Gideon Levy, Before You Launch a New Shaming Campaign Against Israel, Remember This

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Gideon Levy.
Gideon Levy.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Gideon Levy likes to rail at the Israeli public. He likes to write things about Israelis that no other journalist would dare write about any population group in any other country, lest they be branded as racists.

If we replaced the word “Israelis” in one of his anthropological op-eds with “Hungarians,” for example, it would surely spark a diplomatic incident. The Hungarian ambassador would immediately be recalled to Budapest, and almost all of us would complain about the author and justify the Hungarians’ response.

Israelis, Levy writes, have no empathy or imagination. They are arrogant, egotistical and even stupid. On top of that, he says, we don’t even signal when we drive.

Levy undoubtedly stationed inspectors at 100 intersections, sampled hundreds of vehicles passing through each of them, repeated the experiment in Italy, Sweden, China and 20 other countries, and then, after a rigorous statistical analysis, concluded that Israelis are terrible people. But isn’t it possible that these sensational findings about Israelis’ signaling habits are merely the product of Levy’s fertile imagination, which has spent years plotting a novel about good guys versus bad guys?

Evidently, Israelis are so evil that they’re even bad to their own countrymen. And they’re so evil to their own countrymen that they don’t even signal when turning.

I also haven’t done a comparative study about drivers’ signaling habits. But as someone who has spent roughly half his time in recent years in cold, gentlemanly Britain, I can testify that in my experience, the British don’t signal any more than Israelis. And their tendency to worry about themselves rather than others greatly exceeds the same tendency among Israelis.

Most of Levy’s articles don’t blame the occupation on Palestinian leaders or even Israeli governments (and certainly not on Benjamin Netanyahu’s governments, which Levy considers fairly decent). Rather, the blame lies with you, the readers, and your friends, your mothers and your children. You are the guilty parties, you and your genes, which carry the traits of wickedness and stupidity.

When Levy embarks on a new shaming campaign against the entire Israeli public, does he also include himself in this public? Does he view himself as an Israeli?

When he writes about Israelis, you won’t find anything in his articles in the first-person plural. Is he an angry prophet who dwells among his people and seeks to fix the society in which he lives, or is he a wretched resident alien who erroneously ended up between Gedera and Hadera when his natural place is somewhere between Provence and Orleans?

His articles about the six escaped Palestinian prisoners and their subsequent recapture also lack any shred of solidarity with the Israeli public among which he lives. Just like the British Jeremy Corbyn, who boasted publicly of his friendships with members of Hamas and Hezbollah, Levy proudly declared that the celebrity Zakaria Zubeidi is his good friend.

Levy also complained that Israelis like to fearmonger to silence their consciences and that their closed hearts don’t respond emotionally to the daring jailbreak staged by these heroes, these "Palestinian freedom fighters," the way that they respond emotionally to the story of the jailbreak from Acre Prison by members of the pre-state militia Lehi. After all, there’s no difference between Lehi and Islamic Jihad.

That’s almost true, except for one marginal detail that Levy considers devoid of any emotional significance: Lehi members fought for Levy’s own people and family, while Islamic Jihad fights against them.

The feeling of belonging to a group (and indeed, to a people and a country) is an essentially healthy evolutionary instinct. Over the tens of thousands of years of humanity’s genetic and social development, natural selection conferred an advantage on individuals and societies in which this instinct existed. I don’t know Levy, but from reading his articles, I have learned that he is quite well-immunized against this feeling.

The feeling of belonging isn’t an archaic, meaningless instinct that ought to be dispensed with in our modern lives. Even ending the occupation requires a serious feeling of belonging.

This feeling is precisely why Haaretz readers, myself included, read Levy’s articles about the goings-on in the territories with great interest and heavy hearts. It’s also why we aren’t able to swallow the evil done to the Palestinians as easily as we swallowed, say, the evil done to the Tutsis in Rwanda.

A journalist who addresses Israelis using the word “they” rather than “we” gives the indifferent an excuse for their indifference. It allows them to tut-tut at the sight of this evil and then immediately conclude that we shouldn’t interfere in other people’s affairs.

Dear Gideon, next time the car ahead of you turns without signaling, or even when you once again reveal our nakedness after some shameful act in the territories, take a deep breath. Think about the traffic cop Avshalom Tzalmero, who donated one of his kidneys to a girl he didn’t know (Israel is ranked first in the world in kidney donations to strangers!), or about the late Dr. Ami Cohen, who founded an organization that has saved the lives of thousands of Palestinian children born with heart defects, or about the many other Israelis like them that you surely know.

Only after that should you return patiently to writing your important criticism of the occupation. Believe me, your articles will worm their way much deeper into our Israeli hearts.

Eyal Winter is a professor of economics at Hebrew University and author of the book “Feeling Smart: Why Our Emotions Are More Rational Than We Think.”

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