The renowned novelist David Grossman spoke on Israeli radio on February 13. Yoav Peck translated Grossman’s insightful interview and agreed to share it with us.
This is indeed a striking text. Grossman has the ability to offer a sharp, clear analysis of Israel’s political reality. He argues that Netanyahu’s narrow view of Middle Eastern history exploits Jewish and Israeli collective trauma, and that a leader who views all Arabs as an eternal threat is bound to miss real dangers. To call Arabs “wild beasts” is a useless, inflammatory way of “crying wolf.” Grossman warns that Netanyahu will be caught by surprise should Israel face real existential danger.
Asked first about Netanyahu’s declaration regarding our ‘villa in the jungle,’ and his plan to ring Israel in a fence, ‘against the wild beasts,’ Grossman replied: “Cumulatively, in the 10 years Netanyahu has been Prime Minister, I can’t remember if he has ever uttered a word of vision or hope. On the contrary, we have heard many words of despair and fear-mongering, and appealing to our most primitive anxieties…. He is indeed a genius at mixing together the dangers we face, and one cannot deny that we are facing real dangers, but he mixes together these dangers with the echoes of our past traumas and with the echoes of all our anxieties, and we Israelis, who have been through many traumas, we are somewhat helpless in the face of this manipulation…. Who can ignore that the middle east is full of violent and fanatic elements, who hate Israel and don’t want us here? The middle east indeed questions the right of Israel to be here. The middle east has not internalized the fact that Israel is here and has the right to be here. The question is whether this is the totality of the reality. Can we do what Benjamin Netanyahu did this week, and put all the Arab world, with its enormous variety, with its contradictory interests and internal battles and differences of opinion, can we put this all into a box, as did Netanyahu, “the wild beasts,” that we must protect ourselves from? I think that whoever summarizes the reality with this description, whoever avoids contact with all the complexity of the situation and the conflict, and the interests of all kinds of factors here…in the end he will not know how to confront the complexity of the reality here. Not only will he not be ready, nor will he identify signs of change or of commonality of interests between us and other players in the middle east, he also will not be able to distinguish the real dangers, and he will be surprised…..This brings us back to the matter of the fence. Whoever depends on military force alone, on a fence that is continually fortified, he will be defeated, sooner or later, by a force stronger or more determined or braver than he. Of course we must maintain a strong army. In the middle east you must be strong, and Israel must be strong. But we must also have the possibility to strive with all possible strength, as a foremost strategic interest, toward good neighborly relations and toward common interests. Both these elements, together, will enable us to live.”
Asked about recent legislation and attacks on Israeli democracy, Grossman replied, “First of all, we must examine, in the light of day, this concept…’our democracy.’ For years we have been proud, and with some justification, of our democracy. When the State of Israel was founded, millions of people came here from countries that knew nothing of democracy. People born in Poland, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Romania….what did they know of democracy? And nonetheless, we created a democracy that, in part, arouses admiration. However, in the end, you cannot really call yourself a democracy if you maintain the rule of occupation. They don’t go together. Occupation undermines the way we see ourselves and undermines the essence of our state as a democracy. You cannot push together these two opposites. The more the anti-democratic forces are strengthened, forces that are opposed to democratic rule and the rule of law, there is a feeling of undermining of our hold on this place, a growing alienation between the citizen and his country. All these laws, designed to fortify our Jewish identity and our loyalty, these are symptoms of a society that is no longer sure of itself. A society that is sure of itself, that sits firmly on its land, that stands steadfastly on its right to exist, does not need all these laws. Such a society can allow less rigidity, can enable a flow within the complexity of life, of existence, and of what it means to be a Jew and to be a Jewish people and an Israeli people. All these definitions that have lately been convulsed, like a frozen muscle, they are evidence of a lack of confidence and of losing our way. I say this with sorrow. The fact that we have a state, and that three years after the Holocaust we founded a state, created so many miracles, small and large, is not to be taken for granted. We must protect it and be committed to it. And part of what we must be committed to is the pluralism, the openness. This was the greatness of Zionism, of Israeliness, at the beginning. A phenomenon of boldness, with an eye to the future, pluralistic and open. We see how now, as we despair of the possibility of change, as our leaders do nothing in order to change our situation, and we see how our Israeliness is swallowed into the tragic wound of Judaism. That wound is our sense of being foreign, existential strangers, the feeling that no one understands us and the whole world is against us, and we are the victims and we’ll always be the victims, and we will live by the sword forever and ever.”
The interviewer mentions that Grossman was included recently in a list of artists who are considered disloyal to the state of Israel. He asks whether Grossman feels threatened. “No, I do not feel threatened. I am very proud to be included in that group. All this campaign, of recent days, is only evidence of our loss of confidence. Targeting the left…By the way, the best place for a leftist to be today is in the consciousness of the right…only there are we great and important and influential… I would advise people who are exposed to incitement against the left, that at that moment of incitement we will understand that some pickpocket is deceiving us, that we are being blinded to the reality of the people who are truly responsible, a government that is in power quite a long time and is incapable of providing any answers, a government that stands helplessly, hopelessly incompetent, confronting a complex reality. The recent anti-democratic initiatives sharpen the gap between the complexity of life, the complexity of each and every person, the ability of human beings to free themselves from all kinds of situations, and this situation in which we are trapped, a situation that reduces everything to the shallow, anxiety-driven, and, returning to our prime minister’s image, the most beast-like distinctions. This is not what we want here, this is not what will give purpose to our lives here.”