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The Left Is Saving Israel

Israel's future is secure and no existential threat hovers over it. Only over David Grossman's Israel does danger hover. It is a danger that is no less threatening than any existential one

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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David Grossman and Jessica Cohen, winners of the Man Booker International Prize, pose with their work, 'A Horse Walks Into a Bar.'
David Grossman and Jessica Cohen, winners of the Man Booker International Prize, pose with their work, 'A Horse Walks Into a Bar.'Credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The left is saving whatever shreds remain of Israel’s prestige; without it Israel is like Turkey on a good day or Iran on a bad one.

After all, what is Israel without its literature, art, culture and the vestiges of its freedom of expression? A leper state, that’s what. And what are culture and art without the left? Less than nothing. Hence, the left is saving Israel. It doesn’t always intend to serve as a fig leaf and a savior of national dignity, but that’s what in fact is happening.

Miri Regev brings shame onto the country and David Grossman brings it honor; Benjamin Netanyahu makes it hateful and Amos Oz evokes admiration; the government destroys and leftist non-profit groups tell the enlightened world that there still is a different Israel which is now fighting for its existence.

Right-wing legislation has caused Israel’s image damage which far exceeds any caused by left-wing articles. A day of bombing in Gaza has rattled the country’s standing much more than any achievement made by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Racist actions by the right have eroded the image of this country far beyond any leftist story in Haaretz. The left, especially the radical one, is the most effective information tool the country currently possesses, much better than the army of propagandists and pathetic “explainers.” There is no one disseminating Israel’s bad name more than its right wing. With the exception of the Jewish and evangelist establishments, the arms merchants and high-tech people, the last fans of Israel are clinging to Israeli dissidents as their last hope.

When Naftali Bennett wrote over the weekend that “Grossman has brought great honor to Israel” he knew what he was talking about. He couldn’t have written this about Bezalel Smotrich, not even about himself. Deep in his heart Bennett would not want to live in a country without Grossman; maybe even not without Breaking the Silence, even though he’s fighting the group for his own political purposes.

Grossman, Oz, Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem are the last vestiges of Israel’s humanity and conscience and Bennett knows what the country would look like without them. It’s doubtful whether the Minister of Education, American-educated and a resident of upscale Ra’anana, would want to live in a country like that. He also knows that his camp has no authors of the same stature. Or even many artists or intellectuals, excluding journalist and media personality Erel Segal and columnist Shimon Riklin. It’s not by chance that Oz and Grossman, actors Oded Kotler and Einat Weizman, dancer-choreographer Ohad Naharin and poet Yitzhak Laor are on the left. It’s not by chance that they have no equivalent figures on the right. They are the country’s conscience, in the absence of which there is no creativity. The Israeli right lacks a conscience. It is too ultra-nationalist and racist. That is why no art of any value can be fostered there.

Their carriage is empty. A horse goes into a bar and it’s a winner. Only such a horse can be one, since Grossman’s horse reflects not only outstanding literature, it was written by a man of conscience. The person who wrote a letter to Haaretz about the Palestinian detainee who was thrown by the wayside by policemen and left to die, after being ejected from a hospital in diapers and with a catheter, is a person of conscience.

The world appreciates excellent writers and even more so ones who are conscientious, particularly when they are combating regimes that try to muzzle them. Just like Iran leaves some hope through its cinema, Israel leaves some hope through the art created here, most of which has been declared treasonous, dangerous and forbidden.

In a future Israel, not much will remain of this. There are too few Israelis who are willing to fight and pay the price and too many Israelis who foolishly cheer on Miri Regev’s ignorance. Israel’s future is secure and no existential threat hovers over it. Only over Grossman’s Israel does danger hover. It is a danger that is no less threatening than any existential one.

Grossman’s book ends with the protagonist, stand-up comedian Dovaleh Gee, proclaiming that he has no more to offer that day or the next one, and that the show is over. That’s the book that won the Man Booker Prize last week.

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