The radicalization of Yossi Gurvitz

Israel/PalestineUS Politics

On our recent trip to Israel and Palestine, several people told us to meet the blogger Yossi Gurvitz because he is such a freethinker.

We met up at a restaurant in Tel Aviv 2 weeks ago and Gurvitz did not disappoint– he held forth for an hour about Israel’s coming crisis and how little we as secular American Jews could understand about what was happening.

A former yeshiva boy who started blogging 10 years ago and gained a following for his unblinking ideas about politics and religion and is now in the stable at +972, Gurvitz, 42, said he has become radicalized by Israel’s crisis and is working to prepare his society for a one-state political future. Recently he was investigated by the government for incitement for comments about violent resistance.

What is Israel’s crisis? Israeli society has been taken over by Jewish supremacists, Zionism and liberalism are finished, and it is just a matter of time before Israel loses American liberals and later the Christian right.

Oh, and a messianic view of the Jewish religion that was suppressed for millennia by the rabbinical tradition now dominates the Israeli psyche– “and every demon that was pushed into the basement is up and has an M16.”

There’s an upside. But you’ll have to read the interview…

Below you’ll find a typescript of Gurvitz’s comments. And above is a 12 minute video we did at the end of the meal, with Gurvitz’s requiem for the two-state solution.

The video contains some ideas not expressed in the interview below. To summarize:

Zionism is a spent force in Israeli society. “There are now three Revisionist Zionists left in the Knesset and the rest of Likud sees them as dangerous leftists.”

What about liberal American Jews coming to save Israel? “That’s a doomed project… They will be seen as foreigners.”

Can Israel save itself? The awakening of socialism is the best sign. Liberalism has always meant equal but separate. Socialists are calling for equality. Maybe the social democrats of J14 can save us.

“I’m not sure Partition is possible anymore. There are 400,000 settlers in the West Bank. No one has the political will and capital to remove them. Trying to remove them will result in a civil war. I don’t think it’s an option anymore.

“I’m pretty sure the two state solution is dead and we have to work on a one state solution. How that will work I honestly have no idea.”

What should Obama do? Remember what George H.W. Bush said about Yitzhak Shamir? “That’s the number. When you’re serious, call us. Until you’re serious, don’t come to us.”

Now here is the typescript of our untaped conversation with Gurvitz on Israel’s crisis. Our comments in italic.

I think we’re going to meet a crisis. Last fall I actually believed it would involve the UN — that it would grant Palestinians some sort of rights, some sort of state. I think there’s a very good chance Netanyahu government will attack Iran. I believe they’re priming the public for that possibility. Ehud Barak was pictured fondling a missile.

The situation is unsustainable but I think most Israelis willfully blind themselves to this. The more the public understands the situation is unsustainable, the more it locks itself into a non-seeing, non-hearing position.

The crisis around the statehood initiative?

I believe this would make the very presence of the settlements illegal, the very presence of soldiers guarding the settlements illegal… If the P. A. demanded that they withdraw, Israel would be under pressure from the world to leave. Of course this didn’t happen. I think Obama was swindled or actually coerced by Netanyahu and I think this was a strategic mistake because it undermines the US position in the Middle East.

Now it looks like the old status quo. The US government is the embodiment of the Israeli position. The only reason we’re not hearing more about this is because of the crisis in Syria.

What are we going to see? I think we will see an Obama second term and inexorable pressure on Israel to grant civil rights to everyone in mandatory Palestine or to end the occupation. Obama will be much more combative than the Obama of the first administration. Mostly I see Israel losing the support of the liberal establishment in the US. And once it loses the support of the liberals, it becomes the South Africa situation, and that is not sustainable.

Meantime, in Israel we are seeing the Jehovahiztion of the Israeli public. Ignorant, radical Jews are turning more to symbols of Jewish superiority than actual Jewish values. It’s getting harder to be a liberal except in Tel Aviv. Everyone is thinking about a second passport.

This is a spiral that will leave Israel more fanatic, more religious, less able to communicate with the western world– and ironically more part of the extremism of the Middle East. I’ve been writing about the Jewish Brotherhood. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, our extremists have never had to face reality and soften. Because even when they wield power they claim that the real power is the hands of the liberal elites.

Unlike the US, we have no constitution. No Basic Law grants equality. The Israeli religious right has blocked that. The only reason we have freedom of the press is because of the Supreme Court decisions. The right is already using this as a way of attacking the Supreme Court, which is becoming more fearful, less willing to use its power.

Unless something drastic changes, and it could happen– I’m betting on the J14 movement– liberal Israel is dying, and it won’t be in existence in 5, or 10 years. Some elements will be kept as a figleaf, for the Zionist Jehovahist regime. The liberals will leave, those who can.

When that happens, the liberal part of the US will no longer be so willing to defend Israel and its policies. Then without the US, Israel will be hanging by its threat to use nuclear weapons. It will become a second North Korea.

There’s a history here. In 2004 a Maariv columnist demanded that the government nuke France. Because France is an enemy of Israel, and about to collapse into a Muslim Republic, a supporter of Iran– so we should nuke them first. The editor was fired for publishing it after the French ambassador made an official protest. The Foreign Minister [Avigdor Lieberman] suggested when he was in the opposition, that Israel nuke the Aswan dam. So there’s a reason the Egyptians won’t meet him.

Gurvitz also suggests Israel could lose the American right.

Four days ago a church was desecrated in Jerusalem. As part of a pricetag attack. This happens all the time. When the pricetag people run out of Muslim targets, they will concentrate more on Christian targets. When that happens, the American Christian right will realize that the Israeli right is hostile to Christianity.

Why is all this inevitable?

Zionism as a force is dead. The people who are actually speaking in the name of Zionism are speaking in religious and metaphysical and mystical truths. They are not speaking in the secular Zionist tradition. A poll two weeks ago—about 70 percent consider themselves to be the chosen people. American Jews think we as Jews are chosen to carry out tikkun olam [social justice]. Israeli Jews think something different—we are the chosen people of God, we are chosen to do anything we damn well please. To take people’s land. Take peoples lives. There is actually no mainstream force standing against the Jewish brotherhood.

This is not just the religious people, it’s a large part of the secular people buying into it. Israel’s Jews refuse to accept the legitimacy of the marriage of Jews and non-Jews. You American Jews really don’t understand us. They think we’re gutsier… American Jews… think of Zionist liberals. They’re older, they’re still thinking about the late 70s, early 80s, the golden age of Israel’s liberalism.

You have to understand what the religious right means when they say of leftists, the multitude, they are the erav rav. This means the ones who left Egypt, the mixed multitude. It is a concept in Kabbalah– the Amalekite Jew. A Jew who isn’t really a Jew. He looks like a Jew, thinks he’s a Jew, but he’s an enemy of God. It’s been used in the Knesset, the word erav rav.

If you think this Judaism is the wisdom of Israel, it’s not. This is the Judaism forced underground by the Christian regimes, censored time and again. It’s coming to the surface. Just about everyone knows this code here. What may change the picture is the J14 movement. It’s alive. It will be coming back after Passover. J14 has its faults, but it is the only movement that has put Israeli Arabs speakers out front. Many Palestinian Israelis are not quite happy with the result, but…. once Israelis realize that inequality harms everyone in Israel aside from the 1 percent, then they will begin to see the Palestinian as a partner in struggle. We’ve seen it in the north, if the movement isn’t crushed.

Liberals are dead, socialists are coming up. Most socialists are poised toward equality.

Tell us your story, Yossi.

I was born in January 1970 in Petah Tikva. My parents are National Orthodox. My father is an electrical contractor who is in real estate. My mother is a housewife. I studied in the Yeshiva till I had a personal crisis and left the Yeshiva for the army in 1989. It looked like a liberation, strangely enough.

I started to do my bit for leftist ideology and got transferred to the Gaza Strip so I could stop the atrocities. That didn’t work very well. They hid them from me. I did manage to get my commander tried for slapping a Palestinian child. And one day they tried to abandon me in a refugee camp. [An officer] drove me to a refugee camp and told me to step out of the car, “your brother’s over there, go join him.” I cocked the gun, putting a bullet in the chamber. I didn’t point it at him, but he got the message, and he told me to drive back.

Everything I did was supportive of the occupation in every waking moment. I’m still doing penance. That’s the liberal trap. They say to you, You want to change the world, go there, be there. But it’s always compromising. It’s much bigger than you. You will go to prison if you don’t order the bulldozers to demolish the house.

I’m in the Meretz party. Meretz used to embody this liberal thinking. If you want to prevent atrocities, join the fighting units, serve in the territories where you can see atrocities, prevent them. That simply doesn’t happen.

I went to the university and got a degree in history. I had a personal crisis about not getting a master’s degree. I spent several years working in a chemical factory [in a clerical position]. I started blogging in 2002. I was writing on various forums in the 90s. Even before. In 2006 I stared my own blog. Friends of George. It is mainly a Hebrew blog. It quickly gathered steam. During the Second Lebanon war I started writing critically in ways that were not common. That attracted a lot of readers, also including a few death threats.

Recently I had my run in with the law. I was investigated for incitement two months ago.

Tell us about the radicalization of the left.

We see a radicalization on both sides. The leftists are becoming more radical and the right wingers, too. When I radicalized—and I did—I attracted more radicals. I’m going to the demonstrations; that’s the definition of a radical around here. Bil’in is basically a reenactment of the first intifada. Everyone is playing a part. No Palestinian is trying to throw a grenade, and generally in Bilin the soldiers don’t use lethal force….

I have really high hopes for what will happen in the next few months. I’m doing what I’m doing because I think it’s the right thing to do, but the Israeli government is using us to legitimize itself. ‘You see, we’re a democracy.’ The protests have very little influence on the general public. But they’re important because solidarity is important and it gets international coverage, which is always important.

You say we American Jews don’t understand this Judaism. Elaborate.

Rambam [Maimonides in the 12th century] writes, If a Jew has intercourse with a gentile child three years old and a day, the child should be executed for misleading the Jew, making him sin. Those texts are still valid. We don’t understand them, but they are valid.

These Jews …  took the elements of the religion that were nationalistic and have been slumbering for 100s of years and awakened it. They took the hatred of mankind which had persisted in Judaism for millennia and gave it voice and force. [In the former rabbinical tradition] the rabbis tried to housetrain Jewish messianism. The old way of thinking was, the messiah will lead Jews to victory. The rabbis made the messiah a supernatural being capable of talking to birds and animals. This mystical being was a dam against Jewish messianism in Ashkenazi Judaism, and the eliminationist elements against Christianity were held down by this teaching.

But once Israel was created, many Jews saw it as the end of the three oaths, the Shloshet Ha’Shvuot. Two of these oaths enjoin the Jews not to mass-emigrate to Eretz Yisrael and not to provoke the gentiles. The third orders the gentiles not to treat the Jews too badly.

Now Israel has the right to use force, and every demon that was pushed into the basement is up and has an M16.

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