Gideon Levy says OA4P demands are ‘just’, and that change cannot come from within Israel

On Thursday, Gideon Levy addressed the Saskatchewan Lecture Theatre in Exeter College for an Oxford Speaks event. Levy is a prominent Israeli journalist writing about Israeli policy in the occupied territories for Haaretz. He has also been a prominent critic of Israel’s war on Gaza. 

Levy’s talk, lasting 45 minutes, focused on Israeli society before and since October 7th, his experiences as a journalist, and his outlook on the war on Gaza. A Q&A, led by Oxford Speaks president Sam Zia, followed this.

In a pre-interview, The Oxford Student asked Levy about the University response to the Oxford encampments. 

He said: “The decision to call the police is by itself, very problematic. You know, if life is in danger, then you call the police, obviously. But to call [them] for an innocent demonstration… you should protest against it.”

Having read Oxford Action for Palestine’s (OA4P) six demands, the journalist said: “All of them are just. Those are quite specific demands. But above all we have to ask to lift the siege from Gaza.”

Levy spoke extensively about allegations of antisemitism made towards university protest camps and Western governmental concern about reported increases in antisemitism nationwide. To The Oxford Student, he said, “Don’t fall into this trap. It is pure manipulation… there is antisemitism and it should be fought. No doubt about it.”

“But the way that Israel and the Jewish establishment is paralysing Europe, mainly by labelling any criticism as antisemitism, and the way that the West surrendered to this, is shameful. It starts to be a question of freedom of speech, nothing but this.” Later in his talk, he added that “the campuses, the young generation…are starting to shake this conviction.”

He continued: “Don’t you see that once Israel accuses you of being [an] antisemite, Israel cleans itself of any responsibility – ‘It’s your fault…we are pure, clean, the most moral army in the world. You are the problem because you’re anti-semites…’ I know I am not an antisemite, and you can call me an antisemite. I will keep on saying what I believe in.” He added: “You can be a genuine friend of Israel, and even then you should criticise Israel.”

“Don’t fall into this trap. It is pure manipulation… there is antisemitism and it should be fought. No doubt about it. But the way that Israel and the Jewish establishment is paralysing Europe, mainly by labelling any criticism as antisemitism, and the way that the West surrendered to this, is shameful. It starts to be a question of freedom of speech, nothing but this.”

Gideon Levy, to The Oxford Student

Responding to The Oxford Student’s question about the viability of Biden’s most recent peace proposal, Levy said, “Netanyahu doesn’t want to stop this war, period…the Israeli public – naturally, humanly – wants the hostages… either [the Americans] mean it, so do something about it.” 

Later in his talk, he focused on the American response to Israel. He argued the US was hypocritical in its hesitance to place sanctions on Israel, given its actions toward Russia. He added that the policy of “convincing Israel, tempting Israel, and warnings…will never work.” “Why should this work? An American president speaks about ending the war, and the same day sends more ammunition and arms to Israel… warns Israel not to penetrate Rafah, and Israel is deep in Rafah, and the weapons continue to stream.”

Levy spoke about Israeli society in the last eight months, saying Israeli attitudes towards Palestine had entered a new era since 7th October. “Israeli arrogance” regarding the safety and security of life in Israel, “was broken.” He added that members of the Israeli “peace camps”, “the lefties, the good Israelis, those that we love – almost all of them went through a terrible turmoil on the 7th October and in the days after.”

He said: “there were crimes, have no doubt about it…it was horrible.” However, Levy said that 7th October had led to a belief that “Israel has the ultimate right and duty to punish Hamas, to punish Gaza, to destroy and kill without any restraint…everything will be forgotten – international law, morality, whatever.” Levy also believed that as a result of the siege, Israel “is in a worse state in all aspects… militarily, economically, diplomatically… Israel is today a pariah state.”

Levy argued that only the international community could change the situation in Palestine, and Israel, “from the inside, is totally crushed.” 

Discussing Israel’s status as a democracy, Levy argued that Israel “was democratic for Jewish citizens, like South Africa was democratic for the 9% of whites.” Levy presented the current state of democracy to be unprecedentedly compromised, in which “people are afraid to say their views…you cannot express any kind of empathy in Israel towards the Palestinians..towards the fifteen thousand children that were massacred.”

He added: “We have to thank for all this, first of all, and above all, the Israeli media.” Levy spoke of the media landscape as being “free”, “liberal”, and “commercial”, and having a significant role in Israeli life. The result of the Israeli media’s “collabora[tion]”, and “self-censoring” is that “the average Israeli viewer or newspaper reader knows by far, much less than each of you about what’s going on in Gaza. He saw much less than you saw.” Regarding Western media coverage on Gaza since 7th October, Levy said: “Everything is relative for me. If I compare it to Israeli media, I wish maybe we had Sky News. I wish we had CNN, because we are far behind. We see nothing from Gaza, nothing.”

Expanding on the tropes enforced by the media, Levy spoke of a “ritual” of victimisation and demonisation. He said: “If Israel would have gone to Gaza in a campaign to kill thirty-five thousand dogs in Gaza, the Israeli media would have been much more stormed…and the killing would have stopped.”

“[Crimes in Gaza] is a non-issue,” he added. “It’s not discussed at all.” Rather, he said, many Israelis believe the “world is against us, not because of what we are doing, but because the world is an anti-semite.”

Further, he asked how as a democracy, Israel could hold “an unprecedented number of [Palestinians] in jail without trial.”

Concluding with how he visualised change, Levy said: “Don’t expect change from within Israel. It will happen only when Israelis start to feel the occupation and apartheid by being punished, by having to pay, by being forced to be accountable to what is being done on our behalf.” 

In the Q&A section, Levy spoke more on his disillusionment, saying: “there is no bigger bluff than the Israeli Zionist Left”, and that critics of Netanyahu presented no alternative. He argued that Benny Gantz would “continue the apartheid, the occupation, and the war in Gaza.” Asked about the origins of the IDF as a “moral army”, Levy joked: “Try telling [the IDF] that the Israeli army is the second most moral army in the world.”

Levy suggested instead that change should come from civil society, and influence governments such as in the US. 

Levy argued that only the international community could have an effect on the situation in Palestine, and Israel, “from the inside, is totally crushed.” 

Dr Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford, was present in the audience. He asked Levy whether “the response to 7th October is part of a continuity, rather than a change,” to which Levy replied that the aftermath of 7th October “made [the response] totally clear.”

Responding to a question about the two-state solution, Levy said: “many Israelis feel the whole land belongs to them”, and he believed the evacuation of “700,000” settlers would be impossible. He instead said that the one-state solution was “not far-fetched” and the approach should be to “change the regime…equal rights to everyone between the river and the sea.”

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

Image Description: OA4P’s list of demands outside Sheldonian Theatre