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Shir Hever, Researcher at the Alternative Information Centre, says Netanyahu is presenting himself as the prime minister of the Jewish people, not just Israel, and that this has a lot to do with upcoming elections

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. While hosting the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ankara on Monday, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, publicly attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for his hypocrisy in attending the rally in Paris. Now joining us from Göttingen, Germany, to discuss Netanyahu’s attendance in Paris is Shir Hever. Shir is an economic researcher at the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. Thank you so much for joining us, Shir. SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Thank you for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: So, Shir, why did Netanyahu attend the rally? HEVER: President François Hollande of France asked Netanyahu not to attend because of security considerations and the logistics involved. Netanyahu acquiesced to this request at first, but when he heard that the Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, of the extreme right, was planning to attend in his stead and used that to garner votes within Israel, Netanyahu changed his mind and decided to go to Paris nevertheless. And that infuriated François Hollande, and he invited Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, as a sort of counter to Netanyahu’s presence. Netanyahu then made a big effort to try to be on the first line. He kind of pushed himself to the first line of marchers in order to be on the cameras, trying to send a message back to his voters at home in Israel, because the elections in Israel are approaching fast, because a lot of Israelis are very concerned about the international pressure growing against Israel and the loss of the Israeli stand, international standing in the world. And Netanyahu was trying to show with his own sort of elbow politics, pushing himself through the crowd in order to stand in front of the cameras, that he is ready to represent Israel and to try to promote Israeli, even if it means using a little bit of force. PERIES: Now, Shir, France has been openly supportive of Palestinian statehood and has taken a position on that at the United Nations. And so, clearly, Netanyahu’s attendance in Paris had some friction between the Paris and the Israel government. PERIES: France has made some advancement toward supporting the Palestinian bid for statehood, especially on the parliament level, not so much on the government level. But this is mostly for show, because when we’re looking at the actual facts, France continues to have close military relations with Israel and close trade relations with Israel, which far surpass its relations with the Palestinian economy, with the Palestinian state. And even though Israel has used European weapons, as well as U.S. weapons and Israeli weapons, in the recent war against Gaza, in which over 1,000 innocent civilians were killed, and also hundreds of combatants on the Palestinian side, France didn’t endorse any kind of a military embargo in Israel or didn’t threaten to stop its military–its arms deals with Israel. So I wouldn’t say that France is really taking the Palestinian side on this. The issue of the friction, I think, came a lot more when actually not during the Netanyahu visit itself, but when Netanyahu responded to the attacks, to the terror attack in Paris, by calling on French Jews to immigrate to Israel. And that statement is a clear attack on France. This is actually a vote of non-confidence against France’s ability to protect its own citizens. And it’s also contributing to the very dangerous and worrisome rise of anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic ideas, which is when people associate everything Jewish with everything that represents the state of Israel. That is in fact the danger that is posed by the Israeli government, which–this is not particularly new for Israel to take this position. But Netanyahu is probably the most vocal on this issue of presenting himself not as the prime minister of the state of Israel, but somehow as the prime minister of the Jewish people. Of course, he was never elected to that position. So, for example, when David Cameron of Britain came to visit Israel and visit the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu said, welcome to the Jewish parliament, as if there are only Jewish parliament members–the non-Jewish members of parliament just don’t count in his eyes. So that kind of statement, when he says to Jewish citizens in France that they should leave their country and come to Israel, it feeds directly into this sort of anti-Semitic stereotype, as if Jews around the world are somehow more loyal to the state of Israel than they are to their own countries, to their own states. And just this week, there was a research published in Britain that showed that many British people actually believe that Jews in Britain are more loyal to Israel than they are to Britain, or that their loyalty to Israel undermines their loyalty as British citizens. PERIES: Right. And some of the bodies of those that were attacked in Paris actually came back to Israel. Can you describe that moment for us and how Netanyahu actually politicized that moment? HEVER: Well, the politicization started even beforehand, because Israeli officials have put pressure on the French families of the victims of this attack to have their family members buried in Israel. That was of great symbolic importance to Netanyahu. It’s especially important for Netanyahu when he tries to promote an idea that Israel can be an ethnic state, an ethnic state only for the benefit of its Jewish citizens, and at the same time be accepted by the West. And let me explain how that is related to your question, because the state of Israel tries to present itself as a nation state or sees itself as a nation state, and Netanyahu often uses that and uses the main comparison. When he says Israel should be a nation state, he compares the nation state of Israel to the nation state of France. But he understands the [termination (?)] state in a different way when it comes to Israel, as opposed to when it comes to France, which means he understands the nation state as an ethnic state, as if not everybody who is a citizen of Israel is part of the nation, but actually only the Jews are part of the nation, and all the others who are not Jewish are somehow minorities that don’t really have a place within that state, and they should somehow leave. And then, when you translate that idea further, it gets to his perception on other countries around the world, like France or the United States or any other country in which Jews live as a citizens. But he sees them as the same kind of minority, as Palestinian citizens of Israel are a minority in Israel, meaning a minority that is not really wanted or accepted by the authorities. And when he says that these victims of the terror attacks should be buried inside Israel, he’s saying, well, they don’t have a place in France, not even in death. They should–they can only be part of their nation, not in France, which is the state in which they’re citizens, but in Israel, which is the state of their ethnicity. And this is a very dangerous idea of the ethnic state, but it’s the idea that–but this is not an idea invented by Netanyahu. It’s not an idea invented by Israel. It’s an idea that’s common to the extreme right, which is now rising all over Europe. And in fact you see the European extreme right expressing very strong pro-Israeli opinions in the last few years, where they see Israel as a kind of model, how minorities, and especially Muslims, can be treated as the enemy and pressure can be put upon them to leave, to emigrate. And this same–and when Netanyahu is using that kind of statement, calling for the Jews to leave France or calling for the deceased to be buried outside of France, he’s actually speaking directly to these extreme-right organizations, or even fascist organizations, organizations and parties in France, like the French extreme-right party of Marie Le Pen, and trying to form a coalition with them in order to create this world in which you perceive politics through a clash of civilizations or a clash of religions rather than through questions of democracy and citizen rights. PERIES: Strange alliances, Shir, the rise in the right in Germany aligned with the Zionist state. This doesn’t make sense. HEVER: Well, I think it does make sense if you look at the actual content of the ideology. It’s very easy to think about Israel or the Zionist movement as countering the extreme right, because the extreme right is known to be anti-Semitic, and Zionism is a movement that evolved out of Jewish communities. But in fact the extreme right in Europe is simply undertaking Islamophobia as a sort of replacement for anti-Semitism. But the ideology’s basically the same. And now it’s just more legitimate to be Islamophobic, as opposed to being anti-Semitic. And this–but the border is immediately crossed. When there’s repression of Muslims, this can immediately become also a rejection of other non-Christian groups within Europe, and that can also lead to seeing Jews as some sort of foreign entity in Europe, even if it’s Jews that have lived there for many generations. And that doesn’t bother the Zionist leaders at all. It doesn’t bother Netanyahu at all. He does not see himself as the protector of Jewish people around the world. His only solution for them is to leave and come to Israel. And that, of course, is not really a solution. It should be said Israel is by no means a safer place for Jews, compared to France, even in light of the recent attacks. This is–Israel is still a country much more embroiled in conflict. And, also, the socioeconomic issues are very important, because France is still a much more developed welfare state with a much higher standard of living and much better chances to find employment and education for the Jewish citizens in France, as well as for non-Jewish citizens of France, than the chances for socioeconomic development inside Israel, which are lagging behind by several degrees. DESVARIEUX: PERIES: So, Shir, the attacks on the cartoonist in Paris is really not unlike the suppression of the cartoonist in Palestine. HEVER: Yeah. And here the issue of hypocrisy’s very clear, because Israel has also repressed Palestinian cartoonists. And the most famous case is the murder of Naji al-Ali, the Palestinian cartoonist and the creator of the image of Handala. And he was killed in 1987 by, supposedly, Israeli gunmen in London. So it’s not a very different situation, except that when the British authorities started to find out that the killers are probably Israeli, they have taken some acts of diplomatic punishment but didn’t actually put anyone on trial. And another famous case is from 2013, where Mohammad Saba’aneh was arrested for drawing cartoons criticizing the Israeli occupation. So when this attack in Paris is seen first and foremost as an attack on free speech and on the right of cartoonists to express themselves, one should remember that Palestinians do not have that right. PERIES: Shir, I thank you so much for joining us today. HEVER: Thank you, Sharmini, for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.