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  March 30, 2017

Ilan Pappe: The Myth of Israel

Journalist Max Blumenthal sits down with renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe to talk about the first of his forthcoming book, Ten Myths About Israel
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MAX BLUMENTHAL: Hi. I'm Max Blumenthal for The Real News.

We're in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club for an event on the Israel Lobby. And I'm here with Ilan Pappé, Israeli revisionist scholar - I guess we could call you that - and you're coming out with two new books. And I just got a galley of your latest, which is called the Ten Myths of Israel?

ILAN PAPPÉ: That's right.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: What is the biggest myth about Israel? Would it be: A land for a people? A people without a land? Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East? What do you think the biggest myth is?

ILAN PAPPÉ: I think it's very difficult to choose, and that's why I...

MAX BLUMENTHAL: You didn't have a top ten list...?

ILAN PAPPÉ: I didn't have... I chose chronology, the main regulator for the myths, so I began with the land without people and people without land. But I really think that the biggest myth of all has to do with how each of these myths does not allow us to understand the real nature of Zionism, and the project of Zionism, and the nature of Israel today.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I think when you listen to Netanyahu, and he's this master of expounding on this myth that Israel is not only not a settler-colonial state, but that it's sort of a normal democracy that has flowered out of the Middle East almost organically because of the Jewish ancestral connection.

And then when he talks about the conflict - or I wouldn't even call it a conflict, I'd call it a crisis – he always goes back to the Hebron riots; he goes back to these events that occurred before the State of Israel was founded; for example, attacks on Jewish communities in Jaffa; and never explains how those communities came there and what the real story was.

So, how do you challenge Netanyahu's narrative of Jewish-Arab relations in historic Palestine?

ILAN PAPPÉ: I think it's deeper than that, and Netanyahu in this respect represents a very deep Israeli-Jewish conviction that they are the indigenous people of Palestine, and the Palestinians are the settlers… now the aliens.

And this is a starting point. A starting point is where the indigenous… yes, we haven't been there for a few hundred... maybe two thousand years, but we are the indigenous people of Palestine. And from there, everything else emanates.

And I think the way to challenge it is really by using this paradigm of settler-colonialism, because it's not exceptional for a settler-colonial movement to claim to be the indigenous people of the place that they occupy, colonize, and quite often genocide. It happened before in other places.

And I think that's something that allows people who either were victims of other settler-colonial projects; or people who are part of settler-colonial states, like the United States, but are very familiar nowadays with their own history, and understand their own origins; to understand that actually it's not exceptional, it's not an exception – the only exceptional part of it is the denial, not the very historical act itself.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I mean, a lot of these myths are actually just Hasbara arguments by, in many cases, morons for the consumption of morons, but I've found that in our world there are a lot... it falls on fertile soil. I mean, the education system isn't very good in the West.

So you have these... Netanyahu, and I think, you know, this is kind of a common feature of Hasbara, trying to draw a distinction between settler-colonialism and traditional metropole-colonialism, and you'll hear him say, you know, we're not the French colonizing Algeria. We have nowhere to go back to. You know? This is our homeland and we can't go back anywhere.

How do you respond to that? And, you know, I think one of the things that we've failed to do is explain how settler-colonialism is in many ways more pernicious than traditional colonialism.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Absolutely. The exceptional part of the story is that settler-colonialism made certain connections, or made certain assumptions, which were accepted in the 19th century, but looked ridiculous, inhuman and non-democratic in the 20th century; and yet, in the particular case of Israel, they still remain valid.

For instance, the claim that the only way you can create a democracy in a country which has settlers and natives, is if the settlers are always the majority; which is the argument of the liberal Zionists, not the right wing Zionists. The liberal Zionists, the whole peace process, is based on the idea that the only way democracy can be sustained in Palestine is if the Jews are a majority in their own homeland.


ILAN PAPPÉ: This is a ridiculous assumption, that in any other context would be rejected as racist, but in the case of Israel is accepted.

And I think that's where the interesting part of the analysis comes into, also in my book, in ... why educated; well-read people in the West did not see this? Or, did they see it and decided to accept it for reasons of guilt, anti-Semitism,...? to choose to stay in Europe, God knows why? Everyone had their own reasons for that.

For the second point that you were making, I think that it's very important to highlight, when you talk about any settler-colonial project - what Patrick Wolfe called "the logic of the elimination of the native" - that you cannot create a new settler-colonial society, or a settler nation state, from the settler-colonials' perspective, as long as there is an indigenous native population there. So you have to get rid of them.


ILAN PAPPÉ: Genocide them as you did in America, or impose apartheid and Bantustan them as you did in South Africa, or ethnically cleanse them as you did in Palestine.

The means vary from one historical case study to the other. The logic is the same logic. And what is amazing is that this logic is still legitimized in the 21st century in the case of Israel, under the guise of slogans such as "The only democracy in the Middle East", "A country that wants peace but doesn't find the right partner for it", and all the other mythologies that are connected to the peace process.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I think that the logic of… the underlying logic of Zionism, of maintaining a demographic majority, a sort of ethnic over-class, through violent demographic social engineering, is scarcely ever interrogated in our mainstream media. In academia it's even very rare to see it.

Would you say that that has fuelled the rhetoric and the politics of the far right in Western Europe and in the United States; where you hear someone like Stephen Bannon, who’s the Chief Counselor to Donald Trump - the main intellectual force behind him - say at a major conference in Washington, that the United States is not just an economy; it has to represent a culture.

STEPHEN BANNON: We have wide and sometimes divergent opinions. But I think the center core of what we believe, that we're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: And it's this culturalist narrative, which implies that the United States is white and Christian, and it must maintain a white, Christian demographic majority. Do you think that that has anything to do with the legitimization that Israel has experienced?

ILAN PAPPÉ: I do think so. I think if you are a member of a right wing intellectual movement or ideological movement or political movement, you watch Israel desperately in a way. You say, "My ideas, my assumptions, my discourse, that is regarded as fringe, lunatic and dangerous, is welcomed when it is uttered by the spokespersons for the Israeli Jewish state, or by Israel itself." It's exactly that.

The dehumanization that Israel is allowed to express through its discourse, through its policies, through its activities, is not different from any racist approach by any other group.

In fact, settler-colonialism is one of the most dangerous forms of modern racism. And it's not surprising that there are two ways in which Israel was trying to challenge this or protect this kind of exceptionalism, because it's very precarious. It can... you know, one day, the truth can be discovered. The people would say, wait a minute; you're not different from an extreme right movement in America. You are the same – especially when the right wing in Israel becomes stronger.

So there are two ways they're trying to challenge it. One is by claiming that, oh, we don't use violent means – if you are a liberal Zionist – we're not looking for violent means of keeping demographic purity. We're actually willing to give up some territory in order to keep demographic purity; or we enclave, we incarcerate, we besiege the Palestinians in small bantustan, so that we're demographically pure.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: In Israel, it's liberals saying, "Build the wall."

ILAN PAPPÉ: Absolutely. Absolutely. Liberal. Of course, because this means I don't want to use supposedly violent means. I'm not expelling people.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: We're not going to transfer anyone.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Exactly. We're just not going to let them leave.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: We're just going to say, what was... it was Ehud Barak's campaign slogan...

ILAN PAPPÉ: Yeah. We are here and they are there.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Us over here, them over there. And we would recognize that here as sort of segregation.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Exactly.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: But it's hard segregation.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Absolutely. And the second means... and the second means by which they try to sort of hide it, is the one that Netanyahu prefers, because he cannot say that he's willing to give up territory, and this is elevating this idea of... elevating anti-Semitism into supposedly a new phenomenon...

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. The new...

ILAN PAPPÉ: ... the new anti-Semitism; and to say that when you criticize the Israeli settler-colonialism, you're not criticizing racism, but you're actually racist yourself.


ILAN PAPPÉ: Like the indigenous issue. If you... if the Palestinians claim that they are indigenous, we will claim that we are the indigenous, and they are the settlers. This is really new-speak...

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Which actually embraces the true logic of anti-Semitism that conflates Zionism with Jews, and holds them responsible collectively for all of Zionism's crimes.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Absolutely. Absolutely. Above... another layer of uniformity or a connection between the idea that Jews should be settler-colonialists in Asia or the Arab world, and not live as communities in the West, which is another kind of joint platform for anti-Semitism and Zionism.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right, which opens the door for this kind of alliance of convenience we've seen with parties like the National Front in France; the Jobbik Party even, in Hungary, is moving away from its traditional anti-Semitism into a more pro-Zionist. We see the Austrian Freedom Party, Strache, was hosted by the Likud Party - this is the party founded by the Nazis in Austria - he was hosted for a visit of the Holocaust Museum by the Likud Party.

You go across the board to all these far right parties, down to Trump and the Republican Party, and they've all become pro-Israel while holding onto this idea that, you know, Jews really belong somewhere else.

ILAN PAPPÉ: And this is the whole notion of the Palestinians as immigrants. You have immigrants in Holland.


ILAN PAPPÉ: And you have all the right to vote for a right wing party, because they are really Muslim immigrants, and they create all the problems. We also have Muslim immigrants in Israel. And they are using the same message to identify themselves to operate politically and violently against our own culture, our own set of values.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. We understand the terrorism that you're experiencing...

ILAN PAPPÉ: Absolutely.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: ...we have it ourselves.

ILAN PAPPÉ: And there are very worrying connections nowadays between the Israeli strategic advisors and experts and their counterparts in France, Britain, Holland, Denmark. They advise them how to control immigrant societies in order to pre-empt the next loner, the next...

MAX BLUMENTHAL: The next lone wolf.

ILAN PAPPÉ: ...lone wolf...

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. And it's –- what? -– through biometrics and racial profiling and -– what do they call it? –- micro-expressions?

ILAN PAPPÉ: Micro-expressions. And it's all built on this assumption we all have Muslim migrant societies that did not fit into the host culture.


ILAN PAPPÉ: And that's quite a challenge for us to... it's so false. It's almost like a kind of Nazi propaganda that you have such a big lie, that the bigger the lie is the more difficult it is then to diffuse it.

It's such a big lie that I think we are, at the beginning, we are a bit paralyzed when we try to challenge it, because it's so false, and yet I think we have to be patient and unpack it again for the audiences, and make sure the people understand how ridiculous and dangerous it is for both case studies.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Ilan Pappé, thanks a lot.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Thank you.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I'm Max Blumenthal in Washington, D.C., for The Real News.




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