Uri Avneri, owner-editor of Haolam Hazeh (“This World”), the widely read Israeli weekly, has recently published a book entitled “Israel without Zionists ‒ a plea for peace in the Middle East” in which he presents some critical views of Israeli policies as well as his alternative to it (the “Semitic Union”). In the recent elections to the Israeli parliament he headed his own list which won two seats (out of 120). Mr. Avneri also influences a section of the leftist, liberal press in the West. It is therefore useful to have some background information about the man and the political tendency in Israel which he represents.
Avneri was born in Germany in 1924. He emigrated with his parents to Palestine in 1933, shortly after the Nazis came to power. In 1938 he joined the “Irgun Tsevai Leumi” (National Military Organization), a rightist-nationalist-extremist armed organization (“Two banks has the Jordan; one is ours ‒ the other too”).
Avneri left this organization early in the second world war; he also changed most of his views from that period and nowadays speaks out against its leaders who, without renouncing their former views, have recently become ministers in Mrs. Meir’s cabinet. However, Avneri has never relinquished his nationalist ideology. In his book “Israel without Zionists” he states his belief thus:
“I am a Hebrew nationalist and I want to deal with Arab nationalists. I want to tell them: the last fifty years have shown that neither you nor we can achieve our national aspirations as long as we fight each other. Our two great national movements can neutralize each other, or they can be combined in one great regional movement of liberation and progress. This is what the Semitic idea means ‒ an ideal with which nationalists on both sides can identify” (p. 210).
A few lines earlier he rationalizes this ideology thus:
“Nationalism will reign supreme in our generation in all the countries of the region and nothing will stop it. Any idea, inspiring as it may be, which runs counter to the national feelings of the people concerned will be by-passed by history” (p. 210).
He summed up his views on the internal conflicts in Israeli society by: “Neither Left nor Right, but forward”. His views on history and politics are circumscribed by his nationalist consciousness and do not encompass such phenomena as non-nationalistic, social upheavals and revolutions.
The idea of a social revolution, whether in Israel or in the Arab world, is totally alien ‒ even abhorrent ‒ to his thinking. “Haolam Hazeh”, while always carrying a political editorial critical of the government, is based mainly on three ingredients: sexual scandal, social gossip, financial corruption. Avneri’s critique of the economy pertains mostly to finance and taxation issues. Ever since he first joined parliament in 1965 he became committed to parliamentarism; he abhors extra-parliamentary political action. He appeals mainly to second-generation Israelis who are critical of the official policies from a non-class standpoint. This trend of petit-bourgeois radicalism, constantly generated in Israeli society, is expressed by Avneri. In the context of a community which came into existence through colonization and is continuously involved in a conflict with the indigenous population, this radicalism is forced to lead a schizophrenic political life. Thus, while Avneri warns against militarization and Spartanization, he never ceases to glorify the Israeli army (the army is the only institution of Israeli society of which he has no critique). While repeatedly declaring his desire for peace, he becomes a rabid chauvinist once a war breaks out (during the June, 1967, war he published a daily paper oozing chauvinism). While critical of Zionism (i.e. Jewish nationalism) he upholds Israeli localized nationalism, pleads loyalty to patriotism and accuses his opponents of damaging the national interest.
The title of his book is a typical example ‒ in English it reads: “Israel with Zionists ‒ a plea for peace in the Middle East”. In Hebrew ‒ “The seventh day’s war”. Moreover, whereas the English edition ends with a long quotation from Ecclesiastes… “a time for war and a time for peace” etc., which Avneri actualizes by adding “the time for peace is now”, the Hebrew edition contains an epilogue, totally missing in the English one, under the heading “Glory to the Israeli Army”. In the book itself he states as a matter of fact: “…During the 1956 Sinai war to which we strongly objected…” (p. 16), yet anyone who will bother to leaf through old copies of “Haolam Hazeh” will find the following statement in the editorial of December 12, 1955:
“The war is facing us and its eyes are red and hot… It is our duty to annihilate the fighting forces of our strongest adversary ‒ Egypt, before it is too late”.
Immediately after the Suez war, when US pressure was brought on Israel to retreat from the occupied territories, Avneri demanded that the Gaza strip should not be evacuated: “From a political standpoint the absorption of Gaza will strengthen the State enormously; it will be greater. It will solve part of the refugee problem which serves as the main instrument for defaming Israel abroad” (”Haolam Hazeh”, December 26, 1950, p. 3). As for the June, 1967 war the situation was somewhat different. On May 24, 1967 Avneri allowed his co-editor, Shalom Cohen, to write the editorial which ended: “In such a war the Israeli interest is secondary and has no real connection with the ‘Fateh’ sabotage in the north. Even after waging such a war there are no guarantees that the Syrians will not renew the raids. In fact, the opposite is true, and Israel’s primary interests are foreign. The Israeli army must not serve them”.
Once the “National unity” cabinet decided, after receiving the green light from Washington, to bomb Egypt and start the “survival war”, Avneri supported the war militantly. In his book he defines it as “the war nobody wanted”, yet in a recent speech in the Israeli parliament he already mentioned it as “a defensive war” (“Haolam Hazeh” supplement, 3.12.69). Moreover, when the “defensive war” was over and the Israeli parliament debated the defensive issue of annexing East Jerusalem, Avneri did not abstain. He voted for “unification”. He justifies this in his book: “Jerusalem as a unified city would become the federal capital, as well as the capital of both states, thus finding a solution ‒ the only practical one, I believe ‒ to an issue charged with emotions, both religious and nationalist, which make retreat for either side impossible” (p. 188).
After the “preventive war” of 1956 ‒ insistence on “absorbing” the Gaza strip. After the “defensive war” of 1967 ‒ a vote for the “unification” of Jerusalem, both annexations being rationalized as “a new starting point for peace”, “the only practical solution to an issue charged with nationalist emotions which make retreat for either side impossible”.
Avneri’s hatred of “Matzpen” and the Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee Abroad (ISRACA) has so far produced two editorials smacking of witch-hunting, employing adjectives from “charlatans” to “traitors”. Avneri went so far as to state that the non-nationalistic, revolutionary socialist programme of “Matzpen” constitutes “a programme which necessarily leads to nuclear war. For Messrs. [Shimon] Tzabar and [Moshe] Machover cannot imagine that any of us would forsake the existence of Israel without war” (“Haolam Hazeh”, June 4, 1969).
Avneri, wielding the anonymous “any of us” instead of the simple “I”, threatens to let loose a nuclear war against a programme which challenges any kind of Israeli nationalism; yet this same person opposed Israeli nuclear armament.
As far as the historical development is concerned, Avneri’s Israeli nationalism has already missed its moment. Arab nationalism, exposed and defeated in the June war (and since), has entered the period of its historical decline. The Arab world is ripe for the emergence of social, rather than nationalistic, revolutionary forces; but these are no partners to a nationalist like Avneri. Moreover, the permanent conflict between a colonizatory community and an indigenous population, forces the petit-bourgeois radicals in that community either to transcend their national consciousness and become internationalist revolutionaries or to be absorbed into the colonizatory establishment. Avneri is gradually moving in the latter direction.
[Next article: The Scandal in Gush Etzion]