Photo: Claudine Hartzel

The Gen-Zionist Heroes: An Interview with Eylon Levy

Since October 7th, Eylon Levy has become one of the most recognizable faces of Israel, appearing in hundreds of interviews presenting Israel’s story to Western media in his capacity as the Spokesperson for the Government of Israel. Rabbi Aron White spoke with Eylon while he was still serving as a government spokesperson. Since then, he has launched an independent media apparatus and continues to tell Israel’s story. 

When you made Aliyah 10 years ago, did you think this type of work would be what you would do? Did you dream or plan to work as a spokesperson for Israel?

I made Aliyah twenty minutes after Operation Protective Edge. I got on a flight while the war was still raging, and landed twenty minutes after the ceasefire came into effect. Twelve hours later, I was already at the enlistment bureau ready to sign up for the army. If you told me at the end of that awful war with Hamas in Gaza that ten years later we would be in another, bigger war with Hamas in Gaza, clearly that would not have been encouraging. But I moved to Israel not only for the weather and proximity to the beach but also out of a desire to do something meaningful for Israel and the Jewish people.

I definitely wanted to find myself in a spokesperson capacity. Speaking for Israel, arguing for Israel. It’s only sad that this had to happen in such horrific and tragic circumstances. 

Olim often worry that they’ll always be immigrants and that it’s hard to make an impact as a newcomer to a country. Do you have any general advice for succeeding as an oleh in Israel?

I’ve been here for ten years and still consider myself an “oleh chadash,” because it’s a matter of mentality. I was fortunate to move here already speaking Hebrew fluently because my parents were Israeli and we spoke Hebrew at home, which definitely gave me an easier landing. But Israel is a country where you very much have to make your opportunities. Fortunately, that is very easy to do because we’re a small country where no one is more than a WhatsApp away. But it’s definitely not a country where anything comes easy or on a silver platter. It takes work, it takes perseverance, and it takes commitment, but the whole of Israel is an immigrant society. Even recent immigrants are punching way above their weight in terms of the contributions they’re making to Israel.

This is not a country where immigrants, olim, are somehow sidelined. They are the central bridge between Israel and the wider world, between the wider world and the Israel that needs bridges and connections, so they play an absolutely critical role. Not only in the public relations world but in business and elsewhere. 

You have a front row seat to how Western media perceives Israel. From your perspective, do you think it’s all bad, or are there areas where there is support for Israel?

Look – the situation is not good, the information architecture is stacked against us with a whole chorus of UN officials and international agencies and NGOs that have picked a side in this war and are deploying the most outrageous information to try and pressure Israel into ending this war with Hamas still on its feet and the hostages still in Gaza. On the other hand, we’re recording this interview five months into the war and our allies still maintain that we have a right to defend ourselves. And that involves neutralizing Hamas and bringing back the hostages. They are not calling for a permanent ceasefire with Hamas because they understand that you cannot simply hope that Hamas will stop attacking us. They understand that for Hamas, a permanent ceasefire means the fighting will simply pause until they decide to resume the war against us.

We are fighting to maintain that support. That support is guided not by a sense of charity but a sense of these states’ understanding of their own national security interests and why it is critical to end this war and make sure that it will not erupt again. This war cannot end like previous rounds of conflict, with a temporary fix that leaves a terrorist army in control of neighboring territory threatening to break that trust again. It must end with serious change. 

That’s why we’re not talking about degrading Hamas but dismantling it. That’s why we’re talking about the need for deradicalization and addressing the root cause of this conflict – the persistent Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in any borders. Because we want peace, and in order for there to be peace we need a pathway to peace. That’s why Prime Minister Netanyahu is talking about his three “d”s for peace. The three prerequisites you need for peace to be realistic are: Destroy Hamas, demilitarize Gaza, and deradicalize Palestinian society. We need those three things to happen in order to escape the cycle of violence and we’re fighting so that countries will not pressure us to end this war, leaving in place the conditions that will guarantee the next war. Rather we must end this war with a total Israeli victory and with conditions that will enable us to escape this cycle of violence. 

When Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special Rapporteur, denies the antisemitic nature of the massacre and says that it was an act of resistance against oppression, she has picked a side in this war. And the whole chorus of international officials and agencies that couldn’t bring themselves to even share a crocodile tear on October 7 have invested all their energies into trying to pressure Israel into ending this war in a way that leaves Hamas on its feet, because they adopt the Palestinian narrative. It’s really as simple as that. And you see this with the United Nations as well, where the only thing that these countries can agree on is that they don’t like Israel. So they gang up on Israel because it gives them a way to cooperate and show how committed they are to multilateralism. Just look at the numbers – there are 15 million of us, not all of whom are on our side, and two billion Muslims who are very consistent with their messaging, so of course the odds are stacked against us. It’s not a fair fight. 

Please G-d, this war will be won, but realistically this bias will remain. Is the media war something that we’re ever going to be able to win? Will the world ever understand our side? 

One of the things that we are demanding – and I speak about this with every foreign delegation of policymakers and lawmakers that I meet – is the need for accountability for the international officials that have been covering up the fact that Hamas wages wars out of hospitals, is hijacking aid, has embedded itself in military areas and then blames Israel for the tragic casualties that result when a terrorist army wages war from under and behind civilians. 

If the World Health Organization cannot bring itself to condemn a terrorist army for fighting a war under a hospital, what is the point of the World Health Organization? They have chosen expediency by blaming Israel because they’ll get automatic support from so many countries that don’t like us instead of doing their job, which is to protect civilians and protected facilities. 

So we need international accountability, not because the World Health Organization and the Red Cross have let us down, not even because they clearly let the Palestinians down, but because they’re letting the world down. Because if you believe in multilateralism and international institutions and global governors you have to understand how poorly you are being served by organizations that can’t even condemn terrorists for waging war out of hospitals. 

Over the last few months, you’ve been to the UK and the US, speaking to policymakers and media but also interacting heavily with the local Jewish community. I know you’ve been very vocal on social media about that. What have you seen firsthand in those meetings? 

These are the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, the antisemitism situation is so much worse than I realized – and I thought I was paying careful attention. I’ve just come back from the United States and I’ve heard horror stories. This is the beginning of a very dark turn of events, and it’s worse than I realized. 

On the other hand, I have been awed and inspired to see the incredible Diaspora awakening, meeting people who dropped everything and are committing their resources and expertise to helping us with this fight, to bring back the hostages, and fight antisemitism. People who before the war were connected to Israel are doubling down on that commitment. But there are also people who are unaffiliated and unconnected who suddenly, when the masks came off, realized who their people are, who their friends are, and what they have to do. And there are so many of them, so many of them for whom October 7 was a wake-up call that has fundamentally transformed how they see themselves. It’s phenomenal to see that fighting spirit and commitment to ahavat Yisrael and mutual responsibility in the Diaspora as well, and I really, really hope that we can build on that. If we Jews in Israel and the Diaspora realize how much we need each other and how much we love each other, the rest will sort itself out. 

You’ve been very active in reaching out to and speaking with Gen-Z, the younger generation. It’s a hot topic – what will happen when today’s eighteen-year-olds are the policymakers? What have you seen with this population and how have you tried to reach out via social media and messaging to that group? 

I’m trying to light a fire under them. The reason I flew to the US was to take part in the Hillel International Summit, where I gave a speech about what it means to make Gen-Z into “Gen-Zionist.” I had T-shirts printed with the victory sign and the slogan “Gen-Zionist,” and the following day we handed out a thousand of these T-shirts. I needed a T-shirt cannon – I have never seen young people more excited to wear a T-shirt that said Zionist on it. And the following day, half the people walking around the Atlanta airport were wearing a T-shirt that said Zionist on it. It was phenomenal. 

In the speech I said: Zionism has always been about standing up to bullies. “בְּכָל דּוֹר וְדוֹר, in every generation,” we refuse to be the snotty-nosed kid who gets pushed into lockers. And Gen-Zionists stand up to bullies. You refuse to let them call you names, you refuse to let them define you, refuse to let them push you around, and you stand up for yourself because people will only respect you when you respect yourself and stand up to bullies. Yes, the odds are stacked against them, but the odds have been stacked against every generation, stacked up more than the TikTok algorithm is stacked up against them. The odds were stacked against the generations that dreamed of Israel, built it, and fought for it. I told them that if they want heroes, Zionist heroes to look up to, they do not need to go back to David Ben-Gurion with his pants pulled above his belly button or Theodor Herzl with his millennial hipster beard, because Israel is a nation of everyday heroes. And when October 7 happened, Israel’s Gen-Zionists discovered that they were bigger heroes than they could have ever imagined. They were the people who ran back into the fire at the festival to try to save people, who didn’t wait for orders to join reserves, grabbed their guns and went to defend the kibbutzim. They were the people who set up inspiring civil society initiatives to help displaced families and victims of trauma. If the kids your age can be in a tank fighting Hamas, you can go on campus and face the Hamas fangirls. 

I told them that I don’t want to be too dramatic, but that nothing less than the future of the free world is on their shoulders. Because if their friends are still fangirling for Hamas, when these hate parades march down the hallways of power in twenty years we’re in big trouble. America, Israel, the whole free world will be in trouble! They can’t let that happen, they can’t let these countries go down the antisemitic rabbit hole.

What does it mean to be a Diaspora Zionist? First of all, do not run away. Gen-Zionists do not run away. If you want to come to Israel, that’s great – I believe life is more colorful under the Mediterranean sun, I love living a two-minute walk from the beach. But if you’re going to stay in America, there is nothing more Zionist than standing up, because we need you to make the world safe for Israel, so Israel can make the world safe for Jews. 

Mizrachi’s solidarity mission from Kemp Mill Synagogue attended a lunch and conversation with Eylon.

How do you stay so calm on camera?

Honestly, sometimes in an interview you don’t realize how outrageous the line of questioning is until afterwards, because you are so in the zone. But I think it’s a misnomer to ask me how I stay so calm. What, I’m speaking to a journalist who has hostile questions? You should ask the Gen-Zionist heroes who are down in Gaza with tanks and guns who are being shot at by terrorists “how do you stay so calm?” Why do they not spray gunfire in every direction? How do they stay focused and targeted? Because that’s their mission. That’s what they have been trained for, to remain composed, and disciplined on mission. 

I’m doing the same thing, but in much less hostile circumstances than people my age are having to do just an hour’s drive away. 

You’ve been in Gaza in the tunnels. You’ve seen a lot and dealt with a lot during this war. Are you optimistic, overall, about the future of this country? I’m more optimistic than I was six months ago. I have been truly awed and inspired by the resilience, generosity, creativity, and initiative of Israeli society. We went through a very painful year of political polarization, where the atmosphere was really toxic. October 7 was a very rude awakening that I think made everyone understand what the stakes are, how much we need each other, and how important unity is. I am so impressed by the way Israeli society dropped everything and came together on October 7, immediately, within microseconds, understanding that there was only one thing that mattered at that moment. I hope that the spirit of ahavat Yisrael and mutual responsibility continues after this war. We really do have the most incredible nation. And I think that this collective trauma has made us appreciate that more than we did before.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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