When I was in Israel last year I met the writer Assaf Gavron, whose novel CrocAttack! is published in the UK by Fourth Estate this week. The novel – which Gavron wrote while he was living in London a few years ago – tells the story of a young Israeli working for a dot-com in Tel Aviv who keeps narrowly missing being killed in terrorist attacks during the second intifada. CrocAttack! is actually Gavron’s fourth novel but the first to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which may be why it is also the first to have been translated into English. But actually, as I suggest in a post for the Prospect blog today, the most important and interesting theme in the novel is not terrorism but time. Gavron is now working on a novel about settlers and moved to Berlin three weeks ago. At a reading as part of Jewish Book Week in London last night, he was asked how he feels as an Israeli living in Berlin. “Most Israelis feel more more comfortable there than here,” he said.
In the latest essay in the series that began with the extraordinary piece, “Night”, that I mentioned in a previous post, Tony Judt shares his memories of 1968 and its aftermath on the NYRB blog. I particularly liked his description of the “unutterably serious” revolutionaries he came across on a visit to West Germany and their attempts to purge the Nazi past through free love:
The notion that a twenty-year-old in Western Europe might exorcise his parents’ guilt by stripping himself (and his partner) of clothes and inhibitions—metaphorically casting off the symbols of repressive tolerance—struck my empirical English leftism as somewhat suspicious. How fortunate that anti-Nazism required—indeed, was defined by—serial orgasm. But on reflection, who was I to complain? A Cambridge student whose political universe was bounded by deferential policemen and the clean conscience of a victorious, unoccupied country was perhaps ill-placed to assess other peoples’ purgative strategies.
Today, on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, German politicians will once again express contrition for the Holocaust, as they have since Helmut Schmidt became the first German chancellor to visit Auschwitz in 1977. But does “working through the past”, as Theodor Adorno put it in a famous essay in 1959, mean anything in Germany today beyond simply commemorating the past? In particular, should the Nazi past play a role in German foreign policy? If so, it must surely mean that Germany should do everything it can to prevent Iran, the world’s most openly anti-Semitic regime whose president denies the Holocaust and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, from acquiring nuclear weapons. But is it?
Israel obtained a video showing Gilad Shalit alive today in exchange for the release of 19 Palestinian women from its jails. The 23 year-old Israeli soldier was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid in the summer of 2006 and since then there had been no evidence he was alive. Reading from a piece of paper in a voice in a breaking voice, he says he dreams of the day of his release and hopes the current government reaches a deal. Hamas is demanding the release of up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, in exchange for Shalit’s release.
The Israeli historian Benny Morris is pessimistic about the prospect of a revival of the Middle East peace process, which he says is doomed to failure not because of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reluctance to freeze the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories but simply because the Palestinians have never accepted – and still refuse to accept – the idea of a two-state solution. Morris argued in an op-ed in the Guardian yesterday that neither Hamas nor even Fatah accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. He suggests that there has not been much change since eighty years ago when Palestinian leaders held the all-or-nothing view that “we will push the Zionists into the sea, or they will send us back into the desert”.
This is interesting in a morbid kind of way. The Springer corporation yesterday gave Israel the original blueprints for the Auschwitz death camp. Apparently, Springer, which publishes Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling tabloid, acquired them last year. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Europe for discussions with George Mitchell, accepted them on behalf of the country. The blueprints, which include sketches of for the original concentration camp (Auschwitz I) and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp (Auschwitz II) that was built later, will now be displayed in Yad Vashem.
Since I visited Israel for the first time in April, I’ve been thinking a lot about where legitimate criticism of Israel ends and anti-Semitism begins. I’m currently reading an excellent German anthology (includes essays by Tony Judt, Jeffrey Herf, Gerd Koenen etc.) on the debate about whether there is such a thing as a “new anti-Semitism” (especially on the European left but also in the Islamic world). It’s a theme that also runs through my book, Utopia or Auschwitz, which tells the story of Germany’s 1968 generation. In fact, the book is among other things a case study of how one small group of people went from criticising Israeli policy to attacking Jews.