David Grossman wins prizes, but he’s not the real hero of the Israeli Left

Journalist Israel Frey (Moti Milrod - Haaretz)

Gideon Levy

Haaretz  /  December 1, 2022

Warm wishes to David Grossman. The King of The Netherlands has just awarded Grossman the prestigious Erasmus Prize at the royal palace. One of the members of the prize committee explained that Grossman received the prize, among other reasons, for “daring to write about controversial political topics such as the occupied territories and the lives of the Palestinian minority in Israel.” Every one of these words is true. The wonderful author never distanced himself from “controversial topics.” But Grossman has always taken care to fight for positions within the bounds of Zionism. That is his belief and his right.

Grossman probably paid a price for his moderate positions, but it’s doubtful if much courage was required in stating them. In our camp, as they say, it’s allowed and even desirable to say “two states,” “Jewish and democratic,” and “a hollow leadership.” Grossman is an eloquent and impressive presenter of such positions, in Israel and around the world, having exposed the harsh conditions in the territories as far back as 1987, in his book “The Yellow Wind.” He is unrelenting in his campaign. After the death of Amos Oz, Grossman remains the sole spiritual leader of the Zionist left. At the royal place in The Netherlands they also probably think as Grossman does, that the occupation is bad and that peace should be made.

While Grossman was shaking the hand of the king, another writer, less famous and glittering, was summoned for questioning by the police. Journalist Israel Frey was called to an interrogation after praising, on Twitter, a terrorist who was caught last September in Jaffa, since the terrorist had wished to harm only soldiers, not civilians. “Look what a hero he is. He made it all the way from Nablus to Tel Aviv, and even though all the Israelis around him somehow take part in oppressing, crushing and killing his own people – he still looked for legitimate targets and avoided harming the innocent. In a just world, he would have received a medal,” the tweet read.

Frey was fired from his job at DemocraTV, the quintessential leftist-Zionist TV station, and was later summoned for questioning by the police. He has already paid a price for his statement that no one on the Zionist left has ever paid. If the test of courage is paying a personal price, Frey is a hero.

Frey will not be invited to the royal palace in The Netherlands and will receive no prize for “daring to write about controversial political topics.” He is beyond the pale, and his opinion is cast beyond the fence, to the point of incriminating him. Decent and honest people should find it difficult to refute the claims Frey made. But in the ultra-nationalist, propaganda-driven and rapacious reality we live in, there is no room for such integrity. It’s easier to fire him from a workplace that’s enlightened and progressive in its own eyes, while accusing him of incitement to terror.

In an environment in which “terror” is anything the Palestinians do and “self-defense” is anything Israelis do; in a place in which the killing of children and youths in their tens, including two brothers only this week, is not considered terror but in which harming violent and land-grabbing settlers or soldiers in the occupation army is illegitimate under any circumstance, there is no point in trying to explain why Frey’s position is correct. We’ll try anyway: There is no left without equality, and equality must include the right of both peoples, not just of one, to engage in resistance and self-defense. Not only Israelis are allowed to kill while calling the killers heroes.

It’s easy to don a sanctimonious anti-violence cloak – we oppose violence – yet see Frey’s words as incitement to violence. “I want to see every terrorist dead,” in the words of Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, is not incitement to violence, since nothing is more fluid than the definition of a Palestinian as a terrorist. “Death to terrorists” is also not incitement. But expressing wonder at a Palestinian who refrained from harming civilians, seeking only soldiers as a target, that’s incitement.

The coming period will be challenging for anyone wishing to express truly courageous statements. One may assume that Grossman will continue to talk about two states and the end of the occupation, and garner more prizes. Frey may end up in jail. Is there any doubt as to which of the two has greater courage?