Primo Levi, Judaism and Zionism

Image: Cottonbro


Primo Levi was extremely critical of the Israeli government's policy, he was against settlements and in favor of disoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza


Primo Levi, a Jew who participated in the Italian Resistance Movement, was sent to Auschwitz on February 21, 1944. Primo Levi and other bedridden prisoners were abandoned in Auschwitz, which was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. The United Nations established January 27th as the international day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

If this is a man (if this is a man), Primo Levi's memoirs in Auschwitz, was published in 1947, but it languished for eleven years before becoming the great classic of the vast Holocaust literature. Although he defended the existence of Israel, Primo Levi was extremely critical of the country's government policy, he was against settlements and in favor of the eviction of the West Bank and Gaza. In 1982, he actively participated in protests against the invasion of Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

In 1984, Primo Levi gave an interview to Gad Lerner, Israel, if this is a state. Asked whether there were changes in the tolerance values ​​of a generation of Diaspora Jews to new values ​​of a generation of Israelis, Primo Levi replied, “What you describe is part of a predictable future. I believe it is up to us, diaspora Jews, to fight against this future. Remind our Israeli friends that being Jewish means something else, respectfully guarding the Jewish tradition of tolerance. Of course I am aware that I am touching on a crucial point here, and that is the question: where is the center of gravity of Judaism today?” He continues, “As a Diaspora Jew, who feels much more Italian than Jewish, I would prefer Judaism's center of gravity to be outside of Israel... I believe that mainstream Judaism is better preserved elsewhere than in Israel."

But although Primo Levi preferred and believed that the center of gravity of Judaism was returning to the diaspora, the post-war diaspora Jew tied his identity to Israel, as if the security of Jews around the world depended on Israel. . The Jews, one might say, replaced Judaism with Zionism. In 1985, on a visit to the United States, Levi caused discomfort among North American Jews by declaring that “Israel was a mistake in historical terms”. Primo Levi died in 1987, officially by suicide, at the age of 67.


In 1947, the United Nations had approved the creation of Israel in Palestinian territory and most Israelis and Jews in the diaspora do not know or do not want to know that, to guarantee a Jewish majority in the country, 80% of the Palestinians who inhabited the region they were expelled or fled the combat zone, were prevented from returning to their homes and cities and have lived stateless for three generations in refugee camps on Israel's borders; and that the installation of the first settlements in the occupied territories dates back to the “left-wing” labor governments.

Like tolerance, the pacifism of the diaspora Jew was replaced by militarism and the Israelis are very proud of their consecutive military victories and the containment of the Palestinian population. Seven million Palestinians today live as prisoners in historic Palestine and another seven million live in the Palestinian diaspora, most of them stateless. But now, for all intents and purposes, it all started on October 7, 2023, which “justifies” the current military offensive on Gaza.

Most Israelis and Jews in the diaspora, who today live by cursing Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, also do not know or do not want to know that anti-Semitism has always manifested itself essentially in the Western Christian world; and that coexistence between Jews, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims prior to modern political Zionism was always peaceful. Pankay Mishra quotes, among others, Primo Levi, Jean Améry and the renowned Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who already in 1969 denounced the “Nazification” of Israel.

Zionist organizations in the diaspora are today committed to silencing protest demonstrations against the current military offensive on Gaza, especially dissident Jewish voices, traitors to Zionism and, according to their understanding, traitors to Judaism, “Jews who hate themselves themselves.” Several screenings of the damned “anti-Semitic” American documentary Israelism, directed by Erin Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, have been canceled since its premiere in 2023 and especially after October 7th.

Although still a minority, resistance among young Jews to the American Jewish establishment is growing, “stop lying to us.” Organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace e IfNotNow they guide their young activists on how to relate to their Zionist parents. Diaspora Zionists, however, understand the growth of demonstrations in defense of the Palestinian people as anti-Semitic demonstrations, while the Palestinian people, “used as a shield” and “collectively responsible” for the actions of Hamas, continue, increasingly, to suffer a massacre broadcast in color and in real time.

*Samuel Kilsztajn is a full professor of political economy at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of Jaffa. []

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