The Missing Link: Uri Avnery, Israel, and Yasir Arafat

By Fishman-Duker, Rivkah | Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Missing Link: Uri Avnery, Israel, and Yasir Arafat


Fishman-Duker, Rivkah, Jewish Political Studies Review


The Missing Link: Uri Avnery, Israel, and Yasir Arafat A Murder among Friends: Uri Avnery - A Story of Political Warfare. by Amnon Lord, Danny Books, 2010, 290 pp. [Hebrew]

Who Is Uri Avnery?

Uri Avnery, octogenarian icon of Israel's cultural and political left, is indeed a worthy subject of a serious study. Better known in Europe than in the United States, Avnery has been active in Israel's political scene since the late 1930s, when today's state of Israel was under the British Mandate. A refugee from Nazi Germany whose original name was Helmut Osterman, Avnery joined the Jewish underground force of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, headed by Menachem Begin. He left the Irgun in 1941 and later served with distinction as part of an elite unit in the south, whose anthem he wrote, and was wounded during Israel's War of Independence (1948).

From 1950 to 1990, Avnery was owner and editor of the popular and influential weekly magazine Ha'olam Hazeh This World). He served two inconsecutive terms in the Knesset, 1965-1974 and 19791981, representing small leftist factions. Throughout those decades he wrote numerous op-eds for Haaretz and Der Spiegel, Hebrew fiction, and political works, and founded and disbanded a variety of cultural and political groups. His best-known work in English, Israel without Zionists, which appeared in 1968, is a translation of his essays calling for a major change in Israel's raison d'être, namely, as a Jewish state, thus bringing about peace with the Arabs.

Avnery achieved international fame and notoriety during the First Lebanon War when, on 3 July 1982, he visited PLO leader Yasir Arafat in his bunker in Beirut, which was then under siege by the Israel Defense Forces. This photographed and publicized meeting, which constituted an illegal act for Israelis at the time, broke the taboo on encounters with Arafat. Indeed, Avnery met with leading PLO representatives, usually in Europe, from the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and the past decade. In 2002, he joined various European and Israeli leftists in Arafat's besieged headquarters in Ramallah. Since 1993, Avnery heads Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), a fringe group that he founded that promotes boycotts of products of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Amnon Lord, author of A Murder among Friends, is an editor and contributor to the Zionist Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon. A seasoned journalist, literary and film critic, and author, Lord is a master of Hebrew language and style and an erudite observer of the Israeli left (in which he once was an active participant). In his critique in Hebrew, The Israeli Left: From Socialism to Nihilism,1 which documents the ongoing influence of Stalinist trends on Israel's left, Lord devotes a chapter to Avnery. In A Murder among Friends, however, Lord goes further and presents two major theses about him.

First, according to Lord, Uri Avnery is and was the key figure of the Israeli left and has been consistently antiestablishment and antiZionist. More unsettling, however, is Lord's contention that Avnery 's views meticulously converge with those of the former Soviet Union and its later Marxist offshoots. Lord proves his thesis through the use of interviews with Avnery and others, such as Barbara Täufer, who served as Austrian prime minister Bruno Kreisky's personal representative in Israel during the 1970s and 1980s, and a careful reading and analysis of the corpus of Avnery's writings, the press, archives, and other sources.

The Importance of Uri Avnery

The ubiquitous and seemingly ageless Uri Avnery has been a player on Israel's political stage mainly through his magazine, writings, appearances on television and radio and at public functions and demonstrations, and long-term contacts with establishment figures, such as the late military and political leaders Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin. According to Lord, Ha 'olam Hazeh effectively served as an intravenous tube dripping Avnery's anti -Zionist, anti- Jewish, and pro- Arab ideas slowly but surely into the circulatory system of several generations of Israeli readers. …

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