The empty pieties of David Grossman

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Haaretz has reported on the publication of a long interview with the Israeli author David Grossman in the French newspaper, Libération, last month (the original article in French is here). The article’s headline, David Grossman doubts Arab states’ good intentions, is liberal Zionist speak for ‘he agrees they want to push us into the sea’. Read further and the ‘peace camp activist’ chastises Israel too. In what appears to be a gesture of humility, he goes on to acknowledge painful sacrifices must be made on both sides and regrets that “the Israelis and Palestinians are not going to fall in love with each other, but one does not seek love between nations”.

Disregarding the fact that this is not a clash between two national movements, but a settler colonial movement intent on the violent displacement of the indigenous inhabitants, he adds that in light of this ill-will of Arab states towards Israelis that constitute a ‘small minority’ of Jews in the Middle East, “We have, therefore, need of a strong army to defend our State”. Our state. Our Jewish State, it goes without saying.

The interview with Libération took place on the occasion of the publication in French of To the End of the Land (Une femme fuyant l’annonce), which he was writing when his son Uri – on active military service – was killed during the war on Lebanon in 2006. David Grossman is found by the interviewer to be ‘sometimes serious and intense, also lively, attentive and warm’, as befits a man of peace. As we saw during British writer, Ian McEwan’s and South African artist William Kentridge’s boycott-busting visits to Jerusalem, you can demonstrate your own ‘bonne volonté’ or good intentions towards the Jewish Israeli people – and from a safe distance your pity for the Palestinian predicament – just by spending some time in Grossman’s enlightened company. Aware of the ‘Grossman Effect’, the White House announced that President Obama’s vacation reading list includes To the End of the Land.

Early next month, the Israeli author will be in conversation with Alain Finkielkraut, philosopher and professor at the École Polytechnique, during his book tour of France. If you missed the fascinating piece in Tablet Magazine in July, French Jews, confronting anti-Semitism in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair, created the figure of the intellectual. And now, arguing about Israel and Islam, they’re killing it, it provides historical context to the emergence of France’s new philosophers, including Bernard-Henri Lévy and Finkielkraut. While Robert Zaretsky quips that “the contents of Lévy’s shampoo were far richer than the contents of his writing”, he explains that in their 2011 book, L’antisémitisme partout – Aujourd’hui en France (The Anti-Semitism everywhere – Today in France), Eric Hazan and Alain Badiou argued Finkielkraut, “was guilty of doing to the Muslims what has once been done to the Jews, transforming the mostly Muslim youths of France’s blighted and blasted suburbs into an irreducibly foreign element in France, portraying them as a violent rabble who, when not whistling derisively during renditions of the Marseillaise, spend their time terrorizing French Jews.”

David Grossman will be in safe hands then. Nor can he expect any awkward questions about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Alain Finkielkraut and other signatories of the ‘European Jewish Call for Reason’ (JCall) deplore the Knesset’s new anti-boycott law precisely because of their ‘total opposition’ to the BDS movement. Contrary to the objectives of JCall – the protection of Israel – such a law, they argue, principally serves the interests of those who question the democratic character of the Israeli state and hope to see the spread of deligitimisation movements, such as BDS. Here you can see Finkielkraut call BDS ‘scandalous’ and ‘politically irresponsible’, during a 2010 TV debate with the indefatigable Stéphane Hessel, at a moment when the former insists ‘anti-Semitism is triumphing’. A conference on boycott in the presence of Hessel, French author of «Indignez-vous!», was scheduled at L’Ecole normale supérieure in January this year, and was cancelled at the last moment. Although Finkielkraut denied any part in it, he admitted he was alarmed by the announcement of this debate and added that it was “no secret that the L’Ecole normale supérieure had become a veritable forum of hate towards Israel, and there was a total prohibition on the expressions of Zionists at the moment”.

As I argued in Europe embraces the silences of Aharon Appelfeld, the Palestinian narrative falls victim to the French media’s ‘absurd tone of reverence’ in its encounters with Israeli novelists. If you read the French interview with Grossman in its entirety, this man of peace is keen to absolve the Israeli apartheid state and settler colonial movement of its responsibility for the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians. Instead he blames “a group of messianic Jews focused on kidnapping the entire state”. It is, he maintains, “the mentality of the colonies that have invaded the country”, rather than the other way round. 

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