Israel’s dissidents are saving the country
The dissidents do not need to apologize for anything. Their country owes them a great deal.
Gideon Levy, 24 March 2011
Imagine a different Israel in the eyes of the world. There is no B’Tselem, no Breaking the Silence, no Anarchists Against the Fence, no Gush Shalom. There is no New Israel Fund and no small band of radical and dissenting intellectuals and journalists. Imagine a different Israel, which silences and crushes every such voice. Imagine how it would look to the world.
The little sympathy Israel still receives it owes to these groups. The campaign of delegitimization against it, the real one and the one we invent, we owe to Avigdor Lieberman and Israel Beiteinu, to Benjamin Netanyahu and the flood of anti-democratic laws of his people and of Kadima, to the unbridled Israel Defense Forces and to the settlers who know no boundaries. One day of Operation Cast Lead did Israel more damage than all the critical articles taken together; the fatal attack on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara dragged down Israel’s image more than all the anti-Israeli lectures taken together; the “Nakba Law” stank more than all the petitions.
The ever-growing initiative to boycott, excoriate and ostracize Israel was born out of the pictures of Gaza and the scenes from the Marmara. The fact that there are Israelis who have joined the criticism can only be chalked up to Israel’s dwindling credit in universities in the United States, in the academic world of Europe and in newspapers in both places. Just imagine how Israel would look without them: North Korea.
The government’s ambassadors and its propagandists can barely persuade anyone in the world, except themselves. The destroyers of Israeli democracy can only stoke the fire higher and higher against it. The critical voices still being heard, in commendable freedom, arouse the world’s esteem. The dissidents are now the best explainers of Israel, whose regime is still to its credit.
About two weeks ago, I was invited to the Jewish Book Week in London, following the publication in English of my book “The Punishment of Gaza.” The Jewish establishment in Britain threatened to boycott the event, the organizers considered hiring security guards, and roughly 500 people, mainly middle-of-the-road Jews, filled the hall, asked questions and mainly, in their modest way, expressed great sympathy. I spoke, as I always do, against the occupation, the injustices and the damage it does to Israel and to the Palestinians, against the attacks on Israeli democracy as I have written in the hundreds of articles that have been published in Haaretz in Hebrew and in English, and as I did at the London School of Economics and Trinity University in Dublin.
As on previous occasions, a “spy” from the Israeli Embassy was sent to Trinity – this one, an Israeli student who was asked to write down what I said and convey it to the embassy. The embassy quickly dispatched a report to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, and the Foreign Ministry quickly leaked it to a well-known newspaper, which published only my harshest statements, without context – and there you have it: the indictment of a dissident.
One can ignore the way the embassy spies on journalists, evoking dark regimes. I would be glad to see a government representative at my lectures who was not under cover, if they have any interest. But one cannot ignore the message conveyed by such conduct – that of a witch hunt against a journalist whose opinions diverge from the party line.
In the new high-tech world, there is no longer a difference between what is written and what is said from here or from there. In the new world, which is mainly hostile to Israel, there is significance to alternative voices coming out of Israel, voices other than the official, threatening and harmful. These voices belong to Israel’s true patriots, who fear for its fate and are concerned over its image much more than the people who are threatening to silence them. The dissidents do not need to apologize to their country for anything. Their country owes them a great deal: They are the force that is saving its image in the world. “Thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth from thee”? (Isaiah 49:17 ) Indeed, indeed. Netanyahu and Lieberman, the lawmakers on the right and the instigators of nationalism and racism, the hilltop youth and the indifferent of Tel Aviv. Ask (almost ) any European or American intellectual.