice to be actually let in unlike my last attempt. This event was co-presented by Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the latter organisation being more open to dialogue than some might give credit.
I hope being barred from a public debate on Israel/Palestine because people don’t like what I write won’t become de rigeur, but you never know.
Back to Levy. From what I had read about this tour I was expecting the devil incarnate to walk into the packed auditorium breathing fire from its nostrils. It didn’t happen.
Maybe in my old age I am becoming desensitised to the ubiquitous unsubstantiated accusations of racism and apartheid that are made, like they were last night, against Israel that they don’t anger me anymore.
Maybe I was softened up by Levy’s claim that he is an Israeli patriot: “All I do is care about Israel. I’ve used my journalistic career for a better Israel, not against Israel. I love Gaza but have not been alowed to go there since December 2006. I asked Ehud Barak why Israeli journalists are not allowed in Gaza and he said he didn’t know they weren’t allowed in.”
Levy saw Operation Cast Lead (OCL) not as a war but as a brutal operation against a civilian population.
He thinks OCL was the turning point of world public opinion which is now “less tolerant of Israeli violence and aggression. Look at the flotilla. We now do what we want wherever we want, for example in international waters, with force as the first option. The Israeli general in charge of the flotilla operation has said that next time we will use snipers.”
(Levy obviously hadn’t seen the BBC’s Death in the Med in which Jane Corbin concluded that that the Mavi Marmara’s bid to break the naval blockade wasn’t really about bringing aid to Gaza but it was a political move designed by the Islamist organisation IHH and others to put pressure on Israel and the international community. Corbin had just reported that two thirds of the medicines being transported to the people of Gaza by the flotilla were out of date and useless.)
He paid tribute to the fact that Israel was always the first on the scene to help in international crises like in Mexico, Turkey and Haiti.
“There have been worse occupations in history but not where the occupier felt so good about itself. We are the first occupiers in the world to say that we are the victim and Israelis believe the IDF is the most moral army in the world, ” he said.
He asked: “How can an occupation by a democratic society last for 42 years? How do Israelis live with it?”
He answered: “We were trained to think we are very moral but that Palestinians were not human beings like us. Dehumanisation is the only tool which enables us to maintain the occupation and feel good about ourselves. It is wall-to-wall now. Even the peaceniks don’t feel the Palestinians are human beings”.
He told us how two Israeli dogs being killed during OCL garnered more media coverage than the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians. The dogs’ funerals and interviews with the owners were all over the front pages while Palestinian deaths were only mentioned on pages 15 and 16: “In Israel two Israeli dogs are worth more than hundreds of Palestinians,” he concluded.
(Had Levy picked up a British newspaper recently or logged on to the internet he would see that while people are dying in Pakistan from the terrible floods we are obsessed by a woman who dumped a cat in a bin.)
Levy said that a crowd of the size at Amnesty to hear him would never turn out in Tel Aviv and that Haaretz, the newspaper he writes for, is an island with a small readership.
He spoke of the ever growing file labelled “Subscription cancellations due to Gideon Levy”: “I get full freedom to write for Haaretz but Haaretz is losing influence,” he said.
He recalled the 400,000 Israelis who protested after the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres which, he said, were not even carried out by the Israelis but thought that that size protest would not occur now. He has been described as a “self-hating Jew” and “an enemy of Israel”.
(When Shlomo Sand came to the UK to promote his anti-Zionist polemic, The Invention of the Jewish People, he said it was top of the best-seller list in Israel.
As for Haaretz itself it is read nationally and internationally. It is published in English and Hebrew and is distributed along with the International Herald Tribune and has a daily circulation of 72,000 (100,000 at weekends). The Jerusalem Post’s circulation is 15,000 (40,000 at weekends).)
On the question of boycotting Israel Levy said that although he cannot call for a boycott himself, because he is Israeli, it is a legitimate weapon especially as Israeli uses it against Gaza, Hamas and Iran.
He was asked whether boycotts are racist because they target Jewish Israelis, even those opposed to the settlements. He failed to address this question properly but he did say that boycotters should read the label first and boycott only if a product is from the West Bank.
(Obviously, Levy fails to understand the racism inherent in the boycott Israel movement because first, boycotters don’t look at the label in such a discriminating manner. As long as the label says “Israel”, they will boycott (One member of the audience claimed that the only reason they boycott is because the Palestinians themselves are calling for it). And, second, the boycott includes Israeli academics.)
Levy’s main complaint is that he feels so alone in Israel. He feels the drama is all going on in Israel’s backyard and yet there is no one covering it. He said there is no censorship in Israel, only self-censorship by journalists.
(But even if this were the case there are plenty of foreign journalists in Gaza, including from the BBC. But I can fully understand why Israeli journalists would be so banned; they would be an easy target for kidnapping by Hamas.)
Despite all the above Levy is not actually an anti-Zionist.
He called for the return of Palestinians to a Palestinian state and a limited return of some 500,000 to Israel including an admission of liability from Israel for what happened in 1948 and compensation for the non-returning refugees.
“What happened in 1948 is an historic injustice but it happens in wars. Israel is a fait accomplit so let’s move to a new chapter. The Jews had a right to settle in Palestine but the Palestinian rejection of the partition plan should not have led to the expulsion of 650,000 from their villages,” he said.
Levy claims that no one in Israel cares about the Palestinians and he cites Tel Aviv as the best example of this. But then again he would hear the same complaints from the residents of Sderot who also think that the rest of Israel doesn’t care about the bombs that are regularly fired at them from Gaza.
I had a couple of nice chats afterwards and one with someone in charge of the Northern Section of the TUC who said that a full TUC boycott of Israel is coming.
I asked whether the TUC had ever considered a boycott of Britain or America due to NATO forces occupying Afghanistan.
He said it was impossible to boycott Britain but there is every possibility of a boycott of America being passed. I’d like to see them try!
Keep an eye on the TUC Conference, 13th-16th September.