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Political economy of Israel’s occupation Pt6 – Hever: Israel sells itself as ‘frontline’ against Islam

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Jerusalem. Now joining us again is Shir Hever. He’s an economist with the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. He’s the author of the book Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation. So let’s continue. There’s something happening in the United States which may be a bit analogous with something happening in Israel. The Republican Party summoned up the demons of racism in some of the most backward sections of the American politic in order to fight Obama. I’m not saying all of this movement is racist, but much of it is. And now this demon they summoned is going to turn and try to eat them and take over the Republican Party. And I wonder if there’s something analogous about that in Israel, where you have a situation where the more pragmatic sections of the Israeli elite have for so many decades been summoning up the demons of racism and chauvinism and xenophobia. You get to a point now where you can have a foreign minister, [Avigdor] Lieberman, who talks about taking away Arabs’ right to vote if they don’t swear allegiance to a Jewish state, and even the kind of shadow of even expulsions are talked about. Is there a sort of situation here where the more pragmatic sections can’t even be pragmatic in the interests of the Israeli state ’cause they’ve let loose such a right-wing force?

SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: There’s always been this kind of internal conflict within the Israeli elite. In many cases, the settler movement, the colonies that were built in the West Bank, were often built out of considerations that did not coincide with government policies, and created a lot of problems for the government, which continued to support them. I think when you talk about the right wing in the United States, you should also talk about the right wing in Europe as well. There is a growing xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe as well. And Israel tries to market itself as the forefront of that struggle, because just like South Africa tried to portray itself as the forefront against communism, Israel also tried to do that during the Cold War. When the Cold War was over, they were trying to become part of the global war on terror as a way to legitimize.

JAY: In other words, Israel is the front line of the struggle against Islamic extremism.

HEVER: Yeah, that is what Israelis�and even what you would call elites or pragmatic elites are saying that; they’re saying we should use our image as the front line in the fight against Islam. And the way that they use this image is to feed into the rhetoric of the right wing in the United States, in Europe. And that is why you see people like Lieberman as foreign minister, because his rhetoric of hatred enables more freedom to the rhetoric of hatred in other countries.

JAY: Now, but what I’m getting at is, when former prime minister Olmert left office, he made quite an interesting statement where he said that the way the demographics are going, that there’s going to be such an enormous population of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, there’s going to be a big Palestinian population inside Israel, and if there isn’t a two-state solution, sooner or later there’s going to be pressure on Israel, as there was on South Africa, to have one person, one vote, that you can’t go on forever occupying a people without at some point either incorporating them or you’d better give them a state. And if you incorporate them, Olmert argued, you’d lose the Jewish state, so you’d better have a two-state solution. So if you take it from the point of view of someone who believes in the Jewish state, in a pragmatic argument, that made sense. But that doesn’t even seem an argument that even gets heard here because of the force of the right. That’s what I mean. The right is overcoming the kind of pragmatists that are trying to defend the Jewish state.

HEVER: Well, that argument was made over and over, even before the state of Israel was created. It was made in the ’20s and ’30s when Zionists were trying to think how they can achieve a Jewish state without a Jewish majority; and also in ’48 they were talking about it. The Nakba, the mass deportation of Palestinian refugees, was also part of that idea how to be able to avoid an open dictatorship of a minority over a majority. The only way they thought of doing that is ethnic cleansing. And in ’67 the arguments were made again. Olmert is merely restating what was said many, many times.

JAY: But he wasn’t arguing for more�I mean, in a sense you could say ethnic cleansing, ’cause it might lead to that, but he was saying there has to be a Palestinian state, or eventually the world’s going to say, Israel, you have to give them a vote�either a vote or give them a state. That argument seems to�not being heard very much right now. I mean, there seems to be no interest, at least on the part of the current Israeli government, that�any serious conversation about two states.

HEVER: First of all, demographically, Jews are currently a minority in the area that they control. So this is something new, actually. This is exactly that kind of demographic reality that people warned about. It’s the reality now. Jews are 49 percent of the population of the area controlled by Israel. So the only way that Israel can call itself a democracy is to redefine its borders or incorporate all the Palestinian people as equal citizens. What Olmert said is indeed not said openly very much in government, and he only said that because he was already on his way out. And that’s not because what he said is unthinkable to Israelis. It is very thinkable. It’s because what he said is not deemed a very loyal thing to say, because Israelis would say, would often argue, this kind of argument should be kept quiet, should be kept under the table; we have our own demographic aspirations, but the world will never understand them.

JAY: I’m told here that even Netanyahu, for even talking about settlement freezes, is being called a left-winger and is capitulating to American pressure. I mean, is this where they’ve kind of let loose very rabid forces, that they can’t even carry on a pragmatic discourse?

HEVER: Of course. These so-called “rabid forces” have been part of Zionism always, not just�.

JAY: Do they have a kind of upper hand now that they didn’t have before?

HEVER: They did grow more and more powerful with the settlement movement, because the settlement movement was a location where the government suspended its own laws. Colonists were not subject to the same laws as Israeli citizens. And that, of course, gave them a sense of Wild West mentality, if you will, of empowerment far beyond most Israeli citizens. They were�they knew that they could go to the next Palestinian village, beat people up, destroy property, even kill people, go back, and there will be no file opened against them in the police. So they have this certainty, and that makes people act in an extreme way, of course. And at some point, of course, that kind of lawlessness is applied to the Israeli government as well. So that creates a sense of disintegration of the rule of law. Of course, the government has the ability to change the situation�or not the government. Let’s say the elites. The government does not really control the situation completely. But if there would be a consensus amongst the leading forces in Israel that a new policy is needed, they could change things. But they are locked in a political paralysis where ministers often say the siege on Gaza is not useful, and they say, we’re not going to topple Hamas by not letting children in Gaza eat chocolate; that’s not useful for us; it only makes us look bad. But when the cameras are on them, they say, if Hamas is throwing rockets at us, we have to respond a hundredfold, and we will destroy 100 houses in Gaza for every house that is damaged by their rockets. And so they’re trapped within this rhetoric, because they know if they make a kind of rational argument, they will be voted out.

JAY: Can one imagine a Lieberman type as prime minister?

HEVER: When I was 16, Netanyahu won the election for the first time as prime minister, and that created a kind of shock. A lot of people from the upper classes, the educated classes, thought that he’s really not prime minister material, or his rhetoric is very violent and very crude, and they were starting to say, you know, this country’s going to hell, and if Ariel Sharon would ever become prime minister, we have to leave. There are tens of thousands of people, I think, who said if Ariel Sharon would ever become prime minister, we’ll have to leave. Ariel Sharon did become prime minister, and they didn’t leave, because in a way the process of deterioration of democratic values and liberal values is a gradual process.

JAY: The frog in the boiling water scenario.

HEVER: The frog in the boiling water is a very good analogy.

JAY: Well, the frog in the boiling water in Germany led to a Hitler.

HEVER: Yeah. A lot of the rhetoric used by Lieberman, but not just by Lieberman, also even the Labor Party, is an ethnic, racial rhetoric that talks about the Palestinians as not belonging to our space. Even Ehud Barak, who was supposed to be a leftist leader�of course, he’s not�his rhetoric was: us here, them there. His idea of peace was the Wall of Separation.

JAY: Are the elites concerned that this gets to a point, which maybe we’re seeing the hint of, now, in the recent spat with Obama and Netanyahu, that the Israeli rhetoric becomes so overt that it really does come in conflict with American interest in the region, and there starts to be a real divergence between American national interest and Israeli national interest?

HEVER: I think there is a genuine concern about that. But I think people would be wiser to be concerned not about the United States shifting its allegiance, but about the boycott movement against Israel and about European countries changing their allegiance, because Obama�I really don’t know what’s his intentions and what’s his perspective of the issue, but he’s still commanding a country that is completely committed to Israel, and as he’s talking about putting pressure on Israel, at the same time he gives Israel weapons to the tune of $3 billion every year.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the boycott movement and how much effect that’s having on the Israeli economy and what it’s future might be. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Shir Hever.

End of Transcript

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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.