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Interview with Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy

Am Johal, September 19, 2010

An Israeli soldier points a gun at a Palestinian boy.

Gideon Levy is an award-winning Israeli journalist and editor for Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper. Levy's weekly column in Haaretz, "The Twilight Zone," deals with the politically and emotionally charged subject of the hardships of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and their conflicts with the Israeli military and Jewish settlers.

Prior to working for
Haaretz, Levy was an aid to Shimon Peres—at that time leader of the Israeli Labour party, now Israel's president—and served in the Israeli army for four years. He has an MA in political science from Tel Aviv University. The?son of two Holocaust survivors, he was born in Tel Aviv, where he?resides.

Am Johal: Since the end of the last peace process back in 2000, politics in Israel has shifted dramatically to the right. When Ariel Sharon was prime minister, Binyamin Natanyahu drove a right-wing wedge related to the Gaza withdrawal. What is the explanation for this continual right-wing drift in Israeli politics?

Gideon Levy: Since 2000, it has been a disappointing time. We have, more or less, seen the end of the Israeli left and the Israeli peace camp. Ever since then, they have not recovered, never existed again. All of the Israeli society is under the conditions of a coma without any real political discussion happening in Israel to end the occupation. There is no agenda. There is indifference and apathy for a viable political discussion in Israel. So, unfortunately, here we are.

AJ: Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has very much represented the far right in Israel's political landscape. He has talked about ethnic transfers. He has called for loyalty oaths and many other discriminatory policies against Arab citizens of Israel. Even seven or eight years ago, this would have been seen as quite radical. What is the nature of Lieberman's popularity and his support base and should he be taken seriously?

GL: First of all, his main influence is on domestic Israeli politics, not foreign policy. The foreign minister has no influence on foreign policy today. He has been excluded and marginalized when it comes to foreign policy. His main danger is to Israeli democracy. You can't put it all on his supporters, though. All those initiatives, those almost-fascist initiatives, were endorsed by center parties like Kadima and Likud. So I wouldn't exaggerate about his role. His supporters are mainly Russian Jews … but I think the problem of the Israeli society is not Lieberman but actually the mainstream Israeli society.

AJ: You began your journalism career in 1974 while serving with the Israeli Defense Forces. Ben Dror Yemeni of Maariv once called you "one of the propagandists for the Hamas." There have also been many cancelled subscriptions to Haaretz related to your columns. How difficult is it to be a journalist who is positioned on the progressive left, as a rare voice in the mainstream Israeli press like Haaretz?

GL: To be criticized and hated, it can be quite lonely with my views. But so far, I can't complain because the fact is that I have full freedom, except for the inconvenience, here and there, bad remarks in the street—I can handle it.

AJ: You have written in your journalism before of the "moral blindness" of Israeli society. What do you mean by this?

GL: When such a brutal occupation is taking place in the next yard to the society, half an hour drive away from our homes, there is not even discussion about the necessity to change. There are no moral grounds about this occupation. You can't call it anything else but moral blindness.

AJ: What would you characterize as the failure of Western media in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is there a narrowness to the discussion around the conflict and conflation of the criticism of Israel?

GL: The problem is with the Israeli media, not with the Western media. I think the European media, more than the American media, is covering the Middle East in quite a fair way, very intensively, for the most part, and quite balanced. There is more information in Europe about the occupation than in Israel. Concerning the U.S. and Canada, I know much less about Canada. I know a little bit more in the U.S. I can feel that even there it has been a change. I think the turning point was Operation Cast Lead. I think that today more questions are being raised even in Canada and the United States, not enough maybe, but at least it's not like a few years ago.

AJ: What are the challenges for the Palestinian leadership of Fatah and Hamas in the coming years? Can the divisions be overcome?

GL: First of all, I suppose it would be to reunite. I think it is fatal, from the Palestinian point of view, for any prospect for peace in the Middle East because—even those negotiations that take place now—the negotiators only represent only half the people in the occupied territories. This can't lead to anywhere—when one half is totally excluded and boycotted both by Israel and the Western world. The challenge is for both parties: for the Palestinians, to be reunited, which seems right now impossible; the challenge of Israel and the West to try to get Hamas to the negotiating table because, as much as we don't like Hamas, peace can happen between bitter enemies. By excluding Hamas, it just pushes Hamas to the corner. They should have been challenged to participate. It is unfortunate that they are not there.

AJ: The U.S. and the U.N. have been ineffective for many decades in bringing the conflict to a resolution. Some have argued that the E.U., with its geographic proximity and economic links, would be better equipped to lead a process in the long term. Could the E.U. be a credible partner in terms of bringing the sides closer together?

GL: Unfortunately, no. Unfortunately, the key is still in Washington. Only the U.S. is really being counted in Israel. Therefore all the responsibility lies on the United States. The U.N., Russia, E.U. are playing a secondary role. I don't see it changing in the coming future.

AJ: What is your view of how Canada is engaging in the Middle East with the Harper government?

GL: As far as I'm informed, Canada is traditionally very, very friendly to Israel. They hardly criticize Israel. I don't call it friendship—because, in friendship, you have to raise your voice and criticize your friends sometimes for doing the wrong things. I'm not sure that Canada is critical enough, for example, of the Israeli occupation, which is what I would expect from any democracy around the world.

AJ: You have said the Israeli left has been ineffective, not even on the map, since 2000. What do you think they have to do to be a more viable force in the Israel public sphere?

GL: Right now it would seem quite impossible. Israeli society is so indifferent. … There are groups now, they are very devoted, very courageous and very radical, but they are marginal and are also being marginalized. I don't see how you can really give a wake-up call to the Israeli society in this situation and, therefore, I'm skeptical of a change being possible at this point within the Israeli society. I don't know what should be done to make the Israelis open their eyes.

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