The fact that a typical ABC interview on the subject of the Middle East conflict invariably reveals as much about the interviewer's entrenched Zionist prejudices and ignorance as it does about the matter under discussion never ceases to amaze me.
A particularly glaring example was Wednesday's interview with Israeli academic, activist and author Marcelo Svirsky by Radio National's current Breakfast presenter James Carleton (Racism becomes the new norm in Israel: Political scientist, 23/7).
For Carleton, Israel's is always the default position. Typically, he begins the interview, with the premise that Hamas, a mere symptom of Israeli occupation, is the problem:
JC: Unfortunately, the firing of rockets into Israel and the strong response of the Israeli military into Gaza is nothing new. Hamas has been at war with Israel since it was first elected 8 years ago. Yet, in spite of that history of violence that stretches way back before Hamas, our next guest says something new is happening in Israel. Dr Marcelo Svirsky is a political scientist. He's an Israeli Jew who now lives in Australia, and teaches at the University of Wollongong in NSW. He's just returned from Jerusalem and he says that the hatred and racism he's witnessed towards Arabs has become the norm in Israeli society, something he's never seen before.
[But it gets worse. Next comes Carleton's 'understanding' of the Middle East conflict from 1948 to the present.]
JC: Before I get you to substantiate that claim, and because it is a big claim, why would it be so given in the past Arab armies have nearly destroyed Israel in 1948, and there've been wars of survival up to 1973, there've been intifadas, the current situation, relatively speaking in terms of Israel's security, is rather mild, why should there be hatred now but not then?
[It has to asked: Is it a qualification for work at the ABC that the employee have experience in peddling Zionist propaganda? Svirsky, of course, is not impressed]:
MS: Well, to begin with, I don't think the narrative of 1948 is right as you expose it. Israel was not under threat of destruction in 1948, but [again] this is something we perhaps need to discuss in another program. I think that the present situation [in Israel] is special and different in the sense that we're witnessing a further crystallization of violence and racism in Israeli society not yet seen. I'm not talking about the regular, more familiar structure of racism and settlerism we [already] know about, but something new, and I'm talking about 3 particular forms of behaviour or social patterns. The first is the total recruitment of the media, not just biased reports and commentaries on TV and radio, but more important, actually calling on the government to escalate the conflict. This is [inaudible] so far. I mean, the marginal spaces that the Israeli media had in the past for some alternative voices are being shrunk, not to say, totally cleansed.
JC: But there's Haaretz. That's a very pro-Palestinian newspaper. It's a free and diverse media.
MS: Well, I don't think Haaretz is pro-Palestine, although it has a few, brave journalists such as Gideon Levy and Amira Hass. But I would like to tell you that (only) last week in Ashkelon Gideon Levy was physically attacked, and what is more, yesterday Matti Golan, a well known publicist working for the daily financial newspaper Globes called on the government to put Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in administrative detention for what he claims to be the use of freedom of expression that [inaudible]. So I think that these kinds of calls are pretty much new in the Israeli media.
JC: OK, if that's the media, what are the other two?
MS: The second phenomenon is the organised counter-demonstrations of right-wing groups showing up at anti-war protests. I'm talking about thugs showing up at leftist demonstrations wearing neo-Nazi t-shirts, those used by European neo-Nazis, saying GOOD NIGHT LEFT SIDE, with an image of a man attacking a left-wing activist... They outnumber the leftist protestors...
JC: What do the t-shirts say?
MS: They say GOOD NIGHT LEFT SIDE.
JC: GOOD NIGHT LEFT SIDE? It's a contradiction in terms. A neo-Nazi is an Israeli?
MS: Well, sadly, it isn't if you introspect into the social patterns and behaviours of Israeli society. But what is happening is that they chase the leftist protestors chanting DEATH TO THE ARABS, DEATH TO THE LEFTISTS, and they beat them up while the police just look on. All they do is arrest Palestinian citizens at the end of the demonstration.
JC: What happened when the ambulance took some of the victims of these beatings away?
MS: This happened in Haifa. Two Palestinian citizens were beaten and taken by ambulance to hospital. Some of these thugs stopped the ambulance, opened the door and asked, 'Jews or Arabs?' with the intention of taking these people out of the ambulance, if they were Arab, just to finish the job. The third phenomenon is the enjoyment of the spectacle of war. Israelis are gathering on a hilltop close to Gaza to cheer and whoop as Israeli bombs rain down on Palestinians. They bring their tables, chairs and picnic baskets as if they were watching a football match, only they get excited if a player is the death of human beings. I think this is pretty appalling.
JC: You're talking about Sderot.
MS: Yes, near Sderot.
JC: Well, that town in the past two weeks, Hamas has launched 1,500 rockets in 14 days. They would say you're playing the victim.
MS: We can also quote in that respect President Obama and other western leaders claiming no country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its border... but James, which nation would agree to be oppressed for nearly half a century of colonisation? Which nation would remain silent in the face of an ongoing ethnic cleansing? For instance, would Australian citizens peacefully agree to be stripped of their natural rights and their lives be dictated by an external power?
JC: So when the Israeli government says why do people single out Israel, you're saying why single out Palestine as the only nation to endure occupation?
MS: Exactly. And we need to contextualise the violence of Hamas. What is happening here is that the West blames the victims for fighting back. This is an absurdity.
JC: Israel says that resistance is a code word for terrorism.
MS: Resistance is the right of an occupied and oppressed people. It's a natural right.
JC: But not to individually target civilians.
MS: Well, this is something we need to ask the Israeli government about. After 600 Palestinian deaths, including more than 100 children, about 3,000 injured, with nowhere to go. I mean, the claim that Israel's violence is an act of self-defence is an oxymoron. No occupying power has a legitimate right of self-defence but [rather] an international obligation to withdraw.
JC: You are not a Zionist, are you?
MS: No, I'm not.
JC: Does that put you on the extreme of Israeli society?
MS: I think that puts me on making sense of reality.
JC: But it's a view not shared by many of your former countrymen?
MS: To say the least.
JC: Well, the argument then is, from an Israeli perspective, why should Australia get to have Australia, the Chinese China? We all have our own countries except why are Jews singled out to be denied their homeland in their historic birthplace.
MS: I think there are 3 answers to that. To begin with, the parallel between Australians, French or Japanese and Jews is not exact because we're mixing up here nation, religion, ethnic belonging, and other factors. The second answer is that if a country of Jews or Australians is [all] about privilege for a particular group, that's unacceptable.
JC: You mean anyone can come to Australia provided they apply to migrate, and once they're here, they're first class citizens?
MS: Well, it should be. Israel was established as a society built on...
JC: Well, if it's not true in Australia or Israel, why single out Israel?
MS: Well, it is the society I come from...
MS: ... and I have a particular interest in Israel because I have family and friends there and most of my past is there.
JC: But the other point is when you come to Australia you can take an Australian nationality fully but when you migrate or are the independent population of a Jewish state, if you are not a Jew either ethnically or in terms of religion that's more problematic.
[More problematic? Is this ignorance or sheer cussedness? Let me spell it out for Carleton: if you are a diaspora Palestinian you cannot return to your Palestinian homeland (stolen and renamed 'Israel') because you do not have a Jewish mother.]
MS: Well, here comes my 3rd answer, which is that the Jews or the Hebrew [-speaking] people are not the only, if we accept that claim, indigenous people of the land of Palestine. We cannot dismiss the fact that the Palestinian people are the more indigenous people of the land.
JC: So, you're calling for a one-state solution democracy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, but the Israeli Jewish fear is that that will necessarily mean an Arab majority and the best case scenario is a democracy where Jews are second class citizens. The worst case scenario is an annihilation or second holocaust.
[Can you believe this guy! A 'Jewish' majority is no problem for him, but an Arab majority, that's going too far.]
MS: This is all speculation, but we have now, as fact, that the so-called only democracy in the Middle East is a fascist regime with 1st, 2nd & 3rd class citizens acting as an occupying power for 50 years, and established on a basis of ethnic cleansing - 700,000 indigenous Palestinian people. So if you take the historical facts on the one hand, and a kind of suspect politics of pre-emption on the other, I'm not sure which one we should choose.
[Marcelo Svirsky's important new book on how Jewish-Israelis can and need to "divest themselves of Zionist identities by engaging with dissident rationalities, practices and institutions," is just out. It's called After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation. Here's the opening sentence from the book's Statement: "Israel was a bad idea from its inception." I'm looking forward to reading it. Re the emerging Israeli fascism cited by Svirsky, I urge you all - as I have earlier - to read Max Blumenthal's recent expose, Goliath: Fear & Loathing in Greater Israel.]