David Grossman and Zionist fragility

David Grossman (Olivier Fitoussi - MW)

Jonathan Ofir 

Mondoweiss  / January 3, 2023

Liberal Zionists like David Grossman have to own up to their ideology and admit that Israel’s drift towards the right is because of Zionism, not in spite of it.

Last week, one of Israel’s most celebrated authors, David Grossman, responded to Benjamin Netanyahu’s looming announcement of the most rightwing, religious-fundamentalist government in Israel’s history, with an article in Haaretz, titled: “For Israel, There Is No Way Back From Netanyahu’s Chaos”

I would like to begin by stating that Grossman’s piece is full of typical left-Zionist delusion, as I will explain below. But before I get into that, one may very well ask of me, haven’t I got bigger fish to fry? Why not go after the real fascists instead of attacking leftists?

The answer is simple: people like Grossman are instrumental in driving the Zionist project and garnering liberal support for it, which they do by misrepresenting Zionism. This liberal support for Zionism in turn weakens opposition to the more overt rightwing Zionism that we now see on full display. The good-cop-bad-cop duality has confused too many people, giving the illusion that  Israel is a complex, pluralistic, and democratic country.

Grossman, a gifted writer, is the one remaining author of a trio which included the late Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua. Of the three, Oz is probably the most crass in his arrogant and hypocritical Zionist zealotry, disguised as moderate rationality. The three were considered the “three wise men” of the Zionist left. 

Grossman has been good at sweeping the nationalist ethos, as if to give himself credit for criticizing the state policies from the left. 

“The establishment — and very existence — of the state of Israel is something of a miracle…a political, national, human miracle,” he proclaimed in his 2006 speech at a memorial for the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Grossman’s son Uri was killed under military service in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which naturally added to the gravity and ethos behind the man’s words. 

In the recent Haaretz article, like in that speech, Grossman will not be referring to Palestinians. He may hint at it, but his focus is Zio-centrist. And the focus is that forces on the right are coming to destroy the dream for the left. 

Let’s look at his piece then:

“Everything that has happened in Israel since the election is ostensibly legal and democratic. But under its cover — as has happened more than once in history — the seeds of chaos, emptiness and disorder have been sown in Israel’s most vital institutions.”

That’s how he starts out. He is saying that this “chaos, emptiness and disorder” are not what people actually went out to the polls to vote on. He is opining that this is a danger to the “most fragile democracy in the Middle East,” a poetic play on the mantra of the “only democracy in the Middle East.” 

Grossman opines that there is trickery at play, that we are being stolen from, “pocketed” in a way that will leave us with no democracy, not even a fragile one: 

“We know that someone is deceiving us at this very moment. That someone is pocketing not just our money, but our future and that of our children, the existence we wanted to create here — a state where, despite all its flaws and shortcomings and blind spots, the possibility of becoming a civilized, egalitarian country, one that has the power to absorb contradictions and differences, one that in time will even manage to free itself of the cursed occupation, occasionally shines through. A country that could be Jewish and believing and secular, a high-tech power and traditional and democratic, and also a good home for its minorities. An Israeli state where the multiplicity of societal and human dialects won’t necessarily create fears and mutual threats and racism, but will instead lead to cross-fertilization and flourishing.”

It’s a nice dream. Did we notice how Palestinians, who are never mentioned by name, are here reduced to minorities? The occupation did appear here, however — as something that Israel might one day free “itself” of, as opposed to the Palestinians. 

Delusions of dual regimes

Alas, at the very end of the piece, Grossman finally comes to admit that the part about ending the occupation was not for real. In the very last paragraph, he says: 

“The occupation also evidently won’t end in the foreseeable future; it is already stronger than all the forces now active in the political arena. What began and was honed with great efficiency there is now seeping into here.”

Grossman is repeating a worn left-Zionist mantra — that the occupation is external to Israel, another regime “over there,” corrupting us liberals in the heartland. This is what Nathan Thrall calls the “dual regimes delusion,” and it’s a dusty one at that. 

It is also a fantasy that has since been overhauled by the more current and updated understanding of the occupation as a single regime of Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea, an apartheid regime. Grossman isn’t half so brave as to use the A-word, even if B’Tselem did, not to mention Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. 

Grossman’s last paragraph also contains an admission which counters the thrust of his whole piece – it is, after all, not all about Netanyahu. Netanyahu was a teenager when the 1967 occupation began. It was the Zionist left that was primarily responsible for its implementation, and for the first colonialist settlements in both the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in the Syrian Golan and Egyptian Sinai. It was the Laborite leader Yigal Allon who fathered the plan of colonizing the West Bank, long before the Likudniks were in charge. And that occupation was already very entrenched by the time Netanyahu became Premier in 1996. 

‘Finishing the job’ in 1967

There’s another delusion in Grossman’s final paragraph, one that is very typical of the entire Zionist left – the imagination that 1967 was an event in its own right, detached from the 1948 Nakba, as if the trouble started with 1967. 

In reality, 1967 was a “finishing of the job,” as it was seen by the generals of the time, those who had been there in 1948 and saw it as an unfinished job. And who was the mastermind of the 1948 ethnic cleansing? David Ben Gurion. Is he then the epitome of democracy, and of a “civilized, egalitarian country”? 

Grossman is applying biblical and prophetic fervor in his admonishment of the supposedly sudden corruption of the Zionist dream. He is applying quotes from Isaiah: 

“Throughout the negotiations to form a new government, a verse from the book of Isaiah has been constantly running through my head – ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!’.”

Well, I can also apply biblical quotes, I would like to apply one from Ecclesiastes 1:2, the words of the Preacher, son of David: “Vanity! Vanity of vanities!”

Grossman’s belief in the moral DNA of Zionism is quasi-religious. He thinks it’s a miracle. It’s not a miracle, it’s a venture of settler-colonialism, and it sought to manifest itself by demographic engineering as its founding act. This principle continues to be its guiding principle. If you build a state on such a moral foundation, which you even worship as if it was holy, then what is the surprise that you get a Netanyahu and a Smotrich and a Ben Gvir in government? The longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, Netanyahu is not an aberration — he is the face of Israel. His alignment with Smotrich and Ben Gvir is a natural consequence of the nature of Zionism. 

Left-Zionists need to own up to their ideology and stop bemoaning that the Israel they got isn’t the one they wanted. Israel is the way it is because of Zionism, not in spite of it. 

Stop the fairy tales. Enough with Zionist fragility.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark