Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu loves having U.S. politicians dance to his tune, whether it’s President Obama following his lead or members of Congress hopping up and down to applaud him. But this geopolitical line dance ignores Netanyahu’s stomping on the Palestinians, as Max Blumenthal tells Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an anti-Iranian tirade at the United Nations General Assembly, he received a warm welcome at the White House from President Barack Obama, who toughened his own language to get it more into sync with Netanyahu’s belligerence.
This pattern of Netanyahu trying to dictate U.S. policy toward Iran, including a possible military clash over its nuclear program, has been going on for years. Meanwhile, most U.S. politicians and journalists mute any criticism of Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians and other controversial practices.
One of the few journalists who won’t temper his criticism is Max Blumenthal, who has written extensively about Israel and the Palestinians, and specifically about Netanyahu, including in his latest book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
Blumenthal is a biting critic of what he calls Israeli apartheid toward the Palestinians and has reported on the harm that the illegal Israeli occupation continues to have on the Palestinian community. A former Daily Beast writer, Blumenthal is also the author of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. He was interviewed recently by Dennis J Bernstein on “Flashpoints.”
DB: Netanyahu is a little nervous about the new [U.S.] relationship and possible negotiations with Iran. Can you talk about what he’s been saying since he showed up in the U.S., and why he’s so jumpy about this new relationship?
MB: Netanyahu at the U.N. General Assembly delivered a typically hysterical speech which was significant because it was conducted in the wake of Barak Obama’s historic phone call with his Iranian counterpart, the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, a reformist who acknowledges the Holocaust and has brought a Jewish lawmaker from Iran to the U.S. to be interviewed on CNN with his delegation.
He is reversing the damage done by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was Netanyahu’s best friend and who is hated in the foreign policy establishment in Iran. Netanyahu likes to use animal metaphors. A few years ago he referred to the Iranian nuclear duck. He’s warned of the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam. This time he said Ahmadinejad is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, but Rouhani is a sheep in wolf’s clothing who is trying to pull the wool over our eyes so he can have his yellow cake and he eat it too.
He must have been in a mixed metaphor competition. He’s saying Iran is still the evil-doer, the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam. Rouhani, he says, is a nicer more western-friendly guy, but Israel still reserves the right to take unilateral military action, though it would prefer the U.S. to do so. He still wants tighter sanctions on Iran, and wants the U.S. to end its historical efforts at diplomacy with Iran. This is classic Netanyahu not taking his case to the Israeli public but to the American public.
He thought this speech would work well with the American public but it was a disaster. It revealed a very desperate and diminished figure. His speech showed his limitations, both politically and culturally. He talked about the Jewish people being an ancient people. There is some truth to it because the speech seemed aimed at a geriatric crowd of AIPAC activists and not at the American public, which welcomes this diplomacy with Iran.
In my book Goliath, I tried to get past the geopolitics. I did a lengthy profile of Netanyahu, presenting him as he really is and describing his long history in public relations and in the Likud party. I show who he really is and how he tried to advance this mythology of greater Israel and Israel’s place in the world. He has basically gotten away with it, possibly, until now.
DB: This contradiction drives me the most insane. In Israel, if I’m not overstating it, we have a nuclear renegade, not allowing anybody, anywhere, to see their nuclear weapons stock or chemical weapons – if they have them – I assume they do. The portrayal in the U.S. media is that Israel is restraining itself, doing its best not to bomb Iran. Maybe they need to nuclear bomb Iran to stop them from getting the nuclear bomb. This contradiction is so huge, and I’m still looking for Rachel Maddow to raise the issue.
MB: Rachel Maddow, instead of raising the issue, has praised sanctions on Iran and taken the Democratic Party line that sanctions on Iran led to the diplomacy with Iran, which is absolutely not only false, but destructive – it shows a lack of compassion for average Iranian people whose lives have been shattered by the sanctions. Israel, as you said, is the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons.
Israel has 250 nuclear warheads. Germany has given Israel at least six dolphin-class submarines with launching tubes specifically retrofitted to allow Israel to launch nuclear weapons from the Red Sea, potentially reaching Iran or even Europe. Germany did this as part of its reparations for the Holocaust, which is incredibly perverse.
Israel also has massive stocks of chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction. It refuses to submit itself to international atomic agency inspectors, and the U.S. never pressures Israel to do so. This is the stunning hypocrisy that Netanyahu represents at the podium at the U.N. General Assembly. The Iranian government quickly pointed this out – unlike Israel, Iran hasn’t attacked another country militarily and they don’t have nuclear weapons.
According to Israel and U.S. intelligence assessments, Iran may not have a nuclear weapons program in earnest. These are big problems for Netanyahu that are increasingly exposed. Netanyahu’s attitude is that with lies so big, no one is going to call you out on it. Almost Nixonian.
DB: Let’s talk about the book now. You refer to Netanyahu as a transferist (someone who favors expelling Palestinians from Israeli-controlled territory). What does that mean? Is it hyperbole? What is the documentation?
MB: That is a serious allegation, and I wouldn’t make it if I couldn’t prove it. I think it’s stunning that Netanyahu’s real history hasn’t been exposed in the U.S. My book may shock readers about how extreme he’s been and how far he’s gotten. Back in 1989 when the religious nationalist movement had ascended, but had not yet reached its power, Netanyahu was a junior minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir. Netanyahu was looking at China, and its Tiananmen Square demonstrations. The world was paying attention to Tiananmen Square.
Netanyahu, in a speech, said “Israel should have taken advantage of the suppression of demonstrations in China to carry out mass expulsions of Palestinians in the territories. However, to my regret, they did not support the policy I proposed and still propose should be implemented.” This quote has been buried, but perfectly explains Netanyahu’s attitude.
A transferist is somebody who favors the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, removing the indigenous population from their homes, to another location, specifically Jordan. But there is a silent transfer happening in the West Bank. In Area C, which is most of the West Bank, and which Israel controls, families are having their houses demolished and forced into Area A, which is a ghettoized bantustan, under the control of the Palestinian Authority. I was just in the West Bank and there were several demolitions in Area C outside occupied Hebron.
Netanyahu has been presiding over this since negotiations began with the Palestinian Authority. And Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly acknowledged that Israel will build more settlement units during negotiations – but the negotiations must go on. That’s why Netanyahu has said he’s committed to peace talks. He’s not committed to peace, but he’s committed to talks, because the longer he keeps talking, the Palestinian Authority is locked into this timeline so they can’t do anything – not that they would do anything – about the kinds of crimes that are being committed in the occupied territories. Netanyahu looks for diplomatic cover so Israel can continue its colonial project.
Another thing Netanyahu has attempted to focus the world’s attention on is Iran. He mentioned Iran dozens of times in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly. I think he mentioned Palestinians five times, and peace, I think three times. That is better than his speech at AIPAC in 2011 where he used the word Palestinians zero times. I talk about that speech in my book, how it was a public relations coup for Netanyahu.
He is the master of public relations. He’s been familiar with the U.S. media environment for decades. That’s one reason he is popular in Israel. To Israel, the term strategy is based on maintaining this direct line with Washington. I quote from his book, A Durable Peace, his 1993 manifesto, when he was emerging on the political and international scene, which also explains his mentality: “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the issue here is not just what kinds of pictures will flicker across the TV screen. I found over the years that occasionally one word can be worth 1,000 pictures, rather vice versa.”
He means words like occupation, or the expression homeless people, or Arab Land, or land for peace. He said that Israel needs to devote intellectual resources to framing the argument in a way that it doesn’t frame Israel. So Netanyahu, who is obsessed with public relations and reframing the discussion in Israel’s favor, knows these crimes are being committed. He is seeking any way to distract the world from it, and that’s another reason why he’s focused on Iran. He’s actually succeeded by getting the U.S. media to totally forget about the Palestinians and the negotiations, and to focus its own coverage on Israel and Iran.
DB: This book is so important because of the level of censorship that occurs in the U.S. corporate media, and a lot of the alternative media too, when it comes to telling the truth about the various aspects of illegal Israeli occupation. To be clear, based on Netanyahu’s own statement, he believes he is an active supporter of ethnic cleansing. I thought that is what people get prosecuted for in various international courts. It’s fairly shocking, and we can’t get all the liberals (so called) in the U.S. press, to talk about it.
MB: I’m having trouble getting alternative media to talk about it. It takes a lot of courage, even on the Left, to bring up this issue. I was just in Israel/Palestine, and visited the Negev desert, which is inside the green line, in Israel proper, in the part of Israel that would be legitimized in a two-state solution. There are about 80,000 indigenous Bedouins, living there in unrecognized villages and under the designs of the State of Israel. They are not allowed to be hooked up to the electricity grid, and they don’t have public schools or health clinics, because they are not Jewish.
Netanyahu has initiated a plan, supported across the spectrum, voted for in the Knesset by an array of parties that aren’t just right-wing parties, called the Prawer Plan, which will ethnically cleans 40,000 Bedouins off their land. I visited a fairly sizeable village called Uxmal Hiram, in the Negev Desert, and had most of its land taken by the state of Israel and it existed well before the formation of the state of Israel.
Most of its structures are marked for demolition and will be wiped off the map according to the plan. Its residents will be forced to live in what are known as development towns for the Bedouins, like the city of Rabat, built by the state of Israel. There is language on the government website about the Prawer plan to concentrate the Bedouin population. The word concentration has dark resonances in history.
Then I visited a small compound of Israeli Jews living in trailers nearby. They named their town Heron and went into the Bedouin village the day before to stake out the plots they wanted after the Bedouins’ leave. One of the community leaders explicitly told me that the Bedouins were the real occupiers because they were criminals – they were building illegal structures. The problem is that the Bedouins are not allowed to build legal structures. Because they are not Jewish in Israel, they are not able to get permits to build anything.
The Israeli government has an open plan, called the Prawer Plan, which is not being addressed by negotiations for a two-state solution. It will be the largest project of ethnic cleansing since 1948, when Israel expelled 750,000 indigenous Palestinians. It’s not being discussed in the U.S. media. It is completely swept under the rug.
One of the conditions for Palestinian Authority negotiation is that it must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, not just recognize Israel, but Israel as a Jewish state, which consolidates the discriminatory policies Israel has towards non-Jews. Imagine recognizing the U.S. as a white Christian state – no Jewish person would in the U.S. It means that if they agree to that, they legitimate the Prawer Plan and the ethnic cleansing that’s happening behind the green line.
I talk about this extensively in my book – what’s happening in the Negev Desert, a village called al-Akarib, where I recognized the third demolition of the Bedouin village, which Israel is trying to wipe off the map. At this point, the village has been demolished 54 times, and has won the world record for demolitions. They keep rebuilding their homes. They had their cemetery demolished, and they keep putting up their gravestones. Nobody is doing anything for them. Nobody is talking about them here, and I wrote my book to talk about the facts on the ground.
DB: This is one of the most, if not the most, censored subjects in the U.S. The liberal press is perhaps worse than the conservative press. We talked before about Rachel Maddow. Chris Matthews has a new book and will be on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Has NPR reached out to you yet? Morning Edition? Are any of these folks interested in this censored subject?
MB: I’m glad you asked that. In my last book tour for Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, I got books for Fresh Air and Terry Gross. I didn’t understand the significance of the show until my interview aired. She actually let me give my analysis uncensored on the Christian right and the Republican Party. Within five minutes of the show airing I went onto the Amazon page for my book and was number eight overall for books on Amazon. I was beating Glenn Beck, whose book was being bulk bought by conservative organizations.
People were eating it up, because they finally heard an analysis, even about the Republican Party, that had been sort of off-limits in the mainstream media. My publicist has tried to book me on Terry Gross again. If people hear my analysis, I think they are hungry to hear about my journalism and experiences. Terry Gross’s producer has flat out rejected it. I have not gotten onto any mainstream media.
DB: Do they say why they aren’t interested?
MB: I was asked to submit something by the New York Times op docs, a new section on the website that published short video documentaries. I am known for short video documentaries about the right wing in the U.S, and extremism in Israel. They solicited a video from me, and when I didn’t produce it in time, they called me for it, saying they wanted it. So I sent them a video I produced with my colleague, David Sheen, an Israeli journalist who is covering the situation of non-Jewish Africans in Israel more extensively than any journalist in the world.
We put together some shocking footage of pogroms against African communities in Tel Aviv, and interviews with human rights activists. I thought it was a well-done documentary about a situation very few Americans were familiar with. We included analysis. We tailored it to their style, and of course it was rejected without an explanation after being solicited. I sent it to some other major websites and they have not even responded t me, when they had often solicited articles from me in the past.
It is clear what is going on here. Luckily, the Nation magazine will show this documentary later this month, appearing with an excerpt from my book. There are some brave people out there who are willing to allow me to have an audience, but that’s what’s going on with this subject. There are so many great journalists who are doing such a better job than the mainstream correspondents posted in Jerusalem. Many of these journalists are Palestinian. Others, like Nora Barrows-Freedman, who works with the Electronic Intifada, are denied a mainstream audience. It’s not like you are attacked – it’s that you are denied an audience. There is a curtain of silence around this issue. What I am trying to do is break though that curtain.
DB: The book, certainly, and other work you are doing, are very significant in that regard. Every time there is a new manager here at KPFA, they get a visit from the Israeli consulate. Inevitably my name comes up because they are complaining about my bias. I am anti-Israel, and don’t give both sides of the story. Have you ever heard that?
MB: Of course, lack of balance. You must balance human rights with apartheid sometimes, Dennis, don’t you get it?
DB: I don’t get it. You point out that many world leaders, at least in private, have had a problem with Bibi Netanyahu. You have an interesting few quotes that come from the G-20 conference in 2011. Can you talk about what former [French] President Sarkozy and [U.S. President] Obama (who seems to love meeting with Netanyahu) said about meeting with the guy?
MB: This was a fascinating and overlooked episode that upset the Israeli embassy in the U.S. It upset Netanyahu and Sarkozy. They [Sarkozy and Obama] were caught on open mike at the G-20. Sarkozy said to Obama, “I can’t stand Netanyahu. He’s a complete liar.” Obama said, “You think you can’t stand him? I have to deal with him every day.”
Obama wasn’t exaggerating. He’s had to meet with Netanyahu more times than any other foreign leader. Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of a country with about seven million, compared to the U.K. which is an international power with a special relationship with the U.S. When Netanyahu’s father died, Benzion Netanyahu, Obama issued an effusive press release praising this character who had himself called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, made racist statement after racist statement about Arabs, calling them desert people who are primitive by nature.
When the father of David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the U.K. died, Obama issued no press release – nothing was said. It is clear what is going on here. He can’t stand him but must constantly meet with him. Netanyahu is back in the White House again to demand more sanctions against Iran from Obama.
This week, Obama must deploy endless resources, hours, to babysit Netanyahu. Obama should be called the Bibi sitter. This goes back to Netanyahu’s relationship with the press. You brought up the intimidation and pressure you get. Time magazine hired a good correspondent, Karl Vick, who I know from Israel, is one of the few decent correspondents out there. He did a story about Netanyahu and whether Israel wants peace. He said why Israel doesn’t want peace. Netanyahu has pretty clearly come out and said Israel doesn’t seek a comprehensive solution with the Palestinians. He says they need to keep the conflict at low ebb, to maintain the occupation and manage it.
Conflict management is Netanyahu’s open strategy. Karl Vick talked about that and how Tel Aviv is doing quite well, while Palestinians might be mired in increasing levels of misery. Why does Israel need a two-state solution if Tel Aviv is doing so well? Netanyahu’s people were furious about this article. I know from a source at Time magazine, that people at Time-Warner, the parent company of time, were furious about the article, and they exert a lot of pressure on Time because these are pro-Israel donors and they have big connections with Netanyahu.
So Time magazine sent its managing editor, Richard Stengel, in May 2012 to meet with Netanyahu. He arrived ready to relay a heavy dose of “Bibi-think” to the American public. The result of the interview that Richard Stengel returned with was a bizarre article, a fawning profile of Netanyahu arguing with god, who dubbed Netanyahu “King Bibi” who conquered Israel and god said will, Netanyahu now make peace or war? This was on the cover of Time – the same exact cover Time ran when Netanyahu was Prime Minister 16 years before asking, can he make peace?
You can’t take Netanyahu at his word when he says he doesn’t want to make peace. It’s these pressures inside the U.S. that prevent it from happening. Some journalists are sent to Israel to write press releases for Netanyahu, and others who are doing their job reporting the facts on the ground are themselves intimidated and punished. Luckily Karl Vick is still there doing a decent job. Consider this quote from Netanyahu: it sums up the Israeli public relations operation in two lines. “It doesn’t matter if justice is on your side. You have to depict your position as just.” So that’s what they are doing.
DB: Finally, the big fear, when we talk about the [Israeli] boycott campaign and the parallel with South Africa, and imagining a notion of a two-state solution. One state is Israel, and the other is only a state of mind, which is where the Palestinians will have a state. This one person, one vote, is the big fear that Israel and Netanyahu have, right?
MB: The biggest fear is not rockets from Hezbollah or rockets from Hamas or Iran. It’s a fear of Arab babies. Netanyahu has said that himself, that if Israel allows control to over 30 percent Arabs, non-Jews, it will be a bi-national state. That’s why they need to keep the negotiations going on forever. Israel currently controls all space between the river and the sea, and Jews are a minority in that overall space.
In 2012 Netanyahu authorized a special commission, the Levy Commission, to examine the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank. The Commission said Israel should immediately annex that part of the West Bank. Netanyahu came under enormous pressure both from his left and from the U.S. to scrap the report. He had to do it. If Israel officially took control of the 60 percent that Israel controls through occupation, militarily, the Jewish minority would be exposed. The demographic problem of Israel would be exposed. Ethnocracy would be exposed. Therefore, apartheid would be exposed.
That’s the crisis Netanyahu faces. His economy minister, Bennet, one of the rising stars in Israeli politics, favors annexing the West Bank and giving Jordanian citizenship to Palestinians. The goal of Netanyahu is increasingly occupying the political center in Israel as his dominant Likud party goes off the rails filled with people in their 30’s and 40’s, younger politicians who all favor annexing the West Bank. They favor open apartheid.
His goal is to keep negotiations going for as long as he can, to buy time for as long as he can, so Israel doesn’t officially control the West Bank, and therefore the alarm clock on apartheid never officially rings.
In this country, we have organizations like J Street who are playing Netanyahu’s game and he is fully supporting their efforts, even though they are not from his Likud Party, because they are helping these endless negotiations go so that alarm clock never rings. They just keep turning back the alarm clock on apartheid, when the situation is already a one-state reality. That’s when the BDS movement to boycott, divest and sanction has already sounded the alarm on apartheid and is creating a lot of political space through its pressure campaigns, while the U.S. and liberal groups like J Street dither and play into Netanyahu’s hands.
DB: This book is a devastating book about Israel – an anatomy of the extremist takeover of the nation. It is a country overrun by extremists, the Jewish right, which has hijacked constitution. I don’t know how many even alternative institutions are going to cover this book, and let this person stand up against the great wall of censorship that gets in the way, and undermines and threatens any voice, person, who dares to effectively systematically tell the truth about this endless illegal occupation of a people fighting for so many years to be free.
Netanyahu was sitting in the White House while Congress couldn’t get a bill passed to stop the government shutdown. There is even a battle to keep this information on this radio station.