There he is in my six-year-old notebook, very much alive, still demanding peace with the Palestinians, peace with Hamas, and generosity and a Palestinian state on the old 1967 borders – and he believes Israel could have peace tomorrow
It was somehow fitting that first news of Uri Avnery’s plight should reach me from one of Israel’s staunchest enemies, the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. One legend sending sad news of another, you see, a socialist preparing to mourn a fellow socialist, sending his sympathy for the 94-year-old Israeli political philosopher. That same philosopher was once a German Jewish schoolboy, originally called Helmut Ostermann, who refused to give the Hitler salute at school, but who was, when I received Jumblatt’s message – still, just – “an indispensable mind to understand the history of fascism, a major destructive element of the 20th century”. Jumblatt’s words. Avnery, he added, also understood “the history of Zionism, another despicable apartheid theory that is an offshoot of fascism”.
Uri Avnery suffered a massive heart attack at the weekend and died on Monday morning, but he was himself a Zionist, or at least a believer in a left-wing, courageous but humble “light among the nations” Israel; the kind many of us, in our heart of hearts, would like to believe in. He was the sort of Israeli that we bleeding heart liberals go and see when we arrive in Israel because they say what we want to hear.