Yossi Klein Halevi on tragedy of Left-Right Jewish discourse on Israel

PODCAST PLAYBACK — In a conversation released this morning, Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his new book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor on The Atlantic Interview podcast with Jeffrey Goldberg:

Goldberg to Klein Halevi: You come out of the American Jewish Right, albeit 30 years ago or more, what don’t Right Wing Jewish American supporters of Israel understand about the conflict?

Klein Halevi: “The first thing they don’t understand is that there really is a Palestinian people, and I discovered the reality and the power of Palestinian identity by getting a rock thrown at my head and I was carrying an M16 and I looked at these kids and I said they are ready to do what I was ready to do as a teenage Jewish militant… The Right has not yet come to terms with the fact that Palestinian national identity and the willingness to sacrifice is a reflection of their own sensibility… The definition of peoplehood is that you are contrived. So that’s what the Israeli and Jewish Right haven’t internalized…”

Goldberg: Have they internalized lessons about Jewish moral law and what Jews because of Judaism owe the stranger or owe the weaker party? Or is that a more difficult one for you?

Klein Halevi: “I think that Jewish history speaks to our generation of Jews with two commanding voices, and these voices have analogues in biblical verses. The first is ‘Remember you were strangers in the Land of Egypt,’ and the lesson there is: don’t be brutal, don’t do to others what was done to you. The second voice is ‘Remember what the tribe of Amalek did to you when you were leaving Egypt and you were attacked without provocation,’ and the message there is: don’t be naive. Remember that you live in a world where genocide against the Jewish people is possible. Part of the tragedy of the Left-Right Jewish discourse today is that each of these camps has appropriated another one of these commanding lessons. So the Left has done a really great job in remembering that we shouldn’t be brutal. The Jewish Left has done a far less good job in not being naive… The fatal mistake on the Jewish Left is not to take Israel’s vulnerability seriously enough and not to take Palestinian rejectionism of Israel’s legitimacy and indigenous seriously enough.”

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