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Who is Uri Avnery, and Why Does He Matter?

Uri Avnery.

Jerusalem's decision in the early 1990's to admit Yasir Arafat and his fellow thugs into the heart of the land of Israel proved to be one of the country's major political blunders, paid for in the coin of a five-year terror war that traumatized Israeli society and transformed the dream of Israeli-Palestinian peace into an extended nightmare.  How did it happen? According to Amnon Lord, an Israeli editor and journalist who supported the Oslo accords until buses stared blowing up in Israeli cities in 1996, a large part of the answer lies in the little-known but immense influence of Israel's revolutionary Left—and in particular of one "major player in Israeli history."   

Relevant Links
The “Love” that Dare Not Speak Its Name  Amnon Lord, Nativ. Since the founding of the state, Israel’s revolutionary Left has waged “popular war” against Israeli society. (2004)

Lord first delineated his thesis in a book, The Israeli Left: From Socialism to Nihilism (Hebrew, 2002), based largely on his own political journey.  In that work's final chapter, he turned his attention to Uri Avnery (born 1923), a one-time journalist, publisher, and member of the Knesset, and a full-time agitator and cultural icon. Now, in Murder among Friends (Hebrew), whose subtitle is "Uri Avnery: A Story of Political Warfare," Lord picks up where he left off. It is a curious book, intermittently marked by a personal affection for Avnery that may stem from Lord's immersion as a child and young man in the same radical fever swamps he now regards with abhorrence.   But there is no mistaking the abhorrence.

Avnery is celebrated in Israel and around the world as a brave "peace activist" and champion of human rights, and has won numerous awards in recognition of his efforts as, among other things, the founder of Gush Shalom ("The Peace Bloc").  He is no less widely admired as an independent thinker who for many decades has been fearlessly telling truth to power.  In Lord's meticulous telling, Avnery emerges as someone else entirely—a man consumed by hatreds who for much of his lifetime was channeling, and peddling, Soviet propaganda.   

In following the arc of Avnery's career, Lord focuses in particular on his early years. Before the founding of the state in 1948, the young Avnery oscillated between the radical Right and radical Left. The connecting thread was his contempt for liberal democracy, to which, he was writing as early as 1941, he preferred both the Communist and the Nazi alternatives. (His evident blindness to the Nazis' genocidal anti-Semitism would re-emerge in his latter-day embrace of Arafat and the PLO.) After the Soviet Union emerged victorious in World War II, he fully adopted its perspective.

He wasn't alone in this respect. As incredible as it may sound today, 20 percent of the members of Israel's first Knesset, most of them in the Mapam party, openly identified with Stalin. When Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion excluded Israeli Communists from his government, they repaid him by organizing a militant underground that planned, at different stages, to mount a coup and to open the gates of Israel's north to a hoped-for invasion by the Red Army.

As much as Avnery hated "bourgeois" democracy, Lord shows, he hated Judaism, and the two were linked in his mind. Together with other talented members of his generation, he dreamed of overturning the traditional foundations of Jewish identity and fashioning a progressive Hebrew-speaking nation that would connect with and lead the forces of "anti-imperialism" throughout the Middle East. (Ben-Gurion's countervailing response to this dream was to root Israel in its biblical past and align it with the Western powers.) Although Avnery fought and was seriously injured in Israel's War of Independence, he was fighting for a very different ideal. After 1948, his hatred for Judaism morphed seamlessly into hatred for the Jewish state.

What propelled him into notoriety and won him a much wider audience was Ha'olam Hazeh ("This World"), an anti-establishment weekly tabloid that he began to publish in 1950. Ha'olam Hazeh appealed equally to a mass audience and to intellectuals by dint of its clear prose, sensational scoops, and, perhaps most importantly, the (semi)nude women who appeared on the last page.  It was also, according to Lord, a front.  Studiously avoiding Communist language, and seminally influenced by the journalistic methods of the legendary propagandist Willi Münzenberg, Ha'olam Hazeh succeeded in influencing a generation of young, progressive intellectuals by simultaneously stirring their dissatisfaction with Israeli politics and society and appealing to their inchoate moral ardor.

In this connection, one of Avnery's chief accomplishments was the sympathy he succeeded in drumming up, already in the 1950's, for Palestinian statehood.  His approach was mostly negative. Years before there were any "occupied territories," he incessantly compared Israel with Nazi Germany, demonizing the Jewish state in language that would later become commonplace in the United Nations and on the "progressive" Left everywhere. By the 1980s, as a member of the Knesset, he would become the first Israeli to meet with Arafat—this, at the very moment the Israeli army was laying siege to Beirut where the inventor of modern terrorism was holed up. His tireless efforts to convince the Israeli public that the cause of the PLO was the cause of human rights carried the day in the Oslo accords sealed in Washington in September 1993. When Arafat triumphantly returned to Gaza in 1994, he invited Avnery to the celebrations.

Murder among Friends is flawed in a number of ways:  there is no table of contents, Lord sometimes follows obsessively the trail of stories that contribute little or nothing to the narrative, and the connections he draws among events are sometimes less than convincing. Overall, though, the book is most helpful in tracing the twisted roots of an aspect of Israeli political culture that cries out to be confronted and unmasked, not least by those elements of the responsible Left whose good name it tarnishes.

For there is, after all, a liberal Zionist Left—represented by, among others, the eminent jurist Ruth Gavison and the academic and former politician Amnon Rubinstein—that is fully and uncompromisingly committed to Israel's democratic and Jewish future. There is also a non-Zionist Left, represented by the academic and polemicist Yehouda Shenhav, whose multiculturalist arguments, however questionable, are at least motivated by genuine sympathy for those relegated to Israel's margins.

By contrast, the revolutionary Left represented by Uri Avnery and others like him has contributed nothing but venom and spilled blood, while deliberately and consciously aiding and abetting some of the most murderous enemies of the Jewish people.

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Kenneth Besig, Israel on February 4, 2011 at 8:10 am (Reply)
Uri Avnery is an enemy of the Jewish People and his own country Israel. Uri Avnery has solicited funds for Palestinian terrorist groups, has helped advise and inform Palestinian terrorist groups on the best ways to harm Israelis, he has participated in violent anti Jewish and anti Israeli demonstrations, he has supported anti Israel groups and movement which call for the international boycotts and isolation of Israel, and he has personally printed lies, misinformation, and blatant anti Israel propaganda in order to give aid and comfort to terrorist organizations which kill and wound Israelis.
Larry Snider on February 4, 2011 at 9:20 am (Reply)
I have been studying the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza every day now for over ten years and turn to writings from the right, the left and sometimes even those with less hold in reality. Avnery has consistently provided a penetrating insight into much surrounding the intractable peace process. Demonizing Avnery is no more acceptable than demonizing the State of Israel. I don't always agree with him, have told him so and yet often find essential missing pieces of a multilayered story and history within his articles. Avnery has fought many battles and you and I can disagree over how many were on behalf of Israel, but Avnery is a part of the bedrock that came and stood up for his people and stayed and is now one of the old men of Israel. He is still fueled by young ideas encapsulated in his foundational desire for lasting peace.
Aryeh Tepper on February 4, 2011 at 9:51 am (Reply)

You write that, " Avnery has consistently provided a penetrating insight into much surrounding the intractable peace process." I haven't found any penetrating insights in what Avnery has written, while I have consistently found that he demonizes his opponents (a true student of Lenin, he doesn't argue with his opponents, he tries to destroy them). However, I spend much of my time searching for penetrating insights, and I would be happy and thankful if you would provide what you consider to be some of Avnery's.
mhl outside beltway on February 4, 2011 at 10:05 am (Reply)
Isn't it possible to translate into English Lord's books? Why is the English language market of Israeli writers totally monopolized by anti-Zionist extremists like David Grossman, Amoz Oz, AB Netanyahu and Tom Segev? The writings of these Israelis are not counter-balanced by almost any Zionist Israelis.
bob guzzardi, jr. on February 4, 2011 at 10:09 am (Reply)
are you saying that Uri Avnery is Israel's Glenn Beck of the Left?
Julian Tepper on February 4, 2011 at 10:10 am (Reply)
Unmasking sources of pain and destruction is to be especially admired given the anomie that continues to be a primary product of terroristic conduct.

When it comes to today's killing and destruction, the most murderous enemies of Israeli and other Jews comprise people for whom the theocracy part of Islam is the driving force.

In the Middle East and elsewhere, it is most difficult to find inchoate or active warfare that does not include a participant force that adheres to Islam.

Today, the bond that connects the foot-soldiers of terrorism, Islamic theocracy and progressivism is the continuous and insidious disdain of freedom and an unstoppable quest for absolute rule, both too obvious to be denied, as is the remarkable absence of any equivalent on the right or among any group that prefers freedom to its alternatives.

In the post-industrialized world, it has generally been socialists of varying types, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, who orchestrated mass murders, this in addition to the warfare deaths that resulted from their conduct. Now, we can, if we already have not, add Islamists in the Middle East and Africa, and exported to the West, to that sordid list.

The socialist quest to extol an attitude that embraces the slaughter of non-compliant human beings in the name of Allah and Sharia is despicable and dangerous to people who relish not only an absence of warfare, but also freedom.

And the mindlessness of the relatively small, yet vocal portion of the human beings of today, especially those who are Jewish, who commend or are apologists for the various current-day Avnerys in their midst, is deserving of scorn and disdain more than pity.

Overwhelming governmental socialism may be foreboding enough when its history is reckoned with. But when connected with the kind of violence that tolerates nothing different from what it demands, it moves from foreboding to a murderous Orwellian construct. Ultimately, freedom may prevail over planned society, but the human sacrificial cost will continue to be extreme.

Thanks, Aryeh, for your devotion to the entire truth which, along with freedom, are Uri’s arch-enemies.
Larry Snider on February 4, 2011 at 10:35 am (Reply)
Dear Aryeh,

I apreciate your response and am more than glad to lead you to the Gush Shalom website;, where you can see his articles, get on the mailing list and follow it for better or worse on your own terms. Peace will require all of us to make room for many parties with differing views on both sides of Jerusalem and beyond.

Thanks again!
Julian Tepper on February 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm (Reply)
Regarding Mr. Snider's "Peace will require all of us to make room for many parties with differing views on both sides of Jerusalem and beyond."

A gentle disagreement.

Does, for example, the peace that Mr. Snider's statement envisions require that Middle Eastern Arab countries make room for Jewish residents and their synagogues, yeshivas and holidays?

Peace requires only that the shooting stops. In this case, I am confident that Israel will not shoot if it is not fired upon. Thus, peace. At least until Israel, once more, becomes a shooting target.

Implicit and embedded in the particular peace requirement offered by Mr. Snider is a multi-layered something that, strange as it may be, is much, much larger than that peace. That something is dominance, control and, ultimately, a lack of freedom. And that is not a something that I would want to make room for in order to experience peace.

Julian Tepper
Placitas, NM
G. B. on February 5, 2011 at 5:03 am (Reply)
"Peace will require all of us to make room for many parties with differing views on both sides of Jerusalem and beyond."

The classical game of synthesis cannot be accomplished between issues of life and death, survival and extermination, war and peace. The mantra of "differeing views on both sides" is so vague as to render the phrase limp with meaning. What are the differeing views on the Holocaust? Abbas as a Holocuast denier can provide us with one to be sure, but does that constitute a sensible foundation on which to compromise?

When an enemy calls long term for your annihilation, are there "differing views on both sides" of such a call?

Shall there be differing views on both sides about liberty? Freedom? Prosperity?

Talking and writing about peace as something which constitutes "differing views on both sides" is a clever little feeling-filled word game, but it also manages to say precious little in the gambit.

In hard negotiations between potentially deadly opponents, beginning with some form of "well, there's differing views on both sides" is not even a beginning of a dialogue. It's a happy little song to assure those who sing it that they really, really are nice people -- irrespective of the end game of any opening gambit. This is the singular problem of the collectivist, whose history spans many nations, cultures, religious streams and many centuries, one in which every collective ended up having distrusted leaders and angry, withering membership.

Usually what I have found is that "differing views on both sides" is an attenmpt to stake out the moral high ground from which to snipe at one's allies while embracing one's enemies.

And what is the synthesis between enemies, when all is said and done? Avnery's track record is not one of achieving peace after a lifetime of activism. But Arafat liked him.
Larry Snider on February 5, 2011 at 6:34 am (Reply)
I must admit to Mr. J. Tepper that the article was written about Uri Avnery and that I went on to make broader statements. While my meaning re "many parties", did not relate to Jewish residents in Arab countries, (but was focused on cultivating the kind of Israeli and Palestinian coalition of public and political parties necessary to enfranchise a real and lasting peace), I am not alone in hoping that when peace comes it will engender a new relationship with Arab nations, including diplomatic and economic relations. The birth and life of modern Israel is at its very least a multilayed story......
I appreciate your attention and your comments.
Kenneth Besig, Israel on February 5, 2011 at 11:27 am (Reply)
Larry, if you fail to recognize the deep,bitter, and abiding hatred towards the Jewish People and Israel which permeates the Gush Shalom organization then I am afraid that there is nothing I can or would say to you.
You are simply hopeless.
dmmd on February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm (Reply)
The easiest way to fame and fortune is to be a Jew and be a Jew-Hater at the same time. Uri sold his soul for fame and fortune. History will put him near others like Amalek. Shame on him.
David Katz on February 5, 2011 at 10:19 pm (Reply)
At times of high political stress, one looks for "traitors" with dangerous ideas to blame. If you destroy them you would still have the same problems.
Aryeh Tepper on February 6, 2011 at 1:25 am (Reply)
mhl outside beltway:

I whole-heartedly agree that someone should translate Lord's books into English.

I think it's a serious mistake, however, to put David Grossman, Amoz Oz, AB Yehoshua and Tom Segev in the same camp as Uri Avnery. You can deeply disagree with the politics of Oz, et al. but you can also argue with them, and sometimes learn something in the process. But there's no arguing with Avnery, and, of course, no learning.

Yisrael. Medad on February 6, 2011 at 7:26 am (Reply)
Writing "radical right", I would suggest, is coming up short. Avnery was in the Irgun for 4 years and even his Facebook bio records that ( His proto-fascist writings are also too easily skipped over but Lord does do them relative justice.

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