In the question and answer session at a lecture that Jimmy Carter gave here in Berkeley on May 2, the moderator [thanks, Yaman] of the Q&A session mentioned a conversation that he had had with Tom Segev earlier that day. He quoted the Israeli journalist and historian as having told him that "it's a very healthy thing for friends of Israel not to feel as if they can't criticize the occupation."
Segev repeated these remarks during the question and answer session of his own lecture on May 8. In response to the question, "In this century, how much do you think the Israeli lobby in the
One relatively new development in American society is that for first time I hear an argument about that. This is a new subject [applause from the audience]. This is what I found interesting about Carter’s speech and his book. You have to rethink the meaning of friendship. You will no longer believe that friendship with Israel means supporting the Israeli government, but rather make a distinction between the government and the country. This tendency to reformulate what it means to be friends with Israel is very interesting and encouraging.As you can see, Segev did not really engage the question. Maybe he didn't understand it or perhaps he simply chose to ignore its ugly tone. In either case, I am stunned by the indifference to American Jewish concerns and debates that his non-response betrayed. I am not in principle about what Segev said here; I am simply amazed that he failed to connect this question to some of the ugly tendencies that we saw in the wake of the Mearsheimer and Walt article as well as the Jimmy Carter book. This kind of myopia and lack of interest in the concerns of American Jewry are, however, quite typical of people on the Israeli left.
The next question was equally astounding: "What do you propose Israel do with Jerusalem, in light of Carter’s speech?"
Segev's response: "I don't think there is anything that we need to do in light of Carter's speech." He then went on to share his own impressions of Carter's book and the man himself:
Carter doesn’t really say much. What he says in his book, is that if Israelis and Palestinians are nice to each other there will be no war. The story is very complicated. Jerusalem has been a problem without a solution for 3,000 years. It may remain a problem like this. The challenge is managing this problem. Barak was once caught reading a book on “300 solutions to the problem of Jerusalem.” If a problem has that many "solutions," this might mean that there is no real solution. I was struck by how a former president of the United States could come up with a plan ... that the best thing you can say about it is that it is so naïve. It is only one of many other plans. I actually had a chance to tell him that – this is one of the great Berkeley moments that I was thinking of earlier. I was introduced to him, and I told him this.For Segev, one of the other highlights of spending the semester at Berkeley was the "absolutely thrilling experience" of teaching his seminar on "1967." He said that it was clear to him that he was meeting some of America's brightest students, who were extremely passionate about what they believed should happen to Israel, "even though most of them know almost nothing about the country." He also spoke fondly of his meetings with Salim Tamari from Birzeit University, a visiting professor in Berkeley's Department of History, whose lecture was the subject of an earlier post.
Assorted Other Remarks
Segev on differences between his generation and young Israelis today:
The main difference between us and the younger generation is that the latter no longer believes in peace. The geopolitical situation has changed. The conflict has become deeper, more violent, more difficult to solve. My generation, including the Israeli peace movement, deserves very little praise. The new generation is a more realistic generation, less idealistic. They don’t believe in grand solutions but in conflict management. Peace may not be attained in the foreseeable future. But perhaps this generation will manage conflict in a more rational manner – this is the most optimistic thought I can share with you.Segev on the conflict between memory and historiography:
Everything that happened in the region since the 6-day war has occurred in its shadow. This puts 1967 somewhere between history and memory. There is always someone in the audience who tells me, “why do you even bother going to the archives, I can tell you all about the war.” Of course, a soldier in a tank never knows anything about the general picture of the war. I would not be able to convince him that anything was different from how he remembers it. Documents will always be trumped by memory. 1967, furthermore, is not quite easy to document.On sources:
Israel has a relatively liberal policy on opening archives. But there are some things that we just don’t know. We don’t know if Israel in 1967 already had an atomic bomb. This makes a big difference – did any cabinet minister know? Did it play a role? Much of Israel’s foreign policy was conducted by the Mossad, which doesn’t open its archives. Much of what was done in the territories was conducted by the Shin Bet, which also doesn’t open its archives.In response to the question, "Is there any truth to the rumor about plans to trade villages inhabited by Israeli Arabs in Israel proper for settlements in the W. Bank?"
Fortunately, Israeli officials have the commendable habit of taking home documents and not bringing them back. Much of the more significant information comes from records that are “private papers.” An important factor in the success of Israeli historians is their ability to talk to widows of important politicians. I spent many days in the kitchen of Miri Eshkol ...
This is an idea that even voicing it should be made illegal. These people are Israeli citizens, they enjoy every right, and they have no wish to be anything else. If you want an indication of how far Israel has come from its original values that it once cherished - it’s possible to say things today that a few years ago no one would have dared to say. Everything is in the open today. I think this is a very dangerous idea. Fortunately very few Israeli Jews and Arabs would go for it.