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“The IDF Should Not Exist”: Meet Meital Yaniv, Former Israeli Soldier Turned Anti-Zionist Organizer

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We speak with anti-Zionist organizer and former IDF soldier from Tel Aviv Meital Yaniv, who joined hundreds of Jewish activists and their allies to shut down the California state Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and condemn the roughly $600 million in California taxes that is used annually for U.S. military aid to Israel. Yaniv recalls how they were raised “extremely Zionistic,” their experience in the Israeli Air Force and eventual turn to fight for Palestinian rights. “What Israel is doing right now has nothing to do with antisemitism. What Israel is doing right now is a genocide. What Israel has been doing for the past 75 years is apartheid, is occupation,” Yaniv says. “There is no need for any one of us to serve in the IDF. The IDF should not exist. The state of Israel should not exist.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We continue our coverage of Gaza as we turn now to California, where hundreds of Jewish activists and their allies shut down the California state Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday during its first floor session of the new year, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

PROTESTER: [echoed by the people’s mic] Repeat after me: We shut down the first session of the California state Legislature today.

AMY GOODMAN: As chants rang out, the activists dropped banners that read “No U.S. Funding for Israel’s Genocide in Palestine.” Another banner noted California taxpayers contribute some $600 million to U.S. military aid to Israel each year. The direct action was organized by Jewish Voices for Peace, IfNotNow and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, among others.

One of the protesters was a former Israeli IDF soldier, an Israeli Defense Force soldier, who will join us in a minute from San Francisco. This is Meital Yaniv addressing their fellow demonstrators.

MEITAL YANIV: My elders, state, family had meticulously taught me how to recognize genocide from infancy, how naked bodies get rounded up for torture and execution, how mass graves smell, how starvation and hate shakes a body, how ethnic cleansing martyred entire lineages and buries the wisdom of the land caretakers. The black-and-white images are now in color. The stories are live. And in this cycle we don’t need gas chambers, because we have U.S.-made bombs.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Meital Yaniv addressing Wednesday’s protest that shut down the California state Assembly, an organizer organizer with Shoresh, a new Israeli anti-Zionist group based in the U.S. They were born in Tel Aviv. They’re a former IDF soldier, which they write about in their new book, bloodlines.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Meital. Can you talk about why you’ve decided to take this stand? And talk about what you did as an Israeli soldier, and your change of heart.

MEITAL YANIV: Yes. Thank you, Amy, for having me, and thank you for the work that you do.

So, I was raised in a very, I would say, extremely Zionist family, but also very common way of being raised in Israel. I have a lot of war heroes in my family, fallen soldiers, Lehi quarters, Air Force commanders and the like, Mossad agents. And as the child of my father, I was recruited into the Air Force.

And after six months of serving, my base was moved from Tel Aviv to the south. This was 2002. And I was asked to send planes to fuel planes that were going into Gaza to bomb Gaza. At that time, I didn’t have the language to understand exactly what’s happening. But as we returned to the base, I had my first panic attack and couldn’t enter the base, and the next day had to come and stand trial, and I was grounded to the base for three weeks. And in those three weeks, I understand that I have to leave the army, and that knowing in that moment made me want to take my life, because it was so against everything I was taught.

And that started a process that I will be in for the rest of my life, which is the undoing of that indoctrination and that brainwashing and the way that the Israeli identity has been merged with the Zionist identity. And what I’m doing with bloodlines and the prayer that is bloodlines is to really bring the Israeli identity and Israeli state to a loving and caring death for the liberation of the land of Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: What year was that? What year did you bomb Gaza?

MEITAL YANIV: 2002.

AMY GOODMAN: So, 2002, we’re talking about 20 years. And you were in a very elite group, the Israeli Air Force. Talk about that. There are actually a number of dissenters within that, for example, the well-known resister Yonatan Shapira, and others. And what it means for you now to speak out, and how much support you have publicly in Israel, and maybe privately, people who are afraid to speak out?

MEITAL YANIV: Yeah. My need to leave the army at the time really came from — like, my body said no. And it was an elite situation. Like, we all want to be in the Air Force, for different reasons. We’re also 18-year-olds that, at the time, you know, we feel like that the Air Force has better conditions. And it is considered a perk. And leaving the army was — at that time felt an impossible decision, and also there was no other decision in my body, so I had to follow that.

And in terms of being heard, I am trying to be heard as loudly as I can, because I do think that the only thing that is really unique about my experience is that I was raised extremely Zionistic and have walked here to the very other shore. And I remember each step. And from that place, I can compassionately relate to where everyone is at. But to reach voices inside Israel is extremely hard. I’m grateful to be a member of Shoresh. And that is kind of like the work that we’re trying to do here, is really find ways to be heard here and there. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I should be more specific. As a former IDF soldier, you were responsible for assigning planes that the Israeli Air Force sent to refuel the other planes that were bombing Gaza?

MEITAL YANIV: Yes. So, I was —

AMY GOODMAN: That was your job.

MEITAL YANIV: Yeah, my job was to send, basically, fuel planes —

AMY GOODMAN: But you didn’t actually fly those planes.

MEITAL YANIV: — that were fueling the F-16, I’m assuming. No, no, I was on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about the equation that some critics, pro-Israel advocates make of being anti-Zionist with being antisemitic?

MEITAL YANIV: Yeah. I think the issue here, you know, I was raised extremely Israeli, which also meant that I wasn’t raised very Jewish, which is also a very common thing. The way that the assimilation into Israeli identity happened within my lineages was to really, like, remove the Jewishness and really become this like tzabar heroic IDF soldier identity. And from that place, it — it’s almost impossible from that place to — sorry, Amy, can you repeat your question?

AMY GOODMAN: I was just saying the — if you can comment on those who say to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic?

MEITAL YANIV: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. Yeah, from that merging, you know, the Zionist identity, a part of that propaganda is to really hold it within the cage of antisemitism. Like, every time that we criticize Israel, someone can say you’re antisemitic. But in reality, there’s nothing antisemitic about criticizing Israel. The merging of Israel with Judaism is something that Israel would like us to hold as a way to protect itself. But in reality, antisemitism is a very specific thing, that we are not causing it, and we will not undo it. And the only thing we can do is to continue to resist it.

And at the same time, what Israel is doing right now has nothing to do with antisemitism. What Israel is doing right now is a genocide. What Israel has been doing for the past 75 years is apartheid, is occupation. The techniques that are being used in the West Bank are clearly apartheid techniques that have nothing to do with antisemitism. So, criticizing that, walking in streets that are only for Israelis, that Palestinians are not able to walk on, in Hebron, there’s nothing antisemitic about criticizing that. Like, that is something that we are doing as Israelis.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about how you are informed by your — by the fact that you’re a descendant of Holocaust survivors?

MEITAL YANIV: Yeah, and that is really something that I think has really formed my identity. And that is something also that I think really helps with the undoing of it all, because I really feel that that trauma seed really started there. And that is something that I’m also trying to do in bloodline, where I start with the story of my great-grandma, telling their story of survival, because in that story of survival, there’s also the need to escape and, in that need, the need to assimilate into a new identity of a colonizer of a settler colony. And in the doing of that, there wasn’t a moment of care, to take care of what just happened in their bodies. And that became a need to arm ourselves. I mean, I feel like I see it as a fear of annihilation, also an extreme form of victimhood, that is in our bodies. And from that place, it’s always been very, very hard when I see my elders to release the arms and to really tend to that original trauma and seed of the Holocaust.

AMY GOODMAN: Meital, as we wrap up, I wanted to ask you what message you have for young people, like Tal Mitnick, who is a refusenik, who’s refusing to be an Israeli soldier in the Occupied Territories, to these young people. And here you are in the United States shutting down the California Legislature. To the United States, your message?

MEITAL YANIV: My message is, first of all, for everyone who can, to just find their heart and to liberate themselves from this identity that we call an Israeli identity. And there is no need for any one of us to serve in the IDF. The IDF should not exist. The state of Israel should not exist. We can be free without it. We can have a true connection to our heart without that identity.

To the U.S. legislators in California, you know, the fact that we were even able to take a break while there’s a genocide happening is an impossible idea to hold. And in this moment, when you’re back from the break, we shut it down on one day, but now you really need to make decisions. And, you know, in the federal level, we are not being heard. So, please, ,I beg of you, make this stop, in whatever way you can.

AMY GOODMAN: Meital Yaniv, organizer with Shoresh, a new U.S.-based Israeli anti-Zionist group, born in Tel Aviv, former IDF soldier, descendant of Holocaust survivors. Their new book is titled bloodlines.

Next up, Ralph Nader on Gaza, on what’s happening today in the world, and his new book, The Rebellious CEO. Stay with us.

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