The most rational political course in Israel is also the most immoral — Noam Sheizaf

Israel/Palestine
on 36 Comments

Noam Sheizaf is co-founder and manager of +972, a three-year-old English-language web magazine that provides an outlet for a group of Israeli bloggers opposed to the occupation and critical of others aspects of Israeli policy and society. He continues to write regularly for the site, focusing on, in his words, “the interaction between Israeli politics and the Palestinian issue.” Just yesterday he posted a piece entitled “Settler leader calls new Israeli government ‘a wet dream’.” His posts have been cited frequently here. 

Earlier this month Sheizaf, 38, visited parts of the U.S. Before heading to the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference in Austin, TX, he passed through the Bay Area, where he spent an evening with some members of Jewish Voice for Peace and other activists on the Palestine issue. With his permission, I recorded and transcribed his talk, minus a few inaudible words. The talk went on more than two hours and covered a wide variety of topics: Noam’s personal background, how +972 works, the Israeli elections, what’s left of the left, why Israeli politicians won’t confront the Palestine question, the potential of international pressure, the state of the activist left, the nature of Israeli censorship, and more.

Altogether, even though I don’t share all of Sheizaf’s perspectives, I found the talk a genuine tour de force, rich in insight on many issues. That’s why I went to the trouble to transcribe it all and sought approval to post it here in its entirety. If you have time, and if you want to understand how the world looks to at least one clear-eyed and influential representative of Israel’s small radical left, I recommend reading the whole thing. But because the transcript is so long – more than 16,000 words in all – and many readers won’t have time or motivation to go through it all, I have followed Adam Horowitz’s advice to first present some highlights, stitched together and edited slightly for clarity and brevity. Below them is the complete transcript, unedited.

On the new Israeli government:

The Knesset, the next Knesset is the most fragmented Israel ever had. Despite the fact that I don’t see any change of policy in the West Bank and Gaza immediately, we should all recognize that Netanyahu is a much weaker Prime Minister than he was in the last four years. …

What allows Bennett and Lapid to sit together, two people who are different on many levels, is an understanding that nothing will change on the Palestinian issue. This is the key for forming the next government. … Naftali Bennett announced that he will not leave the government if negotiations resume with the Palestinians. Why? He says, rather candidly, because the negotiations are meaningless. I suggest always we listen to the settlers, they are the most honest political force in Israel. While Lapid on the other hand went a long way towards Bennett saying that we will not evacuate the settlement blocs, we will not compromise on Jerusalem, and a lot of things that will not change anything on the ground but makes Bennett’s constituency happy.

The next Knesset will also have the highest number of religious Knesset members in Israel’s history, around 40. That is a reflection of demographic changes in Israeli society and also very smart political maneuvering on behalf of the settlers, which made them represented in the next Knesset well above their demographic [weight] in society.

On Israeli political opinion:

20 percent of Israelis define themselves as leftist, and they vote for parties all over the center and the left. Six percent of the Jewish public define themselves as radical left, so it means that some people who are not even voting Meretz think of themselves in those terms. These numbers, despite all the attacks by the right, are stable – they’re the same numbers that were there at the end of the Oslo period in the late 1990s.

What happened in Israel is a tremendous jump in the number of people who define themselves as the right. [Not many decades ago] the right was almost the outcast of the political system, yet right now it’s the driving ideological power. People from the right and even from the hard right– not only they are not ashamed to say it anymore, but right now they see themselves as the only ones fitting to lead any Israeli institution.

The right is coming close to 50 percent, 40-something percent of Israeli Jews. What dropped since Oslo to now is not the power of the people who define themselves as leftists, but the people who defined themselves as centrist or pragmatic. There was a shift of this crowd to the right.

On Yair Lapid:

Yair Lapid presents positions that are way to the right from the former centrist forces. If you read his platform, when he was discussing the Palestinian issue, and most of the time he’s ignoring it, he made his policy speech during the campaign in Ariel, in a settlement, and he refuses the ’67 border as a starting point, and he refuses compromise in Jerusalem. It’s very theoretical, because there are no negotiations, and all of this is very – it’s just decoration right now. But we can see in the centrist forces a move to the right, that’s very clear. So that’s perhaps another phenomenon of the last few years in Israel.

On Hadash, the only mixed Jewish-Palestinian party:

For me the worst failure of the Israeli political system, even on the left, is to produce a real Jewish-Palestinian alliance. And in this sense even Hadash is a fake political party, because Hadash has four Knesset members, but the voting patterns has three and a half seats voted by Arabs, by the Palestinians, and the Palestinian party and the Palestinians are committed enough to the idea of alliance with the Jewish communists that they allow, they subsidize if you want, the Jewish representative within Hadash. Hadash won 12,000 or 13,000 Jewish votes, so these were the only Jews that were willing to vote to a Jewish-Palestinian party, and that for me is the tremendous failure of the left in Israel.

On the growth of economic inequality in Israel:

In the last two decades Israel is the most capitalist Western state, together with the U.S. Like the inequality index had Israel in one year surpassing the United States, which is unthinkable for us – you know, it took the United States 200 years to produce such inequality – we did it in two decades.

On the Palestine question is Israeli politics:

The question everyone asks themselves is where is the Palestinian issue in all this? And one thing that was pretty clear in those elections was that the Palestinian issue wasn’t there. If there was something that was present in the elections, it is denial of the Palestinian issue, both by the politicians and by their voters. In this sense the politicians reflected the will of the people.

There is sort of bewilderment: how come Israelis ignore this question? Even people who advocate Israeli policies will privately ask themselves this question. How come the Israeli political system is not more active on the Palestinian issue, or at least discussing the Palestinian issue.

My theory, or my explanation to this issue: the rational choice for any political leader, regardless of his ideologies, will be to maintain the status quo or the current political trends. Because as long as you can maintain the status quo, with all its problems and with all the difficulties and with all the isolation of Israel and some of the things, the moral implications if you want, the strategic implications, everything, the status quo in terms of political currency is still cheaper in Israel than any change to any side

This is the reason that whenever Israelis enjoyed the period of relative security and prosperity like we have now, their connection to the status quo only deepened, contrary to the common view that whenever security and prosperity will be there, then Israelis will have the national conversation that will end the occupation. The exact opposite is happening. And it’s not happening because some people are evil or because some people are stupid, which are the explanations given usually. You know, the opposition, the critic says all Israelis are evil, and the right here – you can often [cite] Jeffrey Goldberg saying “The Israeli political leadership is irrational. It’s making mistakes all the time.” And it’s not a mistake – it’s a rational policy, it’s rational political behavior – maintaining the status quo, holding on to power, on all levels, holding on to power as the Jewish elite and holding on to power as the single politician who sits in the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.

Some people will say it won’t be possible in 5, 10, 20 years. But show me the politician who thinks 10 years ahead. If you live in Washington right now, politics is done from today to tomorrow, at best. And that’s how polities is done in Israel as well. And right now, those parties who said explicitly or inexplicitly that they want to hold to the current status quo, are the parties that won the support of the Jewish public.

So we have reached a moment where the rational political behavior in Israel is also the most immoral.

On Israeli activists’ participation in the struggle in the West Bank:

Participation of an Israeli in a Palestinian-led protest is probably the most transformative act, political act, in Israeli life. If you look at how Israelis radicalized, they went to Palestinian protest – there’s no question about it. Seeing the IDF soldiers from the side of the gun and not from the side of soldier, this is the strongest moment in Israeli political experience. Some Palestinians don’t understand how strong the protest, just the event of being in a protest for Israelis.

[But] I don’t think the activist movement is growing. I think it’s important, I think it has a huge symbolic role, but it’s not growing. It’s the same numbers in the last four, five years, no more people in Bil’in than there were back then, Nabi Saleh the same number. Not only the same number but the same people.

Some Israelis [are] simply afraid, some Israelis think it’s illegal, a lot of elements. And some places Israelis are not invited anymore because of the anti-normalization trend. Some villages – historically, there were always villages who did not want Israeli or international support. But right now there is a sense, a growing theory – I sense, at least, among Palestinian activists, especially among those who are more Western-in their orientations that they want to cut ties with any form of Israeli activist. Like Israelis were not allowed to come to the Palestinian [tent] villages that were constructed in E-1.

For example, I try not to go to the West Bank. I went through various phases in my political behavior on that. Once I went and protested, then I decided never to travel to the West Bank again unless it’s in the context of a solution. Why? Because of the privileged status of an Israeli. There is a fine line, and it’s very personal line for every activist, between solidarity support and tourism.

I believe the resistance to the occupation must be a Palestinian issue, must be led by Palestinians, constructed by Palestinians, conceptualized by Palestinians. The role of the Israelis, everyone, to lend support where they can but mostly to work within their own communities to create change.

What is to be done – and not done:

The question of what should be done now is less clear than at any other moment that we have experienced. Personally I think that, the first clear thing is what not to do, and I think not to cooperate with anything that could help to sustain the current status quo is very important. For Israelis there is a whole variety of actions which sustain the status quo and you need to be conscious of that. Do not oppose Palestinian opposition to the occupation – I know it’s a clear thing in this room, many Israeli and Jewish venues that needs to be said, that Jews and Israelis should not, even if they do not find their home in the BDS movement or other activities, they should not oppose them. This is, for example, my message whenever I’m asked about BDS movement, I say, it is obviously something that the Jewish community cannot, the established Jewish community cannot digest right now or find its way, but it needs to realize that it cannot go on opposing Palestinian resistance, especially Palestinian unarmed resistance, civil-society resistance. So I think this is an argument that needs to be made.

Democracy for Jews, dictatorship for Palestinians:

There’a quote by Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, saying that Israel is indeed a Jewish and democratic state – it’s a democratic state for the Jews and a Jewish state for the Palestinians. Meaning that only Jews enjoy democracy. … If you’re an Israeli Jew, you’re pretty much safe; If you’re a Palestinian in the West Bank, you don’t experience democracy, you experience a dictatorship. And this is something many people don’t understand.Many people think that either Israel is a dictatorship for everyone, and it’s not – it’s a functioning democracy for Israeli Jews, and limited and imperfect and all that, and on the other hand you have this phrase “the only democracy in the Middle East,” where Palestinians never experienced this democracy.

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The complete, unedited transcript follows:

Personal history and the background of +972

So I was born in 1974. I was born in Ramat Gan. I lived, except one year in Paris, my entire life in Israel. Tom [an Israeli who was present at the meeting] and I actually knew each other during high school. I served in the IDF four and half years, was in infantry officer. After the army I started working as a journalist, first for a magazine in Tel Aviv, then for Ynet, after that for Ma’ariv. I started in sports, by the way, and then I gradually moved away, to culture, then to politics, which is the thing that, for the last decade or so, interests me most, to the point of obsession.

I started writing in English five years ago, something like that, first as a blogger, then I think that – my initial feeling was that I wanted to take part in an international conversation. The international conversation matters a lot in Israel and I felt that the voice of people like me is not heard in this – today things have got a bit better, but, you know, if you look back five years, what you got out of the news from Israel was all the range between maybe Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, and the conversation was dominated mostly by right-wing American Jews, if I would generalize. Those of you who read Hebrew would notice that a lot of the stuff you could find in Hebrew was absent in the reporting in English coming from Israel, and a heavy feeling of propaganda even attached to it, to some of the reporting. I wanted to take part in this debate.

Gradually I found out that there were other people doing the same stuff, other bloggers: Yuval Ben-Ami, Lisa Goldman, Joseph Dana, Ami Kauffman, people coming from all over the place in terms of political positions, Dahlia Scheindlin – she’s not even a journalist, she’s a pollster. It became clear to us that we were doing something that has a value together. We thought about starting a group blog, but then a site. We looked to the outside: Mondoweiss was beginning to develop a presence, and it was clear that… and also there were kind of new-media organizations that inspired us, even in the mainstream, like Salon and Slate, and we felt that a lot is going on over there.

So that’s how 972 started. We started out with the question what it is, and we can talk about journalism maybe later. Right now the site is a collective of 15 bloggers, several editors, a large group of photographers which is not exactly part of 97, but it is called ActiveStills, and they have been very active in the last five years. We began by just sharing content, but now we work a lot more together, and perhaps even we’ll start to unionize together under the same non-profit. So this collective is basically people who do their own stuff – they choose what to write, what to publish, what to cover, and we’ve established this site as a lean operation with editors who promote the material, edit it.

There’s a bit of fact-checking and help but most of the work is coming from the bloggers themselves. It’s part of a vision of grassroots reporting. Those of you who’ve been in mainstream journalism know that it’s not that the reporters are out there in the field – the stories come from above and they go down, and we try to do something that is the exact opposite, and through this reflect the thoughts of our community of peers. Most of them would be what in the Israeli political conversation is what is called the radical left. Some of them would be on what they call the Zionist left, but I don’t like those definitions, I think in the Israeli context they serve a political purpose which is troubling for me. But the group is certainly from the left, and very early on we agreed that we’re not interested in conversation just for the sake of conversation – we’re a project of change, and we believe if the motto of the New York Times is that they are unbiased and they represent always the two sides. A lot of the critical theory has shown that this is the biggest bias. We do the opposite approach: we are engaged journalists, we state our opinions before we even begin reporting. If you look at the About page, the first paragraph states that we as a collective we oppose the occupation, we believe in human rights and democracy, and we believe in freedom of information and opposition to censorship, which is becoming an issue not just in Israel but in the Internet and social media as a whole.

So the practical term of this, the definition is broad enough to have two-staters and one-staters, Zionists and non-Zionists, under the same collective, but not broad enough to have a settler just for the sake of the conversation.. We do not seek to represent the variety of opinions in the Israeli society nor in the Palestinian society. There are two Palestinians on the site. We didn’t think about it as an Israeli-Palestinian project when we started, we were just a group of bloggers based in Tel Aviv, but then with time it became clear that if you want to do something substantial, it needs to be a bit more multicultural than the average news organization, which is a few white men. So we’re very happy to have two Palestinian bloggers and a range of contributors, guest writers – Palestinians, Israelis, international activists.

That’s about it. I can speak a little more about the site afterwards if you’re interested. Most of the readership is in the United States: 45 percent is he United States and Canada, 25 percent in Europe, 20 percent in Israel-Palestine, and 5 percent in the Arab world; the rest is chaotic.

So that’s me and this is the site. I’m the manager of the site, I’m not the editor anymore. There’s a managing editor, his name is Mike Omer-Man, and there’s another part-time editor called Edo Konard – from Berkeley, by the way. So this is the site – we are operating under a non-profit, and we are based on donations and grants from funds, journalistic prizes, and a tiny portion of on-site advertising, but those of you in media know that this is not a substantial income.

My main contribution in this site, I believe, will be in the interaction between Israeli politics and the Palestinian issue and all different layers in which politics influence the Palestinian issue,, the way the Palestinian is discussed or ignored by the Israeli political system It’s a very complex picture which all boils down to the maintenance of the status quo and the way the political products of this system influence the situation on the ground. I’ve got to admit that, just from my conversation with people in this room, people here have probably much better knowledge than I do inn a lot of things in the Palestinian society. I’ll be happy to comment, but if people spent time, in Gaza or in Nablus, like months in the last year, I think questions should be directed at them if you want facts on the ground; I can tell you the view from Tel Aviv.

So that’s kind of the framework.

The Israeli elections

So Israel had elections on January 22nd. There was an interesting election period because of the various interactions with the American elections. There was an phenomenon of the last few decades of a sort of blending of American politics and Israeli politics. It’s hard to tell who influenced who, but the most evident part of it is the strong ties between the American right and the Israeli right, what we like to call the Republikud party.. The American influence on the Israeli elections and the Israeli influence inside the American political establishment. That was even one of the reasons the elections were even called in January. The feeling was that, as some people in Netanyahu’s surrounding felt that there was a chance that the Republicans would not win the White House, they felt that a year of confrontations, even if it’s just exchanges of messages, with the White House would hurt Netanyahu politically in Israel, so the elections were called earlier than planned – they were supposed to take place in October.. They took place in January. There were other reasons – one major reason for the early elections is the budget. Israel is facing a huge deficit of 40 billion shekels, and the thinking was, that this budget will require major policy changes, and therefore it will not serve the government well to pass it before the elections. So these two elements made Netanyahu call early elections.

It’s very difficult to understand what happened in these elections, and there’s an ongoing debate in Israel and among observers asking themselves what is the meaning of these elections. I would offer a few angles to look at it. Now the first thing that should be obvious is that Netanyahu won the elections and he is going to be the next Prime Minister. He will declare his government next week [week beginning March 10]. The deadline on forming a government is the end of next week. If Netanyahu is unable to forma government by then,
it will probably be the greatest political surprise of my life, I think, because the thinking is that if he is not able to form a government, he will not win the elections that will come after that. Therefore he will form even the worst government that he can come up with and not go to another round of elections, So I believe that by next week we will have a government, and all indications of the past few weeks are that we will have this government.

The Knesset, the next Knesset is the most fragmented Israel ever had. It has I believe 12 fractions in it. Some of them are not even united enough to hold their act together, most notably the Likud party, Netanyahu’s own party, which suffered a tremendous blow in those elections. I think that, despite the fact that I don’t see this reflected in a change of policy in the West Bank and Gaza immediately, we should all recognize that Netanyahu is a much weaker Prime Minister than he was in the last four years. Netanyahu’s fraction – it was actually a united ticket with Avigdor Lieberman’s fraction Yisrael Beiteinu – and they came to these elections with 42 seats, combined, and they got 31 seats, out of which 20 belong to Netanyahu, 11 belong to Avigdor Lieberman, making Netanyahu holding only 20 out of the 120 Knesset members, and out of those 20, many belong to the hard right, to fractions of settlers, who were able to enter the Likud and were able to push away the descendants of the Liberal Party – that was a party that was part of the Likud – people who were considered moderates by Likud standards, but at least more pragmatic on many issues and more secular, which is very important. The Likud list right now is very, very hawkish. Knesset members who were backbenchers who were very vocal against civil-society organizations, against the Palestinians, against African asylum seekers, in the previous Knesset will now occupy the first seats in the Likud list.

The next Knesset will also have the highest number of religious Knesset members in Israel’s history, around 40. That is a reflection of demographic changes in Israeli society and also a very smart political maneuvering on behalf of the settlers, which made them represented in the next Knesset well above their demographic parts [weight] in society.

Two more interesting things about the next Knesset: it will have a record number of new Knesset members, roughly 50 out of 120. If you think in American terms, replacing half of the Congress – I don’t know if it’s ever happened. Here in Israel, it reflects I think the outcome of this confused movement of 2011, the social protest. The outcome is clear all across the political system, the social protest and the calls for cultural change, which are happening all over the world, changed the political system in Israel as well, but they changed the right and the left, like there’s new generation on the right but there’s also a new generation on the left.

Another interesting thing: the record number of women, but still way, way too low. less than a quarter.

Q: Who’s the left in your framework?

NS: Well, his is something that’s very hard to tell in this Knesset. Personally – I write also in Hebrew, and in my Hebrew writing I refer to the left as the three non-Zionist parties – Ra’am [Hebrew acronym for the grouping usually known in English as the United Arab List-Ta’al] , Hadash, and Balad – Ra’am is a unique case because it’s a religious party and it’s hard to pinpoint where it stands – and also I refer to Meretz as a left-wing party because I think it’s closer for example to Hadash than it is to Labor right now. In the political terminology some people refer to Labor as the left; some who do so refer to Tzipi Livni as left. But it’s clear that the centrist forces in Israeli terms are from Labor to Likud and the rest is the right. These definitions have a lot to do with the ideological perception of the people holding them and using them, so we can only try to come up with a few terms that would help the conversation [get] going and then try to discuss whether those terms are real or not real. One thing which is interesting is self-definitiion – that is useful for your question. There are polls about how many Israelis define themselves as left or right, and that’s perhaps sometimes useful. 20 percent of Israelis define themselves as leftist, and they vote for parties all over the center and the left. Six percent of the Jewish public define themselves as radical left, so it means that some people who are not even voting Meretz think of themselves in those terms. These numbers, despite all the attacks by the right, are stable – they’re the same numbers that were there at the end of the Oslo period in the late 1990s.

What happened in Israel is a tremendous jump in the number of people who define themselves as the right. The right was almost the outcast of the political system in certain parts, and the right right now is a legitimate force in the Israeli political conversation. It’s the driving ideological power and the people who call themselves, people from the right and even from the hard right, not only they are not ashamed to say it anymore, but right now they… they see themselves as the only ones fitting to lead any Israeli institution. So there is in Israel lots of change of elites, if you want, or a change of the spirit of the political system.

Q: How many on the right?

NS: So the right is coming close to 50 percent, 40-something percent..

Q: Of Israelis?

NS: Jews – Israeli Jews. What it means – what dropped since Oslo to now is not the power of the people who define themselves as leftists, but the people who defined themselves as centrist or pragmatic. There was a shift of this crowd to the right.

Q: And how many centrists?

NS: What remains. It depends on the polling and on the wording of the questions, so I will be very careful here, but I do have at least the results of at least one or two recent polls that were done in this election cycle, so if you want I can send you the data.

Q: Are you defining centrists in relationship to the Palestinians as two-staters?

NS: These are self-definitions. It means that a a person has a multiple-choice option and he picks how he sees himself. What is the center in Israel is a huge question. For example, going back to these elections, the main person who will carry the message of the center after these elections is Yair Lapid, former anchorman, sort of the modern Israeli icon if you want, journalist for Yediot Aharonot, he was a presenter for the largest bank in Israel, an actor, film actor, and he had a party called Yesh Atid, and he ended up being the person that was able capitalize on the social protest of 2011. He ended with 19 seats. That was a surprise. He broke ahead in the three days leading to the election, when all the swing vote went his way.

Yair Lapid presents positions that are way to the right from the former centrist forces. For example, we had Olmert negotiating Annapolis, so we know exactly, because of the Palestine papers that were published by Al Jazeera a couple of years ago, we know exactly what was discussed in Annapolis. You know, in Annapolis Israel agreed to mutual arrangement on the Holy Basin, to parking [partitioning????] in Jerusalem, to the ’67 borders as the beginning of the negotiations, and to land swaps with the ratio close to 1-to-1 – they didn’t go all the away to 1-to-1, but there was an understanding this is the final destination of the negotiations – and to a symbolic return of refugees. The Palestinians wanted 100,000, the negotiators, and Israel agreed to 25,000. The numbers are meaningless, and they only serve an internal political purpose. We are talking symbolic recognition, not more.

So this was Annapolis. Now Tzipi Livni already in Annapolis – Tzipi Livni took the place of Olmert as the head of Kadima – already in Annapolis was more hardline. She was sitting with Abu Ala [Qureia}, and she was rejecting the symbolic return and the recognition of Israel’s responsibility for the refugee problem, which also implies monetary compensation and all that. And she was more hardline on land swaps. And she ran on a ticket of renewed negotiations in these elections, and she suffered perhaps the worst blow - she only ended up with six seats.

Now Yair Lapid, if you read his platform, when he was discussing the Palestinian issue, and most of the time he’s ignoring it, he made his policy speech in Ariel, during the campaign, in a settlement, and he refuses the ’67 border as a starting point, and he refuses compromise in Jerusalem. It’s very theoretical, because there are no negotiations, and all of this is very - it’s just decoration right now. But we can see in the centrist forces a move to the right, that’s very clear. So that’s perhaps another phenomenon of the last few years in Israel.

Q: Because of the numbers that you’re saying - 50 percent - when I think about it that way, it’s actually closer to 70 percent…

NS: Yeah, but at the same time, there’s the Peace Index, which I will refer to later, which says there’s over 50 percent support for the two-state solution based on the ’67 line.

This is the problem with poling - polling depends on wording, depends on whether you determine objective factors, self-perception, abstract notions. It’s very easy for Israelis to speak about the two-state solution when there’s nothing that even resembles the two-state solution right now in the air. The question is political behavior, and there the Israeli political system , you would say, is even more to the right of what it says.

Q: About what you were saying about the effects of both countries on each other’s elections, if there was, say, more of a pressure, for a two-state, do you see the Israeli society actually being able, responding to that in an elections, and actually moving more to…

NS: I’d like to take a few more minutes on the elections, and then move to action items.

Q: Oh, I was just curious what the 40 billion shekels represents in terms of actual...

NS: Actual American money? [laughter]

Q: In terms of percentage of government spending, or GDP

NS: Percentage of GDP, I think it’s one-sixth, one-seventh, something like that – the GDP is I think 250, something like that, billion shekels. 3.6 shekels is a dollar, so 40 billion [shekels] is a deficit of 12 billion [dollars], something like that.

Q: No… the GDP is 250 billion U.S. dollars?

NS: No, shekels. [inaudible].

[In fact, it’s dollars - according to a January 2013 estimate by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s GDP for 2012 was 929.8 billion shekels, or US$252 billion. According to the Israeli Ministry of Finance, the 2012 budget deficit was 39 billion shekels, or US$10.5 billion - about 4.2 percent of GDP.]

Again, these numbers – if you want, I can come up with the actual numbers – I didn’t come very prepared in economy.

So… we were in the results of the elections. A few more things to note in those elections. We published on the site a poll tracker that had all polls, election polls, much like many sites did here [U.S.] before the elections, before the elections in Israel, and all of them had Netanyahu’s base, which was the Orthodox parties, the settlers, and the right, the Likud, with something like 62 to 72 seats, out of the Knesset’s 120. There wasn’t one poll that shows him losing, so it was very clear what the outcome would be. The real result was 61-59, and there wasn’t a single poll that showed this result.

What was surprising, and in a way misleading, in the way people after that interpret the results of the election, there was actually a swing of votes away from Likud, a bit to the right and some to the left of the system. Up until the Palestinian parties, all of the parties moved some of the voters to the right – to the left, sorry. Labor got a bit stronger, Meretz got a bit stronger, even the Palestinian parties, and especially Balad, got a bit stronger, but because percentage of voting also went up, so the Palestinian parties regained therefore, just have the same results of 11 Knesset members, 10 of them Palestinian and one is a Jew. So there was a swing all across the political system of some votes to the left – the right gave a few votes to the center, the center gave a few votes to the left. Also Netanyahu lost a few votes to the extreme right – the settlers had their best result ever, 12 seats.

So I think we can also see a radicalization of the system in Israel. More people will identify as leftists but more people will identify as hard right. Maybe the only positive, real positive outcome of these elections was that the most racist party in Israeli politics wasn’t able to enter the Knesset, and this should also be said when we criticize what happened. There was a rejection by the voters of the Kahane movement, and that’s – if I have to think of one thing to congratulate the Israeli constituency is that… there are racists and there are racists, and Kahane – how is his faction called here, the JDL? – they represent the worst of the racists. Their campaign was going to Palestinian towns and chanting racist slogans in hope of provoking an escalation, and of course there was a lot of police there present, it happened in Umm al-Fahm and in other places. They opened a headquarters in South Tel Aviv, and they incited daily against asylum seekers, which resulted in one night of rioting in one neighborhood and random attacks on asylum seekers after a rally organized by those groups. In the previous election they ran with the settlers. Now they broke from he settlers and ran on a neo-Kahanist party, one of the most racist parties that was in Israel elections since Kahane was banned and outlawed and declared as a terror group by the U.S. and as an illegal group in Israel. They just failed to reach the Knesset threshold of two percent, which meant that this was the best outcome we could have hoped: not only they didn’t enter the Knesset, they also burned two seats to the extreme right.

Q; What are they called again?

NS: Otzma LeYisrael – Power to Israel, a very fascist name. That’s the most positive outcome, and I think if we have to look at Israelis society, those kinds of ideas did not move from the margins to the center of the political system, not even in these elections, so I think that’s something we should consider as well. On the other, the expansionists, the settlers, they had very good elections.

So what kind of government will we have? We’ll have a government consisting of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman at the center of the government, and another interesting combination of parties, which is the settlers and Yair Lapid, the most radical right-wing party, the new settler party led by Naftali Bennett, a new politician – there was a profile about him in the New Yorker if you saw it, there was something in the New York Times as well – and he formed a sort of alliance with Yair Lapid, the so-called centrist, and they forced Netanyahu to form a government with them. The novelty of this government will be that the ultra-Orthodox will left out, this will be a more secular government, despite the fact that the settlers will represent the religious fraction within it. Their fight with Netanyahu was, if you want, an internal political struggle within the Israeli right, basically. You cannot say that Netanyahu is more extreme than one of them, or more moderate than one of them – it is simply a fight over power with the elite, like we see elsewhere.

What allowed this combination, this government to rise, I think we can give two explanations. This government will have like 65 Knesset members behind it, so it will probably be stable enough until one of its members decide to leave the government. When the government doesn’t have 60 Knesset members behind it, it usually falls or calls new elections, which is the same, basically. So this coalition will include the settlers, the Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s fraction, and Yair Lapid, this centrist party. There are two underlying connections that allow this coalition. One is economical. This coalition will represent for the most part the upper-middle class in Israel. Yair Lapid won more votes than any other party in the northern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv – in Ramat HaSharon, in Herzliya. Those who know Israel will know we’re talking about the most affluent places in Israel. He especially did well in Savyon, in Kesarea [??], in Omer [??], which are the super-rich neighborhoods in Israel. I voted in Central Tel Aviv, near Rabin Square. Lapid won the polling station there. He was the most successful there, and after that was Likud, and after that was Meretz, to give you a view of the electorate there.

I could even say regarding this that these were the most ethnic elections Israel ever had. One of the most denied elements is Israeli society is that Israel is a very multicultural society disguised as this unified society of Jews, with Palestinians on the side, but Israel is a very multicultural society, which denies a lot of the internal tension. You could argue, and some of the polling that were done after the election might reflect that there were no coalitions almost in this elections. Like, the lower-income Sephardi Jews voted Shas, the higher-income Sephardi Jews voted Likud. The Russians also voted Likud. And the higher-income Ashkenazi Jews, Jews descended from Europe, the so-called whites, voted Yair Laid. The intelligentsia voted Meretz. And so on. It was a very ethnic [inaudible]. I don’t know to break the Arab vote that well, but it also had strong elements of ethnicity and geography in the way the parties split between Balad, Hadash, and Ra’am. And the forces that represented in Israeli history coalitions, Labor and Likud, which traditionally were coalitions of different forces, like you would see in the Democratic Party here, those forces failed in those elections. So we see a fragmented society along ethnic lines, not just between Jews and Arabs, but also among those groups.

Q: And class, you’re suggesting?

NS: And class, and class. I believe that if I was a social scientist, and gladly I’m not, but if I was, I believe a lot of the political behavior is explained through the interaction of ethnicity and social class. Like, if you would build a regression that will hold money, assets if you want, and ethnicity, you will be able to predict political behavior very, very well. One of them is not enough, because there is a difference between an affluent Sephardi Jew and a very poor Sephardi Jew. But when you interact the two, you can explain a lot of the political behavior. I think that’s also natural to a very capitalist society like Israel has become.

So one of the things that allowed the connections inside this government was an agreement on a very neoconservative economical policy. Naftali Bennett and the settlers are the most capitalist party in Israel right now, which is interesting because traditionally the National Religious weren’t that [far] to the right on economical questions, but Bennett is a high-tech entrepreneur, and those civil society organizations that check the party platforms always place him the most to the right. Netanyahu is the prophet of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism in Israel. Lieberman shares the same idea. And Yair Lapid is the descendant of the Liberal Party – his father led very neo-liberal force in the middle of the last decade, and Lapid is against any sort of welfare code or social benefits. So you have an agreement between Israeli capital and the upper-middle class over the economical system.

Q: Is what you’re saying really, I mean, when I was going to school there in 1966, and university, socialism was like – the city of Haifa was considered a socialist city…

NS: I grew up in an more socialist city, Givatayim. In Givatayim the saying was that you could put a donkey at the head of Labor and still win a majority of 50-something percent. My school, my elementary school, was one of the last schools in Israel, because we were in Givatayim, not to study on May 1, because, the principal used to stand, the school was named after [A.D.] Gordon, Zionist-Socialist, and the principal used to say,e ben the Ministry of Education cancelled May 1st as a holiday in the school system, “In the school of A.D. Gordon in Givatayim, they will not study on May 1st.” And now Givatayim had a Kadima mayor, and it will have have a Kadima probably or Yair Lapid mayor in the next elections. These are the changes – it’s an upper-middle-class town, and the upper-middle class has deserted whatever relations – weird relations it had with socialism, but it deserted them.

Q: Does anyone represent socialism any more?

NS: [Labor Party head] Shelly Yachimovich claimed – there was an argument over that, of course, and the definition of what’s socialism in the Israeli context, and the interaction of nationalism and socialism, but Shelly Yachimovich, the head of Labor, ran on a very anti-capitalist platform, especially a campaign against the 1 percent. That was explicitly said by Labor. And Hadash, the Arab-Jewish party, is the descendant of the Communist Party, and it still pursues – they called in those elections to nationalize all the banks. And Hadash regains the same force, four seats – one Jew three Arabs.

Voting patterns in Hadash, by the way, are really interesting, because it’s the only party in Israel that’s really Jewish-Palestinian. Historically, the only alliance in Israel, political alliance between Jews and Palestinians, took place was within the Communist Party. This was the only party that was able to – I was told not to speak of Communism in the United States, several times, this is a turn-off for your progressive [inaudible]..

Q: Over there or once you got here?

NS: No, not on this visit, in another visit. Because once I quoted Lenin. I was told never to do it again if I didn’t want to alienate the crowd. So I wouldn’t dwell on this Hadash (that’s also the party I voted to). So I wouldn’t speak too much about it. But I would say this: For me the worst failure of the Israeli political system, even on the left, is to produce a real Jewish-Palestinian alliance. And in this sense even Hadash is a fake political party, because Hadash has four Knesset members, but the voting patterns has three and a half seats voted by Arabs, by the Palestinians, and the Palestinian party and the Palestinians are committed enough to the idea of alliance with the Jewish communists that they allow, they subsidize if you want, the Jewish representative within Hadash. Hadash won 12,000 or 13,000 Jewish votes, so these were the only Jews that were willing to vote to a Jewish-Palestinian party, and that for me is the tremendous failure of the left in Israel.

Q: In comparison to American politics it seems like there’s far greater representation of the left…

NS: No, because, no – what’s confusing here is that Israel has some heritage of the European political language. Israel was established, the Zionist movement was started by Eastern European Jews, and they brought the European system, political system, and the European political vocabulary. So we’re not afraid to talk about socialism, it’s a common phrase, and people self-identify as left more easily, while they hardly know the term progressive or all the euphemisms you use here to say some of the same things. But I don’t think that there is a stronger showing of the left in Israel, especially if you interact both the economical agenda and the Palestinian issue, and then you’re left with very few people,

Q: But just on the economic thing, it seems like there’s…

NS: That’s the socialist tradition – like to say in Israel “the one percent,” the notion of the super-capitalists, it’s not a surprise to some of the political forces on the left, that’s not an idea we needed to introduce, there was a lot of talk about those issues in the past. But still, in the last two decades Israel is the most capitalist Western state, together with the U.S. Like the inequality index had Israel in one year surpassing the United States, which is unthinkable for us – you know, it took the United States 200 years to produce such inequality – we did it in two decades.

Q: Just to sort of flesh it out a little bit, when I went to Israel, I went with Meretz, I have friends with Meretz sort of group. Like me, with my background in JVP and kind of like, kind of like radical leftist politics, Meretz is sort of like centrist., their program is like kind of centrist And tun like I was hanging out in Tel Aviv with some people, and I met some dude, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m here with Meretz,” and he was like, “Oh yeah, Meretz, yeah, they’re way too radical left for me.” I was like “You’ve got to be kidding.” Like to me Meretz is like pretty centrist, like even-keeled platform, so the spectrum is like kind of different.

NS: It all boils down to the remarks what was said here, that those terms are not just describing politics, but they are creating politics in Israel. Identifying something as lefty or righty is not just labeling – it serves a political purpose in the debate, and therefore I generally agree that we should be very careful with the implications of thesese terms.

The Palestine question is Israeli politics

The one thing that I want to finish with this review is the question that everyone asks themselves, which is where is the Palestinian issue in all this. And one thing that was pretty clear in those elections was that the Palestinian issue wasn’t there. If there was something that was present in the elections, it is denial of the Palestinian issue, both by the politicians and by their voters. In this sense the politicians reflected the will of the people. And we are here with people that understand a lot about the issue and don’t need to be persuaded to show solidarity with the Palestinians, but even those that are pro-Israeli, both dovish and not, there is sort of bewilderment: how come Israelis ignore this question? Even people who advocate Israeli policies will privately ask themselves this question. How can the Israeli political system is not more active on the Palestinian issue, or at least discussing the Palestinian issue.

My theory, or my explanation to this issue, when we look at the political question, the way Palestinian issue is reflected in the political conversation in Israel, usually there is the argument between one-staters and two-staters. And people say well, ultimately, there will be either a one-state or a two-state solution. In the Israeli political system, the only one-staters are on the right, by the way, I’m not saying it as trying to demonstrate that Netanyahu is a one-stater, no, but people who say “I am for one democratic state,” and the only Knesset members who could do it were from the right. It’s really strange, because the left is yet to come out of the closet on this issue. Even Balad, Balad, the one, they say, genuine Palestinian force in the Israeli political system, ran on a two-state solution in this election. I was present in a political conversation with Hanin Zouabi and Jamal Zahalka, the two leaders of the party, and there were a group of bloggers, and everyone immediately asked “Why not run on a one-state platform?” And they said “One state in Balad is an intellectual conversation, it is not a political conversation. We want to make it clear, and they emphasized it several times, that we are running on a two-state platform.”

Q: Is it legal to…?

NS: Nobody challenged it enough so we don’t know. You know, there is an article in the Israeli election system that says denial of the Jewish character of the state could have a party banned from the elections, but there was never a party banned on those grounds, because, I think one reason, there was never a party that says we are a one-state party.

Q: What does the right mean by a democratic, one state…?

NS: OK, that’s very interesting. I would say not what we would mean here. I did a story for Haaretz a few years ago about right-wing support for the one-state solution. There is a small minority within the settlers and some people in the Knesset that says, “If we’re pushed to the corner, we should give the system and not the land. We should let the Palestinians in the occupied territories have equal right, equal voting rights to the Israeli parliament.” They are doing a lot of, like tourism {???] which help them promote this idea, for example, they know about it. Most of these people, they go to Gaza [????]

[Sheizaf clarified later by e-mail that what he was saying or intending to say in the passage above was that the small group of right-wing Israelis talking about a one-state solution don’t include Gaza in their vision of the single state, thereby making it easier to imagine continued Jewish domination.}

But there are some Knesset members on the right, they explicitly say “If Israel has to choose between ending the occupation and the two-state solution and the one-state solution, I will take the one-state solution, we will have full rights for the Palestinians, and we will conduct our confrontations within the parliament.” The first to do was Uri Elitzur, he was chief of staff for Netanyahu in the ‘90s, and in the settler periodical Nekuda in 2008, he published an article - it was never translated into English, very interesting - very bluntly saying “What’s happening in the West Bank is not acceptable in terms of what the world views as a nation state and how a nation state is constructed. And we better be active, and the solution is to give citizenship to the Palestinians, starting with the Palestinians in Area C and then the rest. But this a tiny minority of elite and intellectuals, and it’s not the dominant force not he right, that should be very very clear. It’s not even a real force with traction on the ground. These are a few people who ware …

Q: It’s crucial that Gaza be excluded because then that solves the democratic…

NS: Of course, of course. But you know what, I’m sorry, I did this report, and I asked some of the Palestinians, some of the PLO people, and you know, I don’t remember [???] who was it that said to me “We’ll take it, because the rest we’ll get through the parliament, because if we’ll have 4 million Palestinian voters within the Israeli system, there will be Gaza and there will be right of return in the future.” So in this sense it’s a good question who’s blocking who, when they say we exclude Gaza, we exclude the refugees and all that, these are inevitable continuations of the one-step solution. But the majority of the political system and the public agrees on the two-state solution – in theory. But both solutions for the political leadership in Israel carry enormous prices. If you talk about the one-state solution, we just explained, that’s the end of the state of Israel as it exists right now. Now you could say that would be a great improvement, some Israelis would think that would be the end of Jewish existence in the Middle East. But one thing is clear: one-state solution is not the same political entity that exists there right now..

So the price is clear for everyone: it’s power-sharing on every level, at best it is the South African model of transition, with al the faults and successes that there were. The two-state solution is also problematic. The two-state solution would meet fierce opposition on both sides. It is clear that there will be opposition on the Palestinian side. It is clear that it involves from the Israeli perspective security risks which are undeniable. It also will have a huge political price within the Israeli society ranging between fierce opposition to a civil war inside the Jewish society. If you look among the Jewish leaders of the last 20 years, all of them who went and tried to change the situation paid a really big price. The first one was murdered, Rabin. After that, Netanyahu lost his position as prime minister in ’99 after signing the Hebron accord – the settlers left the government, and he fell. Sharon, for the disengagement, which was a right-wing implication, right-wing policy that meant to strengthen control on the West Bank, he still had to leave the Likud party to form a new party to reshape the entire political system to carry it out. So there is a real internal price to pay for any changes on the ground.

Q: But there are changes on the ground. I mean if you drive from Jerusalem to Nablus, there’s settlement on every single hilltop…

NS: That’s why, that’s why – you’re taking the conversation two steps forward, because when we say status quo. we don’t say status quo, we say trends. These are the continuation of the current trends, rather than a static situation. As everyone who has been to the West Bank [knows], nothing is static. If you we’re there 20 years, and you’re there now, you’ll be shocked, on the physical dimensions of the occupation.

But these two sides represent huge political prices to be paid inside the political system, and I think that sometimes we ignore the real politics, the real inside – there are risks involved, from an Israeli standpoint but also from the view of the single political leader who needs to make the policy tomorrow. And I think that the rational choice for any political leader, regardless of his ideologies, will be to maintain the status quo or the current political trends. Because as long as you can maintain the status quo, with all its problems and with all the difficulties and with all the isolation of Israel and some of the things, the moral implications if you want, the strategic implications, everything, the status quo in terms of political currency is still cheaper in Israel than any change to any side [???].

This is the reason that whenever Israelis enjoyed the period of relative security and prosperity like we have now, their connection to the status quo only deepened, contrary to the common view that whenever security and prosperity will be there, then Israelis will have the national conversation that will end the occupation. The exact opposite is happening. And it’s not happening because some people are evil or because some people are stupid, which are the explanations given usually. You know, the opposition, the critic says all Israelis are evil, and the right here – you can often Jeffrey Goldberg saying “The Israeli political leadership is irrational. It’s making mistakes all the time.” And it’s not a mistake – it’s a rational policy, it’s rational political behavior – maintaining the status quo, holding on to power, on all levels, holding on to power as the Jewish elite and holding on to power as the single politician who sits in the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.

So here we are, I think, with elections that demonstrated a strategic choice to maintain the status quo or trends if you want. Because what allows Bennett and Lapid to sit together , two people who are different on many levels, [inaudible] what allows it [is] an understanding that nothing will change on the Palestinian issue. This is the key for forming the next government. How do we know this is the key? Because the partners were willing to make concessions in order to reach a XX [inaudible]. Naftali Bennett announced that he ail not leave the government if negotiations resume with the Palestinians. Why? He says, rather candidly, because the negotiations are meaningless. I suggest always we listen to the settlers, they are the most honest political force in Israel. While Lapid on the other hand went a long way towards Bennett saying that we will not evacuate the settlement blocs, we will not compromise on Jerusalem, and a lot of things that will not change anything on the ground but makes Bennett’s constituency happy. But at the end {???] is the realization that the political system will hold on to the status quo as long as it’s possible, as long as it’s possible. So, some people will say it won’t be possible in 5, 10, 20 years. But show me the politician who thinks 10 years ahead. If you live in Washington right now, politics is done from today to tomorrow, at best. And that’s how polities is done in Israel as well. And right now, those parties who said explicitly or inexplicitly that they want to hold to the current status quo, are the parties that won the support of the Jewish public.

Last two examples to the power of the status quo in Israeli politics: in this interview about the settlers that support the one-state solution, I also talked to Dani Dayan. Dani was the head of the Yesha Council. There was a profile also about him in the New York Times. He’s one of the smartest leaders that emerged out of the settlers’ movement, I think about five degrees above Bennett. And Dayan said, after we discussed some of the ideas that those people have, he said “I’ll tell you something, and you can quote me, the Palestinians have lost their political rights – my solution is the status quo. Now we can start the conversation on human issues, like freedom of movement and all that. But politically you should know that I support the status quo.” Most Israelis would not say it this way, but he was smart enough o understand – he said “I support the status quo, the status quo is the solution.” He used this word, “the status quo is the solution.”

And another example: the Peace Index, which is run in Israel since the Oslo years by the Institutes for Democracy, always asks a question about support in the Jewish public for the two-state solution, and the support is always above 50 percent – up and down a bit, but always above 50 percent. But there were some polls in which some other questions were thrown in. In a recent poll I saw a question saying “If Israel could stay democratic … [first it asked] “Do you support a one-state or a two-state solution?” and everyone went to two-state solution. And then the follow-up question asked “”If Israel was to be able to remain democratic and Jewish, without any changes, would you support that, the two-state solution or the one-state solution?” And you saw the movement of the people from the two-state solution to the status quo option. So when it’s phrased correctly, the public will even admit its desire to hold on the current trends. And it’s also understandable. Those of you who visited Tel Aviv and not just the West Bank or Gaza saw the effects of prosperity and the comfortable and secure life that emerged only 20 minutes’ drive from the Palestinian territories.

Q: HaBuah [the bubble, common Israeli term for the Tel Aviv area] .

NS: Exactly, but the Buah is the entire Israel now. So the thing is that we have reached a moment where the rational political behavior in Israel is also the most immoral. And I think that in order to start thinking about effective political action, we have to understand this problem. It doesn’t matter if Israelis are more moral or less moral, the rational political behavior is the maintenance of the occupation right now, and that’s the problem we’re facing.

Can international pressure bring change?

Q: [inaudible] I sent around your article about the status quo but I also sent around this article about Betar Yerushalaim ( http://972mag.com/the-case-of-soccer-racism-and-the-success-of-international-pressure/65911/ ) because it’s an example of when there actual effective international pressure, people actually respond to it. So my answer is that that’s an answer tot he same problem – it’s rational choice while the price for the occupation is very low, but that’s why we have to increase the price [inaudible: so leaders making] a rational calculation will take action.

NS: First of all, I totally agree. Israeli leaders will change the status quo when the price of the status quo will be higher than the price of change. It happened in history, but it never happened through international pressure, it always always happened through Palestinian upraising. Because I think the international community or the Arab world simply failed the Palestinians on this issue. If you look historically, Oslo came, with all its faults and benefits, came after the first intifada and was a direct result of the changes that took place on the ground in the first intifada. The disengagement [from Gaza] came exactly after the second intifada. It’s no coincidence – it was a realization in the Israeli public and in the Israeli political system that some things needs to be changed, despite the fact that the Palestinians paid a tremendous price from both the first intifada and the second intifada. They had it much worse than the Israeli Jewish society, but they were able to challenge the Israeli political system and to increase the price of the status quo in order enough to promote political action and to help Israel confront those who opposed any changes no the ground. It’s also the same with the Egyptian peace agreement. The peace agreement came after the Yom Kippur war Fur years after the Yom Kippur war, the October war, there was a political opportunity to look for a peace compromise, where a year and two years before the war, Israel was refusing the Goldmann initiative, the Rogers Plan and all those, where at the time the concessions were a fraction of what Israel ultimately gave in the peace agreement with agreement with Egypt.

If you look at it from the position of the Israeli leader, once there is a pressure or an uprising, then it makes sense to come to the public and say “I have no choice but to remove settlers, I have no choice but to stop construction.” When there is no pressure, the political leader, if he wakes up in the morning and says “I ran on a platform of not doing anything in the West Bank, but I decided to move all the settlements,” it simply wouldn’t work.

Another solution which is in the realm of theory right now is international action on this. I think that political pressure from the outside is very effective, I think it’s effective when it’s done. It made Israel – the first Bush administration got Israel into the peace process.

Q: Specifically, pressure from the U.S….

NS: Europe is just as useless. The Europeans have a different language about the Middle East, but because of the unique structure of the European Union, there is no foreign policy. The European Union gives veto power to every member states. Now, there are 20-something member states. Out of them one is always controlled by a neoconservative government which will oppose any action in Israel. It was the Netherlands, and then it was Italy, and now it’s Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia and all those countries. So the Europeans have passed a measure that excluding the settlement products from the trade agreement with Israel, but they are failing to uphold it. Only Ireland have passed concrete action on this issue, and Ireland was always committed to a more hospitable {???] policy toward … Even France, which is controlled by the Socialists and in the Israeli political conversation is being treated as the reincarnation of, I don’t know, the Russian czars, but France did not uphold the settlement European decision – not boycott, not anything, just not to reduce taxes on products of the settlement. It’s such a narrow policy, and the European Union is unable to uphold it. So, not to mention that there is no … it’s very easy to look [???] about the United States, but what about the Third World an the rising nations, all the allies of the Palestinians – did China ever question its trade agreement with Israel? China is becoming one of Israel’s largest consumers and exporters.

So it’s a failure of the international community for meaningful engagement everywhere that it’s [inaudible]. The unique bargaining position of the United States is because Israel is becoming a sort of client state of the United States, the United States has more leverage than other countries. But if the European Union had a real ban, just on settlement products, it would resonate in Israel, because the European Union more than the United States is the number-one importer of Israeli products. It would mean a lot. And if the European Union excluded Israel completely from the trade agreement, not boycott, not stop importing goods, not … keep the no-visa program or whatever, just exclude Israel from the trade agreement, it would mean huge things in Israel. The European Union is not even close to that.

The United States is of course a unique situation in which the U.S. Congress passes resolutions which are more to the right of the Knesset. I don’t know if it’s a farce or a tragedy, but it’s something that creates enormous problems on the ground. And the ability of Israeli politicians to escape the implication of their political and moral choices has corrupted both the Jewish establishment here and the political system in Israel.

I would say it’s a disaster, and it leads to events like the flotilla, the 2010 flotilla not what happened after, and Cast Lead, and you name it. These are possible because of the diplomatic cover the United States is providing Israel. So w’re not even talking sanctions, we’re talking if the United States would not veto UN resolutions, Security Council resolutions, then I think many things could have changed. Just like you said, the price of the status quo would have risen, and the willingness of Israeli politicians would increase.

Now, there are also some other problems in Israel with this approach, because what’s happening now in Israel is there’s a sort of change of elites. The real right is a bit more immune to pressure from the outside. It’s traditionally the center and the left, who see themselves as universalists and European-oriented and all that, so these forces were panicking where there was a anti-Israeli, so-called, resolution, and when they hold power, influence from the outside is more effective. In this sense, the fact that Lapid is in the government opens the door, because if Palid suffers the consequences of an international pressure, he’s not immune to it in the way that the Orthodox, for example, are – the Orthodox are isolated from the international conversation so they’re more immune to pressure. But I totally think that the Israeli society as a whole would respond to effective pressure, [but] there is no effective pressure. There is not even something that is coming close to that.

The West Bank and Israeli policy

Q: Do you think that there’s a third intifada [inaudible]?

NS: I don’t like as an Israeli to answer this question, because it treats the intifada as if it’s a weather forecast. I think that the Palestinians have the moral right to resist the occupation, I don’t the tactic or the timing of their resistance for them. The debate about resistance should exist in the Palestinian society The debate about the prospect of a third intifada is ridiculous when it’s done in Washington or in Tel Aviv, as if the action, the political action of Washington and Tel Aviv or Jerusalem would not affect the probability of a third intifada. I’m pretty sure there will be another uprising, I’m sure that what the Palestinians are doing now is they’re recovering from the costs they paid in the previous uprising. This is only natural. But will it be in the next year, or in 10 years, or in 20 years – it’s for them to decide.

Q: There are ongoing uprisings going on right now, and there are people who are very invested in training the next generation. You see this in all the cities and different NGOs that are investing in trying to discipline young people so it doesn’t just turn into a rock-throwing and tear-gas party, which it mostly is now. So it is trending, you can feel on the ground that it is trending toward more and more uprisings, more and more villages are participating in Fridays [demonstrations], with the establishment of the tent cities, with the taxi-cab protests that were Palestinian-wide in the West Bank toward the PLO. So I would say, like, there is a trend, it is trending toward …

Q: [in aud.]

NS: One second – there are also serious questions about Palestinian internal politics. I’m not an expert on that, but I would say from an Israeli perspective that Israel has benefited a lot from the deadlock in Palestinian politics. The fact that Hamas and the PLO prefer to hold on to what they got in power than either to join forces or settle their dispute is enabling – the traditional Israeli way of sustaining or surviving the Palestinian issue is dividing the Palestinian society. We featured on the site – and it was the first time this was published – a slideshow that was obtain by Gisha, an NGO that deals with freedom of movement, mostly to Gaza but not only, they obtained a slideshow from the IDF in which it is said the policy ground for the IDF is the separation between Gaza and [inaud.] This policy is known to everyone who covered this issue, but it was never admitted in public because this is a violation of the Oslo agreement. Israel still bases, the legal rationale, its action on the Oslo agreement. The Oslo agreement states that Gaza and the West Bank and Gaza are a single unit, and Israel is dividing the two, and the Palestinians are helping the Israelis to divide the two by their treatment of the internal opposition inside and the deadlock of the Palestinian society. So my guess is these questions will influence both the form and the timing of the resistance – it’s very hard to know what’s going to happen on this.

Q: My observation was that back in December there were a lot of announcements, the Jewish news, that there was possibly a third intifada coming up It was repeated in the New York Times. the Times of Israeli, the Forward. but it wasn’t in any of the Palestinian – you know, it wasn’t in Ma’an News or anything like that. This just happened to synchronize with a lot of really intense provocative actions that happened right after the UN thing. And right before the UN bid there was a meeting with Netanyahu where they said they were going to impose all of these, you know, punishments. And then all of those things started happening, although when they were being reported, it wasn’t like “Yeah, we said we ere going to punish them and now we’re doing it..” And then we do see this escalation of the resistance, but is it because – I mean, I feel like there’s a spigot, and that spigot is being – I mean, is it a coincidence, or chicken-and-egg, or, you know, are they, they’re turning it up, the Israelis

NS: First of all, I would say this, two things, like it was mentioned here. Palestinian political action, Palestinian resistance to the Zionist movement, existed from the first Jews arrived from Europe to the land in the late 19th century and tried to create a different entity from the Jewish existence that was there before. So there was always Palestinian resistance, and it’s true for the years where supposedly nothing happened. like between ’67 and ’87 – the years that Shlomo Svirsky,, an Israeli academic, called “the cheap occupation” because there was no resistance, and it was very easy for Israelis to hold on to the West Bank. But there was resistance even back then, there were the general strikes, the protests, so it’s really hard to determine where one day of eruption of protests in the West Bank represents something substantial or not. You should also remember that the Palestinian Authority is also playing with the level of protest that it allows – you know, the same people that would send people out [to demonstrate] near Ramallah would then use clubs on activists in Ramallah.

One thing I would like to say: Israeli policy is way less coherent and way more improvised than it could seem. There is a great book about the occupation, just came out in English, “The One-State Condition,” by Adi Ophir and Ariella Azoulay. Now this was a book that came out in Hebrew four years ago, and unfortunately the English edition is only one-third of the Hebrew edition because it suggests a critical reading of both the mechanism of the occupation but also the political debate and the cultural debate and various sides… And one of the observations is that the policy is improvised and incoherent. Sometimes you would see the government wanting to prevent protests but the army on the ground actually doing the opposite. Sometimes you would go to…

Q: Wait, say that again.

NS: Sometimes the government sees as its interest to keep the West Bank very, very quiet at a certain moment, and the army is doing the opposite. Sometimes it’s doing it consciously, and sometimes it’s doing it because this is the nature of armies, to escalate things on the ground. A conscious decision, for example, was the way the army escalated things in the beginning of the second intifada, which was well documented in Israel. The press is starting to discuss it right now, 12 years too late, but the army disobeyed order to hold their fire at the beginning of the second intifada. So was Barak to blame or not? It’s a complicated question, but the policy is never that coherent. I think you also see it when you simply travel on the West Bank: the checkpoint that you could pass one day and you’ll be turned away the other day, just depending on the identity of the soldier. A lot of the chaos that the Palestinians experience in the occupation – the feeling of those bare [???] life where anything could happen, in the most violent way, or take a turn for the worse at any given moment, is because a lot of the policy is improvised on the ground. And the unit changes, so

Q: But if there’s an escalation of demolition policies, though, how could that be so random? Like, they said, I just read yesterday, January had more demolitions in the Jordan Valley in January. I mean, when there’s that kind of escalation, and they had a big article in Haaretz, and it said, they said it was the new policeman in Jerusalem. But first it happened in one neighborhood and then another, where it was demolition orders, arrests, like it’s crackdown. But then I looked and it was also happening in Hebron. So how..

NS: There are three regions in which we can discuss policy in the West Bank of taking over land right now. One of them is East Jerusalem. There is an ongoing attempt of decades to construct a ring of Jewish neighborhoods around the Palestinian East Jerusalem, but right now, in the last 5-6 years, what’s changed is there was a renewal of the effort, sponsored by he government and the city, to enter the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah was the famous case, but the biggest neighborhood is actually [inaud.] Zeitim [the Mount of Olives?], a bit southeast of Sheik Jarrah. The second place is the Jordan Valley. There isn’t much attention to what’s joing on in the Jordan Valley. Now there is some reports on what’s going on there. Jordan Valley, you can speak about policy of taking over land. The third place is South Hebron, – Hebron but more than anything South Hebron, the hills, there’s a region what the army calls Firing Zone 918. And 1,500 Palestinians are under immediate threat of evacuation there. B’Tselem, the human-rights organization, are running a specific campaign on this issue.

These are the places where you can speak about policy. For example, I think that in the north West Bank you see a lot more local initiative by the settlers than the government policy over there. Like in Yitzhar, like in all those places, I think there you see the real ideologists simply running to other hills, confronting Palestinians, “price tag” attacks and all that – this I think is not a government policy.

Q: Price-tag attacks?

NS: This is the name the settlers have given to random attacks on Palestinian civilians that were done as a reaction to government action against the settlers. Like, if the government is taking down an outpost, they will not only try to reconstruct the outpost, they will also burn a few cars in the nearby village. So these I think are local initiatives which has supporting circles, and maybe a blind eye by the army, but I don’t think they’re planned in Jerusalem. Whereas in the Jordan Valley, South Hebron, you can speak about policy of taking over land, of evacuating Palestinians, creating facts on the ground. I don’t know if it’s in the hope of constructing a border there, annexing the territory,, I don’t know if policy makers think in those terms, but there’s also a very Israeli instinct to take over land when they can, so the government always recognizes that there are always a few territories [???].

By the away, inside of the 1949 borders, the area to look in is the Bedouin, the unrecognized village on the eastern side of what Israel called Route 40, going south, this is where the same things are happening inside Israel proper, where Israeli citizens are concerned. The effort to push the population into tiny metropolitan cents if you want, so-called urbanization – that’s the same language everywhere, taking over the so-called empty lands.

Q: There’s also this policy of cutting off villages from the main roads, which I noticed this time, where it seems like there’s more roadblocks in villages along the major highways inside Israel.

NS: I thought there were more actual roadblocks just after the second intifada, where the villages themselves were in siege. Right now what they are doing is they are directing the traffic out, under the road and on separate…

Q: That’s what I mean …the separate road system [inaud.]

NS: What happened was during the second intifada Israel literally put the villages and the towns under siege, so people couldn’t even move from the village After that there was not only international pressure but also local pressure to allow more freedom of movement in the West Bank. But they didn’t want the Palestinians on the main roads, so they started building a separate road system.

The role of the Israeli activist left

Q: I just wanted to know if more Israelis are starting to go into the Palestinian areas, because those are most of the Israelis I met while I was working in the West Bank, and I just wondered whether that was occurring, people going over there for activism or even just [inaud.]

NS: I don’t think the activist movement is growing. I think it’s important, I think it has a huge symbolic role, but it’s not growing. It’s the same numbers in the last four-five years, no more people in Bil’in than there were back then, Nabi Saleh the same number. Not only the same number but the same people. And it also has to do with other [inaud.] For example, I try not to go to the West Bank. I went through various phases in my political behavior on that. Once I went and protested, then I decided never to travel to the West Bank again unless it’s in the context of a solution. And then I began going to protests, and after protests I visited friends in Ramallah and all that. And now I’m beginning to give – not to give up, but to think I shouldn’t travel. It’s a very difficult political …

Q: Why?

NS: Because of the privileged status of an Israeli. First of all, there is a fine line, and it’s very personal line for every activist, between solidarity support and tourism. You have to be very very conscious of what you’re doing on the ground and what you’re looking for. I believe the resistance to the occupation must be a Palestinian issue, must be led by Palestinians, constructed by Palestinians, conceptualized by Palestinians. The role [???} of the Israelis, everyone, to lend support where they can but mostly to work within their own communities to create change.

So I used to go to protests in Palestinian villages. I stopped not because of a conscious decisions, just because since I became a father, my time became more weird - my free time evaporated, basically. But I decided recently not to travel if it’s not for either protest or really really concrete journalistic work. It’s also illegal for Israelis to enter Palestinians cities, so some would not want t o go on these ground - you know, some people are scared. If they would go, it would change them for the best. Participation of an Israeli in a Palestinian-led protest is probably the most transformative act, political act, in Israeli life. If you look at how Israelis radicalized, they went to Palestinian protest - there’s no question about it. Seeing the IDF soldiers from the side of the gun and not from the side of soldier, this is the strongest moment in Israeli political experience. Some Palestinians don’t understand how strong the protest, just the event of being in a protest for Israelis , some people just out of the army going to a protest totally changed their world. Some Israelis [are] simply afraid, some Israelis think it’s illegal, a lot of elements.

And some places Israelis are not invited anymore because of the anti-normalization trend. Some villages – historically, there were always village who did not want Israeli or international support – amongst the Israelis, but some have even translated [???] to international support, which is understood, because of the different circumstances and the decision of the local Palestinian committee. But right now there is a sense, a growing theory – I sense, at least, among Palestinian activists, especially among those who are more Western-in their orientations that they want to cut ties with any form of Israeli activist. Like if you would say that their initial guidelines of the BDS movement or the resistance movement were that you can cooperate with Israelis in a circumstance of resistance, right now some would say that even this is not allowed – like Israelis were not allowed to come to the Palestinian villages that were constructed in E-1. I know of terrific, very well known activist who was not allowed to come there. So that’s another thing at least holding back the ability to form those kind of alliances.

The African asylum seekers

Q: I had a question – this is a little off-topic from like Palestinian stuff – but whether the African asylum seekers was an issue in the Israeli election [inaud.] the detention center in the south – just want to know.

NS: Asylum seekers – the asylum seekers were present in the political conversation, very much, until like a few months ago, and there was a lot of incitement against them. Shas tried to build a lot of its momentum – and Otzma Yisrael, which we discussed – on incitement against asylum seekers. There was also a real problem created in some neighborhoods, because what the government basically did, whenever asylum seekers were caught in the south and could be deported because they wet coming from countries which Israel could not deport to, Eritrea and Sudan, the government would simply put them on a bus and send them to South Tel Aviv, which is the poorest neighborhood in Tel Aviv.
[inaud.] And it was mostly men, so the pressure on the civilian infrastructure there was enormous. The outburst of the protests should also be underwood in the context of the social and economic circumstances that developed there. Surprisingly enough, [inaud.] . Another thing that happened is Israelis constructed a huge fence along the Egyptian border, and then no more asylum seekers entering – the numbers have dropped from thousands in a month to a handful in a month. This is also why the Israelis have decided not to populate the [inaud.] detention camp in the south [inaud.]. It was built to hold 12-20,000 people, but only 3-4,000 are held there because they are not putting people from Tel Aviv in detention there – they are only putting people who are arrested in Tel Aviv or who are now caught at the border are sent to those detention camps. So the situation was not solved, and the tensions are there, but because the influx of people stopped, the problem became less dramatic in the political manifestation, it’s less present than it was a year or two ago.

What is to be done

Q: What can we do in your mind that would help the situation from here?

NS: OK, I think this, what makes an effective political action is probably the greatest challenge of this moment in activism, because, at least from the perspective of the Israeli left, and I would say Israeli left in this context, even among supporters of the two-state solution there is a growing realization that a lot of what was a a genuine peace movement was co-opted by the right and used now to maintain the occupation rather than oppose it. There is a sense of {???} and ineffectiveness – there are huge debates in Israel over all issues of political action right now, and that’s one of the things that’s holding back the left from uniting, like anything that you – like cooperation with government initiatives, whether social protest movements should come to speak in American Jewish communities. Some say no, because it’s being sponsored by the Foreign Office, and some say yes, because it’s unrelated.

The question of what should be done now is less clear than at any other moment that we have experienced. I think that, personally I think that, the first clear thing is what not to do, and I think not to cooperate with anything that could help to sustain the current status quo is very important – - like to think what elements can cooperate and not to cooperate with them. For Israelis there is a whole variety of actions which sustain the status quo and you need to be conscious of that. Do not oppose Palestinian opposition to the occupation – I know it’s a clear thing in this room, many Israeli and Jewish venues that needs to be said, that Jews and Israelis should not, even if they do not find their home in the BDS movement or other activities, they should not oppose them. This is, for example, my message whenever I’m asked about BDS movement, I say, it is obviously something that the Jewish community cannot, the established Jewish community cannot digest right now or find its way, but it needs to realize that it cannot go on opposing Palestinian resistance, especially Palestinian unarmed resistance, civil-society resistance. So I think this is an argument that needs to be made.

I think we need to think about new alliances, and more sophisticated political connections, like, a question here is how can the conversation here can be influenced . This is something I know is being discussed, you know, how the organized Jewish community can be influenced, how the organized evangelical community can be influenced. And these are not lost battles. There was a a lot of movement and a lot of development done on those issues. I think that the low point was a couple of years ago, not now. I think that there are more and more people who are realizing how bad things have got. I also don’t think it’s a zero-sum game, in the sense that whenever one side loses, the other wins, so I think that there are avenues in which you can cooperate. I think that for example – obviously, movements who see themselves as Zionist cannot now in existing circumstances cooperate with anti-Zionist operations [???]. The most clear example is J Street and JVP. But I do think on specific targeted causes they can cooperate. I thnk that the BDS movement is very smart in targeting things that could be in the consensus, like Caterpillar or Ahava, and not – it’s less productive when it’s targeting some things which are in the national consensus in the Jewish community in Israel and not have immediate implication in the West Bank. Again, I will not give, you know, marching orders to any movement, but when you target Ahava, that’s a case that can be made explained everywhere very easily. And I do [inaud.] that activism should continue on many levels.

I think the best development that happened in the last few year had to do with on-the-ground activism. The most inspiring examples of course happened along the route of the barrier. The ability of villages like Budrus and Bil’in and all those, to change political realities – you know that Tzipi Livni, after the… – the Israeli Supreme Court started taking on cases on the fence as the protest erupted. I think we can clearly say that in the places where there was no protest, the verdicts were usually in favor of the army, and in the places where there was protest, surprise, surprise, the army had to move the fence. And at the time Tzipi Livni was even saying that what’s happening now is that the Supreme Court and, what I would say even the Palestinian protests is reshaping Israel’s border. And I think that the people of Bil’in would have succeeded inlaces where the U.S. State Department and all that, and all those bodies with tremendous force, failed.

I also think that one of the outcomes of the debate on the Goldstone report was a more restrained Israeli assault on Gaza in November. I know, I know, it sounds very morbid, but there is a difference in human life between 1,500 casualties and 150. We don’t need to celebrate it as a victory, but we need to acknowledge that the political conversation, the human rights conversation had immediate implications on the ground that saved the life of Palestinians and also the life of Israelis, I’m pretty sure.

So there is a sense of desperation all over, and I think it’s not justified. I think that also we need to acknowledge that a struggle and maintaining of relations between Jews and Palestinians in whatever political structure that will emerge is something that will accompany me throughout my life, and my kids. Because if you don’t think, like the radical elements in both societies, that one day you wake up and the other population will not be there – if you don’t think this way, you understand that you are going to be managing this conflict in decades to come, because even if there was a one-state solution or a two-state solution, the economical inequality will create such tensions that it will still need the human-rights community accompanying the process and [inaud.]. So these are just my thoughts on activism.

Q: So are you going to send your kind to one of the five bilingual schools?

NS: I don’t know. These are all huge questions for me as a citizen. not just – obviously it’s a huge tragedy that Israelis don’t speak Arabic, but these are also very elitist institutions. And in the Israeli context, more than they put you in touch with the Palestinaian population, they isolate you from both populations, because those meeting points have a very distinct population that’s going to them. I think that a more important struggle will be to introduce to introduce Arabic classes and mixed course all over the country – this is the really political battle. Bat Haviva [???] is an example, could be a symbol and an example, but we need to work on the standard.

It’s true for every decision in Israeli political life. The army is the most prominent example. If you decide to either oppose the military draft explicitly or just dodge it, then you cut yourself [off] from major elements of the Israeli society. There are valid points to make for doing it., but what I’m saying is that in every moment, if you are in a state of opposition and resistance, you gotta make those negotiations. It’s not just the school, it will be up to the high school, and the youth movement, and after it will be the school trips that the school will take. You know, my mother, when I was a kid, the house wasn’t really political, but one day she refused to send me to a school trip to what they call Park Canada in Israel. This is where the two Nakba villages of 1967 – there were two Palestinian villages destroyed in the 1967 war, right after the war, and there’s a park, and every school in Israel goes to learn how Jews made wine in so-and-so before Christ on those sites.

Now this wasn’t an empowering experience or an educational experience for me as a kid. It was a huge embarrassment.

Q: That she wouldn’t let you go?

NS: Yeah, that she started talking about politics, which I didn’t realize – we’re talking about elementary school.

Q: How old were you?

NS: I don’t really remember – I remember the embarrassment, though, that I was sent to carry the cause to the school teacher or something, or I don’t know what. I couldn’t even begin to understand what happened there, so…

Q: Did you go?

NS: I think I didn’t go. But maybe the year after, she did send me. Nothing was that coherent.

Q: How old were you when you figured out there was other people there?

NS: I think I connected the dots after the military service, but it wasn’t really important – but it wasn’t really important, you know, because I don’t think this is the one thing that turned me into a lefty.

Q: No, I just mean can you be like a 15-year-old kid there and really not know that there’s, hey, Palestinians.

NS: Sure, sure. The Nakba denial is a strong element in Israeli society. Less so now, because… but when we grew up in Israel, the word Nakba was not part of the vocabulary, we just didn’t know what it means. When you go on a school trip, there are deserted houses – who is it belonging to, you don’t ask those questions. You know, how many people ask questions about [inaud.] the place they live in, how many people know the history? It’s all that right-wing propaganda, but I’m just saying on a very intimate level, that’s not part of your everyday life if the’s not a growing political consciousness in the society itself. And it’s a political struggle to introduce consciousness in the Israeli society.

Jewish democracy and censorship

Maybe I will just say a word about journalism and censorship in Israel for those who asked. There’a quote by Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, saying that Israel is indeed a Jewish and democratic state – it’s a democratic state for the Jews and a Jewish state for the Palestinians. Meaning that only Jews enjoy democracy. And I think that most of my life I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy . There was a big campaign here about the anti-democratic legislation in Israel. I have to tell you Jews don’t experience it, mostly. The boycott bill is a different example because the boycott bill didn’t [inaud.] as such – we published articles supporting the BDS. We also published articles opposing the BDS. There was a debate on the site. But there is not a debate any more, because if we get sued, we will have to pay compensation, which our side, which lives on donations, cannot afford. So I sent an e-mail to the editors not to write about the boycott.

But for Israel’s sake, nobody was sued because of the boycott bill, so it’s not really a constraint on democracy. But in our own internal process, we already censored ourselves because we couldn’t survive a lawsuit. So the boycott bill did have what the Association of Civil Rights in Israel calls a “cooling effect”[a.k.a. “chilling effect”] on the political debate. The one element that is a huge censorship in Israel, the one element where freedom of the press does not exist in Israel is the nuclear issue. On the Palestinian issue the problem in Israeli society is not censorship but self-censorship, the unwillingness to confront the situation, especially after Oslo when the two societies began to be separated. Those of you who travel a lot to the West Bank know that you can meet Israelis, most of the time you will be more knowledgeable than they are on things on the ground, you are more knowledgeable than I am, and I try to read Palestinian sources, and I try to learn and educate myself all the time. So the problem is self-censorship. You can express almost every opinion that you want in the Israeli political debate, especially if you are Jew – you can say really harsh things about the occupation, and there is no censorship and no repercussion, except for the repercussions from your readers and editors and peers and journalists…

Q: And family.

NS: And family, and all that. But real censorship on the nuclear issue. Israel, some people claim,l has a military nuclear program, and thise program can’t be discussed in the Israeli media. There is an interesting book that came out a few years ago about opacity, Israeli policy regarding the nuclear issue, by an Israeli historian called Avner Cohen, who works here in Monterey, and the reason he is working in Monterey [is] because he cannot publish his work in Israel. There was a full decade that he couldn’t go back to Israel, because he published a book about the nuclear program. He had to stay here, in Washington, an Israeli. So the nuclear issue is really censored. You can go to prison if you write things.

Q; Why is that?

NS: For various historical reasons. Most of them, and the book details it, were born out of the understanding during the Nixon and Kennedy administrations and Israel regarding theIsraeli nuclear program. Israel pursued the nuclear program without the consent of the United States administration, and it hid it from the Kennedy administration. The nuclear reactor was built by the French, but as Israel was relying more and more on American military support, the French in the late ‘60s moved away from supporting Israel. Then what happened was that the Nixon administration authorized Israel to continue the nuclear program as long as it’s not discussed in public, as long as Israel does not admit to having nuclear warheads, therefore not violating the regime of control over the number of nuclear warheads.

Q: They also didn’t sign…

NS: Israel also never signe the NPT. Iran is a member of the NPT, Israel is not.

Q: What I’m curious about is why you can’t publish about it. I understand why they can’t admit it.

NS: What you are asking about is how, how does the censorship work

Q: Or why is there a need for to censor anymore, because it doesn’t like there should be, as long as it’s not publicly admitted by the government.

NS: Censorship is state law in Israel. Every article in the mainstream media that deals with the army or the security institution has got to be submitted to the censor, military censor. The military censor sits in the Kirya [military headquarters in Tel Aviv], and he reviews all the articles. It’s a very understanding regulator when it comes to every issue but the nuclear issue. The military censor actually allowed [inaud.] exposés that reached the news in Israel in recent years. But on the nuclear issue the military censor is very strict, honestly – orders from prime ministers and the security establishment. And the implication on the ground, if you send this report and [it] includes with it the nuclear issue, it is deleted and you cannot publish it. If you publish without the consent of the agencies that are dealing with security secrets, you will face a Bradley Manning situation or whatever.

Q: That young woman..

NS: Anat Kamm.

Q: I understand in the United States you can publish whatever you want but you may may be subject to …

NS: Bradley Manning is prosecuted on the leaks, on the violation of his own obligations to the army. In Israel, you can go to Israel and if you become an Israeli citizen – mazel tov – and I am telling you what I read in the Internet or something about the nuclear program and you write a piece about it and you don’t submit it to the censorship, you will be prosecuted, and that’s without even – you don’t need to be sworn to secrecy or to silence or anything

Q: That’s some serious censorship.

NS: That’s what I said.

Q: Anything military there’s censorship…

NS: Yeah, but I’m not submitting anything to the censorship, and I’m writing about the army

Q: You just don’t write about the nuclear stuff…

NS: I do, but I know the code words. I know how to write about the nuclear stuff. And whatever has been published abroad is not censored in Israel.

Q: How much do you write in Hebrew?

NS: There’s also a tradition of willing censorship. Israeli papers,, the Jewish Israeli papers, used to meet with the heads of the security establishment until the ‘90s and receive privileged information about security issues in exchange for not publishing this information in other items. So there was an understanding between the security establishment and the media. You’ve got to understand the place the security establishment takes in Israeli life. It’s more similar to all the countries surrounding us in the Middle East – like all the Arab countries, Turkey, Iran – where the army has a major, major stake in polities. I think the only example in American history that’s equivalent happened in the decade after the Second World War, maybe, when the army was huge and influential, but there was a political battle here on limiting it, which never took place in israel.

[discussion among audience about de facto censorship and retaliation by Zionist organizations in the U.S. over stories that expose torture and other Israeli practices]

NS: You know, if you look at articles published on the independent media and media here, a lot of it originate with Israeli media. Israeli media still has the tools, I think, to follow what’s going on on the West Bank. The problem is the context that’s given, the interpretation
that’s given of the [inaud.] events, and the fact that the people who throw stones are labeled as terrorists in the political conversation is problematic, but I hear a report about the protest in Bil’in and the protest in Nabi Saleh every Friday in the Israeli radio. Israedlis are aware enough – the denial is a choice and not a real ignorance.

Q: And there are so many pictures.

NS: And you can report [inaud.] Look, half of our bloggers were arrested in the West Bank, but they were also released pretty quickly. So you should ask yourself to what extent it’s a problem and to what extent is exaggerated. I don’t want [inaud.]

If you’re an Israeli Jew, you’re pretty much safe; If you’re a Palestinian in the West Bank, you don’t experience democracy, you experience a dictatorship. And this is something many people don’t understand.Many people think that either Israel is a dictatorship for everyone, and it’s not – it’s a functioning democracy for Israeli Jews, and limited and imperfect and all that, and on the other hand you have this phrase “the only democracy in the Middle East,” where Palestinian never experienced this democracy. [inaud.], I mean it’s a dictatorship.

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36 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    March 19, 2013, 11:29 am

    henry, i can not thank you enough for transcribing noam’s entire presentation. this one one of the most informative evenings, for me personally, i can remember in a very long time. noam wove everything together seamlessly. nothing shocked me nor was i surprised, but it all made sense. i had always found israeli politics confusing before.

    • Newclench
      March 21, 2013, 12:14 am

      Absolutely. Nice to see the crucial role of Hadash mentioned. They are indeed the only real Jewish-Palestinian coalition with a mass base, and that’s worth something.

  2. Annie Robbins
    March 19, 2013, 11:40 am

    Sheikh Jarrah was the famous case, but the biggest neighborhood is actually [inaud.] Zeitim [the Mount of Olives?], a bit southeast of Sheik Jarrah

    i am going to write him about this for clarity. he must mean link to en.wikipedia.org

    • Henry Norr
      March 19, 2013, 11:57 am

      Yes, now that you point it out, I’m pretty sure Ma’ale Ha-Zeitim is what he said. Thanks.

  3. Woody Tanaka
    March 19, 2013, 11:41 am

    “There is sort of bewilderment: how come Israelis ignore [the Palestinian] question?”

    Because the 80% who are not Palestinians contain a vast majority of people who are immoral in one way or another and a large percentage who are flat-out evil.

    • pabelmont
      March 19, 2013, 1:24 pm

      Or to express “evil” and “immoral” otherwise, Jewish Israelis have an enormous (outsized) sense of entitlement, based I dare say on the enormity of the Holocaust in fact and in the constant, constant story-telling. This sense of entitlement was deemed in 1930s and 1940s as sufficient to justify seizing Palestine and dispossessing the Arab people who lived there at the time. And then the crimes of the 1948 war required justification — and thus an even greater wrapping of those Jewish Palestinians in the flag of righteousness.

      My guess is that very few of them think of themselves as “evil” or even as “immoral”. But of course, their evil actions trump their benign self-regard.

    • Citizen
      March 19, 2013, 3:27 pm

      @ Woody
      There is a sort of bewilderment: how come most Americans ignore the Palestinian question? Especially when they are looking for what federal spending to cut? Oh, that’s right, Congress already cut aid to the Palestinians, and allows Israel to block it too. What do most Americans think about exempting aid to Israel, the biggest chunk of all US foreign aid, from spending cuts? We should have a poll, starting with a survey of all those without jobs, or secure homes, yes? Is there a poll that asks about this at all? Anybody know of a poll of Americans on cutting foreign aid?

      • Citizen
        March 19, 2013, 3:38 pm

        Here’s what I found out: A recent online poll posted on the website of conservative-leaning Fox News asked viewers whether the United States should “continue to make huge foreign aid payments while domestic programs face drastic budget cutbacks.”

        Ninety-three percent of respondents thought it was time to cut foreign aid. While unscientific, the online poll can give a sense of the mindset of some voters.
        Cantor immediately pushed for the bill making Israel America’s one and only “major strategic partner” to exempt Israel from foreign aid cuts.

      • Citizen
        March 19, 2013, 3:43 pm

        Following Cantor’s push in 2010, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrat Ted Deutch have been pushing the “major strategic partner” lone exemption to cuts in foreign aid. It’s really hilarious since Israel is of no strategic importance at all to the USA–in fact, it’s a huge handicap to both America’s practical interests and (what’s left of) America’s good reputation in the world.

      • American
        March 19, 2013, 3:58 pm

        @ Citizen

        Somewhere lately there was one…..can’t remember where…..you can probably can google it….that said 79% of Americans wanted foreign aid cut.

      • Woody Tanaka
        March 20, 2013, 8:43 am

        “There is a sort of bewilderment: how come most Americans ignore the Palestinian question?”

        I believe it is a mixture of bigotry and ignorance. There is a bigotry (expressed as both a pro-israel-regardless-of-the-facts bigotry and an anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian bigotry. [These often go hand in hand.]) And there is ignorance of what is really going on in Palestine and the crimes which the israelis are and have been committing, which an indictment of our media and which is somewhat being challenged by the internet.

    • kalithea
      March 19, 2013, 7:43 pm

      Why give anyone wiggle room? Why distinguish between immoral and evil when they’re all contributing to the same unfolding evil end?

      • Woody Tanaka
        March 20, 2013, 8:41 am

        “Why give anyone wiggle room? Why distinguish between immoral and evil when they’re all contributing to the same unfolding evil end?”

        Because I believe that there is a difference between being immoral and being evil, and (VERY roughly speaking) I believe that the population of israel contains people who are good (not enough, sadly), who are immoral, and who are evil. It would be untruthful to lump them all together.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 20, 2013, 6:24 pm

        there are some very good people there. i’ve met some of them, and there are others i know of i have yet to meet.

  4. seafoid
    March 19, 2013, 11:43 am

    It’s sad reading Noam Sheizaf. He is a thinker and he sees what has happened to his people. But the natural reaction of so many of his compatriots is to think nothing is wrong.

    • kalithea
      March 19, 2013, 7:37 pm

      And yet I question his conviction, because it actually starts with denying Zionism. So subconsciously he is still contributing to the problem rather than being fully committed to the solution.

  5. pabelmont
    March 19, 2013, 11:50 am

    Be wonderful if there were an effective peace-and-justice party in Israel which opposes the settlements, wall, siege. And opposes the occupation. Be even more wonderful if were stronger than the pro-settlement, pro-occupation, pro-apartheid parties.

    This article seems to say — as do most commentators– that none of this wonderful stuff exists.

    So, “what is to be done” is only minimally about action within (or directed at) the Israeli public. It must be (as BDS is) directed at world opinion with a hope to influence the national governments to act — to put the “S” in “BDS”.

    Wish more people would say so. In fact, it is of greatest importance to tell the Israeli people that their own intransigance makes them and their desires (and their sense of entitlement, epecially beyond the green-line, and with respect to the exiles of 1948) irrelevant to the final outcome. Their refusal to seek (or allow) a “just and lasting peace” as envisaged in UNSC 242 means that the solution must be imposed. This is a very important message that might get people thinking.

    • seafoid
      March 19, 2013, 2:16 pm

      There is essentially no meaningful opposition to the madness within Israel. The bots have total control of the means of education and the media.

  6. American
    March 19, 2013, 12:02 pm

    Very interesting. Very much the way a lot of us here understand it.

    1) The Isr status quo……that has to be upset thru some kind of event or change to make it too costly for Israeli to continue as it does..

    2) The EU’s ineffectiveness…..due to neo leanings of some states within and most probably also because of US pressure on them.

    3) The US Israeli occupied government firewall for Israel, as always.

    4) The more powerful Arab states unwillingness to do more than give Palestine some money and make some occasional noise.

    So the solution? Looks like more war and violence to me. We could dream about a new ‘coalition of states’ outside of the EU, US and UN that would form and be a ‘force’ in sanctioning and crippling Israe enough to upend the status quo……..Ireland as mentioned, South Africa, South America, where active sympathy exist, joined by Russia and powerhouse China..but for the powerhouses like China and Russia there would have to be something in it for them. What would be the something in it for them to make them come out against Israel?

    • Citizen
      March 19, 2013, 3:49 pm

      And too, what would be in it for India to come out against Israel? Or Brazil? Or has Brazil done so?

      On cursory googling, looks Like Brazil is the only S American nation to have a foreign policy re the ME, and it’s all about trade, while ignoring the I-P conflict: link to globalvoicesonline.org

  7. MHughes976
    March 19, 2013, 1:16 pm

    In substance, though by no means in style, this is the same conclusion so emphatically, though a little blandly, stated in the Economist article we were discussing a day or two ago. When it comes to the liberating the Palestinians, Jewish people in Israel will not do it.

    • kalithea
      March 19, 2013, 7:33 pm

      So then let it begin with Jewish Resistance OUTSIDE of Israel!

      • MHughes976
        March 25, 2013, 4:50 pm

        Well, that may be our main hope but I don’t feel good about it. We know about the man claiming to discuss division of the pizza while in reality eating it. We try to persuade his hesitant friends to persuade him to go on a diet. That is setting a process which is at best slow-acting to check another process which is forging ahead at a steady pace. Not promising, Kalithea, is it?

  8. lysias
    March 19, 2013, 2:02 pm

    So, some people will say it won’t be possible in 5, 10, 20 years. But show me the politician who thinks 10 years ahead.

    I think de Gaulle was thinking 10 years ahead when he ended the war in Algeria.

  9. Citizen
    March 19, 2013, 4:02 pm

    Looks like India is mostly concerned with anything that will help it economically, and it’s totally open to Israel, e.g., in terms of Israel’s trading of Palestinian oil to benefit India, though it generally votes against Israel at the UN.

  10. freespeechlover
    March 19, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Very helpful and useful. Thanks much for translating and posting.

  11. kalithea
    March 19, 2013, 7:24 pm

    Okay, it’s all quite interesting and LONG, and it’s alright to get the in-depth background analysis and the excuses and everything else under the sun we’ve mostly already read elsewhere, but if someone’s in a hurry and they want to get to the meat; they want to get the aha moment and they want to be snapped out of their stupor, then they can skip everything else and just read: “The Palestinian Question…” and if they really don’t have the patience even for that then read only the paragraph starting : This is the reason that whenever Israelis enjoyed….”, and ending “…Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem”. AND the very last sentence of that whole section: “So we have reached a moment where the rational political behavior in Israel is also the most immoral.”

    Also pay particular attention to the following sentence which is in the aforementioned paragraph which I take serious issue with: “And it’s not happening because some people are evil or because some people are stupid…” (oh yeah, right, just absolve them of their responsibility…good grief!)

    First of all, the paragraph I mentioned can be summarised in ONE word: APATHY. If the author of this lengthy piece had just written something like: The reason that the occupation has become an indefinite fixture and impenetrable injustice is because Zionists and the Israeli population are not just delusional but are gravely afflicted with the apathy that comes from from allowing evil to become a necessity and commonplace in one’s life!, this would say it all.

    So then how can he possibly say: “And it’s not happening because some people are evil or because some people are stupid…”? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? If you’re addicted to evil to protect Zionism and reject your moral responsibility to righteousness; you ARE evil, or is he trying to be polite at the 11th hour or is in some kind of denial because he wants to believe his own kin are incapable of evil? Let’s admit the predominant truth, like someone else stated here: this is the golden calf and Zionists sold their soul on behalf of Zionism. Why is it so difficult to admit this when righteousness is so accessible around this corner?

    So then, if you have “reached a moment where the rational political behavior in Israel is also the most immoral.” IS THAT NOT PURE EVIL???

    See, the problem here is that this will not end reasonably well UNLESS, each and every individual who is in any way associated with this evil whether by ideology or mere religious ties recognizes and admits that ZIONISM IS EVIL, and everyone in any way associated with it has a moral responsibility to come to terms with this reality. Although I believe that the rest of the world can succeed to some extent by supporting BDS aggressively; I disagree that Palestinians can do this on their own as they have been so diminished and dehumanized that their voice is barely audible on the global stage.

    So nothing will be effective in the long-run until Jews admit Zionism is evil, because it’s racist, undemocratic, and supremacist. And it starts with ONE VOICE doing so and empowering the rest to follow! I’ve compared it to a junkie or alcoholic admitting he has a problem, because until he is humble enough and honest enough to admit he has a problem then he will never find the strength to defeat it. Jews who refuse to admit that Zionism is the source of the evil are in a big or small way suppressing the power/force and individual and collective will required to defeat evil that is not static, uh-uh, it’s GROWING. And although Zionism and Apartheid have much in common, Zionism is much, much worse because it is inextricably linked to the seat of power. Let’s not forget that world powers gave Zionism the green light, world powers protect Zionism and the evil inherent in Zionism feeds off power and fear to deny righteousness and justice. This was not exactly the case with South African apartheid; not even close. Apartheid was not anchored in the seat of power and so international pressure and BDS worked. But the way that Zionism is linked to the collective Jewish psyche and the way that that psyche plays on the conscience of the rest of the world makes it almost impossible to tackle effectively without Jewish anti-Zionist activism.

    So this brings me to my other disagreement with the author. He seems to think that MORE WORDS, and talk from Jews and less active participation is enough. I disagree. A hundred years from now it’ll be just more words and talk (if anyone’s left). THIS IS WHY, the Left is disappearing in Israel and the radical Left is static and it’s going to take “radical” change. WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH! You can’t have a solution without aggressive Jewish participation and it starts with purging DENIAL; admitting Zionism is off the rails headed nowhere to certain disaster and the reason for that is because it’s inherently evil. And then comes the difficult task of not only getting others to recover from it, but fighting the evil that is entrenched in Israeli society through active participation in marches, rallies, town halls, art, theater, cultural events in protest of Zionism, civil disobedience…and RESISTANCE from every possible avenue.

  12. RoHa
    March 19, 2013, 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the transcript. It is very informative.

    My comments are related to kalthea’s.

    “the rational choice for any political leader, regardless of his ideologies, will be to maintain the status quo or the current political trends. Because as long as you can maintain the status quo, with all its problems and with all the difficulties and with all the isolation of Israel and some of the things, the moral implications if you want, the strategic implications, everything, the status quo in terms of political currency is still cheaper in Israel than any change to any side.”

    It is only rational if you accept the premise that the course of action to take is that which is cheaper in Israel.

    But is there any reason to accept that premise? If not, it is a mistake to say that the rational course is immoral.

    One could just as well argue (and I would) that since the course of action is immoral, we have reason to reject the premise, and that the course is irrational.

    (“… or the current political trends. Because as long as you can …”
    It is also a mistake to make the “because” clause a separate sentence from the clause that is being explained. It can easily lead to ambiguity. If keeping them in a single sentence leads to a sentence of unwieldly length, the remedy is to begin “This is because…”. Thus:
    “… or the current political trends. This is because as long as you can …”)

    • Fritz
      March 20, 2013, 4:11 am

      You made a good point in looking on the premises of the so called “rational” course of actions. Israelis (also NS) often present themselves as straigth forward thinking “rational” people when it is about the “Palestinian question” [in other "questions" they prefer to be overwhelmingly emotional]. But is it really rational? The founder of the tradition of “Realpolitik” in political sciences, that means rational political decisions concentrated on power, was Niccolo Macchiavelli. Macchiavelli told his prince something like that: “If you occupy a foreign country it is not a problem to kill people. If You kill a father of a family, the next generation will forgive. However, if You take the land and the houses of the family, they will never forgive.” Therefore I would also challenge the argument of rational politics. If Israeli politicians think to be rational in producing Mio people as ever lasting enemies in their neighbourhood, they will fail at last.

    • kalithea
      March 20, 2013, 10:59 am

      Your reply is a perfect example of why WORDS are standing in the way of freedom for Palestinians.

      Allow me to provide a great analogy for what you just did: “IT DEPENDS ON WHAT THE MEANING OF THE WORD “IS” IS.”

      REMEMBER THAT COMMENT BY CLINTON??? That’s called lawyerly dodging. And personally I give a shet that Clinton lied about an affair.

      But what Zionism is doing is CRIMINAL indeed and it must be stopped.

      You can scat words and dissect the logic to fudge the truth; but the truth is crystal clear: ZIONISM IS EVIL because it destroys people’s homes and lives, it kills, maims, uproots and denies millions of Palestinians their rights all in the name of RACISM AND SUPREMACY. And all the while Israelis are living it up next door just letting this oppression they’re responsible for, ride – THAT’S PURE EVIL.

      So smoke THAT.

    • kalithea
      March 20, 2013, 11:22 am

      Oh and one more thing: I just don’t know what to think about someone who condescends and waste times with hobbled logic while people are dying and suffering under Zionism. Should I define it as:

      a) logic delaying and denying justice?
      b) a complacent lack of urgency to defend the rights of the oppressed? or,
      c) pseudo-intellectualism vs straightforward righteousness? or

      d) all the above

      My money’s on d)!

      • RoHa
        March 20, 2013, 8:18 pm

        What are you getting upset about, kalithea? (Aside from the monstrous evil of Zionism, of course.)

        I agree with you that Zionism is evil. That is why I object to Israeli policy being described as “the most rational political course”.

        “Rational” is praiseworthy, but there is nothing praiseworthy about the Israeli course of action. That is why I questioned the alleged rationality of the course of action.

        As far as I am concerned, nothing immoral can be, ultimately, rational.

        And as far a I am concerned, we need logic and rationality. I take the Confucian line that we cannot have moral order if we have intellectual disorder.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 20, 2013, 8:39 pm

        kalithea is temperamental RoHa, or just a terrific fan of the upper case.

  13. Henry Norr
    March 20, 2013, 9:28 pm

    With respect, RoHa, I think you are misreading Sheizaf. He is not saying that continuing the occupation, etc., is rational in any positive moral sense, simply that it appears the most sensible course from the perspective of Israeli political leaders concerned with holding on to their jobs, perks, and power (and their lives). His argument is that if they were to push for any serious change to the status quo, many if not most of their constituents and of the Israeli elite (and, I’d add, the rich right-wing American Jews who fund all those pols) would turn on them and, one way or another, try to drive them out of office. If you read the full text, he explains that that’s what happened to Rabin, even to Netanyahu after he signed the Hebron agreement, and to Sharon when he decided to do the Gaza “disengagement” (though in that case he didn’t get driven out of office – unless someone caused his stroke). You could also add Barak and Olmert to the list, just for the positions they put forward in their negotiations with the PA, even though neither actually concluded an agreement. (No doubt Olmert was corrupt, but no one worried about that until he got involved in the negotiations.)

    And just to anticipate an objection someone is likely to make, I’m pretty sure that Sheizaf wouldn’t argue that whatever changes these guys made or contemplated were necessarily real steps toward justice, just that they represented change from the arrangements that were in place when they took office.

    If anyone’s interested, Sheizaf laid out this “rational choice” argument more fully at
    link to 972mag.com

    My own view is that his argument is true as far as it goes, except that it implies that the Israeli leaders had or have no commitments of their own except to their own careers, so if somehow, some day, there got to be broad political support for change in Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, they’d cheerfully, “rationally” move in that direction. That might be true on some tactical issues, but not on the big picture – they’re all dedicated Zionists, committed to the tribalist goal of stealing as much as they can get away with for the Jews and keeping the Palestinians under their boots (unless they can find a way to get rid of them altogether).

  14. RoHa
    March 20, 2013, 10:14 pm

    “With respect, RoHa, I think you are misreading Sheizaf.”

    I read Sheizaf as saying that the choice “appears the most sensible course from the perspective of Israeli political leaders”

    The headline, however, implies that the rational can be immoral. I was emphasizing that the alleged rationality was dependent on accepting a dubious premise, and that the immorality of the conclusion is a good reason for rejecting that premise.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 20, 2013, 11:53 pm

      i was there RoHa, i was there because noam is one of the most astute israeli analyst/journalist reporting today. i was there not because i was interested so much in hearing his personal ideology, but his analysis on what was going on with the varying israeli polities and the overall election outcome. it didn’t occur to me he agreed with the outcomes.

      political leaders do not remain leaders if they loose their constituencies. therefore, a “rational choice for any political leader, regardless of his ideologies, will be to maintain the status quo or the current political trends.” notice i did alter one word from noam’s presentation, ‘the’ to ‘a’ (and he is not speaking in his mother tongue). for in times of revolution, a rational choice might be to ride the wave of an incoming political trend….and ride it into a victory. there are other rational choices available other than to “maintain the status quo or the current political trends.” nonetheless, i am not israeli. from noam’s perspective, as an israeli, maintaining “the status quo or the current political trends,” in his opinion, is the rational choice to stay (or get) in power.

      to me, that doesn’t mean he thinks it is ideal, it means that’s his read on things in israeli society. it’s a take it or leave it analysis, and i will take it in terms of understanding what’s going on.

      there’s probably a drive, an imperative, to believe every israeli jew, or every zionist is inherently evil, but in my experience that isn’t how life works. ordinary people get caught up in unconscionable ugliness as a matter of course. so i was there to better understand the reality inside the system and noam was very good at explaining it. which is why i recommend reading his articles @+972. they are very very good.

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