Netanyahu says his trial is not about corruption, but about the fate of Israel and the Jewish people. He demands Palestinians give their consent to Israeli annexation, leading to anti-annexation demonstrations in Israel.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Mark Steiner: Welcome to Real News, this is Mark Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again. So we go back to the Middle East today. Netanyahu’s trial started on May the 24th, and a large crowd of people gathered outside the courthouse to watch the prime minister being brought to stand trial for corruption. For many, it was quite a sight to see, but they never got to see it, because Netanyahu surprised everybody in the audience, and emerged from inside the courthouse to begin delivering a prepared speech. Let’s hear a part of what he had to say.
Translator: [foreign language 00:00:32] I am standing to trial today. This is an attempt to foil the will of the people, an attempt to topple me and the right wing. The left fails to do so through elections. So in recent years, they found a new trick. Elements in the police and in the state attorney office allied with the left wing newspapers. I call them the, “Just Not Bibi Gang,” to tailor charges against me which are preposterous and ridiculous. [foreign language 00:01:05] And so, citizens of Israel, I stand here today as the prime minister, standing tall and raising my head high. I demand, expose everything, reveal everything. Members of the media, I know why you are here. You want to take a picture of me in the courthouse as part of the, “Just Not Bibi” campaign, which doesn’t stop even for a second. I want the public to see the whole picture. The public should know the whole truth. And so, my first request for the court, complete transparency. I ask everything will be broadcast live, a continuous and uncensored broadcast. [foreign language 00:01:55]
Mark Steiner: So Netanyahu gave an interview discussing his own speech at the courthouse, to the right wing newspaper, Israel Hayom, which is controlled by US conservative political funder, Sheldon Adelson. Netanyahu, who hardly spoke about the trial at all, but went on in depth about the annexation. He demanded the Palestinians have to compromise, not Israelis, and said the Palestinians in the annexed areas will not become Israeli citizens. The speech by Netanyahu was really at its heart, a colonialist rant that denies Palestinians all rights, and touting the support of Trump. In the wake of all of this, there was massive demonstrations in Israel opposing the annexation. Everyone from Palestinian activists, to the Zionist left, to the Joint List, were there in unity.
So now we’re joined once again by Shir Hever. Shir, of course is a Real News correspondent who lives in Heidelberg, Germany. He is from Israel. His most recent book is, The Privatization of Israeli Security, that was published in 2017. And Shir, welcome back. It’s always great to have you with us.
Shir Hever: Thanks for having me, Mark.
Mark Steiner: So let’s just begin for a moment with just, not to prolong this, but to look the trial itself with Netanyahu. So the trial is going to take place, and I read, very oddly, how this could last for years, three to five years in a trial, which I think we in America, and probably in Europe watching this, have no understanding, how it could take so long, but he’s been avoiding it over, and over, and over again, and then the trial has begun. And so, what does that mean? I mean, is this like… We know he’s deflecting things and creating political movements, that we’ll talk about, around annexation, but some people would say this may be the end for Netanyahu, but people have said that before. What’s your perspective?
Shir Hever: I think a lot of people are curious how the right wing, far right leaders and the populous right leaders especially, around the world who are accused of major corruption, are dealing with the legal systems in their own countries that are trying to make them accountable for this corruption, whether it’s in Brazil, Bolsonaro, whether it’s the United States with Trump. And I think that Netanyahu is kind of showing them the way. Netanyahu is a master of public opinion and he’s running the trial on two parallel levels. And that’s really something I’m sure the other right wing leaders are watching very closely to learn from him how he’s doing that. On one level, he is defending himself in the trial as normally any person would. He has very good lawyers. And the strategy that he’s trying to achieve in this trial is mainly to postpone it as much as possible to drag it along for years and years. So by the time the verdict will have to come, nobody will remember what all this is about.
It won’t be anymore demonstrations in the street. It’s going to be a minor technical issue. And then he is probably going to get a very, a slap on the wrist. But at the same time, he’s also managing the trial on the media level, on a public level. That’s how he’s orchestrating everything like a theater, this thing that he waited, he ambushed inside the courthouse so that nobody can see him coming to the courthouse to deny the media this photo opportunity and came out and gave this speech. And the amazing thing he said in this speech, “I demand from the court that all of the court proceedings will be broadcast live without censorship on television.” Well, that’s very nice except that he didn’t actually say that. He only said it in the speech, but he didn’t say that to the court. And therefore the proceedings are not going to be published. The proceedings are going to be completely behind closed doors. There’s not even this thing that you have in the United States where there’s a sketch artist that draws say what’s happening in the court. Not even that, but Netanyahu can pretend as if he wanted it to be a transparent trial [inaudible 00:05:47].
Mark Steiner: To me, it’s amazing. He is, despite his politics, an amazing politician and manipulator, how he can control situations, how he comes back like a phoenix rising from the ashes all the time. So let’s take a look for a-
Oh, go ahead.
Translator: It’s called King Baby, which shows how he studied rhetoric and studied public speaking from a bunch of cassettes back in the eighties. And the movie maker found those cassettes and saw that every speech Netanyahu has ever given is following the bullet points of these cassettes, one by one.
Mark Steiner: So let’s take a look at this piece he did, the interview he had with Israel Hayom, which is really significant. And let me just read, as we’re seeing here, a portion of what came from this interview. “Netanyahu has said that within this package,” talking about the annexation, “Is the historic opportunity for changing the tide of history, which was pointing one way the whole time. All the diplomatic plans were posed to us in the past, asks us to concede swaths of the land of Israel, return to the ’67 borders and divides Jerusalem to take in Palestinian refugees. This is a reversal. We aren’t the ones being forced to make concessions. Rather the Palestinians are, regardless of negotiations.” And it concludes with, “If they see fit to meet and accept about 10 stringent conditions, including Israeli sovereignty west of the Jordan river, preserving a united Jerusalem, refusing to accept refugees, not uprooting Jewish communities and Israeli sovereignty in large swaths of Judea and Sumeria, as he calls it, the diplomatic process will move ahead.
They need to acknowledge that we control security in all areas. If they consent to all of this, then we’ll have an entity of their own, that President Trump defines as a state. There are those who claim and an American statesman told me, But Bibi, it won’t be a state.” I told him, “Call it what you want. At the heart of the Trump plan are foundations we have only dreamed about. All the things we were being criticized about from the right and what am I?”
So the whole piece he did here. I mean, it was, to me, it was unbelievable how clear he was about what he’s saying, about what they’re trying to do about this total colonial takeover of the Palestinian world. I mean, to me, it’s almost unbelievable this is actually this blatant.
Shir Hever: Yeah. Trump has deprived the Israeli government and Netanyahu from one of the most important assets, the ability, the excuse to say, “Well, we would want to annex everything, but the US won’t let us.” But Trump is not playing along. Trump says, “Do whatever you want.” And now Netanyahu really has no choice. I don’t think this is something that they really planned. I think there’s a lot of pressure from the far right. But I think that Netanyahu’s strategy is to tie this to his trial. And that’s what he said in this speech, when he said, “It’s actually a conspiracy between the judicial system and the Palestinians and the left wing newspapers in Israel. And of course, there are no left wing newspapers in plural, in Israel. There’s not more than one, but he talks about this conspiracy as if what the judges and the attorneys and the police are trying to do by putting him on trial for corruption is to end the occupation and give Palestinians freedom.
And this is of course absurd, but that is what allows us to understand what he means in this interview when he talks about these 10 demands from Palestinians, that Palestinians will have to compromise, but not Israelis. This kind of colonialist talk is echoed in other parts of the world. We see that right now from Trump in the United States, the way that he talks about bringing public order against people who are demonstrating in the streets against police brutality, especially against black people. And that’s something Netanyahu was telling the Palestinians, “You don’t want us to shoot you then you have to obey. You have no rights. You are not going to be treated as human beings, and you’re not going to be citizens or have any kind of agency. And I don’t think that this is just something that Netanyahu wants to achieve as part of a plan, because he has a problem that Palestinians are too free. That’s not the problem. There’s a 53 year old occupation in place and Palestinians have no rights. And they live a subject of a military dictatorship that rules every aspect of their lives.
But that’s not enough. Netanyahu has to show to his voters that he can do even more. And the only thing left to take from the Palestinians is their consent. And that’s why he wants the Palestinians to be subject of Israeli rule, but also to consent to this. And of course, that’s never going to happen.
Mark Steiner: That’s not going to happen. So still on the heels of this, you had thousands of Israelis and Palestinians demonstrating in Israel. There was some police violence towards the end, but what about … This demonstration took place, this opposition, Bernie Sanders spoke to the crowd, obviously via video. And you had everybody from left-wing Zionists to the joint list, Palestinian activists, communist activists, all in one group saying no. Now they all have different ideas about certain things that’s clear, but this was a, in terms of the opposition, a marketing step forward, even though I know in Israel, the left doesn’t have much power. So talk a bit about what happened this weekend.
Shir Hever: Obviously it was not such a big demonstration, but nevertheless, it was very significant. And this is a demonstration that is also inspired by the killing of George Floyd, the murder of George Floyd. Two days after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, a Palestinian with autism [inaudible 00:11:54] was murdered, gunned down by Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem while he was begging for mercy and trying to cower and find some shelter in a garbage room and asked help from his guide. And there’s a woman who works at the center for autism in Jerusalem, where he goes every day, that’s where he was shot and the police had no mercy for him. They shot him down and killed him. A lot of Palestinians and also a lot of Israelis see the direct parallel between the two cases and say, “This is part of the same thing.”
It’s very likely that many police officers in Minneapolis are armed with Israeli weapons. Some of them have been trained by Israeli police in the use of counter terrorism procedures. So this is what we’re seeing. And this demonstration that we saw on the weekend is interesting because of this variety of people coming there and bringing also Palestinian flags and shouting Palestinian slogans and shouting some slogans in Arabic. In many similar demonstrations in the past, the Zionist leftist would say, “We don’t want any part of this. As soon as we see the first Palestinian flag, we go home. We don’t want to be associated with any kind of Palestinian nationalism.” This is not about Palestinians. It’s about Israelis. We want to be a pure society, which is not a tainted by occupation and colonialism, but the subject, of occupation of colonialism did not interest us. But now we’re seeing something a bit different. We’re seeing people who, even though these see the Palestinian flags, they stayed at demonstrations.
Mark Steiner: [inaudible 00:13:38] include here. If you take the demonstrations that took place in opposition, that some people said because of COVID were much smaller than they might’ve been, but that’s another discussion, but some people have written that. But if you take that and you take this really right-wing nationalists colonial speech that’s Netanyahu gave about pushing annexation, it seems to me that this could be, these two instances, could you say that the struggle that takes place between Israel and Palestine, around Israel and Palestine is going to take a different form coming up in the next years? I mean, because the annexation goes through, you’re literally creating one state. So that changes the nature of what public opinion can happen politically. So what do we think about that? I’m mean this whole notion of this very moment, we can be at the cusp of changing, not just what the annexation policies are and colonialism, but also the nature of the political struggle to stop that.
Shir Hever: Well, everyone who lives in Israel or Palestine would tell you there is already one state. That’s the reality. So that really begs the question, what is going to change on April 1st, when the Israeli government plans to annex big parts of the West Bank? What’s going to actually change on the ground? I think the one thing that, and I think we should not fall into the trap of saying, “Oh, this is just a symbolic thing. And the struggle is now purely symbolic, and it doesn’t affect people’s lives anymore.” It certainly does affect people’s lives. So the first thing I really have to clarify here is what is the law of absentee property, absentee property law which was enacted by the Israeli Knesset and the parliament shortly after the creation of the state of Israel. Was the law to manage the assets that was left behind by hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were kicked off the country and their lands, their homes that, even their furniture was all put into the hands of a trustee.
And that trustee was supposed to hold on to this property until the return of the refugees. In the meantime, that property was used to create communities, villages, cities, where only Jews were allowed to live, to create apartheid communities. And when Palestinians came back in some cases or Palestinians who actually never left the borders of the country, they escaped their homes during the war, but after the war, they came back to their homes. But because they were still in Israel, basically in 1948 and or shortly afterwards, they said, “Well, we’re not absentees. This is our property. Give us back our property.” And then they were defined as present absentees. You’re present, but you’re absentee. You don’t get your property back. It’s going to be still used by the Israeli government.
And this law is now going to be applied in very large parts of the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinian families, they have farms and houses and lands and other property that the Israeli government says “We’re not convinced that this is truly yours. We don’t trust your papers and documents.” And that can be confiscated with this law starting from July 1st. So that’s something that has to be said, because this is going to affect the lives of so many people.
That said, I will get to the hardcore questions, one state, two states, because this also has to be. I think we have to be careful about accepting this kind of logic that says, “Okay, the two state solution is now dead because Israel killed it.” If we say that, then we’re saying to the Israeli government. “You’ve successfully killed the two state solution. Now you can kill the one democratic state and you’re done. You’re golden.” And of course that we should never say. The choice of how many states they’re going to be is a choice to Palestinians have to take.
And the Palestinians, I think there is now growing majority among Palestinians who do want one democratic state, where everybody can live together. And we see that more and more. And that part of the way that we see that is also the collapse of the Palestinian authority, which was the last gasp of the Palestinian political system to try to accept a form of partition. But now that they realize that you cannot have partition which not based on racist guidelines. It can’t create a partition which will not be ethnic. And an ethnic partition is apartheid. So if we reject the partition, we’re left with the basic idea of one person, one vote, the same idea that was in South Africa, which definitely leads to one democratic state for everyone.
And I think a lot of people, a lot of people, even on the Israeli side, realize that unless Netanyahu steam engine of conquest and annexation keeps its current speed, it will immediately get to the other direction, which is what democracy forever.
Mark Steiner: Well, Shir, it’s always good to talk to you. And I feel like as I’ve told our visual producer, Andrew Corkery, I’ve got to dig out of my box, this old poster that I have somewhere in one of my layers of things that I got in Cuba in 1968. And it was, the poster said then “One state, two people, three faiths.” With both flags on it and the entire land together. So we’ll see what that poster says to us in the future and Shir, thank you so much once again for joining us.
Shir Hever: Thanks, Mark.
Mark Steiner: And I’m Mark Steiner, here for the Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Please let us know what you think and take care.
Marc Steiner, interim co-Editor at TRNN, is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on issues of social justice. He walked his first picket line at age 13 and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested for Civil Rights protests, in the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught Theatre for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993 through 1997 his signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR – which Marc co-founded – and Morgan State University’s WEAA.