April 28, 2012

The Haaretz Pardes and Gideon Levy

There are are, according to traditional Jewish hermeneutics, four levels of interpretation. The last one is really dangerous. Haaretz, apparently, has a new twist on that distinction. Articles in the first three categories (pshat, remez and drash) are translated into English and offered on the internet. Maybe that is part of being "a light onto the nations". Articles in the fourth category, sod, secret, are kept strictly in the holy language, out of the reach of the nations.

I wonder how they make those decisions. Are there meetings in the editor's office to decide what pearls are too delicate to be cast before swine, and what aren't? Or is it just one brave apparatchik who rules the kingdom of translations. Do they get calls from the Prime Minister office, or maybe even from Evet the Magnificent, chastising them for this or that pearl? Like 60 minutes?

Perhaps Gideon Levy would write one day and answer these questions. Until then, it is worth reading Levy's excellent article on Guenter Grass, which was published in English for a while, until it was suddenly deemed belonging to the category of Sod and was withdrawn, not very skillfully. Here it is in its entirety:
Israelis can be angry with Gunter Grass, but they must listen to him
After we denounce the exaggeration, after we shake off the unjustified part of the charge, we must listen to the condemnation of these great people.

By Gideon Levy

The harsh, and in some parts infuriating, poem by Gunter Grass of course immediately sparked a wave of vilifications against it and mainly against its author. Grass indeed went a few steps too far (and too mendaciously ) - Israel will not destroy the Iranian people - and for that he will be punished, in his own country and in Israel. But in precisely the same way the poem's nine stanzas lost a sense of proportion in terms of their judgment of Israel, so too the angry responses to it suffer from exaggeration. Tom Segev wrote in Haaretz: "Unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently confided in him, his opinion is vacuous." ("More pathetic than anti-Semitic," April 5 ). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned Grass' Nazi past, and Israeli embassies in Germany went so far as to state, ridiculously, that the poem signified "anti-Semitism in the best European tradition of blood libels before Passover."

It is doubtful that Grass intended his poem to be published on the eve of Passover. It contains no blood libel. In fact, it is the branding of it as anti-Semitic that is a matter of tradition - all criticism of Israel is immediately thus labeled. Grass' Nazi past, his joining the Waffen SS as a youth, does not warrant shutting him up some 70 years later, and his opinion is far from vacuous. According to Segev, anyone who is not a nuclear scientist, an Israeli prime minister or an Iranian president must keep silent on the stormiest issue in Israel and the world today. That is a flawed approach.

Grass' "What Must Be Said" does contain things that must be said. It can and should be said that Israel's policy is endangering world peace. His position against Israeli nuclear power is also legitimate. He can also oppose supplying submarines to Israel without his past immediately being pulled out as a counterclaim. But Grass exaggerated, unnecessarily and in a way that damaged his own position. Perhaps it is his advanced age and his ambition to attract a last round of attention, and perhaps the words came forth all at once like a cascade, after decades during which it was almost impossible to criticize Israel in Germany.

That's the way it is when all criticism of Israel is considered illegitimate and improper and is stopped up inside for years. In the end it erupts in an extreme form. Grass' poem was published only a few weeks after another prominent German, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Sigmar Gabriel, wrote that there is an apartheid regime in Hebron. He also aroused angry responses. Therefore it is better to listen to the statements and, especially, finally, to lift the prohibition against criticizing Israel in Germany.

Israel has many friends in Germany, more than in most European countries. Some of them support us blindly, some have justified guilt feelings and some are true, critical friends of Israel. There are, of course, anti-Semites in Germany and the demand that Germany never forget is also justified. But a situation in which any German who dares criticize Israel is instantly accused of anti-Semitism is intolerable.

Some years ago, after a critical article of mine was published in the German daily Die Welt, one of its editors told me: "No journalist of ours could write an article like that." I was never again invited to write for that paper. For years, any journalist who joined the huge German media outlet Axel Springer had to sign a pledge never to write anything that casts aspersions on Israel's right to exist. That is an unhealthy situation that ended with an eruption of exaggerated criticism like Grass'.

Grass is not alone. No less of a major figure, the great author Jose de Sousa Saramago opened the floodgates in his later years when, after a visit to the occupied territories, he compared what was going on there to Auschwitz. Like Grass, Saramago went too far, but his remarks about the Israelis should have been heeded: "Living under the shadow of the Holocaust and expecting forgiveness for everything they will do in the name of their suffering seems coarse. They have learned nothing from the suffering of their parents and their grandparents."



Dead link:  http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israelis-can-be-angry-with-gunter-grass-but-they-must-listen-to-him-1.423194

Original in Hebrew:  http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/1.1681588

Live link: http://www.haaretz.com/misc/iphone-article/israelis-can-be-angry-with-gunter-grass-but-they-must-listen-to-him-1.423194

UPDATE:

 I was challenged in the comments to give other examples of articles considered "sod," unfit for the consumption of the nations. A good person alerted me to this one from today:

   http://www.haaretz.co.il/gallery/cinema/1.1695536

Shredi Jabarin, star of Miral, Palestinian with Israeli passport living in Germany, was prevented from boarding an el al plane to Israel:

[the security officer at the airport] "asked me why I travel to Israel, and I answered  that I go for shooting a film. He asked if I can show him a contract and I said I don't have it on me," Jabarin said. "but in any case, I told him, I an an Israeli citizen and you can treat me as an Israeli citizen going home."

In reaction, he tells, the security officer tells him "don't say home. This isn't home for you." and added that he would have to undergo a comprehensive security check since he has no contract. At the end of the check, he was told that he could not board the plane with the laptop and Ipad. The latter would have to go in cargo or entrusted to security. Jabaring refused and argued with the officer. "although another officer recognized me and said she saw me in a movie recently, that didn't effect him". Finally, Jabarin was told he would not be allowed to board to plane at all. 

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