Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Shooting and Crying

I first encountered Ari Shavit through a famous and extraordinary interview he conducted with Edward Said in 2000.  The interview was for Ha'aretz, the Israeli elite daily newspaper.  Entitled 'My Right of Return', it's since been collected by Gauri Viswanathan in her comprehensive and rich anthology of interviews with Said, Power, Politics and Culture: Interviews with Edward Said.

The interview is famous for various reasons.  Said was the most prominent Palestinian intellectual and dissident working in the Western world up to his death in 2003.  Even for a putatively liberal journal such as Ha'aretz, interviewing Said amounted to a confrontation with one of Israel's most formidable enemies - formidable precisely because of his Westernised character, his difference from the fedayeen of the Palestinian exiles in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or from the radical clerics in Gaza, formidable precisely because he used language as his weapon, not rifles or rockets, and spoke from one of the great centres of American intellectual life.   Yet Shavit was self-conscious enough to realise that there was a degree of similarity between himself and his interlocutor, and the interview ends with Shavit suggesting that Said sounds very 'Jewish', and Said himself, in an extraordinary gesture, at once humorous and deeply serious, claiming to be 'the last Jewish intellectual, the only true inheritor of Adorno'.

Shavit represents an interesting Israeli constituency.  He is a member of the Ashkenazi-Labour elite, which believes that it founded the State and gave it its greatness (political, ethical, social, economic, military), but which has found itself since the arrival in power in 1977 of the Likud ever more firmly edged off the political scene.   Now Shavit has produced a book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, which, inter alia, both analyses and dramatises the political and ethical fate of this grouping.  It's reviewed searchingly by Nathan Thrall in the current London Review of Books

Liberal Zionism


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