The Real News Network’s Marc Steiner and Shir Hever discuss the upcoming election, corruption charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and more.
Shir Hever is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit-Sahour. Researching the economic aspect of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, some of his research topics include the international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel, the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His work also includes giving lectures and presentations on the economy of the occupation. His first book: Political Economy of Israelâs Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, has been published by Pluto Press.
Marc Steiner: Welcome to the Real News. Iâm Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us. As we approach the end of this year, weâre going to bring you another segment of our year in review. We here at Real News have been dedicated over the years to covering the political situation in Palestine in Israel. Clearly thereâs been no lack of stories or issues for us and the world to cover, and the person who spearheaded much of that work for us in the last few years is Shir Hever, whoâll be joining us here in a moment as we cover these two election rounds in Israel this year and the third one thatâs approaching, as well as looking at the ongoing corruption charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and how Netanyahu has spearheaded the use of right wing populism to win elections and defend himself from corruption charges.
Clearly, this seems to be a familiar theme around the globe. This could describe many leaders from Modi in India to Bolsonaro in Brazil to OrbĂĄn in Hungary and even to Donald Trump. And while Netanyahu is not the only leader inciting the masses against the media and judicial system in order to cling to power while being accused of corruption, he is at the forefront. And as the new Israeli prime minister named Amir Ohana the head of the justice department just in June, he gave a speech that cuts to the chase about how right wing populism, not just in Israel but across the world, makes the judicial system a target. Letâs hear that short segment.
Interpreter: In the years in which I was a lawyer and a public figure, I saw diligent judges. I saw honest and fair judges full of a sense of devotion. I also saw others. One thing I did not see judges, who were elected by the public. Because of this, there is no escape from the conclusion that the judicial branch is the least democratic of the three branches. Those who sit there will not bear responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and will not stand to be reelected every four years in order to receive or not receive its trust once more. It could have been expected that specifically because of this, the judicial system as well as its branches, stateâs attorney, the stateâs prosecution, a special restraint in performing their duties and obligation to respect the language of the law as well as the other branches.
Marc Steiner: You might call Netanyahu the worldâs pioneer of right wing populism. Now in his 13th year as prime minister, Netanyahuâs grip on Israeli political power in the system might be slipping away. Unless he can pull out another rabbit from his hat, he may be forced down after the elections, perhaps even before the elections that are scheduled for early March. If he does step down, he might even have to go to jail for giving and receiving bribes, but that wonât end the occupation, the segregation faced by Palestinians within Israel, or the power of the right wing in Israeli politics to continue the nationalist regime. Shir Hever joins us once again, the Real News correspondent based in Heidelberg, Germany. His recent book, the Privatization of Israeli Security. Shir, good to have you with us once again.
Shir Hever: Itâs always great to speak with you, Marc .
Marc Steiner: Letâs just start at the beginning here. Iâm very curious about this whole King Bibi period of 13 years, actually more in some ways. Is it really coming to an end? What does that mean for it to come to an end?
Shir Hever: You know, in the last two elections, the election campaign slogan of Netanyahu was, âNetanyahu is of a different league.â And I think thatâs actually correct. He is one of the most intelligent leaders that have ever existed in the Israeli political scene, and also on an international level, he leaves many of his competitors behind. And he could have used that intelligence of his to bring justice to Palestine, to end occupation. Or he could have used this intelligence of his as he promised to, to allow Israel to continue the occupation, the apartheid regime and the colonization with impunity and to defeat the BDS movement.
He didnât. He used his intelligence and his resources in order to take power for himself, to make money. But not even that much money, but mostly just to get luxuries of life. I think this is now a very interesting situation that heâs already facing the third election in one year and the polls are not predicting anything good for him for the election thatâs going to happen on March 2nd. If he doesnât win, then it looks even worse for him because he will have to face trial, he will lose his nomadic community, and he will probably go to jail.
Now, I say this with caution because he has proven again and again that he always has some kind of backup plan, some kind of trick up his sleeve and maybe by the time the election will be over by March, heâll pull one more rabbit up out of his hat, like you put it, maybe by starting a war and saying, âWell, itâs a state of emergency, so we canât change the government,â or by doing some kind of political assassination against his opponents. But I think if really weâre going to see an end of Ben Netanyahu era in the Israeli politics, then it really is a big question, whoâs going to come next? Because even Benny Gantz, the main contender for the prime ministerâs seat, is shadowed compared to Netanyahu in terms of his connections and influence and even knowledge and experience. And everybody else within Netanyahuâs party or in the opposition are all at dwarves compared to them. So I think this is a going to be a very interesting vacuum that is going, and we donât know whoâs going to fill it.
Marc Steiner: So, letâs talk about that for just a moment. You have the very right wing populous movement in Israel, is control the government. Inside his own coalition in Likud, his party, you have Gideon Saâar, who is challenging him for leadership. There seems to be a real battle over that. So, letâs talk about these three people here for a moment and talk about what his year has meant and how they might change the picture, how all these three people may change the picture in Palestine and Israel. First, Gideon Saâar, whoâs trying to move Netanyahu out and become the new leader of Likud and then run for the prime minister seat himself. What about that struggle?
Shir Hever: Yeah. Gideon Saâar is a student of Netanyahu. He understood that in order to be successful as a politician, it doesnât matter what you do, it doesnât matter what your policies are, it doesnât matter even what kind of plans you have or what kind of agenda, platform you have. It is only about populism. Gideon Saâar married a very famous television news anchor, which gives him access or at least creates the impression that he has access to prime time television broadcasts. There was no proof that his wife was actually promoting his political career on prime time television. But that is enough to position him as somebody who potentially has the power to replace Netanyahu.
Marc Steiner: So are you saying he doesnât-
Shir Hever: Of all the Likud members, heâs the only one who actually dared to say that maybe heâs going to take Netanyahuâs place.
Marc Steiner: Are you saying that the press and everybody else are making too much of Gideon Saâar and his potential to take over Likud and to push Netanyahu out? I mean, thatâs been the focus of headlines from every major newspaper in the world.
Shir Hever: They have because thereâs nobody else, but that doesnât make him a real contender. If Netanyahu has to step down because he goes to jail or because heâs facing a trial and he canât keep being there at the prime minister, then itâs likely that Gideon Saâar will be the next leader of the Likud party. But that doesnât really make him a leader with the popularity and influence that Netanyahu had, or the international connections. Gideon Saâar is a hard line right winger, and heâs said this time and time again; heâs against a Palestinian state. He is in favor of annexation. He wants Palestinians who live under an apartheid regime forever. Thereâs no difference between him and Netanyahu.
Marc Steiner: Thatâs what Iâm saying. No matter whether Netanyahu stays or goes as prime minister, whether âŠ Weâll see what happens in March with the election. Whether he stays or goes, though, it doesnât change the policy. I mean, thereâs nobody in Likud whoâs going to stand up and go, âNo, weâre not going to annex the Jordan Valley. No, weâre going to get the Palestinians their on state and move the settlements back.â Thatâs not happening. So I mean, [crosstalk 00:08:50]-
Shir Hever: No, the difference in policy is how to implement it wisely. Netanyahu has actually held back Israeli military from invading Gaza time and time again. And he has selected targets and selected which battles to fight and which battles to step down from because he knew in advance that some kind of battles or some conflicts are not going to bring him popularity, and others can. Thatâs the difference. And I donât think Gideon Saâar has that ability. I think Gideon Saâar, being a populist that believes his own lies, he will say, âWell, if I promise to invade Gaza, then I should invade Gaza.â And that could cause a lot of misery to Palestinians of course. But it can also cause damage to the Israeli political agenda and international standing. Netanyahu was a bit more careful. He always promised to invade Gaza, but he rarely did.
Marc Steiner: So, let me very quickly here go through a couple of other people so we can get âŠ because we have a lot to cover in a very little bit of time here. Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party. Theyâre neck and neck in this election. So heâll be the candidate again, correct? Coming up in March.
Shir Hever: Yeah. And right now the polls are showing that heâs probably going to be the next prime minister. Heâs representing an older generation of Israeli generals and the old Ashkenazi elite, the Jews of European descent that hold many key positions in the Israeli economic system and political system and education system. Heâs representing them with the only real political slogan that heâs pushing forward, which is, âAnyone but Bibi. Anyone but Netanyahu.â Thatâs his politics. And therefore I think that even if he becomes prime minister, weâre not going to see any major changes in the Israeli political scene. He has said that he actually agrees with Netanyahu on pretty much everything, whether itâs Netanyahuâs obsession with Iran and fighting against Iran, whether itâs Netanyahuâs promise to legally annex the Jordan Valley, which is the most fertile region and Palestine, and all of these things. Benny Gantz said, âYes, Iâm exactly like Netanyahu on these issues.â The only difference is that he says, âBut Iâm not a thief. I donât give or take bribes.â
Marc Steiner: Itâs almost like anybody-
Shir Hever: I donât think that makes for a real agenda for a politician.
Marc Steiner: It almost like anybody but Trump in the United States. Letâs touch one more here, and then jump into a couple of quick issues. Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint List, which is a mostly Arab organization, mostly Israeli Palestinians who have now become the leading opposition in the Knesset. People are talking about him as a major factor in the future of Israeli politics as well as what could be happening. Whatâs your analysis there?
Shir Hever: Well, I think Palestinian citizens of Israel are right now in a transition period where they experience a very, very deep political dilemma. On the one hand, the level of incitement and racism against them has reached unprecedented levels. The new nationality law, or law of the nation, if you want to call it that, just outright says, âThis country is not your country. You cannot have equal rights in this country.â So a lot of them say, âWell, in that case, why even be part of the political system? Letâs either rebel against it completely and just try to get rid of this whole system and replace it with a democracy, or leave the country and give up.â
But I think thereâs also a very large number of Palestinians, and here Ayman Odeh is the leader of that camp of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and say, âYeah, okay, thereâs this whole incitement and hate speech directed against us. There are laws that discriminate against us, but that doesnât mean that we have to give up. We can make our victories one inch at a time and become part of Israeli society, whether the right wingers like it or not.â Itâs a very interesting political approach. I have to say that personally, Iâm also conflicted about it. Iâm not sure which is the right way to do, but Iâm seeing what Ayman Odeh is doing, and he has actually quite successfully made his political party legitimate.
Members of that party can go on the evening news and speak about their agenda, and theyâre no longer considered to be all terrorists and the enemies of the state, but actually just one more political party. Netanyahu gave a hysterical speech with a level of hatred that we havenât heard before in November, just basically calling the Joint List an enemy, a group that tries to destroy the state of Israel. And the response of the Joint List was not to say, âOh, here again, we have incitement against us and calls to kill us.â But rather what they said, âWell, it looks like Netanyahu lost it. He lost his mind.â
And the interesting thing is that the other political parties in the Knesset, including some right wing parties, stepped up and said, âYou know, we donât approve of that kind of speech. We see the Joint List as perhaps political opponents, but theyâre not our enemies, and we will work together with them and on the political level.â And thatâs an achievement for Palestinian Israelis that I think is very interesting, and I think there may be a slim chance that after the election of March, for the first time in history, the Joint List will be part of the coalition and part of the government. And maybe this is too much of wishful thinking, but for Benny Gantz, this could really make or break his coalition, so itâs also in his interest to make such a coalition legitimate.
Marc Steiner: Thereâs a lot to cover here when it comes to Israel and Palestine, and this just part one. We have to look at corruption and Netanyahu and annexation, and the connection to world populism. So, weâre going to thank Shir for this segment. Shir, always good to have you with us.
Shir Hever: Thank you, Marc .
Marc Steiner: Iâm Marc Steiner here for the Real News and the second segment that you can watch right after this or anytime youâd like, weâre going to tackle those other issues. Iâm Marc Steiner for the Real News. Take care.
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