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Shir Hever questions Netanyahu’s maneuvers and effectiveness of his strategies in generating support for Israel in the United States and around the world

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In a Haaretz editorial this week titled Netanyahu’s anti-Iran campaign doesn’t consider disastrous effects on U.S. Jews it said that it’s important for Washington to know that many Israelis object to Netanyahu’s maneuvers. We must remind everyone over and over that Netanyahu isn’t Israel. As the U.S. begins to smooth relations with Iran over the recent nuclear deal the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is campaigning against the deal by addressing American Jews directly by video. He released this Tuesday. Let’s have a look. ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: It wasn’t long ago, certainly not that long ago, that the Jewish people were either incapable or unwilling to speak out in the face of mortal threats. And this had devastating consequences. I’ve been very clear. The days when the Jewish people could not or would not speak up for themselves, those days are over. PERIES: But what will be the consequences of this kind of maneuver on Israeli-American relations, as well as American Jewish community? Here to discuss all of this we have Shir Hever. Shir Hever is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization organization active in Jerusalem and in Beit Sahour. He’s joining us from Gottengen, Germany today. Thanks for joining us, Shir. SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: So Shir, this is pretty major for Haaretz to come out and in such a pointed way address what Netanyahu is up to. What’s your take? HEVER: Yeah, actually one of the Haaretz journalists called Netanyahu’s move emptying the emergency reserves. Because by making an appeal directly to U.S. Jews, Netanyahu is feeding directly into this Israel-first antisemitic slur against Jewish citizens of Israel, as if they are somehow agents against–sorry, the Jewish population of the United States as if they are somehow agents of Israel and not loyal U.S. citizens. Now of course, every person in the world can support whatever country they want and have whatever political opinion they want. And there’s nothing to keep U.S. Jews from being supportive or critical of Israel. But the assumption that somebody, just because of their Jewish identity, would automatically be a supporter of Israel, is in fact an assumption that directly feeds into antisemitic ideology. And Netanyahu has become a very dangerous factor in promoting antisemitism in the world. This has become almost the defining feature of his government, that he changed the previous policies of previous Israeli governments which were a bit more cautious, and just outright uses this cliché as if all the Jews of the world are somehow in a conspiracy to support Israel. When he came to Congress to give a talk against the deal with Iran, he declared that he’s not just coming as the prime minister of Israel, but as the representative of the whole Jewish people. Now, U.S. Jews have published a very big ad in the New York Times to make it clear that this is not so. He was never elected to represent the Jewish people around the world. He was only elected by those people in Israel who happened to have the right to vote, and that’s not everybody, even in Israel. PERIES: And in the Haaretz article, just making it so explicit that he doesn’t represent Israel is also in addition to this New York Times [inaud.] is also making it clear that that is the case. Why do you think the Haaretz newspaper has taken this editorial position? HEVER: Well, I think it’s a direct response to the text Netanyahu himself used. Because Netanyahu said, even the opposition agrees with me that the deal with Iran is wrong, and so on. That’s not exactly true. But it is true that the zionist parties in Israel are no real opposition to Netanyahu’s regime. And when he makes that claim as if there is no opposition in Israel, he’s basically saying Israel is not a democracy. And I think, today, becomes very painfully clear that Israel is indeed not a democracy. And there are also some new policies just from the last couple of weeks that really stress that point. Now, the Haaretz newspaper is still clinging to this idea that maybe this democracy can be salvaged. So when Netanyahu basically goes out to the world and says no, in Israel we’re all in one voice as if it’s a regime similar to what we see in neighboring countries, where the elections come up with 90 percent support to this candidate or the other, and they’re completely predictable, it actually happens to be the case in Israel as well these days that if you don’t toe the party line of the zionist movement, and the differences between the different zionist parties are almost invisible, then it really hardly matters who you’re going to vote for. You’re going to get Netanyahu as the prime minister, and the same policies. PERIES: And according to the Haaretz article they seem to be rather concerned about relations with the United States and relations with Jews in the United States. And makes it very explicit, again, that this does not represent Israel. Can you give us a little bit more detail in terms of what that relationship is like at the moment, and what kind of damage Netanyahu could be doing to that relationship? HEVER: Yeah. I think it’s very easy to fall into this trap and believe Netanyahu when he says that he’s really against a deal with Iran because it might threaten Israel. But anyone who understands Netanyahu’s political agenda understands that Netanyahu is concerned with domestic politics. Not with international politics. And he’s willing to burn any bridges and destroy Israel’s long-term relations with the United States, its biggest supporter, and other countries in order to fortify his own position within Israel, a position which is solely based on politics of fear and hate. A hate of people who are not Jewish. Fear of people who are not Jewish. And Iran is a scarecrow that Netanyahu keeps using even though very few people in Israel really believe that Iran is planning a nuclear attack against Israel. Never mind for Netanyahu. This is really important to fortify his position. Now, this does cause damage to Israel’s relationship with the United States, which may be a positive thing because the United States’s support of Israel is catastrophic to the politics in the region. Just today it has been revealed that the United States gives tax benefits to an organization that directly supports Jewish terrorists in Israel who commit murders against Palestinians. And then this organization that gives them, give these terrorists money and legal support is funded by donations which receive U.S. support. The donors don’t have to pay taxes on these donations. So this is something that does cause damage to these relations. But I think it’s very interesting to see Obama’s response. President Obama’s response to Netanyahu’s comments on this video, where he addressed the leaders of Jewish communities in the United States with the message that if the deal with Iran will fall through, then that could be dangerous to Israel. Now, that is something that is very interesting, and very worrying. Because Obama completely accepts this logic that Netanyahu is pushing forward as if Jews in the United States care only about the safety of Israel. And when Obama talks to them with this kind of message, he’s actually reinforcing these antisemitic stereotypes against Jews. And that’s something that I think is not a mistake that Obama made. I think it’s part of Obama’s strategy in addressing his relations with Israel, which has been from the beginning of Obama’s administration in which he exaggerates on purpose the influence that Israel has over the United States in order to put his own opposition, the Republican Party, in this uncomfortable situation that supporting Israel and supporting more aggressive U.S. policies in the Middle East also paints them as not patriotic enough because they’re actually putting Israel’s needs above the needs of the United States. And this may be good for the short-term political advantage of President Obama, but it is exactly, goes in the same direction that, of Netanyahu’s politics, of really putting in jeopardy all of the gains that were made by the world Jewish community in fighting antisemitism and gaining respect and equal status and human rights over the past decade. PERIES: Shir Hever, as always, thank you so much for joining us today. HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. 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.