Some of you folks may recall that in 2003, back in the days of protests against the Iraq War, Rabbi Lerner who founded Tikkun, was prevented from speaking at one of the larger protests because a leftist organization did not wish to have any Zionists on the stage (this was an Iraq War protest!!). Now, just so we are clear, Rabbi Lerner is a flag-bearer for so-called “progressive” Jews. He is a creature of the far Left, his views place a great deal of the blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict upon Israel, his solutions regarding the conflict are generally on the edges of what most Israelis would consider acceptable and on numerous other political issues that have nothing to do with Israel, you could probably count him as a member in good standing of the Nation/Counterpunch crowd. How was he treated by his peers on the Left? The media coordinator for ANSWER said in asserting exclusion of Lerner, “I know that the ANSWER coalition would not have a pro-Israel speaker on its platform.”

Having seen Lerner ostracized by his partners on the Left, I wasn’t too surprised to find that the same thing is now happening to Uri Avnery. Uri Avnery, for those who need a refresher, is perhaps the most prominent left wing activist in Israel. He has spent decades protesting Israel’s actions in war and peace, founded a political party with a strong leftist outlook, founded the peace movement Gush Shalom, befriended Arafat personally and has used the majority of his life to oppose Israeli policies regarding Arabs and the Palestinians.

Yet after decades of such activism, his peers on the Left have now decided it is time to trash him. The reason? He dared to write an article called Tutu’s Prayer opposing the attempts to boycott Israel. You know, the self serving, self-righteous, hypocritical attempts to withdraw cultural, diplomatic and economic ties with Israel such as that of John Greyson boycotting the Toronto International Film Festival because they dared to show a slate of films about Tel Aviv.

Avnery quotes Desmond Tutu as saying that the boycott against South Africa was effective but then contrasts that experience with Israel’s. He writes:

The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.

In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.

They will not feel the “the whole world is with us”, but rather that “the whole world is against us”.

In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-Semitic world”.


True, the Israeli occupation and the South African apartheid system have certain similar characteristics. In the West Bank, there are roads “for Israelis only”. But the Israeli policy is not based on race theories, but on a national conflict. A small but significant example: in South Africa, a white man and a black woman (or the other way round) could not marry, and sexual relations between them were a crime. In Israel there is no such prohibition. On the other hand, an Arab Israeli citizen who marries an Arab woman from the occupied territories (or the other way round) cannot bring his or her spouse to Israel. The reason: safeguarding the Jewish majority in Israel. Both cases are reprehensible, but basically different.

In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.

In this country, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common – not a common national feeling, not a common religion, not a common culture and not a common language. The vast majority of the Israelis want a Jewish (or Hebrew) state. The vast majority of the Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state. Israel is not dependent on Palestinian workers – on the contrary, it drives the Palestinians out of the working place. Because of this, there is now a world-wide consensus that the solution lies in the creation of the Palestinian state next to Israel.

In other words, this is a piece of leftist thinking that rejects the apartheid label, but claims similarities between Israel and apartheid. Or that claims that Israelis “drive out” Palestinians from the workplace, without providing any context.

His problem with a boycott is not with a boycott per se but instead it’s that it will drive Israelis to the right and not because it is fundamentally wrong.

Well, his article has raised the ire of Jewish and non-Jewish leftists/progressives across the internet. Here 3 examples of the responses given to his article:

When Obama bends on this issue as he has become adept in doing on all the others, will you then be ready to support the boycott or will you still be asking the world to continue deferring to Jewish sensibilities and become, in practice, an apologist for the status quo? Believe me, your ads in Ha’aretz and your weekly demonstrations protesting the occupation do not speak nearly as loudly as do your words in this essay.

Jeffrey Blankfort

Prejudice does not always come with an ugly face. The same holds for Zionism and racism. It is entirely possible for well-intentioned people to hold a prejudice and, even worse, act on held prejudices.

Uri Avnery opposes the brutality inflicted on Palestinians. He campaigns for peace with Palestinians. But he also has a Zionist past. He is European born and fought for the terrorist Irgun in perpetration of a holocaust (Nakba) against Palestinans. He later renounced Irgun’s tactics. He is antiwar, but he is not anti-the fruits of war. He approves of a two state solution. In other words, Israeli Jews will keep the fruits of their dispossessing others — this while continuing to press for the return of what they were dispossessed.1

Avnery advocates selective use of tactics against Zionism.

Kim Petersen

Avneri…is not considered far left by most Israelis on the far left. Do you regularly quote and republish the view of far left Israelis? … What about Palestinians?

Did you care to objectively describe the range opinions in the far left in Israel about the boycott?

Or do you only notice the opinions of one person on the far left in Israel when he writes something that fits in with the prejudices of the US liberal mainstream?

Evildoer on TMP Cafe

And so it goes.

By the way, you folks should read these links and see what these writers on the far left – these “progressives” – believe and say about Israel (the phrase that came to my mind is “monstrous libel”). And, apparently, if you dare to cross them, even if you have spent a lifetime leading a fight on behalf of the Palestinians,they will immediately treat you like dirt. Or rather, like the evil Jewish Zionist they know you are.

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  • There needs to be a website dedicated in its entirety to documenting what all the “Blankforts” and “Petersens” really think. They should be engaged and exposed for what they really are. What our community needs is to come up with a new meme to refer to these people. They already have a rehearsed answered for calling out their hate. Just like they came to own and twist our term “Zionist”, we need to give them a label…to describe the Westerner (Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Atheist) whose career is built around discrediting and demonizing Israel.

    The Wikipedia entry for Jeffrey Blankfort refers to the “Zionist AIPAC and ADL”, I wonder who wrote it.

    Kim Petersen does not have a Wikipedia entry, yet, but one of the contributors to the lovely “radical newsletter” she writes for posted this article yesterday:

    Its fascinating how he refers to dozens of published books and articles at the same time saying anti-Israel sentiments are being silenced.

    If you google the author’s name, Edward Corrigan, you’ll see that he also wrote an article named: An Invention Called “the Jewish People” and a blog post called “Zionist Distortion of History”.

    By reading all these blogs and websites, the biggest trend I see is the never ending number of articles portraying the “good Jews”, i.e. the ones who speak against Israel.

  • Hahahaha. Great. They get what they deserve. They’re perfect for each other. By the way, there’s nothing “progressive” about a “Progressive”. Most of their Statist goals do everything but promote progress. I call them liberals, as they were, before they “rebranded” themselves.

  • Sorry but four (4) comments from more-or-less random people across the internet say little about anyone eating their own. Uri Avnery is well to your left and these random commenters are well to your left, ergo them talking shit about him (and in some cases expressing disagreement in what seems to actually be a pretty civil way) says something about “the left” as a whole?

  • Uh, the far Left? Sure. There’s a reason I called it being “Lernered.” The same thing was done to Lerner by A.N.S.W.E.R. And the only reason I gave you 4 comments is that it was already plenty long enough of a post. Would you like me to keep finding more?


    Uri Avnery – The Muddle Headed Zionist Opposes Boycott


    This, to tell the truth, shocked me. I never expected holocaust talk from a man like Uri Avnery. As was pointed out to the world during President Obama’s visit to Kenya, the world was unaware of the plight of millions of Black slaves that were brought over to America. The suffering they endured on the long trip is unspeakable. Jews were not the only ones that suffered throughout history, and it’s time to stop pulling out the ‘Holocaust Card’.


    Why Do We Embrace Zionists Like Uri Avnery?
    It never ceases to amaze me that Palestinians promote Zionist writers and thinkers. Case in point is Uri Avnery, a man who has never renounced Zionism; in fact, he is a proud Zionist. Helena Cobban in Counterpunch points out that Avnery seems to plead with Dov Yermiya, who recently renounced Zionism, to reconsider. Avnery, who obviously knows better or should know better if he could get beyond his tribal affinity, writes about a vision of Zionism that was in its incipient stages more “idealistic.”


    Shmuel August 30, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    There can be no doubt that Avnery has done a lot of good over the years, but he has always stopped short of grappling with the core issue of Zionism. He is a (radical?) left-wing Zionist, and as such blames Israel’s settlement policies and especially Israel’s post-67 settlers for everything – making a clear distinction between “good” Zionists (’48 settlers) and “bad” Zionists (’67 settlers). It is therefore only natural that he would oppose measures that would hurt “good” Zionists and place Zionism as a whole on a par with Apartheid-era South Africa.

    That’s just from quickly skimming the first page of a Google search on “Uri Avnery Tutu Boycott.”

    He is getting Lernered because he’s not anti-Zionist enough. He is getting Lernered because like most Jewish “progressives,” he is not hateful enough of Israel to be willing to completely sacrifice it to the Palestinians but that isn’t enough for his “progressive” peers because they want Israel to become Palestine. Period. And if you’re not with them, then they start talking about how the previously good Zionist, nee Jew, is not really good enough. Basically, you need to be Ilan Pappe to be good enough. Or maybe Yasser Arafat.

    I have little sympathy for Avnery, his views are too extreme for me and it is his friends who are turning on him…and all because he wrote that Israel isn’t South Africa, that the Holocaust DOES matter and that a boycott isn’t going to help the Palestinians achieve their goals (he’s not too concerned about Israel’s goals).

    It’s sad, but he is paying for his naivete.

    In the end, if the far Left is successful, we will all – Jews outside of Israel and especially Israel – will pay a heavy price for the cover the well-meaning Jews on the far Left are giving to much more strident voices and the encouragement they have given all these years to the same people who would destroy Israel in a heartbeat .

  • Ahhhhh…..I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning.

    Suck it, bitch.

  • Hahaha. Nice. And I’m not entirely sure that those “well meaning Jews” are so well meaning.

  • well, i’m personally quite content with being one of the “bad” jews. maybe uri will grow some balls and join us. or maybe he’ll just do the typical thing and pander and apologize to the crazies on the “progressive” left.

  • TM: “He is getting Lernered because he’s not anti-Zionist enough”

    What exactly do you mean by that — Avnery has never identified as anti-Zionist, as far as I know.

  • That’s exactly what I meant. To receive the real “approval” of his critics, he’d have to be anti-Zionist.

    Perhaps putting the word “enough” is confusing because it makes it seem that he’s somewhat anti-Zionist, but he’s not and that wasn’t my intent. He’s a Zionist alright.

  • Most of the writers here display woeful ignorance about Uri Avneri. Avneri’s one of the most colorful figures in Israeli politics and one of the strangest. He’s the author of one of the classic soldier memoirs of the War of Independence, “In Philistine Fields,” for many years edited the sensationalist, half-pornographic weekly “Ha-Olam Ha-Zeh,” and got elected to the Knesset on a ticket with the magazine’s name. But he’s neither a Zionist nor a leftist, at least by his own definition. One of his books is called “Israel Without Zionism.” And on economic and social issues he’s a classic (European) liberal, not a socialist. He’s way out, but he’s not a typical member of either the far anti-Zionist left nor of the loyal Zionist left.

  • Haim, I’m a little offended but I’ll respond nonetheless.

    Nothing of what you’ve added to the conversation is unknown to me. Avnery is certainly unconventional and we agree that he is an atypical member of the “loyal Zionist left.”

    I would place him – by Israeli political standards that relate to the Arab-Israeli conflict – left of Meretz. I have Israeli friends who vote for Meretz, but on economic and social issues match your description of Avnery to a T. Heck, they’re raging capitalists with a soft spot for the downtrodden, the underprivileged and the underdogs. But they don’t vote for Meretz just because they’re yuppie softies, and certainly not because they’re Socialists. They vote for Meretz because of their stance on finding terms for peace with the Arabs.

    As you must know, Avnery’s party, Gush Shalom, does not seek the end of Israel as a Jewish state and its position on refugees and their descendants moving into Israel is explicitly restrictive on the numbers who will be permitted to enter. As I read that, it means that Israel’s identity as a Jewish state may not be the definition that interests him, but the results of that identification among Israeli citizens does interest him. In other words, the evolution from Zionist Jews to Israelis fulfills, in his view, the parameters necessary to support Israel as it is and not to dismantle it on the altar of conciliation with the Arabs. I read that as Zionism, even if he would like to define his views differently.

    Here is how he defines it:

    In response to The Lie of post-Zionism [Hebrew title of article] by Shlomo Avineri (Haaretz 4/7)

    In 1976, a Jerusalem periodical wrote that I and my colleagues – i.a. Gen. Matti Peled, Eliyahu Elyashar, Col. Meir Pa’il – the founders of the “Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace”, are anti-Zionists. We sued them for libel, won the case and were awarded considerable compensations.

    In the course of the proceedings, I testified at length, on the basis of my book “Israel Without Zionists”. When the judge interrogated me about my attitude towards Zionism, I used, for the first time, the term “Post-Zionist”.

    “Post-Zionism” in its true meaning is a long way from “anti-Zionism”. It recognizes Zionism’s historical achievements: the formation of a new society, the revival of the Hebrew language and the creation of the state [of Israel.] It does this without ignoring the dark aspects – the historical injustice done to the Palestinian people.

    The essence of post-Zionism lies in recognizing that Zionism had fulfilled its role with the foundation of the State of Israel. Since then a new nation was born, the Israeli nation, composed of the citizens of Israel, much as the American nation is composed of the citizens of the United States. Jewish citizens feel a natural affinity to the Jewish world while Arab citizens feel a natural affinity to the Arab world.

    An Israeli who is asked abroad “What are you?” answers automatically: “I am an Israeli.” It would not enter his mind to say “I am a Jew”, unless asked specifically about his religion.

    David Ben-Gurion said that the Zionist Federation played the role of the scaffolding in the building of the state of Israel. That is true for Zionism as a whole. A building is not the anti-scaffolding, it is the post-scaffolding.

    So you can call him what you like, but I call him a Zionist. He has something in his nature that always pushes for an alternative claim to what the majority of the people around him say and believe, which may be why you think the above doesn’t count as Zionism, but I consider it Zionism.

  • Themiddle–I certainly didn’t mean to offend and apologize if I did (and you gotta forgive me this week). The material you adduce just goes to show how unpeggable Avneri is. But I accept your point that, whatever his idiosyncrasies, he’s allied himself frequently with people who define themselves as (far) left Zionists. I just think it’s important to point out that there are important ideological differences separating him from what we might call the mainstream Zionist left of Meretz and the progressive wing of the late great Labor Party. His position is typified by the fact that the word “Jew” appears nowhere in “In Philistine Fields,” where he depicts he and his comrades as fighting for a new Hebrew nation that has virtually no connection to the Jewish past. This disassociation from Jewish history represents an important, if minority, current in prestate and post-independence Israeli politics and culture, but one that is firmly rejected by the great majority of today’s Zionist left.

  • “This disassociation from Jewish history represents an important, if minority, current in prestate and post-independence Israeli politics and culture, but one that is firmly rejected by the great majority of today’s Zionist left.”

    Agreed. Absolutely.

    In many ways, while this group has always been a minority, I believe they have been a very influential minority in terms of how Israelis came to view themselves early on and even to this day. I would propose that art movements in Israel reflect these views (Canaanism for example), the kibbutz movement probably reflected this view in their early years, and the rejection of all things diaspora that influenced early Zionists also took on this idea of the new Hebrew (as opposed to the weak, frail diaspora Jew). Needless to say, there is a greater propensity among those with strong leftist views to reject the religion label and assert their national label.

    Perhaps even Ben Yehuda can be considered an early member of this philosophical school.

    Avnery is not entirely wrong in the way he sees Israelis. It is not uncommon to see secular Jewish Israelis possess a sense of antipathy towards their observant brethren because they are perceived as the Jews of old, the ones from the diaspora which was rejected in favor of establishing the new state of the Hebrews. Of course, the kippah seruga types are perceived differently, although in some ways still rejected because they are perceived to place religion before nation. If you look at many secular Israelis who emigrate to other countries, they tend to live very secular, areligious lives even if they are entirely confident about their identity as Jews. They are Israelis, members of a nation first and co-religionists a distant second, just as Avnery states in the brief article above.