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Israeli Peace Demo Violently Disrupted, Dozens Injured as Counter-Protesters Yell “Death to Arabs”

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Image Credit: Khulud Khamis

We look at the increasingly dangerous political climate inside Israel where several peace protests have recently come under attack. On Saturday, right-wing activists burned a Palestinian flag, chanted racial slurs and threw stones at an antiwar protest in Haifa of Arabs and Israelis opposed to the bombardment of Gaza. Haifa’s deputy mayor, Dr. Suhail Assad, and his son were beaten. On Sunday, the captain of a youth soccer team in Be’er Sheva wrote on his Facebook page: “send left-wing voters to the gas chambers and clean this country of leftists.” The week before the Gaza invasion began, gangs were reportedly seen roaming the streets of Jerusalem and other towns shouting, “Death to Arabs!” We go to Israel to speak with Rann Bar-On, an Israeli peace activist and Duke University mathematics lecturer, who took part in Saturday’s Haifa protest. And we are joined by Max Blumenthal, senior writer for AlterNet.org and best-selling author whose latest book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” documents the spread of right-wing Israeli extremism.

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

AARON MATÉ: We look now at the political climate inside Israel in which the violence in Gaza has been escalating. Several peace protesters inside Israel have been attacked in recent demonstrations. On Saturday, Haifa’s deputy mayor, Dr. Suhail Assad, and his son were beaten when right-wing activists attacked antiwar demonstrators protesting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Right-wing activists burned a Palestinian flag and shouted “Death to Arabs!” On Sunday, the captain of a youth soccer team in Be’er Sheva wrote on his Facebook page, quote, “send left-wing voters to the gas chambers and clean this country of leftists.” For the week before the Gaza invasion began, gangs of Israelis were reportedly roaming the streets of Jerusalem and other towns shouting “Death to Arabs!”

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to two guests. Rann Bar-On is an Israeli peace activist who participated in Saturday’s protest in Haifa. He is a lecturer in mathematics here in the United States at Duke University. He has been in Haifa visiting his parents for the last two weeks. And Max Blumenthal is with us, senior writer for AlterNet.org, best-selling author. His recent book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s start in Haifa. I want to start by asking you, Rann Bar-On, what happened in this peace demonstration?

RANN BAR-ON: Hi, Amy. We were about three or four hundred left-wing activists demonstrating against the war, for peace between Arabs and Jews, refusing to be enemies. As we arrived, my partner and I saw well over a thousand activists from—militant activists from the right, surrounded by police and others, screaming, “Death to Arabs! Death to leftists!” As we were protesting, they moved towards us. The police allowed them to move towards us. The police allowed them to attack us, to throw stones at us. Later on, as we were trying to leave, the police took—the police did not attempt to allow us to leave. They took over an hour to evacuate us while we were under heavy attack by stones and other missiles. Many were injured. We’ve had over 30 injured. Two women are still in hospital. There were gangs roaming the streets, beating up anyone they thought was an Arab or member of our demonstration. The police were—

AMY GOODMAN: Rann Bar-On, can you explain why you went out into the streets to protest?

RANN BAR-ON: Absolutely. I believe that what Israel is doing in Gaza is a racist attack. It is not self-defense in any way. And it is a continuation of Israeli policy that has always discriminated against the Arab population. What happened to us at the protest is not new. This is something that is a trend that has been continuing for many years. There has been much incitement from the political class that has allowed even so-called moderate right-wingers to join cries saying, “Death to Arabs! Death to leftists!” and attacking activists and Arabs in the street.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Rann, on that point, I want to turn to Max Blumenthal in D.C. Max, your book, Goliath, was pretty much a warning about this rise of a racist, fascist culture inside Israel. Put this incitement in that wider context.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I guess I hate being vindicated for the facts that I produced in this book, that I described in this book, the facts on the ground inside Israeli society. And what we saw in Haifa, what I understand, is that these right-wingers who attacked Rann and other leftists, who are heavily demonized in Israeli society, incited against at the highest level by figures like the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that these right-wingers arrived in buses, that this was a very organized attack. It’s apparent to me that extreme right-wing elements have infiltrated the police, which have allowed them to attack leftists across Israel, to attack antiwar protesters. They’ve infiltrated them much in the way that Golden Dawn has done in Greece.

The right wing, the current inception of the street-level right wing, which kind of acts as the street muscle for Netanyahu’s governing coalition, particularly the right-wing elements represented by Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, they are not just settlers or religious nationalists. Many of them were army reservists, who came together as part of the orange cells that protested the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2006. They formed a group called Im Tirtzu, which intimidates leftists and Palestinians on college campuses across Israel. And they are still a major part of the army, including the army officer corps. So the violence that we’re seeing in Gaza is not just related to a particular military strategy; it’s also influenced by the ideology that has captured the hearts and minds of these young men who have learned to demonize the other and see Palestinians and antiwar and human rights elements as absolutely subhuman. It’s playing out unofficially through a vigilante campaign in Israel, but in Gaza what we’re witnessing is the official revenge campaign orchestrated by Netanyahu and the military.

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Max Blumenthal: With “Hollow Diplomacy,” U.S. Created Political Space for Israeli Assault on Gaza

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