Report from Middle East: Warschawski – Racist rhetoric and measures are now part of Israeli mainstream
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Jerusalem. We’re joined again now by Michel Warschawski. He’s the author of On the Border; he’s the founder of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. Thanks for joining us.
MICHEL WARSCHAWSKI, FOUNDER, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Hello.
JAY: So we’d been talking about sort of the evolution of the Israeli peace movement, which more or less is fizzled out. There’s a small group of activists that are very much involved in solidarity actions with the Palestinians, but it’s a pretty small segment of Israeli society. There’s groups of Israeli soldiers, I think called refuseniks—again, pretty small. To what extent—in terms of this evolution of Israeli public opinion to be more overtly racist, the fact you can have a foreign minister, Lieberman, who, you know, I would have thought ten years ago would be almost imaginable to have such a person representing Israel internationally, to what extent can you blame this on some of the tactics of the Palestinians, meaning terrorist attacks against civilians?
WARSCHAWSKI: You know, there have been almost no terrorist attack in the last six years, but it’s still a factor, because it exists as something of the present. Often I have to argue, to say, when was the last bomb in Jerusalem? We don’t remember, even. But nevertheless—and this is part of the official discourse and official propaganda—always we are fighting terrorism, we are fighting terrorism, mixing a lot with personal security and a more global sense of security confronting the Muslim world, confronting clash of civilization. So, though the Palestinian authority and the Palestinian police has been extremely efficient in stopping any kind of military or terrorist confrontation with Israel, it is still very influential in shaping the local public opinion: we are under a permanent threat of terrorism. And everything is done to keep this false impression, because we are not.
JAY: Well, people will say the rockets from Gaza played the same kind of role coming from Hamas rockets and some of the jihadist rockets. Yeah.
WARSCHAWSKI: Yes, but this was really a construction, this was really a manipulation, this was really a manipulation, these rockets. Who care ever in Israel about Sderot? You know, Israel, we have this concept in Hebrew. We are speaking about Israel and the other Israel. The other Israel is the Israel of the periphery, of the poor towns and villages in the south—especially in the south—and in the north. Sderot is maybe the most extreme example of this no man’s land of Israel. And suddenly everyone is taking care and suffering for Sderot. It’s totally artificial. No one has been in Sderot ever, and no one had cared. Sderot has been under rockets since many, many years. The government didn’t do anything about it. It didn’t speak, almost, about it. When it decided to attack, to attack, and this was—.
JAY: Well, that’s a bit my point in some ways is that the rockets were actually, from any military sense, ineffective.
JAY: But from a propaganda point, it was very good for the Liebermans of Israel.
WARSCHAWSKI: Exactly. This is why it’s so stupid. And, in fact, both Fatah leadership and Hamas leadership were totally against it. The problem of Hamas in Gaza was one thing is to be against, and one thing is to take measures to confront these small groups, quite isolated groups, and to be caught in between a criticism of the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Fatah for not doing anything, and taking measures against those who are doing something, even if it is pathetic. This is a problem of the leadership of Hamas in Gaza. So they’re trying to convince, but it’s very hard for them really to confront it by military ways for their own public opinion.
JAY: Because if ordinary Palestinians we’ve been talking to in some of the camps in Lebanon, a little bit in some other places, almost universally, especially younger people are demanding more action. “We want action.” And, in fact, one of the leaders of one of the organizations, not primary later but in the leadership, he said sometimes we have to fire a rocket just because people are so angry at us for not doing anything, and we lose credibility in, like, the competition between Hamas and Fatah.” And some—in fact, I think recently, when the two Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza, there was a competition amongst—.
WARSCHAWSKI: Who did it. Who did it.
JAY: Who did—taking credit for it, ’cause people are so fed up with the non-peace process.
WARSCHAWSKI: It’s true, and it’s quite obvious why the so-called peace process doesn’t exist, and the talks are empty talks, and no positive move, even the most limited one on the ground, no even—and the so-called “illegal” outposts, illegal from the Israeli legality point of view, no one has been dismantled. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, keeping the illusion of “we are in the peace process” is something which cannot last for a long time, in my opinion, and I think the new American administration, Barack Obama in particular, understand it. Something has to move; otherwise, moderate leaders, so-called moderate leaders, like Mahmoud Abbas and his administration, will lose totally any kind of credibility.
JAY: They’re close to being there already. Yeah.
WARSCHAWSKI: And they are not far from it.
JAY: Back to Israeli public opinion, to what extent have large sections of the Israeli public sort of bought into, internalized the real racist outlook versus kind of just going politically passive? ‘Cause talking to people, you kind of get the sense that this kind of what used to be thought of on the right as racism—although some people have said it was always kind of there: if you accept the basic concept of necessity for a Jewish state, there’s an underlying racism there from the beginning. But the more hardcore right racism, is that broadly in the public now?
WARSCHAWSKI: Yes, it is broadly in the—in the regular language, in the mainstream media. Ten years ago, someone would have told me this is kind of legitimate words in the Parliament or in the newspapers, I say no, no way.
JAY: [inaudible] examples?
WARSCHAWSKI: For example, the attitude. It’s the way Jamal Zahalka, a brilliant Israeli-Palestinian member of Parliament, was treated in the television by one of the most famous Israeli journalists—as a piece of shit—speaking to him in the television live. As headmaster in the school—”Go out,” “Shut your mouth”—during an interview in the TV. This couldn’t have happened ten years ago in the mainstream television, in the mainstream media.
JAY: Now, there was a law that there was an attempt to pass, and I’m not sure where it ended up, that was going to say to Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians living in Israel with Israeli citizenship, that you have to swear allegiance, more or less, to the Jewish state, you have to acknowledge there must be a Jewish state, or you could lose your rights as a citizen.
WARSCHAWSKI: Or at least your right, for example, not to be elected in the parliament. This is—.
JAY: And did they pass this?
WARSCHAWSKI: No, but it’s Lieberman—it’s not anymore a small lunatic right wing, like [Meir] Kahane gang 20 years ago. He’s minister of foreign affairs. He’s government. He’s part of the coalition, an important part of the coalition. So what we have is the blatantly racist language and measures that were on the margin of Israeli politics are now in the middle.
JAY: So they would like a law that says: if you question that the state should be a Jewish state, that’s essentially against the law. Do they want to apply that to Jews, too?
WARSCHAWSKI: No, no. The dividing line—and we have to understand it; it’s very essential in the whole conception of Zionism—like my interrogators say to me, as a Jew—.
JAY: Which is why we can sit here and do this interview.
WARSCHAWSKI: Yes, and I can publish even in the mainstream media—not often, but from time to time—the most radical opinions. There will be no problem. No one will question my legitimacy. I will be considered crazy and lunatic, but not a traitor, not anymore. It was, many, many decades ago. Decades. It’s not anymore. It’s part of freedom of expression. We have had a process of liberalization, in the French sense of the term, of the Israeli society—much more freedom of speech, much more—the end of unique—the one discourse, a mass peace movement. This has changed the Israeli society; it was part of a change, and it’s changing the Israeli society. The problem of that government—in fact, it started with Barak—is to tell all of us, and first of all the Palestinians inside Israel, party’s over. It’s finished. We are back to the ’50s, ’60s. We are in a war. Peace was an illusion. We are in a war. And now everyone should take it into consideration, including the institutions, a new—. So there have been few new laws, but many, many laws propositions.
JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the primary symbol of the new stage of the war, the wall. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Michel Warschowski on The Real News Network.