I don’t think Zionism will be redeemed by David Grossman

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The Israeli novelist David Grossman has been in the U.S. promoting a new novel, To the End of the Land. The New Yorker did a big piece on him saying that he is on the far left of the Israeli discourse. This is a misrepresentation, and a serious one. Consider that last week Gideon Levy was visiting our country saying what a racist disaster course Israel is on; he is truly on the Israeli left, responding to real conditions with humanist values. And this week Joseph Dana will be at NYU to describe the popular resistance to the occupation; Dana says that his work with Palestinians has led him to believe that a one-state solution is possible. Again, here is a leftwinger responding to a crushing reality by embracing liberal principles.

I’m talking about political imagination.  I watched Grossman a little on Charlie Rose the other night, and then I read the transcript of the interview. I agree, he is a very humane sensitive guy, and is aware of the suffering of Palestinians. But in the end you must ask, What political values is he taking a stand for? Are they liberal values or Jewish-centric ones? And while I find Grossman to be eloquent and well-meaning, he strikes me as being an insular Jewish artist, incapable of any kind of vision that responds to the actual political conditions of Palestinians. To the videotape:

Rose nostalgically invokes Grossman’s living in the occupied territories more than ten years ago:

CHARLIE ROSE: If Israeli leaders could live in the occupied territory as you did and feel and see, would they make different decisions?

DAVID GROSSMAN: I guess they know what the reality is. Maybe not in details. Maybe they do not do what they should do, and this is really put themselves in the place of the other and see reality from the point of view of the Palestinians. I think it’s very important for us. It’s very important because only then they will be in contact with reality, not only with the projection of their nightmares or their wishful thinking….

But does he see things from the point of view of Palestinians? I think not. His views are pretty insular. Here he is terrified of the end of Israel, by which he seems to mean the end of Jewish supremacy:

[T]his option that terrifies us all the time [is] that there might be an end to this country, which really freaks me out to think that after 62 years of independence, sovereignty, having enormous strong army. Yet our existence is not guaranteed, is not solid…

You know, if you read in an American paper that America plans its road plan for the years 2030, it sounds normal, yes, reasonable. No sane Israeli will make plans for such a long time in advance…

CHARLIE ROSE: Too optimistic in your assumption that it will be there.

DAVID GROSSMAN: Yes. And this must be corrected. This must be changed. It’s impossible that we shall continue to live in this uncertainty. And I believe that only peace will allow us to enjoy this sequence of generation and having a solid feeling of future and also something that is maybe hard to understand, but I will call it solidity of existence, of the people who is rooted in its own land, who has fixed borders between him and his neighbors …

What does he mean by “the people … in its own land”? I think, the Jews.

Israel was created so it will be the homeland of the Jewish people, the Jewish people who never really felt at home in the world. This is our tragedy. And we have Israel, and still it is not the home that we need and we deserve and we yearn to. Only peace will allow us to have home and future and this solidity of existence….

Still, Grossman puts himself forward as a writer/outsider who is capable of seeing things from the standpoint of Israel’s enemy–

more than everything, I think, writers have this ability to look at the point of view — to look from the point of view from the other even if this other is my enemy.

But his viewpoint really is that of a Jewish Israeli. Here is more of his traditional Zionist speech, mixed in with the usual storm clouds:

When you have such a rare privilege to have a state of the 2,000 years we did not have a state, and to be able to gather together people from 70 countries, lands, and to form what we have formed there, a democracy… and revitalized Hebrew language. This is miracle, a language that was dormant for almost 2,000 years…

And things are going wrong because of the course that Israel took. And I think we do not treat this opportunity that we go from history, we do not treat it with enough respect. We are not really taking responsibility for the thing that we have created there.

Now Grossman is a good guy. He goes to the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations against the eviction of Palestinians from their houses in East Jerusalem. He surely supports a viable two-state solution, and he sees what violence has done to Israeli identity–

…all our short history, 62, 63 years of Israel, we are constantly involved in violence, violence that we produce, violence that is addressed at us, it has an effect on the country, on the way people are approaching each other, on our self-image, on the way people are looking at us from the outside, on the amount of violence within our families, in our roads, on the beaches. It is there. Violence is very, very present. This should be maybe the main reason to change the situation, to allow Israel and the Israelis to explore life of normality, life without this dead and sour feeling, this lack of hope and lack of existential confidence. All this together it creates a reality that is bad for Israel, it is not good for us.

We are not doing any favor to the Palestinians by coming into negotiation of peace process with them. We are doing a great favor to ourselves….

But again note that “we” means Israeli Jews. And I am saying that if you really undertook the novelist’s projection of self into the mind of your enemy, you would have to say the following: Look, the Arabs told the west they didn’t want Israel established; Roosevelt said he would consult the Arabs and honor the principle of self-determination, and then Truman ignored these promises. The Arabs were never consulted, and there’s been violence since. Call the Palestinians anything you want, terrorists or resisters; but our own State Department said that Israel could only be established by force and preserved by force.

And today half the population is not politically represented, at a time when the west is learning to include minorities in political life, and Gaza is an impoverished prison that recalls the Warsaw ghetto. These conditions cry out for new answers. 

If Grossman really wanted to see things from the Palestinian p-o-v, he would mention the simple grotesque facts that B’Tselem talks about: a Palestinian noncombatant is killed by Israel in the Occupied Territories every other day. Indeed, the young Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, who is also in the U.S. right now, and should be on Charlie Rose, once told me a mantra– that at the end of every sentence in Hebrew sits an Arab with a hookah. Our destiny is tied to the destiny of the Palestinians. You cannot sort our destiny out without integrating Palestinians into the vision; and Zionism has avoided this spiritual/political labor for more than 100 years. And still the task only grows more urgent.

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