Michel Warschawski on Israel’s Non-Existent Left
Michel Warschawski is a veteran Israeli activist who led the first solidarity group against the occupation of the Palestinian territories. He is a renowned author and journalist, and the founder of the Alternative Information Center, where he spoke to The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky in Jerusalem. In the interview, he spoke about why there is no real Left in Israel, and how the status quo ensures that pressure will have to come from the outside, and not from within, to end the occupation. He also discussed the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). Warschawski also said that as Israel’s colonial wars were lost to public opinion, it opened the door to both barbaric violence and radical compromise.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: Michel Warschawski is a well-known Israeli activist, author, and journalist. He was one of the leaders of the first Israeli solidarity group against the occupation of the Palestinian territories. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail for his activism in 1987. Shortly before, he founded the joint Israeli-Palestinian Alternative Information Center, where he spoke to The Real News in Jerusalem.
MICHEL WARSCHAWSKI, ACTIVIST, JOURNALIST, AND AUTHOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There’s no left–or, rather, there’s no real opposition to the colonialist policy. And I’m not saying the colonial state; I’m saying Israel’s colonial policies.
At most, there are moments in which a part or even a majority of the public’s opinion, what’s called the “peace camp”, feels that the government, which is right-wing, is taking the country in the direction of international isolation to a disastrous war; and then it is recruited, but not around its own values, but around the same values as the right. We saw it in the Lebanon war of 1982-1985, we saw it with the First Intifada, when the left’s discourse was patriotic and competing with the right’s patriotic discourse, and not on based on values. So both are loyal to that same idea, to the idea of Zionism, to its values, to the idea of a Jewish state above any other value, meaning you do support basic values like human rights and peace, etc., but above all that is the Jewish state, and you will bend all your other values to that idea.
Where did we see it most clearly? At Camp David in August 2000, when [Ehud] Barak returned from negotiations with [Yasser] Arafat and says, I offered him the most generous deal, etc., etc., but Arafat rejected it. The left takes a breath of relief. Now it no longer needs to be in conflict with the right. It can finally return to that national unity, in the stinking honey of the embrace with the right, to say, we’re finally together.
And even me, who never saves paper cutouts, I saved the papers from that weekend in mid-August 2000 of exactly that time when Barak returns. Amazing! It’s about 15 articles, interviews, where the left apologizes to the right. The left says, I’m sorry. The left says, together at last; we were wrong; don’t worry, we’ll never be apart again. All the articles, all the talking were about that, as if the left was forced to separate, and once again we’re together. “Together at Last”–that was Haaretz’s headline of the weekend edition of Haaretz, and you see a settler hugging a leftist, etc.
This is why I say there’s no left in Israel except the radical left that can only get together maybe 5,000 Jews–and Arabs, of course, but they don’t protest together anymore, which is another one of the changes in recent years.
From a security perspective, our situation has never been so good. There are no bombs. Personal security? No bombs. I remember when my daughter Dalila I would walk to school when there were suicide bombs. Everybody had cell phones. I think this is why we led in the field of cell phones in the world, so we can hear them say, I arrived, I’m there–three hundred metres’ walk. So personal security we have.
National security we have. The Arab League’s proposal is on the table. No nation is threatening us or even saying that it will threaten us.
Financially, we’re thriving, even if we’re slowly entering the global crisis now. But our economy is stronger than most European states.
In all senses, we’re a strong, thriving country with export and a high-tech market, various trades.
And on the international platform our situation is not terrible. It can change is three or five years. I don’t know.
But today, the lack of growth in the movement is a direct result of the lack of price to pay. People don’t protest because it’s not polite.
This is why I think the boycott [BDS] movement is the best thing in recent years, both because it unites, all over the world–it’s a strategic path that unites. And also because it’s flexible. As long as you’re not reading it like the scriptures from God, like what’s kosher BDS and what’s not, but whatever can put pressure on Israel, do it. Anything that can isolate Israel and strengthen the fear of isolation of the average Israeli citizen is worthwhile. After that, you can choose whatever, whether boycott all Israeli products or just academic boycott, cultural boycott.
In my mind, in BDS, boycott, divestment, and sanctions, the S is the most important. And because there’s no S that is strong enough, there are no international sanctions which would be applied by international bodies and countries, then the citizen comes in with the B.
TARACHANSKY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): So the struggle is no longer in Israel?
WARSCHAWSKI: It was never in Israel. I never thought–.
TARACHANSKY: So why were you in the Israeli left?
WARSCHAWSKI: I’ll explain what I’m trying to say, which is another one of the changes in recent years. The Vietnam War was won when public opinion turned against it–I mean American public opinion. The war in Algeria was won when in France things finally started to move. And the political parties, even the left ones, it took a lot of time to understand they’ve got nothing left to do in Algeria. Israel is the same.
But if it is true that the win comes from the change in public opinion in the colonial state, the one that initiates the war, the movement that comes from within is always, always the product of–it’s not something that is just created. vIt’s a product of pressure from outside.
TARACHANSKY: Where we are today is far closer to ethnic cleansing than to a place of compromise.
WARSCHAWSKI: When General Westmoreland said, we’ll return Vietnam to the Stone Age, it came at the same time as the rejection of the so-called moderate politics or of colonialism that is like–because all its barbarism has to come out, because it doesn’t work. And because it doesn’t work, it awakens both the extremist solution from the generals, the colonialists, the right wing, and public opinion that says, let’s stop with all this, it doesn’t work anymore. It always goes together.
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