Zionism: It is black and white – it’s simple!
The thirteenth Edward Said annual memorial lecture hosted by the South Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) in Adelaide was recently addressed by Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist employed by the Haaretz newspaper. His lecture provided an important update about domestic Israeli political life and the whole question of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, now into its 50th year. The event also formed part of a three-day symposium organised by AFOPA around the theme 'Palestine and the West, History, Contemporary Realities and Challenges Ahead’.
Despite being an Israeli citizen of Jewish ancestry, Levy remained highly critical of the role of Israel and its repression of the Palestinian population, both inside Israel and in areas occupied by the Defence Forces. The problem was compounded with widespread indifference inside Israel itself to most important political questions and the ongoing crime of illegal occupation.
The Israeli state controlled three regimes: domestic Israel and its population of people with Jewish ancestry; secondly, the domestic Palestinian population some of whom were Israeli citizens but subject to discrimination in every aspect of their lives; finally, those Palestinians resident in occupied areas who lived under military rule.
Being an Israeli citizen, Levy took time to explain what he regarded as three national core-beliefs. There was a strong hidden belief that those concerned were chosen people, of higher status and superior to others. Secondly, a strong belief Israeli Jews were the victims of history, and therefore could operate within a culture of impunity. They saw themselves, for example, as owning the concept of the Holocaust while not acknowledging other peoples such as Armenians had also been subject to similar treatment. Finally, a strong racist belief system that Palestinians were not really human and could not be considered social equals with other Semitic peoples.
The mainstream Israeli media and the culture of demonisation of Palestinian people was regarded as a serious problem. The Zionist narrative was very biased, with a long drift toward more right-wing, nationalistic positions in recent decades. A major problem was also that Israel had no incentive for political change, with levels of ignorance striking to the heart of Israeli reality and their acceptance of daily repression against Palestinian people. There was an urgent need to increase awareness of the basic issues at stake. Attention was drawn to Israeli teachers losing their jobs for supporting Palestinian students, raising questions about the promotion of social education.
The whole question of Israeli military checkpoints was also raised as part of the state repressive apparatus used against Palestinian people. It was common for Israeli military officials manning the points to keep Palestinian people waiting for a long time including ambulances carrying patients to hospitals who required emergency treatment. There had also been numerous cases of Palestinian women giving birth at check-points, with newly-born children actually dying for lack of necessary medical care.
Within Israel, about 700,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank were also regarded as a problem. They were a large lobby group inside Israeli politics. No Israeli political leader would ever attempt to evict them, it was suggested, as it would be political suicide.
Internationally, there was also the acceptance of unconditional diplomatic support for Israel. Many M.P.s around the world had also been drawn into pro-Israel positions in many major parties. The only hope, Levy stated, was from solidarity organisation within civil society opposed to Israel. The boycott and sanctions movements were crucial to Palestinian people winning the support they needed to bring about change.
Raising US-Israel diplomatic relations provided Levy with the opportunity of questioning what 'US interests' really were with Israel. Was the matter really the other way around? Was it really the strength of the Zionist lobby controlling US positions?
Finally, Levy raised the question of the failure of the two-state solution for resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue. It was the option accepted by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the United Nations in the late 1980s although never accepted by the Israelis. The only other option was a one-state solution. The question therefore arose of 'what the Israelis really want' and what were the implications.
Despite the grim picture of contemporary Israeli society, the lecture was inspiring. Concluding with references to similarities between Zionism and apartheid in the former South Africa, together with the statement that 'the question is black and white, it is simple', Levy received thunderous applause and a standing ovation from a packed Elder Hall, Adelaide University.