I’m a political writer. I put words together into arguments, structures that I hope will be persuasive, or at least encouraging to people who already share my point of view. I often wonder if my skills could be put to work for the other side, like Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz, about whom I’ve written that he gets up every morning and asks “how can I hurt the state of Israel?”
Oh, he claims that this isn’t what he does. He claims that he is objectively documenting the abuse and oppression of the Palestinians, which he attributes to our moral depravity.
He and his admirers, including his publisher Amos Schocken, see him as courageous, a hero fighting against an evil machine on behalf of its powerless victims. They believe that he is a force for good. They believe that his enterprise is to make ordinary Israelis (and foreigners who read Ha’aretz’s English edition on the web) understand what is being done in their name, and that once this happens they will take the appropriate steps to end “the occupation,” the Palestinians will be freed from their oppression, and there will be peace and justice in the land.
Levy is a wonderful rationalizer. He has an answer for everything. He only wants justice for everyone in “Palestine,” not just Jews. He even believes in Zionism, meaning “the Jewish people having the right to live in Palestine side by side with the Palestinians, doing anything possible to compensate the Palestinians for the terrible tragedy that they went through in 1948.” Levy’s Palestinians never have choices to make that could change their situation, they never initiate anything, they only respond. He fails to detect any moral failings on their part; if they display cruelty or viciousness, it is in reaction to the abuse they receive from us. Nothing is their fault.
He even wrote a column in 2013 explicitly calling for a violent Arab uprising to overthrow the state, which would then become “an Israel that isn’t an occupier, that is just and egalitarian … a different and infinitely better place to live.”
But I wonder about the last part. I suspect Levy understands quite well what Palestinians think ending “the occupation” is, and that if they get their – and his – wish, the 70-year experiment with Jewish sovereignty will be over. He cannot fail to understand this.
He calls himself “an Israeli patriot,” and says that he “wants to be proud of [his] country,” but his bitterness and revulsion for the Jewish people spills out of his writing. He says they are stupid, selfish, and cruel, over and over.
He is lying about his motivation. Levy does not write what he writes because he cares about the Jewish state and wants to make it better. He writes out of hate. He is unable to hide the truth that he wants to see the Jewish state destroyed, because he hates the Jewish people.
Technically, I could do what Gideon Levy does and even get paid for it. There is a market, a big one, for Jewish writers that are prepared to join the crusade against the Jewish state. The Jewish crusaders are the ones that write with the most venom. They are the ones that hate the most, as much or more than Arabs and Muslims. And they are the ones that are published in the mainstream media or are interviewed on television.
But temperamentally, I could never do it, for any amount of money. I get up and look out the window at the same country that Gideon Levy sees, and I wonder how I have been lucky enough to live in this place, the homeland of the Jewish people. I see my people with all their faults, and unlike Levy, I feel close to them.
Levy would tell me that the problem is that I am “brainwashed” so I don’t see Palestinians as human beings. But I do – I see them as human beings who, as a result of a complicated political and psychological process, falsely believe that this is their homeland and nobody else’s. I see them as human beings who want to kill me, and although (believe it or not) I can empathize with their unhappiness and put myself in their place, I also am certain that I have the right to defend myself, with deadly force if necessary. While I appreciate that they have their “narrative,” I have mine, and I believe that mine is true and theirs is false. While I would like them to be happy, I do not prioritize their happiness over that of my own people.
Just because they are human, I am not required to submit to them and give them whatever they want, especially when what they want is my life and property.
This is really pretty simple. Of course I realize that the State of Israel isn’t perfect, and not just because of its poor postal service. But I do not believe that we are morally depraved or incapable of empathy. The opposite is true: we are often obsessed with moral questions to the point of being incapable of acting, and we sometimes neglect our own people because of an excess of empathy for others.
Who is the brainwashed one here?
Kenneth Levin, a psychiatrist and historian, described a psychological state which he called the “Oslo Syndrome” (in a book by that name, which I reviewed here) that can explain the irrational inversion of loyalty that characterizes Jews like Levy. Levin argues that the pressure of continuing persecution in historical times, and terrorism and war today, produces a sense of loss of agency. No matter what we, as Jews, do, the Hitlers or Arafats of the day continue to hate and try to kill us. How to respond? The normal human response is anger and aggression, but in many Jews, products of centuries of diasporic powerlessness, this reaction is blocked. Frustrated by the futility of trying to change the behavior of the antisemites, they respond by trying to change themselves. Having internalized the antisemitic attitudes of their tormentors, they try to become different, to make themselves over into creatures that will not be hated.
So the Levys of the world become warriors against Zionism, saying in effect, look at me, I am on your side, don’t hurt me. Levy himself proudly claims that he never experiences hostility from the Palestinians he meets on his forays into the territories, proof that he is succeeding.
Unfortunately the strategy – either for individuals like Levy, or collectively as in the Oslo Accords – doesn’t work in the long run, because the real cause of Jew-hatred isn’t found in the Jew, or in Israeli society. There is nothing that Levy could do to make him anything more than a useful tool for the Palestinian leadership, whose goal is not to improve relations with the Jews, but to expel or kill them.
Gideon Levy is an unhappy man, something which again is obvious from his writing. “I would never leave [Israel],” he says. But maybe he realizes that he’s gone too far, and it’s not possible any more to continue pretending that he is a loyal, although critical, Israeli.
Maybe he’s facing the cognitive dissonance that is part and parcel of treason.