Three Views: Lévy, Golan, Chomsky
by Mark Chmiel
Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote a “Love Letter to Israel in Seventy Lines,” published in The Tablet under 70 REASONS TO CELEBRATE ISRAEL. He is a philosopher who lives in Paris, France. Here are a few lines from his tribute…
The first multiethnic nation, in other words, that really works.
Democracy is hard? Slow? It takes time to build a democracy? In Israel, one night—14 May 1948—was all it took.
Terrorism has been in Israel not for 7 days (as it had in the United States when the Patriot Act was passed) and not for 7 years (as in the France when the liberticidal measures of 1961 were adopted), but for 70 years—and yet its institutions hold and liberty is not infringed.
Yes, 70 years during which Israel has lived, as the verse has it, beside its sword, and yet the spirit of liberty has never waned or wavered.
70 years without a single day of peace, and no Israeli, Jew or Arab, would leave the country for another.
Athens, not Sparta.
In Bil’in, the wall damages century-old olive trees. The trees are replanted.
A military blunder? Condemned.
An inappropriate order? Overruled.
In Sierra Leone, when Israel was the first to come to the aid of thousands of poor people displaced by mudslides…
Matti Golan wrote With Friends Like You: What Israelis Really Think About American Jews, published in the US in 1992. He is an Israeli journalist. Here are several passages in which he addresses U.S. Jews:
What you feel for me is the special connection of belonging to the same people. But there’s a catch here, too. Do you know why? Because your feeling of affection depends almost entirely on what I can do for your own self-image.
Let’s see what your everything means. You would holler, give speeches, issue proclamations, exert pressure. You would also be grief -stricken. I have no doubt of it. You would lament my sad fate, give me the most moving eulogies — but not one hair of your head would be endangered. Despite your grief, you wouldn’t call off your Caribbean vacation. And your children would go back to college in the fall while mine lay dead or wounded in a war that might not have broken out, or might have ended differently, if not for your pressure on me.
On the record, you’re not against aliyah. Your official policy is that it’s a good thing. Not good for you personally, not good for your own children. but unobjectionable as a matter of abstract principle. In other words, you’ll never say in plain words that you’re against it, even though everything you do says just that.
I prefer the declared non-Zionists who say openly that Israel is unimportant for them and that living in it is the last thing on their minds. At least they’re telling me the truth, which is more than can be said for your professional breast-beaters who cry on my shoulders how hard it is for them to have to stay in America.
You want a Jewish state? Then please be so kind as to stand guard over it yourself. I’ve been doing it for dozens of years. Now it’s your turn. Let’s switch lives. You come here, serve in the army, worry about the intifada, deal with the orthodox, and shell out 50% of your income taxes, and I’ll live in America, send you money, and visit you now and then, and criticize. Didn’t you say we were partners? Then it seems to me a fair offer. I’ve given this project called Israel over forty years of my life. Why don’t you give forty years of yours now, and I’ll support you financially and politically.
Noam Chomsky commented on the roles of intellectuals in an interview with Harry Kreisler from 2002. Here is an excerpt:
HK: You believe that there are two kinds of intellectuals — one, the kinds who serve power and are rewarded, and the others are those who stand outside, who basically call a spade a spade.
NC: Yes, we all agree with that when we’re talking about enemies. So when we’re talking about the Soviet Union, we all agree that there was a difference between the commissars and the dissidents. The commissars were the guys inside who were propagating state propaganda, and the dissidents were a very small group on the fringe, who were trying to call a spade a spade. And we honor the dissidents and we condemn the commissars.
HK: Because they were doing it among our adversaries.
NC: Yes. When we turn around at home, it’s the opposite: we honor the commissars and we condemn the dissidents. And furthermore, this goes right through history. Go back to classical Greece and the Bible. Who drank the hemlock in classical Greece? Was it a commissar or a dissident? When we you go to, say, the Bible, you read the biblical record, there are people called prophets. Prophet just means intellectual. They were people giving geopolitical analysis, moral lessons, that sort of thing. We call them intellectuals today. There were the people we honor as prophets, there were the people we condemn as false prophets. But if you look at the biblical record, at the time, it was the other way around. The flatterers of the Court of King Ahab were the ones who were honored. The ones we call prophets were driven into the desert and imprisoned. Yeah, that’s the way it’s been throughout history. And, understandably. Power does not like to be undermined.