J.A. Miller: Avnery; Neo-Zionist Babble in Babel

By J.A. Miller

[Editor’s Note: Uri Avnery has been featured regularly at the PalestineChronicle.com since its establishment in the late 1990’s. The following criticism of Mr. Avnery is published with the hope that it would further contribute to the ongoing debate on Zionism and ‘neo-Zionism’. Readers’ comments are on this matter or any other related subjects, are, as always, encouraged.] 

"People always send me articles by Uri Avnery.  I never ever post them.  Never was a fan – and I didn’t admire his war years [in Lebanon ] on behalf of the Israel occupation forces…Avnery reproduces generalizations from The Arab Mind – almost word-for-word." – As’ad Abu Khalil, The Orientalism of Uri Avnery.

Casing the Joint

Uri Avnery has long aired his commentary on progressive and pro-Palestinian websites with scarcely a demurral. His generally unchallenged presence on such venues has been puzzling since his commitment to Zionism has been unwavering throughout his long career. [1] In fact, Avnery’s ideology was put in its proper place back in 1971 by Camille Mansour in a PLO publication entitled: Uri Afniri wal-sahyuniyah al-mustahdatha (“Uri Avnery and Neo-Zionism”), published in response to Avnery’s promotion of a two-state solution.

But those were the good old days – before resistance was redefined as terrorism — when there was vigorous discussion amongst Palestinians and Arabs about a single secular democratic state in Palestine, the stated aim of the PLO in 1969.  But this bracing discourse was soon buried in a relentless wave of Zionist violence and hasbara that continues unabated to this day to which we must add the efforts of Avnery and neo-Zionists so plentiful among western progressives. Although the idea of a single democratic state has recently been oh-so-timidly resurrected the concept has always been viewed with the gravest alarm by Zionists of all religious and political persuasions. In 1975 the U.N. General Assembly passed resolution 3379 that concluded:  Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. [2]

True, the resolution was later overturned thanks to the efforts of the repellent John Bolton. And it is likewise true that Avnery has courageously battled some of the more brutal aspects of occupation Zionism. Furthermore he occasionally makes good points about Israeli and Arab politics and pokes frequent fun at Israeli psyche and society. But he has always used his very public efforts for a “kinder, gentler” Zionism to soften his commitment to the core Zionist objective: The maintenance of the Jewish ethno-theocracy in Palestine by opposition to BDS, the Right of Return and any chatter whatsoever about a single state. Avnery’s liberal avuncular aura engenders deference from western progressives and Arabs perhaps desperate for any Israeli who seems in any way kinder and gentler than the usual brutal sahyuni. In this way he might be said to approximate the classic role of “good cop”. 

But Avnery’s neo-Zionism is rarely absent. He has hinted that Palestinians who support a single state solution do so as code “for the elimination of the State of Israel”.   I would suggest instead that the code phrase “elimination of the State of Israel” (along with its correlate “Israel’s right to exist”) has been used to anthropomorphize the Israeli state thus making its elimination not an act of political change but rather an act of murder. Avnery has pleaded that the world can’t expect the “Israeli public to be fifty years ahead of the times” by supporting a one state solution. [3] He scores progressive brownie points by acknowledging the inherent justness of the single state but – shaking his grizzled head ever so sadly — regrets that Israeli reality will never permit it: “In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the end of days” [4] Thus does Avnery in 2007 push the feasibility of the single state beyond his 2003 estimate of only fifty years – safely far away to a distant messianic time. It is not for nothing that Avnery frequently resorts to scriptural reference subliminally reminding us Judeo-Christians of those covenanted property rights.

Avnery’s neo-Zionist musings recently reached an apogee in an essay entitled “The Rot of Occupation”. The title seems promising but the piece is essentially a whitewash of early Zionist settler motivation during which Avnery presents us with this astonishing phrase describing early Zionist pioneer motivation: It did not occur to them that they were hurting human beings of another people. [5] 

In one sentence Avnery not only absolves the early settlers because (oops!) it just didn’t occur to them that what they were doing was wrong but – far more significantly — he demotes the entirety of humanity to the status of a lesser group, a mere subset of “people”, while simultaneously elevating the category “people” (no doubt bound by blut) to the premier divisor of humankind.  In short, the Tower of Babel obtaineth still — nay is pre-eminent — in Avnery’s retrograde and Biblical worldview. Indeed, the Babelian concept runs through the entire spectrum of Zionist thought, from Likud to Gush Shalom; from Buber to Begin; from Larry Oliphant to Jerry Falwell. Thus Avnery constructs a verbal Apartheid Wall whilst projecting early Zionist settlers as starry-eyed romantics with no connection whatsoever to the “thieving thugs” of the Gush Emunim variety who – what impudence! – dare to claim the holy mantle of those early idealistic but apparently absent-minded settlers.

But here comes the industrious and principled Ilan Pappe with his Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine putting paid to Avnery’s romantic vision. The early pioneer claim to innocence is demolished with Pappe’s revelation that between 1930-1947 those selfsame idealists deliberately and with malice aforethought compiled a detailed inventory of an entire country (aka “The Village Files”) in which Palestinian villages were systematically inventoried as to topography, access to roads and water, quality of land, descriptions of economic life and other socio-politico-religious data. As data collection expanded these rosy-cheeked romantics compiled minute descriptions of village mosques, the type and quality of the villagers weapons, the number of trees, the quality of each fruit grove (down to the productivity of individual trees), “precise accounts” of village notables’ living rooms, a census of automobiles, lists of artisans and their skills, lists of village notables and civil servants in the mandatory government and detailed descriptions of clan relations. A Hebrew University topographer and professional photographers (no doubt similarly innocent) were recruited to augment the files with photography and maps.

The Village Files were nothing less than a monumental “casing of the joint” executed with an ice-cold attention to detail. Most repulsive of all, Avnery’s starry-eyed pioneers were able to extract their heads sufficiently out of the clouds to record the names of all men between the ages of 16-50 as well as the names of anyone involved in or who lost family members in the 1936 Palestinian Revolt thus establishing an index of each village’s “hostility” vis-à-vis Zionist activity and giving historic resonance to Mahmud Darwish’s famous poem which begins: “Write down, I am an Arab!” In the project’s final phase Avnery’s idealists created lists of “wanted” persons in each village which human inventory facilitated the mass executions, torture, and arrest operations carried out by Jewish troops in 1948. [6] 

But, you will say, give Uri a break!  He has changed, has he not? Why so harsh to someone who has labored long in the Israeli peace movement, put his body on the line in protests and openly hobnobbed with Yasser Arafat and other Arabs, thereby credentialing himself as a bonafide Arab-lover? [7] Didn’t he claim – rather like some sort of military version of Bill Clinton — that although he carried arms during the motorized Samson’s Foxes ethnic cleansing operations in 1948 that “he did not shoot”? [8] Has he not written reams supporting Palestinians in their struggle to end the 1967 occupation and even gone so far as to bravely criticize the harsher aspects of Zionism internal to Israel? Does this not make him a valuable ally in the Palestinian struggle for justice? Isn’t he just being realistic when he says the secular democratic state is a great idea but simply not feasible until the messiah shows up? [9] As a sort of eminence grise of the Israeli left should we not encourage him?

Oren ben Dor knows better: “The truth is that there has virtually never been any real ‘left’ in Israel . So-called left-wing Israelis share their right-wing compatriots’ support for the state ideology” which is based on the premise “that it is morally acceptable to have a state whose legal structures assign preferential stake to all those who pass some test of Jewishness”. [10] Might we be mistaken in supposing that progressives would at least question those who categorically state in scriptural terms that ending such a political entity is only a dream?

Apparently we are mistaken. The ideology of the Biblical Babel – in which by the way the west is also thoroughly soaked — has long trumped any kind of consistent progressive analysis when it comes to Zionism. Avnery-like gatekeepers have quite successfully Walled off discussion of Palestine in most western progressive groups which has contributed in part to their current paralysis. Therefore Avnery should not be accorded the privilege of going uncriticized or unchallenged, just as the quasi-hasbaritic progressives of all religious and irreligious persuasions who swarm through western peace and justice organizations must be continually challenged, exhausting though this effort may be. “Did they read it” asks Abu Khalil about those who sent him copies of An Evening in Jounieh “or do they just endorse whatever he writes?” [11]  By all means read Avnery but do so closely and with the watchwords caveat lector in mind.

A Magical, Musical Red Herring

As wary readers therefore let us now revisit an example of Avnery’s essays, “Death of a Myth” featured on progressive websites in 2005. [12] Not only is it an excellent display of Zionist psychology it also showcases his breezy and engaging western-oriented style. The essay’s ostensible aim is to gently mock Israeli popular uproar over a "stolen song". However, the key word in the essay is not the noun song but the adjective stolen. As is typical with psychological denial the narrative simultaneously reveals and conceals.

Israeli singer Naomi Shemer’s deathbed confession to stealing a Basque lullaby is but a musical red herring meant to divert attention from the real theft that all Zionists are hiding, buried so deep they cannot own up to it without experiencing considerable psychic pain: That they deliberately and with meticulous planning carried out a crime of historic proportions — the theft of an entire country.  And although they have been unable to confess to their crime it nevertheless continues to gnaw away at them, all of them. Avnery’s breathless reporting of the contretemps and his part in promoting the song indicates that he too has internalized this denial.

I submit that the stolen song is simply a metaphor for the theft of Palestine. Even at death’s door Shemer engaged in good old PR-style spin. She declared she did not steal the song "consciously" but had "absorbed it into her subconscious" in what she felicitously downgraded to the status of "work accident". Even facing death, Shemer was unable to salve her conscience by admitting the real theft so she confessed instead to petty larceny hoping thereby to find relief.. But her confessional deflection left a clue to what was really eating away at her. The guilty are known to harbor a desire to be caught out in their lies.

Shemer’s confession reveals that Zionists justify the theft of Palestine as "unconscious" because, as Avnery instructs us, it did not occur to them that they were harming human beings of another people. Moreover, they plaintively insist that because they changed a mere "eight notes" of the melody (reducing to the status of a “work accident” the razing of  a paltry 418+ villages and the ethnic cleansing of upwards of a million Palestinians) they "have every right" to the royalties (land ownership).  It is instructive to note that the work accident motif recurred in 2006 when the Israeli army apologized for shelling a Gaza beach and killing 10 civilians (including two infants) suggesting the war crime was a “work accident”.  Zionists are past masters of verbal manipulation and projection, nimbly attributing their own dark desires and practices to the Other.

This secret of the deliberate theft of an entire country is so monumental that it requires elaborate psychological and cement walls to be erected around it with religious mythology and Babelic babble veiling the whole structure.  For if the secret remains buried there will be no painful need to implement the Right of Return, to establish truth and reconciliation commissions, to pay reparations, to wash any feet in contrition or to simply try (as Harry exhorts Voldemort) for some remorse.  The fourth largest army in the world is ever alert with its vast armory ready to assassinate, imprison or harass anyone who tries to reveal the secret by opposing it. Legions of loyal spin doctors — salaried and volunteer, on the left and on the right, religious and secular — are ready to deflect, mitigate and project to keep it hidden. The secret of the deliberate theft of a country has attained an almost magical quality whereby any words uttered by anyone anywhere that reveal it must be pounced upon to prevent the spell from being broken.

When Zionists are able to confess to theft; that, yeah, they did inhale; when they are able to fully grasp the healing concept that “human being” is the indivisible classifier of humankind and one’s blut is inconsequential, when they face the reality that a single secular democratic state is the only equitable solution, justice will be possible and peace will follow. Meanwhile as you peruse Avnery’s words keep in mind his lifelong allegiance to Babel and Zionism which, as the UN once so bravely but briefly resolved, is a form of racism.

– J.A. Miller is a grandmother activist from the Middle West who spent many years traveling and studying in the Middle East. She has published essays on Counterpunch, DissidentVoice and StateofNature as well as poems in the manner of the Burma Shave highway signs of her youth at PoeticInjustice.net some of which will be included in their upcoming anthology Poets for Palestine. She can be reached at jsec_miller@hotmail.com


[1] Avnery has never denied his Zionism.  In fact in 1977 he and his colleagues won a libel case against the Sephardi Community in Jerusalem who had alleged that they were anti-Zionist thereby making them “the only Jewish citizens of the State of Israel who can produce a court ruling attesting to their Zionist credentials”.  See Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel, pp. 146-7.
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_3379
[3] Uri Avnery, The Bi-National State: The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb
[4] Uri Avnery , Israel and Apartheid: Freedom Ride
[5] Uri Avnery, The Rot of Occupation
[6]  Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine , 2007, pp. 17-22.
[7] Uri Avnery, An Evening in Jounieh – www.counterpunch.org/avnery11272006.html
[8] Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel. pp. 147-8
[9] The Bi-National State : The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb
[10] Oren ben Dor, There has never been a true left in Israel www.counterpunch.org/bendor06232007.html
[11] As’ad Abu Khalil, The Orientalism of Uri Avnery  http://angryarab.blogspot.com/search?q=avnery
[12] Uri Avnery, The Basque Roots of ‘ Jerusalem Gold’

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