Monday, November 06, 2006


David Grossman's speech at last week's Rabin memorial in Tel-Aviv sums it all up. I could quibble with the details, but the overall tone and message sums up exactly how so many on the Zionist left, including myself, feel. The harsh but accurate picture of what's wrong, the sence of urgency, of almost despair, but also a pointer to the way out. And who knows? Maybe someone will listen.

Grossman an award winning Israeli author, and noted dove, lost his son Uri in the recent Lebanon war. I quoted his eulogy on my blog in September.

This speech is a must read!

A few quotes:

"It is not easy to take a look at ourselves this year. There was a war, and Israel flexed its massive military muscle, but also exposed Israel's fragility. We discovered that our military might ultimately cannot be the only guarantee of our existence. Primarily, we have found that the crisis Israel is experiencing is far deeper than we had feared, in almost every way."

"... no less dreadful is the sense that for many years, the State of Israel has been squandering, not only the lives of its sons, but also its miracle; that grand and rare opportunity that history bestowed upon it, the opportunity to establish here a state that is efficient, democratic, which abides by Jewish and universal values; a state that would be a national home and haven, but not only a haven, also a place that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence; a state that holds as an integral and essential part of its Jewish identity and its Jewish ethos, the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens."

"... When did we lose even the hope that we would eventually be able to live a different, better life? ..."

"...One of the most difficult outcomes of the recent war is the heightened realization that at this time there is no king in Israel, that our leadership is hollow. ..."

"...Look at those who lead us. Not all of them, of course, but many among them. Behold their petrified, suspicious, sweaty conduct. The conduct of advocates and scoundrels. ..."

"...Rabin decided to act, because he discerned very wisely that Israeli society would not be able to sustain itself endlessly in a state of an unresolved conflict. He realized long before many others that life in a climate of violence, occupation, terror, anxiety and hopelessness, extracts a price Israel cannot afford. This is all relevant today, even more so. ... We, the citizens of this conflict, have been born into war and raised in it, ... Maybe this is why we sometimes think that this madness in which we live for over 100 years is the only real thing, the only life for us, and that we do not have the option or even the right to aspire for a different life."

"This could explain also ... Israel's quick descent into the heartless, essentially brutal treatment of its poor and suffering. This indifference to the fate of the hungry, the elderly, the sick and the disabled, all those who are weak, this equanimity of the State of Israel in the face of human trafficking or the appalling employment conditions of our foreign workers, which border on slavery, to the deeply ingrained institutionalized racism against the Arab minority..."

"...I begin to fear that even if peace were to arrive tomorrow, and even if we ever regained some normalcy, we may have lost our chance for full recovery. "

"...The Palestinians have elected Hamas to lead them, Hamas who refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can be done in such a position? Keep strangling them more and more, keep mowing down hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are innocent civilians like us? Kill them and get killed for all eternity?"

"Turn to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, address them over the heads of Hamas, appeal to their moderates, those who like you and I oppose Hamas and its ways, turn to the Palestinian people, speak to their deep grief and wounds, acknowledge their ongoing suffering. "

"... Our hearts will only open up to one another slightly, and this has a tremendous power, the power of a force majeur. The power of simple human compassion, particularly in this a state of deadlock and dread. Just once, look at them not through the sights of a gun, and not behind a closed roadblock. You will see there a people that is tortured no less than us. An oppressed, occupied people bereft of hope."

"...From where I stand right now, I beseech, I call on all those who listen, the young who came back from the war, who know they are the ones to be called upon to pay the price of the next war, on citizens, Jew and Arab, people on the right and the left, the secular, the religious, stop for a moment, take a look into the abyss. Think of how close we are to losing all that we have created here. Ask yourselves if this is not the time to get a grip, to break free of this paralysis, to finally claim the lives we deserve to live."

Click here to read the full text of the speech.


Anonymous shmuel said...

I think that Grossman's speech at Rabin Square was emblematic of the bankruptcy of the Israeli left (far more depressing than the positions held by the right).
My critique, FWIW:
1. To Grossman's mind, the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People is an absolute good ("miracle"), that can never be questioned. Zionism is also perfectly compatible - in fact conducive - to democracy and equality. If it hasn't worked so far, it is not due to a flaw in the system or the ideology, merely to it's failure to live up to its own ideals.
2. He remains trapped in his "Ahusal" (see Kimmerling) mindset: Things used to be so wonderful in Israel (at long as you were an Ashkenazi Mapainik). Where did we go wrong?
3. He makes the classic mistake that Israel can choose its partner in talks. He calls upon Olmert to negotiate "over Hamas' head", wrongly stating that Hamas refuses to negotiate (when in fact it merely refuses to accept Israel's pre-conditions). This is only a slight modification on the "ein im mi ledaber" attitude that he himself condemns.
4. He moans about the lack of true leadership. It's a banal cop-out. Israel, like democratic countries in general, gets the leadership its people want and deserve. If no PM since Rabin has taken bold steps toward peace, it's because Israelis haven't wanted them to. As for the corruption, that too is a mirror of society.
5. The argument that "we can't go on killing forever" is simply childish. Either there is a chance for peace, and killing is pointless; or there is not, and killing may be necessary.
And this is the best Israel has to offer? These are Israel's "radical" peaceniks? Depressing. Very depressing.

12:14 pm  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


Allow me to disagree. Not so much with the points you make about much of the Israeli left, but about how you interpret Grossman's remarks.

1. I didn't see in Grossman's speech a statement that "the Jewish People is an absolute good ("miracle"), that can never be questioned." Grossman called Israel a "secular miracle" in the sense that it is a very rare and unusual event - so rare that may not come again - , and that it has (or perhaps had) great potential for good. To be sure this second clause, the hope that reestablishment of Jews in the Land of Israel had/has potential for good, is a Zionist position. But it is one I share. Grossman, in the body of this speech, specifically does question if we have lived up to this potential for good, and finds us wanting. He does question whether Israel can survive without living up to (at least some of) this potential. "Zionism" means different things to different people. For myself it is the establishment of a viable Jewish People and culture in the Land of Israel, for the purpose of modernizing and refreshing Jewish Culture into an ethical, creative and vibrant Judaism.. All else is tactics. I am not sure what exactly it means to Grossman, but clearly he envisions a "State for all its citizens". I see nothing intrinsically flawed about that.

2) All I read in Grossman's remarks is that once the country was young and hopeful, now it is old and pessimistic. Once there was a modicum of social equity, now there is none (or at least less), once there some civility now there is less, once there less overt racism now there is more. In the 15 years I lived in Israel, I saw all these things deteriorate, and I take Grossman's word for it that they have continued to deteriorate. One doesn't have to be fuzzy headed Romantic to acknowledge that on many important (not all) scales the quality of life in Israel has gotten worse in the past 39 years.

3) I agree with you on this point. But I think it minor in the context of the speech.

4) Again I agree that Israelis voted for this leadership and, in a sense, "deserve it" But it is still a curse that Israel today has no visionary and sane leaders. Ideas need to be effectively presented to the public forum in order to gain acceptance among the people. (and even then it takes years - and objective circumstances - to move the center of gravity) This is a real failing of the Israeli left - that it has failed to find leaders to can effectively present it ideas to the public. Grossman is trying to do just that. IN addition, all the above may be good analysis, but it is not effective politics to try to convince people of your opinion by blaming them for their troubles.

5) Of course we can go on killing and being killed forever - or at least until someone drops a nuclear bomb - but so what. Who wants to live such a life. Thats the point Grossman is making.

So while you can quibble with Grossman's speech, I think that overall he pointed out the major problems with Israel today, and pointed to a direction that might lead out of the mess, a direction of justice and generosity of heart and of risk taking vis a vis the Palestinians.


5:15 pm  
Anonymous Shmuel said...

Have you seen Meron Benvenisti's critique of Grossman's speech?

3:04 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


Have you seen Uri Avneri's defense of Grossman's article?


The point is not that Grossman is 100% correct, but that he reaches an audience that the hard left cannot reach.

Re Benvenisti's article he raises some thought provoking points.

1) Was Israel ever "good"? I have to say yes - not in the sense that it was perfect or even close to it, but in the sense that it served a necessary purpose and was at least trying to be "good". No doubt about it - mistakes where made, and they have proved to be the cause of much of our current sorrow, but at least you could have a discourse of a progressive idealism, egalitarianism, hope for peace, and morality. The idea that Israel could offer a positive example and help others was not the cruel joke it is today.

2) The "left" needs to concern itself not just with peace (i.e. "geo-politics" but with justice and human rights. -- In this, I couldn't agree more. One of the more disappointing things I read this past summer was a Peace Now leader arguing that Peace Now should not oppose the war in Lebanon, because Peace Now was a "peace" organization and not a "human rights" organization. (In other words - if the war would bring security to Israel at the expense unjustified of Lebanese suffering, that was OK by him.) Of course the two are not unrelated. A stable peace requires a modicum of justice. And given that peace may be many years off, it is imperative that in the mean time we retain out menschlekeit / tzelem elohim - as well as not burn all our bridges.

3) "We are very far from losing what we have created here, and the peace camp will, once again, be making a fatal mistake if it leaves it to the right to hold up the banner of optimism and hope." I agree with the first part, but don't know what to make of the second. If you see little room for optimism - and I don't see much - should you lie? And what hope does the right wing offer? Just more of the same. At least the left's program - as hard as it is to see it being accepted soon - offers both a possible way out, and if not, a way to live better and to live with ourselves in the mean time.

9:17 am  

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