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I first read the quote in "Butler Trouble: Zionism, Excommunication, and the Reception of Judith Butler's Work on Israel/Palestine"

"Everybody is somebody’s Jew. And today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis"

  • Primo Levi, il Manifesto

The forward on the other hand cites only the first part of the quote “Everybody is somebody’s Jew.” Italian Jewish leader condemns pro-Palestinian protest flyers for use of Primo Levi quote.

Was the second part present in the original Italian quote?

2 Answers 2

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No he didn't say it, and when asked about it he negated it.

Primo Levi said only the first part of the quote, the second part was added by the reporter who interviewed him:

Who Said What by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker:

This affected his views on Israel. He repeatedly condemned the Israelis’ treatment of the Palestinians. When, in 1982, the Israelis stood by as the Christian Phalangists massacred the Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, he called for the resignation of Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin. “Everybody is somebody’s Jew,” he told a reporter, Filippo Gentiloni, from the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, and he cited the abuse of Poland by the Russians and the Germans. At that point in the interview, printed on June 29, 1982, Gentiloni closed the Levi quote and added a sentence of his own: “And today Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.” Carole Angier, in quoting this, either made a mistake or repeated someone else’s mistake. In any case, the quotation marks got moved, and Levi was represented as having said not just “Everybody is somebody’s Jew” but also “And today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.”

The original publication, In Italian, can be seen here

a picture of the original article

E ancora: "Ognuno è l'ebreo, di qualcuno, perché i polacchi sono gli ebrei dei tedeschi e dei russi." Eoggi i palestinesi sono gli ebrei degli israeliani.

Which translates (thanks to Google) to

And again: "Everyone is someone's Jew, because the Poles are the Jews of the Germans and the Russians." And today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.

Clearly showing that the quote ends after the section about the Poles and that the remark about the Palestinian is an editorial addition by the journalist.

And when he was asked about the comparison of Israel to the Nazis, he simply replied

There is no policy to exterminate the Palestinians

A summary of the book Primo Levi: A Life by Ian Thomson

When visited by a reporter from the anti-Israel newspaper La Repubblica, he responded to the question "Are the Palestinians in the same position as the Jews under the Nazis? " with the answer "There is no policy to exterminate the Palestinians" (p. 403). Perhaps that single sentence said everything. It was a polite and accurate answer to an unspeakably rude question. Or perhaps politeness was inappropriate as a response to an accusation of genocide. Appropriate or not, sticking to facts without editorializing was Levi's way of dealing with the world.

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  • @Ona, he didn't say the quote and clearly denied the sentiment being passed by the addition. He didn't deny the exact phrase because he didn't say it.
    – SIMEL
    Commented Mar 7 at 21:24
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    He said the difference is "There is no policy to exterminate the Palestinians", he didn't deny that sentiment from the phrase. Or put another way, at the start of WW2 there was no policy to exterminate the jews. The "final solution" came later.
    – Ona
    Commented Mar 7 at 21:32
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    I don't see how your answer proves this part "and when asked about it he negated it."
    – Ona
    Commented Mar 7 at 21:32
  • Thank you for the New Yorker reference, I think that's the best answer we could have absent a direct screenshot from the original Italian newspaper
    – Ona
    Commented Mar 7 at 21:35
  • @Ona, got you the screenshot.
    – SIMEL
    Commented Mar 7 at 21:35
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I would like to thank @SIMEL for his excellent answer regarding the "No he didn't say it" part. Although, He didn't "negate it", Primo Levi said it was indeed part of the Truth but it's complicated as seen in his interview in London with Anthony Rudolf (1986)

In the book "The Voice of Memory: Interviews, 1961-1987" page 32

In If Not Now, When? Mendel says 'Everybody is somebody else's Jew, because the Poles are the Jews of the Germans and the Russians.' Can this be applied elsewhere?

Look, in a novel you are allowed to put words in the mouth of a character which you don't necessarily agree with yourself. Whose Jews are the Americans or the Chinese? But it was true of the Poles. As for your idea that the Palestinians are the Jews of the Jews (and that Palestinian nationalism was 'inspired' by Zionism) this is indeed part of the truth but, as we know, it is a complicated matter.

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