The soft colonialism’s obsession: an interview with Adam Levick

May 29, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Adam Levick has been the managing director of CIF Watch since July 2012. He was born in Philadelphia and moved to Israel in 2009. His blog is the story of his personal journey, and it’s through his blog and his work that I decided to contact him.

I met Adam in a cafe in Jerusalem – he is finishing his work while I sit down and take out the (Lego) bricks. Although I have told him about my interviewing technique, he is still a little surprised at the beginning but accepts the challenge. I begin by asking my apparently simple and only question: “What is Israel?”

“…With These?” He says looking at the bricks and giggling, then engaging with the bricks. After a while he looks at the bricks: “Mmmh…this is pretty good, I can explain it!” He says seemingly surprised with his model.

He starts explaining the importance of the blue colour for the Jewish tradition, recalling its significance according to the Halakha and noticing how the brick has eight pegs just like the Hannukah Menorrah has eight lights. “So, Judaism and the Torah in the story of Jewish people is the foundation of the rebirth of the modern Jewish state upon which everything else is given meaning. But as a Jewish state, anybody can do whatever they want” – he says pointing at the pink flower on the top of the blue brick – “They can go on different directions, they can be intellectuals, they can be happy in their life, they can be have sexual orientations, they can do whatever they want, but within diversity there’s a common heritage.”

He explains that the thin black vertical brick represents the successful industry and I notice the little yellow brick with a symbol on one of its faces;

I can’t resist asking Adam what that symbol is.

“Jews are very inquisitive…I see an eye” – he says – “and it’s the Jewish inquisitiveness and intellectualness.”

What do you mean by inquisitiveness?

“Inquisitiveness’ always trying to think outside of the box, and curiosity, and probing.

“I think that the highest percentage of books per head are in Israel, the highest rate of pro capita PhDs is found in Israel and you know, it’s a very intellectually successful country. And also at the same time I see studies that show a very happy country by the meter they had measured other countries. We are the happiest country in the world so there’s the smiley face.” he says showing the human head brick.

“The flag” – he says pointing at the flag in his model – “it’s just a combination of patriotism and just keep going in different directions ‘ It symbolises that people are free to do whatever they want, to explore whatever they want and sometimes it extends beyond the boundaries of ordinariness but it still maintains its foundations of Judaism and Jewish people.”

It’s time to start challenging Adam and I provoke him: “But it seems a perfect society’ There’s nothing negative in this model, or i don’t see it.”

“I don’t think it’s perfect but to me this is the foundation, people aren’t perfect, but I don’t know how to represent it.”

I invite him to keep building and adjusting his model further.

“I don’t know how would I represent conflicts’ all I know is that the world sees Israel through the lenses of conflicts and it’s not how Israel sees Israel. There are always conflicts, I think most countries have political issues and problems with different ethnic groups and there’re always tension, so I think that is the norm. I don’t think that Israel is different in that sense.”

I know I can push Adam further, and I do it.: “And if you would represent the imperfections of every society, how would you change this model?”

Adam struggles with the bricks and adjusts his model adding an external element to it.

“So these are many people judging Israel from far: they are looking at us through their lens and they are sitting there like in courts” – he says pointing me towards the chair-like model he added – “this is like the judge’s chair and judging us through their biases, their lenses, sometimes fair, sometimes unfair but always judging”

“Why is that? Why are they sitting on this judges’ bench?”

“That’s a long story’!” he says laughing. “They are not used to seeing Jews and their strength, confidence and independence. I think there’s some reference to soft colonialism, soft imperialism, so since we can’t really take care of ourselves we need to be taken care of by guiding parents. I think there are complicated political dynamics that forms this soft colonialism and I think it’s more about them than about us. I think we do very well on our own by any measure and we have always been judged very harshly with a very hard imperiousness’ do you know that word? Imperiousness?”

I shake my head not to interrupt him.

“It refers to this sense of superiority, the sense that certain people should be judging other people’ people who are imperious always have that air of superiority, always judging based on largely unfair standards.”

“Which standards?” I ask.

“It depends on who you talk to…”

“But a standard it’s something absolute, objective.”

“I know, but I think people [who] judge Israel, judge our neighbours much more differently.”

“Which neighbours?”

“‘The Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Saudi Arabians, the Syrians, the Lebanese’ I think we are held to a much higher standard and I think it’s a softer form of racism. I think most of the European Uuion judges Palestinians and judges Arabs at much lower standards. I think it’s probably racism, not against us, but against them, against Arabs, against non-Jews. You know, Israeli’s democracy is not perfect but it’s a democracy in the vision, it’s the only country that is said to be free by the Freedom House. In the Guardian, for instance, Israel is the fifth most covered country in the world in 2010 by their own data. I think there’s something really unusual in that: a country of 7.9m people and there’s an obsessiveness about us. I think it’s unfair to us but it’s unfair towards people around us, our neighbours, who are not holding to the same standard.”

Adam keeps talking about the neighbours, though they are missing in the model.

“You’ve asked me about Israel and the Middle East is different, but we can only control what we do, I can only control what I do, my family controls what they do and Israel can only control what it does. We can’t control and we don’t have that much influence over [what] other people feel about us’ I don’t think Jews have to sit here and worry about why people hate us. I think the question should be asked [of] them.”

“But you have just done the same: you’ve excluded them from the model. I’ve asked you to build Israel as you see it and it’s kind of detached from the rest’ The perception I have from the model is that Israel is something and the rest is something else.

“You know, the Arab economic boycott began in [the] 1920s, before Israel was a state. We had to accept that every Arab country doesn’t recognise israel diplomatically, so if we are excluded [it] is not by our choice but by their choice. But most of the Middle East doesn’t recognise our Jewish state and if I’ve chosen not to represent them, it was not to empower them and not to empower their big issue.

“If they’d change their mind, I’d be happy to take a vacation in Damascus, in Cairo…the fact is that it’s not possible. So what can I say about our neighbours? I mean I’d love to go to Ramallah, Teheran…There are lots of places in the Middle East I’d love to travel to. I’d love to get a taste of Arab culture but they are not very hospitable towards the Jews and that’s a fact that’s demonstrated by empirical data and it’s irrefutable. The reason why we can see us like an island is that we have been forced to, we don’t have a choice. Our embassy staff in Cairo were nearly killed, and there are no Jews left there, so all we can do is to rely on ourselves, be happy, be successful and hope that one day there’s an avenue for exchange and reconciliation.”

I turn my attention back to the model. “Both parts, the judges and Israel, are at the same level in your model. Is this how you see it or how they see it?”

“How they see it. I think we see them a little bit off, but we have to see them because they are always looking at us but, yeah, I think they are looking down at us.”

“What are they looking at?”

“I don’t know what they are looking at, they are looking at us, maybe they see the Shoah, they don’t know how to contextualise the modern Jewish state as a free independent people.

“They sit and judge us and they kind of have not an easy relationship with the Holocaust so they might feel a little bit guilty, but they still used to see us through the eyes of victims not as people who control their destiny.

“I don’t know, I think it is a very complicated relationship between Europe and the West and Israel, in terms of the Shoah, in terms of the modern Jewish State, it’s very common but I think they are always judging.”

“So it is the Western world who is judging or it’s the Arab world?”

“I don’t know how to represent that…this is Europe and the West.”

“But you are not looking back, or are you? You have this happy face, no actions, no reactions,” I ask Adam pointing at the human head in the model.

“No, we are looking back. We are looking back at Europe and our relationship with Europe – we are part of the OEC now. We are in a relationship with Europe, we are looking at each other, we are interlocutors, we are discussing things but we are also looking beyond Europe…our innovation sometimes involves Europe. Those eyes, are always thinking out of the box but also our eyes are wide open: we see Europe, we see the Middle East, we see America.

“I think most of this is a generalization. We understand who likes us, who dislikes us, who’s in between but at the end of the day we can’t control how they see us. We are aware of everything, but we are also aware of natural sciences, hard sciences and innovation’ So we are also looking at the bigger world.”

“I challenge you a little bit more – one of the reasons Israel is always looked at is the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And you have mentioned Palestine just once. If you should add Palestine to this model, what would you do?”

“If you had said ‘Israel and the Palestinian conflict’ it’d be a different model, but that’s not what you have asked me.’ He says.

“I know, the question was about how you see Israel and I wanted to see how you perceive Israel and how you would approach the topic, if you would. I want to see Israel through your eyes.”

“Look” – he says – “this is Israel with my eyes, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so complicated that I don’t know how could I possibly represent it in the model.”

I invite him to build but rather than construct he talks and I listen to him.

“You know, I have choose not to share the obsession with the Palestinians of the Europeans’ One day they will control their own destiny, but you know they are never going to be part of Israel.

“There’s some people who want the one state solution, and in that case the model would be different. But that would never happen, we’ll never allow that. I hope that eventually they can have their own state. I hope that one day we can live side by side, intertwined maybe economically, diplomatically.”

“That’s a goal, what’s the present?”

“The present. There are some connections but there are civil administrations dealing with their civil administration and it’s a complicated relationship I am not getting into ‘ They are not part of us but they are intertwined with us and one day hopefully we can live peacefully and in harmony without rockets and they can live next to us as an independent country and they can build their independent model.”

I go back to his model once more: “And what’s the role of this observer who judges?”

“I don’t think they view Palestinians as people. They see them as an abstraction. And when you see people as abstractions, not as real living people’ but they control their own behaviours’ I mean in Gaza they voted for Hamas – when they had elections they chose to go for Hamas. And look at us, what would we do?’

He speaks fast now.

“Yes, I think that’s European racism. I think the EU supports their decisions to go with terrorists and I think this is very racist. I think Europe has big problems in treating Arabs as equals and Gaza is a perfect example of that. It’s already complicated with the Palestinian territories in West Bank but Gaza, in my mind, is a perfect illustration’ Rockets can reach us, terrorists can infiltrate through the borders, Iranians can export arms to them.

“It’s a very complicated diagram, so there are overlaps, they’ve been given autonomy and they chose Hamas, I don’t know. It really angers me that they chose that because there’s nothing we can do about it.”

We end our conversation with this bitter note – knowing what Hamas means for Israel, understanding that feeling of impotence and the tensions added by the excessive and obsessive international attention.

Adam reminded me about the naturally supposed bias I am subject to, as an European – but my journey was about seeing the world with people’s eye. He showed me his Israel. He explained to me how he feels and how he lives in one of the most disputed areas of the world. I thank Adam for his time and leave, not with answers, but with an understanding of his views and more questions of my own.


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This post was written by Patrizia Bertini

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