Israeli Leadership Fears Arab Popular Democracy
Michel Warschawski: I’m concerned that Israel will stage an attack on Gaza or Lebanon as a diversion
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Michel Warschawski, cofounder of the Alternative Information Center in Israel, also the author of the book On the Border, recently wrote the following: "Instead of crying about the ‘strategic asset’ that is now under question, [meaning,Egypt], it would be better if Israeli leaders adapted their policies to the new Middle East–not that of George W. Bush, but the Middle East of Tahrir Square." Now joining us from Israel is Michel Warschawski. Thanks for joining us, Michel.
MICHEL WARSCHAWSKI, FOUNDER, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Good evening.
JAY: So, Michel, elaborate on what you wrote. What is the attitude now of the Israeli leaders, and what might they be doing to deal with the new situation in the Middle East?
WARSCHAWSKI: I would say there are two [inaudible] reactions in Israel. First, underestimation of the importance of what’s happening, first of all, in Egypt, but not only in Egypt, in the whole Arab region. The Israeli leadership is much worried about what is happening, because there is a new actor which was never taken into consideration as an actor, meaning the Arab peoples, the Arab masses. As every government, the government knows how to deal with a government, with an army, in peace relations or in war relations. But this is something understandable. But when you have this factor of millions of people moving into the streets and having their own say and making their own deeds, this is something which is worrying any government, and certainly the Israeli government.
JAY: So, in other words, they’re more concerned about popular democracy than dictatorships they can trust.
WARSCHAWSKI: Yes, definitely. We can–one of the Israeli [inaudible] members said recently, with Mubarak we could talk business; with these masses, we don’t know how to talk. The second thing is that when we are speaking about Arab masses in a broader way, the Muslim masses, it is always perceived not only by the Israeli public opinion but by the Israeli ruling elites as a threat. The masses are a mob. The Arab masses are an entity motivated first of all and above all by their hate of Israel, though, as we could have seen, Israel was not a major topic in the mobilization, either in Tunisia or in Yemen or in Egypt.
JAY: It was barely even mentioned by the protesters [inaudible] only the slightest mention. How is the Israeli media dealing with that? That is, this did not look like a crowd of haters of Jews.
WARSCHAWSKI: Not at all. But then there is a second aspect of the Israeli mentality. How could they don’t speak about us? So there must be a trick somewhere. We must be a primary concern. They should love us, or at least hate us, but they cannot ignore us. The fact that Israel was definitely not front, central, or at all an element in the mass mobilization in the Arab world is something which destabilize somehow the Israeli media and Israeli public opinion.
JAY: Now, the class contradictions within Egypt are clearly what are–what were erupting. On the other hand, the military leadership, military dictatorship in Egypt seems firmly in control. So they more or less so far have Mubarak without Mubarak. Has that calmed Israeli leaders down?
WARSCHAWSKI: At least certain experts in the Israeli media definitely understood it and are trying to calm the worries in the Israeli elite and among the Israeli people, and to say the army is in control and we don’t have to be too much worried by military government, and elections will be in few months, we’ll see until then.
JAY: What do you make of the current situation in Egypt? They are your next-door neighbor. The–certain sections of the protest movement, at least, have said this wasn’t just about Mubarak, it was the whole idea of a military regime. Do they seem to have enough force to go further with this?
WARSCHAWSKI: I don’t know. Definitely the driving force of the millions of people who are right now mobilized is democracy, is freedom, is to get rid not only of Mr. Mubarak but of the whole system, and to give the possibility to the people to express itself in free press and in free elections.
JAY: So, Michel, do you think the fact that the Arab–Pan-Arab, if you like, protests have so little anti-Israeli character, at least so far, and that the economic situation for ordinary people or working people in Israel is not getting better, even though the economy’s growing and prices are going up and up, do you think we’re going to see more development of these kinds of contradictions within Israel than we might have seen in the past?
WARSCHAWSKI: What the Israeli government will try to do, in my opinion, is to create a diversion in order to keep stability inside and not to have a social explosion, on the one hand, but also to keep the Israeli military role in the area [snip] the problems now is for the Israeli government, what is happening with Iran. No one can foresee what would be the result of the mobilization, mass mobilizations, which are in Iran, too. But Iran was an easy target of the security propaganda, not for an Israeli operation (they are not stupid enough to attack Iran), but to make Iran the main threat in the area, and then to attack maybe Lebanon, maybe Gaza again, in order to humiliate the Iran leadership, but that the Israeli government will try to make a diversion and to use military force. There is no doubt this is his intention. For the time being, there is an American [inaudible] the American administration, whatever administration will be in Washington, doesn’t need today an Israeli troublemaker in addition to what is shaking the whole Middle East.
JAY: So, in other words, it would still play the objective, even if there’s a turning up, a ratcheting up of the propaganda heat, to subdue things in terms of the internal issues within Israel, to create a kind of nationalist fervor going.
WARSCHAWSKI: Yeah, nationalist fervor is important, and it will not be too difficult, because, as I said before, the Israeli public is much worried when Arab masses, or Muslim masses in a more general sense, are being actors in the street.
JAY: How realistic is this "threat", quote-unquote, as described by the Israeli leadership, that these popular movements will one–eventually be taken over by what they would call extreme Islamist elements?
WARSCHAWSKI: According to what I am reading, it is not at all the case in Egypt. First, in general, there is misuse of the concept of Islamism or Islam, political Islam. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt have nothing in common with al-Qaeda, which has nothing in common with the Islamic government in Turkey, which has nothing in common with Islam in Jordan or with Hamas, and certainly not with Hezbollah. These are a variety of political phenomena, very different from each other. Some are very conservative, some are very progressive. Some are very close, in fact, to the American order in the area, in term–in war with it. So–but in the eyes of the Israeli public [inaudible] and Muslim masses and the Arab masses among them are [inaudible] by definition [inaudible]
JAY: So it’s the same way this slogan about fighting the war on terrorism–Islam just becomes a kind of a symbol for the other, for the enemy.
WARSCHAWSKI: In fact, this is a made-in-Israel invention. It was Bibi Netanyahu, already in the late ’80s, invented the global threat, after the collapse of Soviet Union, the global threat. At the beginning it was international terrorism, then it became, gradually, Islamist terrorism, and now, and with the neoconservative ideology, it is Islam as a threat to the so-called Judeo-Christian civilization. And this oversimplistic division of the world between the civilized people defined as Judeo-Christian and the new barbarians, which are the whole Muslim world, is an old neoconservative philosophy and is a strategy for the neoconservative government in Israel, though the neoconservatives have been obliged with the White House because their policy of global war was a failure.
JAY: Is there any sign within Israel of a new kind of politics? We’re seeing some of that amongst the Palestinians rejecting the old leadership of Fatah and Hamas. You’re certainly seeing it on the streets of Egypt. Is there any sign of rejection of the old Israeli leadership and some kind of a new politics?
WARSCHAWSKI: Right now, no, there is no opposition, substantial opposition, neither in the Parliament, which is divided between the far right and the far, far right, with a Labor Party totally betrayed by Ehud Barak and totally marginalized after Barak has liquidated his own party. Kadima Party is the main opposition party but is totally divided internally and has no perspectives. And in the streets or in among the public, the situation is good enough, both on the level of security and on the economical and social level, that there is no reason to expect in the near future any kind of radicalization against the present policy.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Michel.
WARSCHAWSKI: You are welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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