The Gideon Levys of Israel

Conjure if you will, a Greek (or a Briton, a Frenchman, a Japanese) who sets out to make his reputation by defaming the Greek people. If that is worth only a bemused chuckle, what to make of the Gideon Levys of Israel?

Levy, you may recall, is the journalist for Ha'aretz who took the results of a poll and contorted them into the libel that most Israeli Jews would support an apartheid system. Now if you want to rubbish a country and its people, apartheid would be the ultimate mud to sling at them. Only look at ingredients listed on the Statute of the ICC (International Criminal Court), Section 7:

"Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty; torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and sterilization; persecution of a group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious grounds; disappearance of people in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group."

The Gideon Levys of Israel are not our nominal Greek, only good for a chuckle. They stir up intra-Jewish warfare; they empower would-be exterminators of their compatriot Jews. Remember, the boycott and sanctions crowd invariably makes the point that if Israelis condemn their own country for apartheid, why should they hold back from doing the same? Certainly the Russell Tribunal on Palestine considered this point before it packed the jury box with Israeli Jews.

What lessons do the Gideon Levys hold? To what ends do they leverage the apartheid smear?

If honest, they would tell you that international exposure -- fame -- was on their mind. Robert Wistrich, the eminent author, well grasped this when he wrote: "Israel-bashing is the contemporary key to acceptance."

Every daily paper worth its salt trumpeted Levy's claim that Israelis wanted apartheid. The media habitually throws open its doors to Israeli defamation artists. Even a humble saxophone player may aspire to overnight celebrity status. "It is Gilad Atzmon's blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile," explained the Guardian. Or take an obscure Israeli professor, Neve Gordon, who made waves with a single brushstroke in the Los Angeles Times. "The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state."

So look at market conditions before anything to explain why the defamer of Israel is different from our theoretical Greek. There are no market-takers for defamatory stories on Greeks; there are for defamation by Israelis upon the Israelis. It's a product for which international demand is guaranteed, so much so that the apartheid smear commands a premium, with claims of ethnic cleansing and Israeli brutality coming in a distant second.

Hence the motive of the Gideon Levy type: self-promotion. The Israeli academic sub-type seeks invitations to teach abroad, or win visiting professorships. For that the minimum requirement is to be an established defamer of Israel.

What inner force could stir a man like Professor Ilan Pappe of Haifa University to live for the day when his homeland Israel is no more? "To have a state for Jews," he opines, "is like having a state for Catholics."

I once asked this 'one-state' advocate where in the Middle East one might find his model of Jews accepted as equal citizens in a Muslim state. Where or when had rulers granted citizenship to non-Muslims, or freedom of worship, or academic freedom for that matter? The historic model, I pointed out, is not of incorporation but of expulsion of Jews when Middle East states are formed. So could he, Dr. Pappe explain for what reason he expected a new era in Arab-Jewish cohabitation? And, on the same tack, why had Palestinian leaders tabled demands in the peace process that no Jews must live within the lines of a future Palestinian state? I put it to the professor that as a Jew in his utopian state of Palestine his own career and the freedoms he took for granted in Israel would certainly be curtailed, or terminated. Thereupon Pappe went off the air.

From where comes this mad urge of the Gideon Levys to self-destruct? And what makes their brand of activism so boundless and bitter? These are not easy questions. Contradictions must be resolved and the psyche exposed. It took a French philosopher- playwright who never met an Israeli to succeed in both.

"The Jew,' wrote Jean-Paul Sartre before Israel was a country, "has allowed himself to be poisoned by the stereotype of Jews, and lives in fear that his acts will correspond to this stereotype. So he over-adjusts, to be distinguished radically from acts catalogued as Jewish. If he does not do more than everybody else -- much more -- he is guilty, a dirty Jew."

Insert 'Israeli' for Jew, and you have the Gideon Levy type. Plagued by guilt, he overcompensates. When international norms call for Israel to be demonized, he feels compelled to trump that to the point of playing dishonest cards. Only then can he feel truly absolved of guilt from the original sin of being a wicked Israeli.

But there's more than that on his wracked mind. On top of the guilt factor there's the fear factor common to a people under siege. Explains Dr. Kenneth Levin from the Psychiatry Department at Harvard: "Elements of besieged groups... take to heart the indictments and calumnies of the attackers, however bigoted or absurd. They hope that by doing so, and either distancing themselves from (Israel) or seeking to reform it in conformance with the attacks against Israel they will appease the besiegers and win relief."

The Gideon Levys of Israel, embracing the indictments of the enemy, can never admit to shameful appeasement; so they promote their stance in moral and ethical terms. They join 'Israel Apartheid Week' and the boycott movement; they peddle the lie that Zionists stole the land from Palestinians; they bow to the faith that Jewish nationalism is uniquely wicked.

The historical facts of Israel are the mumbling thoughts of a shabby little world -- so at least think the Gideon Levys, offended. The facts give them no guidance. There is too much difference between their world and history. Perhaps they've dismissed the chance of happiness rather heedlessly?