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2013-10-04

Max Blumenthal on "Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel"

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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing a public campaign to cast doubt on U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran, we speak to journalist Max Blumenthal, author of the new book, "Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel." Blumenthal looks at life inside Netanyahu’s Israel and the Occupied Territories. "I was most surprised at the banality of the racism and violence that I witnessed and how it’s so widely tolerated because it’s so common," says Blumenthal about his four years of reporting in Israel. "And I’m most surprised that it hasn’t made its way to the American public ... that’s why I set out to do this endeavor, this journalistic endeavor, to paint this intimate portrait of Israeli society for Americans who don’t see what it really is." Click here to watch Part 2 of his interview.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show with Israel. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing a public campaign to cast doubt on diplomatic engagement with Iran. Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu accused new Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani of deceiving the world about Iran’s nuclear program.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing; Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes—the wool over the eyes of the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by journalist Max Blumenthal, best-selling author of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. His new book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

Max, welcome back to Democracy Now!

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Great to be back.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you first respond to Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Israel, the government’s response to the openings between the United States and Iran?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, with my book, what I really aim to do is—this is a culmination of four years of my reporting from inside Israel-Palestine, from inside Netanyahu’s Israel. He came to power in 2009 at the helm of the most right-wing government in Israeli history. And he’s kind of occupying the center in Israel. He markets himself to Israelis as—you know, he appears in my book as the salesman, and he markets himself as a man who can go to the U.S. and market a lemon, who can sell a lemon to the American public, because he speaks English perfectly, he was educated at MIT, he worked at Boston Consulting with Mitt Romney.

And here he’s returned to the U.S. to sell the Israeli position to an American public that wants diplomacy, that welcomed Barack Obama’s historic phone call with Hassan Rouhani. And Obama has been forced to sit with Netanyahu for 2.5 hours in the White House, during a government shutdown, to hear Netanyahu’s complaints and lecturing. He’s effectively become the Bibi-sitter, meeting with Netanyahu more times than any foreign leader, the head of this country the size of New Jersey. And so, Netanyahu really looks kind of desperate and diminished at the U.N., and he’s—but, I mean, he loves these animal metaphors. And he has concocted this very belligerent and stentorian speech that really would maybe appeal to elderly evangelicals or an AIPAC crowd, but it’s not resonating with the American public.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in an interview on Tuesday with CBS News’s Charlie Rose, Netanyahu diminished the significance of Jewish settlements that many see as an obstacle to peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.

CHARLIE ROSE: I don’t understand why you think building settlements in—

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Now let me talk to you.

CHARLIE ROSE: —East Jerusalem is necessary—

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Now let me tell you something. First of all, what—

CHARLIE ROSE: —to find a solution—

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Let me—let me tell you something.

CHARLIE ROSE: —when the world believes it stands in the way of a solution.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Yeah, well, the world believes a lot of things, but the world doesn’t get it. And here’s what they don’t get.

CHARLIE ROSE: I think the American president believes that.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, let me—let me tell you what I think is the issue, and then you can judge whether you agree with me or not, and the same thing I say to everyone in the world. The settlements in the territories are not the cause of the conflict. They’re—they’re—

CHARLIE ROSE: Nobody says that. But they are—

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: It’s the result.

CHARLIE ROSE: —stand in the way of a solution.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: But—but here’s the way you get a solution. They don’t stand in the way, either. Ninety percent of the Jewish population is clustered in the—in Judea, Samaria, the West Bank, is clustered in a tiny fraction of that land. It’s not an issue. It’s a bogus issue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Max Blumenthal, a "bogus issue"? "The world doesn’t get it"?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, a lot of Jewish Israelis believe that, and they might cheer Netanyahu for saying that. A majority of Jewish Israelis are against massive pullouts from the West Bank, and so this is also part of Netanyahu’s appeal. And we also have to recognize—you know, I went into the Knesset, and in my book I interviewed a lot of the rising stars in Netanyahu’s party. These are—

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get this exclusive access?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I called. And, you know, it’s not particularly difficult. They want—Israeli politicians want PR. And this younger generation feels like the more pro-settlement they can be, the more extreme they can be, the more votes they get. And so, the younger generation in Netanyahu’s party, the future of Likud, favors annexing 60 percent of the West Bank. So does his economy minister, Naftali Bennett. This is the future of Israeli politics. And that’s what is really appearing in the pages of my book, Goliath.

AMY GOODMAN: How important is U.S. aid to Israel? What is the state of Israel’s economy right now?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, Israel’s strategic deterrence is completely contingent on its direct line to Washington. That’s partly why Netanyahu is there. As I said, he’s the salesman. And, you know, I went into Netanyahu’s early writings, when he was just emerging on the world stage, in my book, and I dissect them, and I talk about how he says that, you know, "It doesn’t matter if your position is just; you have to depict your position as just." He actually understands that Israel is committing human rights crimes in the West Bank, but he is completely focused on the West, and the world does matter to him.

So, it’s interesting to see him come here and actually face a little bit of tough questioning and see him kind of—you can see the desperation on his face. I don’t think this is helping Netanyahu. But ultimately, it does help the right-wingers in his party, who are to Netanyahu’s right, like Danny Danon or like Naftali Bennett, who have said, "We don’t need the peace process. It’s over. It’s a failed—we don’t even need to talk to the Palestinians. Let’s annex 60 percent of the West Bank and give them Jordanian citizenship." And that’s getting more and more popularity in Israeli society.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You spend a lot of time in your book talking about the transformation of Israeli society and the growth of intolerance among the young—the young people, their attitudes towards—not only to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but Arabs within their own country and Africans, as well. Could you elaborate?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I devote a lot of my book—actually, most of my book—to what’s happening behind the Green Line, to the area of Israel that will be legitimized under a two-state solution. And there is an active process in Israel of actually kind of moving the occupation back into Israeli society. I talk about how I lived in Jaffa, which is one of the—you know, the remnant of the Palestinian community before 1948, which has now been incorporated into the Tel Aviv municipality. And a religious nationalist settlement has been built in the center of this Palestinian-Israeli area, creating an enormous amount of friction. My favorite restaurant in my neighborhood was firebombed by hoodlums from the West Bank. Homes have been attacked by hoodlums from the West Bank. And—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "hoodlums"?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I mean religious nationalist settler youth who stage marches through this neighborhood, provocative marches, chanting "Jaffa for Jews!" And when I was there, they were doing so almost on a weekly basis. This is occurring in Jerusalem, not just weekly, but even daily. And then you look at the polls, you look at the attitudes of Israeli youth. According to a poll by Camille Fuchs, who’s one of the most reputable pollsters in Israeli society, a majority of secular Israeli youth, high-schoolers, say that they would refuse to have an Arab neighbor. A majority of Tel Aviv residents favor the total expulsion of African migrants from Tel Aviv. Forty-eight percent of Israelis, according to a Ynet poll, which is a poll conducted by Israel’s most popular newspaper, favor—are in support of settler price tag attacks—in other words, settler terrorism. A majority of Israelis—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "price tag attacks"?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Price tag attacks are basically vigilante attacks carried out by settlers against the Palestinian population in the West Bank. And whenever a settler outpost is demolished, there will be a retaliatory attack with graffiti on the Palestinian home that says "price tag." Only 33 percent of Israelis in this poll oppose that. A majority of Israelis in another poll agreed with the statement by Miri Regev, who’s a rising star in the Likud party, that Africans are a cancer in Israel’s body. So this is the kind of racism coursing through the heart of Israeli society, and it’s encouraged from the—by the central institutions of Israeli society.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’ve also talked about the ethnic cleansing policies of Netanyahu with the Bedouins.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about that, as well?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, there are 80,000 Bedouins living in the Negev desert who are Israeli citizens, who serve in the Israeli army. They live in unrecognized communities. Because they’re not Jewish, they can’t hook up to the electricity grid, they can’t get public services, they can’t have health clinics. And now, under a new plan called the Prawer Plan, which was just approved in the Israeli Knesset, 40,000 of them will be removed from their homes, ethnically cleansed, and forced into communities where they’ll be "concentrated" — this is the government’s language, to "concentrate the Bedouin" — in these Indian reservation-style communities.

I just visited one of them, called Umm al-Hieran , when I was in the Negev two weeks ago. Almost every building in this community has been marked for demolition. It is a real town. I mean, when you think of Bedouins, you think of nomadic people. No, these are people who have been there before the state of Israel was established, and they will be replaced by a Jewish community that had gone in the night before I was there to stake out plots and decide where they would live. And they’re living in an artificial forest created by the Jewish National Fund in a barb-wire compound, preparing to take over. This is the plan for the Negev desert under Netanyahu, and it’s been approved across the political spectrum in Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve spent a lot of time also talking to Palestinian leaders and youth, both in the Occupied Territories but also within Israel. Talk about that.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, the situation for them is incredibly complicated, because they sit atop the totem pole of Palestinian society, but at the same time there is a program of official discrimination within Israeli society. Their schools are monitored by the Shin Bet. They can’t be taught the Palestinian narrative of 1948—a new law passed in the Knesset. I interviewed its author. He’s a 28-year-old immigrant from Moscow who doesn’t even speak Hebrew very well named Alex Miller. The Nakba law actually penalizes Palestinian NGOs who participate in observation—in observances of the Palestinian dispossession in 1948.

And so, throughout my book, I’m interviewing young Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are just as educated as I am and who are really feeling like they don’t have a place in Israel. I interviewed two young tech workers. You always hear about Israel as the startup nation. And they work in Haifa in the tech sector, and they’ve both been interrogated by the Shin Bet, and they don’t know why. And one of them made a really depressing comment to me. He said, "I wish sometimes I could stop being an Arab and start just being a guy." And that’s an attitude I hear a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: We have less than a minute. What were you most surprised by in your research for your book Goliath?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I was most surprised at the banality of the racism and violence that I witnessed and how it’s so—it’s so widely tolerated, because it’s so common. And I’m most surprised that, you know, in my reporting on this, it hasn’t made its way to the American public. And so, that’s why I did this book. When we hear about this kind of daily violence, you don’t read about it on the pages of The New York Times. And I really asked myself why, and that’s why I set out to do this endeavor, this journalistic endeavor, to paint this intimate portrait of Israeli society for Americans who don’t see what it really is.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to end the conversation now, but we’ll do part two and post it at democracynow.org. Max Blumenthal, award-winning journalist, best-selling author, his latest book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

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