Gideon Levi is unique among Israeli journalists. He is a man of integrity. Because of it he is as controversial as one can get in Israel. From were I stand he towers like a giant, almost a demigod. ‘Godot Levi,’ I had grown accustomed to thinking of him. On more than one occasion I had spoken to him on the phone or exchanged brief emails with him. Last week I finally met him in person. He spoke at the Arab Human Rights Association in Nazareth about racial discrimination in Israel. His line of thinking went as follows: The underlying cause for discrimination by Israel’s Jewish majority against its Palestinian minority is twofold: Its belief in the superiority of the Jewish mind and all that follows in terms of the chosen people’s rights and God-given privileges and dehumanizing of the other, especially the Arab other and most especially the Palestinian other. The process is given legitimacy and full sway by a system-wide media conspiracy and unquestioning promotion. In conclusion, Mr. Levi opined that change on this matter would not come from within the Israeli society.
I may have missed some of the finer points of Mr. Levi’s discourse. Still, when the Q&A period came, I asked the leading question if, given this conclusion he supported the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel that a wide circle of Palestinian civil society activists had called for starting in 2005 and which seemed to be gaining strength and currency abroad. Mr. Levi gave a less than convincing response to the effect that he found the Israeli public so lacking in self understanding that it failed to link BSD to its actions and attitudes. I felt personally aggrieved. My idol was self-mutilating right in front of my eyes; he was hedging, perhaps because it is illegal in Israel to support the call for BDS, I thought. But he didn't hedge at all about another equally weighty political point. In fact he volunteered the information that he no longer draws a line under 1948 like so many soft-hearted Israeli liberals do.
A young man named Ahmad raised a different point: In his near one-hour –long discourse on the sensitive issue Mr. Levi did not mention Zionism once. Didn’t Zionism contribute to the promotion of racial discrimination against its colonial native population? I waited for my idol to confirm my assumption regarding his anti-Zionism. To his credit he acknowledged the special importance of the issue raised by the young questioner, calling him Ahmad and not the usual ‘Achmid.’ But he went on to dodge the core issue stating that he no longer knew what Zionism was and hence he couldn’t take a stand on the matter. I found this even more disappointing than Mr. Levi’s response to my question. He also smoked and I am a public health physician. Alas my giant of a hero was disintegrating before my own eyes. It was enough to drive one to desperation.
Then today I read his op. ed. piece in Haaretz entitled “A patriot’s final refuge” in which he sees the light. The credit for this sudden change may well go to Tzipi Livni who seemed to see the writing on the wall, so to speak. It is not the Apartheid Wall as one may have hoped that she saw. Rather it is the more alarming wall of the EU where warnings are flashing for Israel to take notice or else its profitable occupation products will be banned. Mr. Levi now seems to tackle his reluctance to call for BDS frontally, making the link to South Africa and ending with “the call for a boycott is required as the last refuge of a patriot.”
Is anti-Zionism next Mr. Godot? I am waiting.