Part two of our conversation with journalist Max Blumenthal on his new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. Blumenthal looks at life inside Israel and the Occupied Territories.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Max Blumenthal. his latest book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. The book before that, Max, was Republican Gomorrah. And as the Republicans shut down the government in Washington, I’m just wondering your thoughts, before we go back to Israel and the Occupied Territories.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, my book, Republican Gomorrah, really painted a picture of a minority party that was in deep decline. And we see, since I’ve written this book, the thesis of the book has been validated, that an extremist movement has taken over a party that previously had a liberal wing, that was a big-tent party, and absolutely shattered it. And so they’re in a—they’re engaged in a fighting retreat right now. Shutting down the government was kind of politically a disastrous move, but it’s really the only course for a party that’s—that’s in deep decline. That’s why they’re trying to strip voters of their right to vote across the country. That’s why they’ve gone to the states on the issue—on the culture war, on the issues like abortion, because they really have no national base. And so, in a lot of senses, the Republican Party, which is becoming, you know, the base of pro-Israel support, has shared values with Israel, because it also faces a demographic crisis.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, but you mention the Republican Party is the base of pro-Israel support and President Obama’s tense relationship with Netanyahu, but Netanyahu depends on Congress—not only the Republicans, but the Democrats, as well—to continue to validate unequivocal support of the United States for Israel’s policies.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, that’s why I was dying to see the Syria vote take place, because Obama had compelled AIPAC, the central arm of the Israel lobby, to actually come out in favor of this war that was overwhelmingly unpopular with Americans. And it exposed the Israel lobby as acting sort of on behalf of Netanyahu against the will of the American public. And, of course, the vote was canceled, so this rift wasn’t exposed. But we see—we can see the Republicanization of pro-Israel support in the recent Pew poll of Jewish attitudes, where 82 percent of evangelicals believe that Israel is the promised land, that it was given to the Jews by God. Only 16 percent of secular Jews believe this. And so there’s—so the future base of Israel, as long as it’s under the control of people like Netanyahu and those to his right, like Naftali Bennett, is the Bible Belt. That’s Israel’s safety belt, Christian Zionism. And so, this is a dynamic that’s really going to develop in American foreign policy and play out in the next presidential campaign.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the things that struck me about Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations—and I think you’ve mentioned it—is how much time he spent on Iran and how little time he spent dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this insistence that Israel will not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons, while not talking at all about Israel’s own nuclear arsenal.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Well, yeah, first of all, Israel has 250 nuclear warheads that are produced in Dimona at a place they officially refer to as a textile factory. Israel has several—
AMY GOODMAN: Which is a nuclear weapons factory?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Which is a nuclear weapons—they enrich uranium there. Israel has several Dolphin-class submarines given them by Germany as part of Holocaust reparations. The launching tubes have been retrofitted to launch nuclear weapons that can reach Iran from the Red Sea. Israel has a massive stock of weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons. It’s used bizarre experimental weapons, like dense inert metal explosives, on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. And this is really the secret of the Israel arms industry, is that they market their weapons, including these bizarre weapons, as field-tested. They’re one of the few countries that can do that. So, this is hypocrisy on Netanyahu’s part.
But then there’s the Iran issue, which you mentioned, Juan. He mentioned Iran 50 times in his speech. He mentioned Palestinians maybe five or six times and the word "peace" three times. He doesn’t want to talk about Palestinians. And over 2,000 new settlement units have been authorized, in religious nationalist settlements, outside the major settlement blocs in the West Bank since negotiations began, along with thousands of arrests of Palestinians. So Netanyahu is using Iran to whitewash what’s actually happening in Israeli-controlled territory. It’s what he’s always done. Actually, at AIPAC, in his speech at AIPAC in 2011, he didn’t mention Palestinians once, and this was an enormous PR coup for him. So, the question is, how can he be forced to talk about this issue? Clearly, the U.S., which has set this nine-month timetable for negotiations, is not forcing him to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the Israeli progressive forces, the Peace Camp?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Well, the Peace Camp is sort of—has faded. Their moment has gone, and they’re hanging on to a two-state delusion. And they are being exposed. The problem is they are well paid. They’re part of this peace process industry that never seems to go away. And as long as the two-state solution is—the hope of the two-state solution remains, they keep their paychecks.
But what I tried to do in my book, Goliath, is to talk about the Jewish Israelis who are engaging in acts of civil disobedience, who are, as the—as the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who tried to organize a movement of mass army refusal in Israel, said, "to organize mass insubordination." So I talk about the group Anarchists Against the Wall. I spent lots of time with them going in and out of the West Bank, watching how they operate at protests, using human-shielding tactics, visiting Palestinian children who had been arrested at night in the military courts, and just—
AMY GOODMAN: These are Israeli Jews.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: —and just bearing witness. And these are a small handful of Israeli Jews who have basically dedicated their lives to bearing witness and exposing the occupation and fighting it, literally with their hands. When Anarchists Against the Wall was born, it was in a Palestinian town that was facing mass demolitions and expropriation because of the construction of the separation wall. It was called Mas’ha. So these Israeli Jews just came and set up camp with Palestinians—they were invited there—and the popular struggle was born, this unarmed protest movement. And the first thing they did was attempt to tear down the separation wall with their bare hands. And Israeli Jews had their legs shot out, with live ammunition, standing beside Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the wall is.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The wall is the separation wall, which is the—which has expropriated over 100,000 acres of Palestinian land and really serves as sort of a demographic wall. It actually has no real security value. And so, the point of it is to accomplish what Netanyahu warned would be—to prevent what Netanyahu warned would be demographic spillover. It’s an incredibly racist and bizarre concept that is sort of unfamiliar, I think, to real democracies.
AMY GOODMAN: How tall is it?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: It’s enormously tall, and it extends for hundreds of kilometers across the West Bank. I think anyone who visits Israel-Palestine has to see it. But there’s not just that wall. The entire Gaza Strip is surrounded by walls and electric fencing. Netanyahu has authorized $360 million, cutting social spending, to build a wall against the border of Jordan. The entire border between Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria is mined. Netanyahu has just built a wall against the Sinai desert to prevent African migrants and asylum seekers, who are fleeing genocide, from getting to Israel. So almost all of the state of Israel, the Jewish state, is surrounded by walls. And one of Netanyahu’s advisers, Arnon Soffer, has proposed sea walls. They are covered by an iron dome, an anti-missile system provided by the U.S., by U.S. taxpayers. It sounds—it’s an absolute dystopian situation that fulfills the prophecy in the Book of Numbers, that the people of Israel will stand alone and not be reckoned among the nations.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m interested what kind of reception your book has gotten in the American media and whether there’s been much receptivity to the stuff that you’ve uncovered during your research in Israel.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: My book came out on October 1st, and so I’m going to do a book tour, and we’re going to see. It’s going to be pretty interesting. I’m doing a lot of cities. Actually starts in—right now it starts in Philadelphia at alma mater UPenn with Ian Lustick, who’s a political science professor at Penn who wrote a really fascinating piece calling for the end of the—you know, the two-state delusion and having a binational state. This is someone who, you know, comes out of—who doesn’t come out of the left. And so, I think it’s going to be an interesting tour. But right now, you know, I think that what the Jewish establishment wants to do and what pro-Israel groups want to do is ignore me. They want to ignore this narrative, and they want to ignore the real Israel. They want to ignore the facts on the ground and not talk about it, and keep focusing on this dream castle Israel, because it not only harms their political efforts, it harms them on a personal psychological level, because this goes to the very heart of their identity.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Oslo Accord—this is, what, the 20th anniversary—and what that means.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, I—I was there weeks after the 20th anniversary, in Ramallah, which is going to be, if there is a Palestinian state, the de facto capital. East Jerusalem is now off-limits to most Palestinians, which was supposed to be the capital. Sixty percent of the West Bank, it belongs to the Israeli military. There are massive demolitions being carried out in that part of the West Bank. The West Bank and Gaza are separated. Over 150,000 settlers, Jewish settlers, have been moved into the West Bank since the Oslo Accords, I think over 80,000 arrests of Palestinians.
And, you know, I hang out in Ramallah with friends that I made here in New York City, who are just like me, just as educated as me, come from the same background, same—just the same identity, except for one crucial fact: They’re not Jewish, they’re Palestinian. And so, when I’m in Ramallah, they’re asking me, "Can you, you know, sneak me in so I can see Tel Aviv, so I can see Jaffa, so I can see Haifa?" That’s the legacy of the Oslo Accords. And the Oslo Accords was born under the slogan of the Zionist left: "Us over here, them over there." It’s a segregationist slogan that recalls the Jim Crow era of the United States. And it came from the left of the Israeli spectrum, not the right.
AMY GOODMAN: In Goliath, the title, how did you choose it?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I chose it because of the biblical tale of David and Goliath, and also because my editors forced me to choose it. And I think it’s a good title, especially because my last book, Republican Gomorrah, has, you know, biblical resonances and begins with the letter G. But there’s an interesting quote in my book. There’s a person I quote in my book who is the first Jewish ambassador of the United Kingdom to Israel, Matthew Gould. And he went on Israeli TV, and he said, "You’re obsessed with these hasbara, or propaganda, efforts to explain your position to the world and to cover everything up. You have to recognize that Israel is now seen as the Goliath, and Palestinians are seen as the David. Cut the hasbara, the propaganda, out, and end the occupation. Maybe then you won’t be seen that way." And that’s the problem. That’s the problem with Netanyahu. It’s the problem in Israeli society. This occupation will not end as long as this current system is intact. And so, I think Goliath is the perfect title.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you think has been the impact of the convulsions sweeping the Arab world in the last couple of years on Israel?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: To some extent, I think they’ve benefited Israel, at least in their PR efforts, because, as I said, Netanyahu loves to change the subject to Iran, and now he can change the subject to Syria. And he can say, you know, "How can we give the Palestinians any level of freedom when you see what the Arabs are doing to each other and you see the level of violence?" I mean, it’s a very Orientalist, racist perspective, but it has a lot of cachet, not just in Israel but throughout the West—in the Europe and the United States. And also, Netanyahu has really sought to shift the strategic relationship with the U.S., which always has been based on kind of shared values, from two liberal democracies to two Fort Apaches on the front lines of civilization fighting the brown hordes. This is the post-9/11 U.S. and Netanyahu’s Israel. He warns about the "insatiable crocodile of militant Islam." And you see that—you see Islamism rearing its head in Egypt and Syria. And so, this works perfectly into Netanyahu’s hands.
Another way it works is the strategy of Lebanonization. Israel depends on a weak Arab world, and Syria is being fragmented. It’s being Lebanonized. And so, Israel would love to see Bashar Assad remain in power. They’ve always counted on him as kind of a backdoor ally, but weakened and constantly under attack.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with Netanyahu on NPR today, talking about nuclear weapons. NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed the Israeli prime minister on Morning Edition.
STEVE INSKEEP: People will ask, "Why can’t we have nuclear weapons, since Israel has them?" What is a reasonable answer to that question?
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, I’m not going to say what Israel has or doesn’t have, but I will say Israel has no designs to destroy anyone. We have not called for the destruction of a people, the annihilation of Iran or any other country. But that’s exactly what Iran’s doctrinaire, messianic, apocalyptic regime—it’s a terrorist regime. A terrorist regime bent on world domination, seeking to navigate their way cleverly to the point where they have awesome power, should not be allowed to achieve it.
STEVE INSKEEP: What’s the answer to that question about what people see as a double standard?
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, Israel—I think Israel is not the issue. And in general in the Middle East, the issue is not those who have signed the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty—
STEVE INSKEEP: People also ask why Israel hasn’t signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, you should look at those who signed it. See, the signing of it is meaningless, because Syria signed it. It was developing, you know, facilities for nuclear weapons. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, signed it. It was developing nuclear weapons—twice, actually—from the 1970s on. And Iran signed it, and it’s developing these nuclear weapons, developing ICBMs.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Morning Edition. Final comment?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Final comment is, you know, that—you know, in my book, I try to get past the geopolitics and talk about Netanyahu’s Israel, and it reveals the projections in his statement. He talks about wiping a country off the map. Well, where I lived in Jaffa, a nation had been wiped off the map where I jogged in an—it was to Tel Aviv, where these grassy dunes called Charles Clore Park, which used to be the Palestinian neighborhood of Manshia. So, the state of Israel has already done this. Netanyahu talks about militant, theocratic medievalists in Iran, but in his own country he has state-funded rabbis, like Dov Lior, who have urged human experimentation on Palestinian prisoners, or like Shmuel Eliyahu, the state-funded chief rabbi of Safed, who has called for a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. He has people like Yitzhak Shapira, the state-funded rabbi of the yeshiva in Yitzhar near Nablus on the West Bank, who published what is literally a manual for how and when to kill non-Jews. And when he was—when he was summoned to an interrogation by the Shin Bet, he didn’t show up, nothing happened, and Netanyahu said nothing. So this book is really about what’s happening in Netanyahu’s backyard. I don’t doubt a lot of things that are said about Iran, but let’s talk about what’s really happening inside Netanyahu’s country, because we’re funding it, $30 billion every 10 years. And Israel is the issue.