Plus61J approached the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), and New Israel Fund Australia (NIF) for their views about Gideon Levy’s body of work, his reputation and his Australian visit.
ZFA replied “no comment”, ECAJ did not reply. The responses from the Executive Directors of AIJAC, Dr Colin Rubenstein, and NIF, Liam Getreu, are published below.
What do you think about Levy’s body of work?
AIJAC: Levy is on the far-left anti-Israel fringe of Israeli journalism. In his work, he habitually repeats extreme Palestinian allegations against Israel without undertaking the fact-checking and critical examination incumbent on anyone who wants to refer to themselves as a journalist. Levy is more anti-Israel polemicist than he is journalist.
NIF: Gideon Levy is a thoughtful and important columnist who has, over a number of decades, been a clarion voice for the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. I may not agree with all of his analysis, but that doesn’t detract for the respect I have for the courage and insight he brings to Israel’s political discourse.
Do you think his criticism of the government has a place in Israeli society?
NIF: Israel’s greatest strength is its robust democracy – we say with pride that it is the only such country in the Middle East – and Gideon Levy is a shining example of this. The strongest societies are made even stronger with diverse voices, especially those that might be difficult to hear. Whether or not you agree with Gideon Levy, it is hard to doubt his impact or the importance of his voice in political discussions in Israel.
AIJAC: Of course criticism of the government has a place in Israeli society. We agree with what fellow Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini wrote in a column criticising Levy, that he was “proud to live in a state where there is a Gideon Levy who is allowed to write and attack freely. Any other option would be far worse”.
Nonetheless, we do have concerns and criticisms concerning the the way Levy carries out such criticism. It should be done in an objective, balanced way, examining not only the government’s actions, but the context in which those actions are carried out.
The problem with Levy is that he writes for the paper, Haaretz, which many Western journalists with an anti-Israel slant seem to regard as Israel’s English language newspaper of record, and those journalists use his fulminations as proof of their beliefs about Israel’s shortcomings, when they are often the poorly-supported opinions of a single individual.
Levy frequently points out that both Israelis and Diaspora Jews tend to ignore the reality, injustice and wrongs of the occupation and in general ignore the Palestinian point of view. What is your view of this criticism? Do you think it’s important to be engaged in such discussion?
AIJAC: It is important to understand all relevant points of view, but we don’t agree with Levy’s criticism here. Like most with extreme views, Levy attributes the fact that the vast majority disagree with him to refusal to understand the other side, rather than simply having a different opinion.
We believe a stronger case can be made that Levy ignores the reality of the ongoing causes of the current situation, and refuses to take seriously, and engage respectfully with, the mainstream Israeli view.
NIF: Since the Second Intifada Israelis and Palestinians have rarely interacted, and politicians on both sides have exploited terror attacks and the entrenched occupation to sow division and fear.
There should be more places – both in the media and in civil society, including by organisations supported by the New Israel Fund – which critically analyse Israel’s ongoing presence in the West Bank and the impact it has on Palestinians living there, as well as on wider Israeli society.
That engagement, which many of the grantees of the New Israel Fund support, and hopefully a changed political reality, is the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term survival as both a democracy and homeland for the Jewish people.
Do you have any comments to make about Levy’s visit and his lecture?
NIF: Gideon Levy highlights that Israel isn’t the monolithic or extremist country that people on both sides try to portray it. On the one hand, he shows that Israel’s democracy is strong and that elevating voices that criticise the Netanyahu government’s policies are more important than boycotting or silencing them as a tool to solve the ongoing conflict.
On the other, those who use Gideon Levy’s visit as an excuse to delegitimise Israeli voices critical of the occupation attack the essence of Israel’s democracy.
AIJAC: The fact that he is here to support a virulently anti-Israel organisation that supports the BDS campaign against Israel says it all.