Above photo: Professor Larry Gross. USC Annenberg School for Communication.
The Communications professor, who grew up in Israel shortly after it was founded, talks about the racism he witnessed in the young nation long before it occupied the West Bank and Gaza.
Just five years after the state of Israel was founded in 1948, the family of Larry Gross, the former director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, moved there. Gross, who is also the founder and editor of the International Journal of Communication, joins Robert Scheer on this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” to give listeners his perspective on the nation he lived in as a boy and teenager. With Passover right around the corner, Scheer grounds the discussion on Israel in its biblical past as well as its present as Israel receives international plaudits for having one of the fastest COVID-19 vaccination programs in the world, despite practicing medical apartheid. (Listen to the recent “Scheer Intelligence” episode with Mideast expert Juan Cole on this very topic here.)
The professor and author of several books, including “Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America,” shares the many complex historical and personal reasons his family ended up moving to Israel in the 1950s and explains what he witnessed there during his most formative years. Gross describes a young nation that not only exhibited racism towards Arabs, who were treated as “uncivilized, unintelligent, undeveloped, primitive,” but also towards non-white Jews.
“There was always a deep and relatively undisguised element of racism in Israel,” says Gross. “There was a component of racism against Arabs, [but racism] was also manifest, undisguisedly, if anyone was paying attention, in the way the Jews from Arab countries–the Mizrahi Jews, the Sephardic Jews–were treated.
“Israel, on the one hand, actively undermined the circumstances that Jews were experiencing in Egypt, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Tunisia, in Iraq, in order to motivate them to come to Israel. [These Jews] were being brought in in order to raise the population of Israel, but there, they were unambiguously second-class citizens. They were not treated remotely the same way as were immigrants from Europe or from the United States, from Western countries, who were given much better treatment in terms of housing, in terms of employment and conditions.”
In 1967, after the Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Israel took another step away from democracy as it occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. More than half a century later, Israel has been labeled an apartheid nation, as extremist settlers occupy more and more of the West Bank, and Gaza, which has been described as an “open air concentration camp” is routinely subjected to violent attacks by Israeli forces. Scheer, who was reporting on the region during the Six Day War, relates what the Israeli general, politician and peace crusader Moshe Dayan told him at the time regarding his country’s occupation of the Palestinians’ territories.
“[When] I interviewed him, [Moshe Dayan] said that, ‘You come back in 10 years and we’re still here as occupiers, it’s the end of Israel as an ideal.’”
Gross argues that Dayan and other “generals-turned-politicians” were behind the proliferation of armed settlements built in the West Bank that fueled a “fixation on armed outposts for security, despite the fact that their military supremacy was never challenged after ’67.” The Communications professor, however, adds that Dayan was right about the moral corruption Israelis would undergo as occupiers.
“What Israel has been able to do is to cloak itself in an aura of victimhood [rooted in the Holocaust] while they’re oppressing [Palestinians],” says Gross. “It is soul-destroying for Israel to put its young people in the army and place them in a position of behaving [like] brutal prison guards, treating people–children, women, men–in that dehumanizing fashion.”
So how do Israelis sleep at night? Gross, who says he is as critical of human rights abuses by China and the U.S., among others, as he is of Israel, explains:
“Tel Aviv, which is by far the largest population concentration in Israel, is often referred to as a bubble,” he adds. “What that means is, you can live in a cosmopolitan, prosperous, Mediterranean city, and be unaware of what’s happening 10, 20, 30 miles to your east because it’s constructed that way. There’s a wall. There’s a barrier. It’s out of sight and out of mind. And that’s how you can live with it, that’s how you can do it.”
Host: Robert Scheer
Producer: Joshua Scheer
Introduction: Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Transcript: Lucy Berbeo
RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case it’s Larry Gross, who’s a colleague of mine at the University of Southern California Annenberg School. Actually, he was my boss there for many years. He’s the editor of the leading communications publication in the world, or one of the ones, he’ll straighten us out on the facts. And the reason I asked Larry to come, he’s also someone who has lived the story of American Jews in relation to Israel. And I’m going to let him tell that story. Obviously, this is the third rail issue that no one wants to talk about.
But I think we need to talk about Israel in the post-Trump period. Clearly, it remains part of Trump-land; there’s tremendous support for the man, they moved their embassy, they got everything they wanted, there was no peace agreement. And we’re in the middle of a pandemic in which a major, even Biblical issue, given that we’re also moving into Passover and dealing with plagues–an issue of how you treat “the other.” And there’s a plague, the COVID virus, and Israel has been the most successful country in the world, the original part of Israel, in vaccinating its people, and totally ignored the people in the West Bank and Gaza.
So we actually have almost a Biblical phrasing here; in fact, you’re wishing a plague upon others, or you’re indifferent to a plague; we’ll get to that. But Larry, just talk about your own relation to Israel. And you first arrived there, I think, four years after the state was founded.
LG: Ah, five years. I arrived in July of 1953, and I was almost, I was ten-and-a-half. The story is a little complicated, but it’s very much part of those times. To sort of give the basic background, my father, who worked in the Roosevelt and then Truman administrations, worked as a staff member on Congressional and Senate committees, and then worked on Truman’s Council of Economic Advisors, and then in 1952 for the Democratic National Committee, where he set up their research department. So come the election, or after the election, or in 1952, my father was basically out of a job, having been a member of the outgoing Democratic administration. He also had four young children, the youngest of whom was just three years old at that time. And he had a burden, which was he was in the actual language of that period, which we now refer to, now in kind of a general sense as McCarthyism, the McCarthy period, that is to say a period of heightened concern about subversion and loyalty and checking on everybody.
My father was what was called a “premature antifascist.” Which was a term used for people who had been active in opposing fascism before December 7th, 1941, when opposing fascism became the official policy of the U.S. government. Had you been involved in opposing fascism, say, in the context of the Spanish Civil War, or other struggles, then you were suspect. And my father was suspect, and you might even say for good reason, because both of my parents had been members of the Communist Party in the 1930s. They left the party in 1939 at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact, as did many others. But they were clearly part of the left milieu in Washington; I mean, the right wing was not wrong to say that there were many leftists, including many Communists–which was not illegal, to be a Communist–in Washington in and around the government in the thirties and the forties.
So in that context, when many people were out of a job because of the change in administration, there weren’t that many options. There weren’t many people hiring, in this period of political repression, hiring people with suspect pasts. And many of these people in my parents’ circle ended up going abroad. This was also a period in which American expertise was being exported around the world in the sort of period of great American supremacy, hegemony you might say, after the war; American experts were in high demand to help sort of guide what were then called “underdeveloped countries.”
And that’s what happened with my family. There were options that came along, and as I recall, one option would have been to go to Japan, which was then occupied by American armed forces, and serve as a kind of advisor in the reconstruction of Japan. And my mother said that she didn’t want to raise her four children in an expat bubble, only with Americans. And she said if there was something in Israel–which as I’m sure everybody knows was founded in 1948, so it was a very young state–that would be different.
And as it happened, shortly afterwards an opportunity came along, because an economist who had been part of the Democratic administration was charged to form what was called an Economic Advisory Council to the prime minister’s office in Israel, the prime minister at the time being David Ben-Gurion, the founding prime minister. And that was something that my mother could see as worth doing. My mother’s parents were active Labor Zionists, had been active in the Labor Zionist movement in the United States. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was later the president of the Labor Zionists of America, for part of the fifties and sixties.
RS: Is that the Hashomer Hatzair?
LG: No, Hashomer Hatzair was more left. This was the, basically, the group that was connected with the Labor Party, with what was called Mapai, the workers’ party, in Israel. And Golda Meir, who was a leader of this party, you know, one of the leaders–in fact, the only one who was born in America; she was born in Minneapolis of Russian immigrant parents. All the other members of that founding political circle were either from Russia or Poland. Golda was the only exception, and she was part of the movement; she was a good friend of my grandparents. So there was a connection there; this seemed reasonable.
And so my father signed on for a two-year stint to be part of this Economic Advisory Council in Jerusalem. And we moved to Israel, to Jerusalem, in July of 1953. In theory, we were going to spend two years; in fact, as it happened, we ended up spending seven years. My father worked for the government for the first three years, and then moved over and taught at the Hebrew University, where he began a program in public administration and then a program in business administration that he established in the Kaplan School of Social Sciences at the Hebrew University. I should note the Hebrew University at that point was not the original campus, what’s called Mount Scopos, which was then in the occupied part of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, but it was the new campus, Givat Ram, in West Jerusalem, actually not that far from where we–
RS: So you learned Hebrew and went to school there and–
LG: So I arrived there with my three brothers and my parents in July of 1953. By September of 1953, my brothers–well, except my youngest brother, who was only four–began school in Hebrew, which we didn’t know at all when we arrived, but children pick up languages fast. And we, you know, did quite well in school. So we lived there and went through, I went through school from the sixth grade through the twelfth grade, the last years at the high school that is associated with the Hebrew University, although–it’s called the high school next to the Hebrew University, although it was at that time in another part of Jerusalem.
But my older brother and I both went through the Hebrew University high school; he actually stayed on for undergraduate work in physics at the Hebrew University. I came back with my parents in 1960. My father came back, took up a position at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, a school that Bob actually knows. And he was there for some time before moving eventually to City University of New York, where he taught for years, and then after he retired he taught part time at Berkeley. But basically, he had become an academic.
So we spent seven years in Jerusalem, the 1950s. I often think that I was lucky in that I missed the fifties in America, which by all accounts was not a great period in America, and got to spend the fifties in Israel which in retrospect was probably a very good time to experience Israel. Some of its internal contradictions had not become as problematic as they did later on.
RS: So that’s what we’re here to discuss, is these contradictions that have now actually become dominant, in that–because I, my familiarity with Israel follows yours by a number of years. I was there at the time of the Six-Day War, in 1967. And suddenly–and at that time, I was there as a journalist; I had been to Egypt at the tail end of the war, and then went over to Israel. And at that time, these Labor Zionists that you’re referring to, that your father worked for, were still dominant in Israel. And you know, I interviewed a number of them; Moshe Dayan would come out of that same movement, and others, Ya’alon and what have you.
And this was, you know, going to change everything. Because there was suddenly the occupation of the Palestinians, who had not actually waged war against Israel; the war had been waged by Jordan and Syria and Egypt, but somehow the Palestinians–everybody else ended up making peace with Israel, but the Palestinians didn’t, because they were in the land that Israel actually wanted to expand into, even though at the time they told me they didn’t want to, they wanted to work out some accommodation.
So take us to the present, Larry. Because now it couldn’t be a more different Israel. The old Labor Party is not even a factor in the election that’s going on now. And the occupation seems permanent, or the expulsion of people, whatever’s going to happen. And in the context of the pandemic, which is really why we’re doing this interview at this time, something to my mind enormous has happened. Because the Jewish people have gone from a people that had been victimized, and in the Diaspora, but the original Exodus story that many were raised on, and they of course are now in the position the Egyptians were in. And there are these Palestinians, in the middle of a pandemic, who have actually not been given the vaccine that Israelis, including Israeli Palestinians, have been given. And it’s also happened at a time when we had the most explicitly pro-right-wing Israeli president that we’ve ever had, in Donald Trump, who really gave them their wish list for the occupiers. Moved the embassy; basically there was no real negotiation about any kind of two-state solution. And so where are we now? The Israel that you grew up in, and the Israel now–how do you relate to it?
LG: Well, let me sort of try and put a number of pieces of the puzzle on the table. One is there was always a deep and relatively undisguised element of racism in Israel. The racism that I experienced at the time had a–there was a component of racism against Arabs that I certainly experienced. You know, referring to somebody as a “dirty Arab.” The Arabs were certainly an object of prejudicial contempt, really; I mean, they were treated as, to some extent, as stupid. I mean, the version that was taught of, you know, what Palestinians call, understandably call the Nakba, the catastrophe, was one in which the Arabs just fled in fear, and you know, just deserted, and that’s why they were all in refugee camps in Jordan and Egypt and Lebanon and so forth. But of course we now know they didn’t exactly flee; they were driven out with very deliberate policies which now have been adequately documented, and anybody who’s interested can easily find that out.
But there was a kind of contempt for Arabs as uncivilized, unintelligent, undeveloped, primitive. And there had been a long history of not taking Arab society or culture seriously. And again, anybody who knows these stories is familiar with a phrase that was quite common–I remember hearing it very often as a child–“a land without people for a people without land.” And the notion that Palestine was a land without people, you know, was very widespread. There was this kind of contempt. That was also manifest, undisguisedly, if anyone was paying attention, in the way the Jews from Arab countries–the Mizrahi Jews, the Sephardic Jews–were treated. Israel, on the one hand, actively undermined the circumstances that Jews were experiencing in Egypt, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Tunisia, in Iraq, in order to motivate them to come to Israel. I mean, they were in fact in many cases being treated badly, but not nearly to the extent that this was an effort to make their circumstances difficult.
And they were being brought in in order to raise the population of Israel. But there, they were unambiguously second-class citizens. They were not treated remotely the same way as were immigrants from Europe or from the United States, from Western countries, who were given much better treatment in terms of housing, in terms of employment and conditions. They were definitely created and treated as an underclass in a fairly transparent, racist way. To give you one kind of, sort of dramatic example, it was not uncommon–I certainly heard it–to hear a middle-class housewife refer to her Moroccan or Kurdish or North African maid as a schvartze–basically as a “Black.” They were treated as a racial minority, in a very parallel fashion to the kind of racism that we all know in the States.
And this was disturbing, it was something–and I remember encountering this in part as a child because my father in his economic advisory capacity was focused very largely on housing policies, something he had worked on in the United States government. And he would tour the housing developments–they were called Ma’abarot–that these Mizrahi immigrants were settled in. And I remember going with him once or twice on these tours, and it was, you know, these were new slums, and there was no question that the way in which immigrants were handled depended very much on where they came from.
RS: You’re talking about Jewish people when you’re talking about–
LG: I’m talking about, yes, the Mizrahi Jews. They became the underclass, and were treated that way with a kind of contempt. Which, incidentally, has not gone away. Again, I invite your listeners to do a little Googling; they will very quickly find out about the lack of equitable treatment throughout the Israeli society towards the Sephardic, or the Mizrahi as they’re called, eastern Jews.
And part of what happened–and this is the story, the longer story–is that after the Yom Kippur war, the war where Israel was taken by surprise and almost lost, which was a devastating blow to their self-image and sort of political upheaval–for the first time the right-wing parties, represented at that time by Menachem Begin, were able to overcome and basically take power from the labor parties that had run everything since long before the state.
I mean, the labor parties–and this is undeniable–they had built the infrastructure that became the state of Israel. They built the labor unions, they built the companies, they built the successful military forces. The right-wing had their more terror-oriented, you know, the Stern Gang and so forth, represented by Begin and Shamir. It’s not a trivial historical point that two of these terrorists later became prime ministers; this tends to happen. In any case, Begin was able to capitalize on the resentment of the Sephardic, the Mizrahi citizens, to win the election that threw out the long-established labor government. And ever since then–this is the Likud, you know, which is what Herut, which means “freedom,” was what Begin’s party became, this sort of coalition of right-wing parties. And they have been the dominant parties ever since; as you noted, the Labor Party has shriveled away to practically nothing.
So part of the change in Israel from the fifties, let’s say, into the seventies and beyond, has been the sort of somewhat Trump-like triumph of those who had been treated with contempt. You know, and sort of given the back of the hand by the leftist, the labor elite. Now in fact, parallel to Trump, they fueled the political rise of the right, but it wasn’t like they got anything out of it. You know, it was a lot more psychological resentment than actually getting a payout. Because their condition hasn’t changed that radically. That was one factor.
A second factor of enormous importance–in some ways, well, probably more important than that–was the change in the views of the ultraorthodox communities. The orthodox communities in Israel. Up until 1967, the ultraorthodox communities, groups in Israel and in the United States and elsewhere, were not Zionists. The official position of the ultraorthodox was that Zionism was impertinent; that it was impudent, that it was basically saying to God, you know, all right already, give us something, give us a state. You know, it was doing what God will do in his own good time, you know, not waiting for God. It was basically, you know, it was heretical.
And the official ultraorthodox position was anti-Zionist, and some of it still is, in the United States and even in Israel, although mostly in the United States. You know, the establishment of–when the Messiah comes, he’ll take care of business. You know, it’s not our business, it’s his. However, when Israel won this lightning victory in the seven-day war–in the Six-Day War, in 1967–some of the influential leaders of the ultraorthodox, in particular somebody with the name Rav Kook, Rabbi Kook, decided–had an epiphany–decided that this war was God’s message. That it, in fact, was time. That the state’s military successes were in fact God’s plan to finally give the Jews the entire land of Israel, as promised in the Bible, from the Nile to the Euphrates, the whole thing.
And it had been the slogan of Begin’s party, “both sides of the Jordan”–that was one of their standard slogans. In fact there was a drawing that I remember, a graffiti I remember seeing on the wall of a building across from the Knesset, the original Knesset, which was in downtown Jerusalem; the new Knesset is sort of on the edge, out near where the university was. But I remember seeing this graffiti, which took me a while to figure out; it looked kind of like a profile of a pig or whatever. And I realized eventually it was a line of Israel plus Jordan. And that drawing was a way of saying, this is all ours, and we’re not going to give any of it up. So when the ultraorthodox decided that God was saying “now it’s time,” the settler movement, the ultraorthodox settler movement was born. And that has become the biggest stumbling block to resolving the crisis, the sort of Israeli-Palestinian crisis, from the Israeli side.
The other historical tragedy that happened around the same time, a little later, was the right-wing Christian evangelicals in the United States who became a political force in the seventies. Who had been, by and large, as you know, evangelicals in the United States had been pretty apolitical. They didn’t mess in politics. That began changing with the school-prayer decision and then other decisions in the sixties, and then Roe v. Wade. You know, they became a self-conscious political faction, bigger and bigger, and they elected Ronald Reagan, and we know the rest of that story. But for whatever reason, these people decided in their cockamamie world view that the establishment of the state of Israel was part of God’s plan leading to the second coming and the apocalypse.
So at the same time that the ultraorthodox become fervent nationalists and expansionists in Israel, this newly powerful and empowered Christian evangelical faction in the United States become supporters of that. Because it feeds their particular fantasies about the end times and, you know, Armageddon and whatever else is happening next week and has to be pushed. So this is a historical tragedy, of these two irrational religious convictions that lead to accepting–or, in fact, promoting–the treatment of the Palestinians in their own land.
And you’re quite right, in 1967 right after the war Ben-Gurion said–and he was sort of out of power at that point, he had retired–but he said, “We can’t keep those lands.” He said, “That will destroy us.” And other people said it too.
RS: Moshe Dayan said–I interviewed him–he said that you come back in 10 years and we’re still here as occupiers, it’s the end of Israel as an ideal.
LG: Yeah, he said that. But he and people like him, Yigal Allon and others of the generals-turned-politicians–which is the Israeli specialty, as you know. Even more than the United States, where a lot of generals became presidents, Israeli politicians overwhelmingly, for a long time, came out of the army. They began doing what they knew how to do, which is build these armed settlements along the Jordan River and elsewhere. So they began seeing it as, you know, as this fixation on armed outposts for security, despite the fact that their military supremacy was never challenged after ’67.
RS: And the irony is, as I pointed out before, that Israel made peace with its only real military enemy of any competence, Egypt, and certainly Jordan and actually even–
LG: Never Syria.
RS: Never Syria, but didn’t have any real trouble holding–
LG: Well, the only one, as you say, that was a serious threat was Egypt.
RS: Yeah, but somehow the Palestinians, who were not active, didn’t have an army and weren’t an agency of attack, somehow ended up paying the price. I want to–
LG: The Egyptians, by the way, were never nice to the Palestinians.
RS: No, I was in Gaza–
LG: They locked them in Gaza, just like the Israelis do. Gaza has a border with Egypt, it’s not an open border.
RS: No, I understand that, and that is the tragedy of the Palestinians. They have somehow been held accountable for whatever threat there is to Jewish people internationally, and yet the Palestinian people did not have an army and did not engage in any violence. And in fact I remember the mayor of Nazareth, Ibrahim Shabat or something, he actually donated his blood, and others did, during that fight. So you know, there’s just a real caricature developed.
But what I want to get at is, where does that leave American Jews? Who, like many Israeli Jews, are basically secular, and yet are supporting an occupation– come on, now, we’ve got to be serious about this occupation. It’s been going on since 1967. It’s an occupation of, what, at least four and a half million, four million people on that side, altogether say 5.8 million [unclear] Palestinians in the general area. And when this pandemic hit, we learned something very ugly about it. And that’s why I brought up Passover and these plagues, because I was always confused as a kid, why are we wishing the death of the firstborn of every Egyptian when–I don’t know if this occurred to you as a kid, but I thought wait a minute, these Egyptian farmers basically couldn’t control the Pharaoh. Why are we celebrating–?
And I came across this amazing thing. Martha Stewart, actually–I found, there’s a product that you can get on the internet now: “How to Make a Passover ‘Bag Of Plagues.’” And it says, you know, “Passover is the most important time,” and so forth, and it says, she has the recommendation of the “dark-chocolate-covered cherries to represent blood, plastic toy frogs or frog trinkets to depict the amphibians, and sparkling confetti for lice”–these are all the plagues–“plastic lions and tigers represent the wild beasts and plastic cows serve as cattle disease. Continue with the symbolic route and have the kids blow bubbles to represent boils”–
LG: Bob. Bob.
LG: There is nothing that can’t be turned into kitsch. And Martha Stewart is a good example of that.
RS: [overlapping voices] –no, but the plagues that you’re wishing upon people–yeah.
LG: Here’s the point, Bob. The Old Testament, should you read it, is a very bloodthirsty book. And one of the things that runs through the Old Testament is God is quite happy to have the Israelites kill their enemies. Amalek is one of them. There’s a wonderful scene, and you’ll find it in Exodus, where they have a mountain of foreskins that they collect from their enemies, you know, their slain enemies. It’s full of it. And one of the threads running through the Old Testament, you know, the Torah–which is part of what I was talking about when the, you know, when the orthodox become Zionists–is that that is a story–I mean, they leave Egypt, yes, OK? They spend 40 years in the desert, which is a very slow walk through that part of the Middle East. But when they get there, they are basically instructed and guided and aided by God to kill the inhabitants. Because, you know, God gave the land to them.
And it is perfectly all right to kill. I mean, they’re instructed to, they’re inspired to, they’re directed to. That’s their mission, is to kill the Canaanites. Not to make peace with them, not to live happily with them, you know, but to kill them. And their longtime enemies, the Filistin, you know, the Palestinians, represented in the sort of familiar mythology in the person of Goliath, defeated by the heroic young David–well, you know, I think in the modern world the Goliath and David roles have been a bit reversed. But there is nothing pacific about Biblical Judaism. It’s not a bit. Now, there are strains running through it; there are wonderful humanistic strains running through it. But on the whole, it’s pretty bloodthirsty. And smiting your enemies is definitely, you know, among the things you’re supposed to do.
But in the modern era, getting back to where you started, what Israel has established–you might say not entirely intentionally or deliberately, but you know, kind of inexorably–does deserve the term that B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization has recently used, what Jimmy Carter used and others have used, which is apartheid. Which is the subjugation of a population in its own homeland; enforced second-class citizenship in all kinds of ways, of which the denial of COVID vaccines is just the latest version.
When I visited Israel last–which was a while ago, because I’ve been unable to bring myself to go there–when I visited the last, you know, my partner and I, Scott and I went on a tour of East Jerusalem that was organized by one of the human rights organizations. And you can see close-up the way the land has been divided in a kind of mumblety-peg. Where the settlements are surrounded by barriers, and the, you know, what we might call indigenous inhabitants, the Palestinians, have to work around. In order to get from Point A to B, they have to go these, you know, [circuitous] routes, because the direct routes are reserved for the settlers, are reserved for the Israelis. They have roads and tunnels that only Israelis can ride on. I mean, if you see it up close, it is such an unambiguous form of oppression and control.
All of which, if it’s defended at all, is defended in the name of fighting terrorism, which is mostly nonexistent. I mean, if anything, it’s surprising how little there is. You know, and today’s terrorists or freedom fighters can become tomorrow’s statesmen. Nelson Mandela was not a nonviolent follower of Gandhi. He was part of an armed struggle, who later became a saint. Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin were terrorists. You know, that was what they were doing, blowing things up and organizing assassinations. And they became prime ministers. I mean, this is a fairly common historical development.
But what Israel has been able to do is to cloak itself in an aura of victimhood while they are–and they’re oppressing in a way that–you know, and this is part of what Dayan, I think, meant when you talked to him. It is soul-destroying for Israel to put its young people in the army and place them in a position of behaving like prison guards. Like brutal prison guards. And treating people–children, women, men–in that fashion, in that dehumanizing fashion. To, what, to defend themselves.
Another part of this that is really important, and in my mind is parallel to the question of how could the United States be in its twentieth year of a war. We’ve got this war going on, you know, in Iraq and Afghanistan for 20 years. And there’s no antiwar movement, you don’t hear about it, you know, it’s sort of remote. Well, Israel has some of the same thing, which is Tel Aviv, which is by far the largest population concentration in Israel, is often referred to as a bubble. And what that means is, you can live in Tel Aviv, you know, in a cosmopolitan, prosperous, Mediterranean city, and be unaware of what’s happening 10, 20, 30 miles to your east. Because it’s constructed that way. There’s a wall. There’s a barrier. It’s out of sight and out of mind. And that’s how you can live with it, that’s how you can do it.
You know, it’s becoming less possible. More young people are saying, we won’t serve. More veterans are telling the truth about what they’ve experienced. But not enough. And it’s all cloaked in this self-righteous rhetoric of victimhood. You know, they have, as I think you’re aware of, been playing the Holocaust card now for decades. But that’s wearing out. You know, for young people today, American Jews, but people all over the world, what is vivid in their mind is not the Holocaust but the occupation. And the mistreatment of the Palestinians today is much more tangible than the Holocaust–as horrible as it was. You know, that was then; this is happening right now.
And it’s happening right now, as I think most people know, or should know, with more support than the United States gives any other part of the world. We give Israel more aid, foreign aid or whatever we call it, than we give to any other part of the world. It’s roughly $3 billion a year. Which incidentally, it’s not just that we give them money; we really give them coupons that are redeemable from American defense industries. I mean, what we call foreign aid is basically giving taxpayer money to our defense industries passing through Israel on the way.
RS: So not to alarm you, Larry, but–and hopefully this recording is working well, and we post it. People are going to condemn you for this.
LG: Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised.
RS: I mean, we have an atmosphere in the United States in which to make any point of criticism of this sort–and which I think are measured, and you can document it and so forth–just to have that dialogue, it seems to me, puts people’s jobs at risk. You know, here’s somebody like yourself who’s lived a life within the Jewish community–
LG: I have the benefits of academic freedom, I hope.
RS: Well, no, but I mean this is–I’m trying to get at the acceptance. There’s an atmosphere of intimidation about Israel that is much more effective than anything I’ve experienced towards any dubious cause.
LG: I agree. I think it’s for a number of reasons. I think one reason is the ferocious position of the Christian evangelicals in this country, which you know, scares or intimidates, or maybe inspires many politicians. It’s the belief that the American Jewish community will defend Israel at all costs, which is becoming less and less the case. Because the generation that grew up with the “little blue boxes” and the admiration–which is well-placed for what Israel has done; I mean, Israel has done amazing things. They, you know, they have incredible accomplishments. It’s unfortunate that they have tarnished them with their inhumane policies. They’re not necessary. Israel can easily live with, and live harmoniously with the Palestinians. There’s no–I mean, it’s a tiny little piece of land. If you remove the religious nationalism, which is insufferable and insupportable in human terms, there’s no reason why they couldn’t end up living together harmoniously. I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t happen. But they have built, you know, they have created an enmity which will last for generations. And understandably, when people have been through that kind of situation.
But Israel is very skilled at manipulating the debate, and they’re actively engaged. If you pay attention to the tarnishing of let’s say Jeremy Corbin’s reputation and career in the Labor Party in Britain, which was to a very large extent motivated and financed and pursued by Israel or its allies in Britain, and I’m sure the same happens in the United States. They’re, you know, they’re tireless. And they’re good at it. But you know, one can only hope that history eventually–what is the phrase?–“bends towards justice.” Because this is unjust, and unsupportable. And there is no reason to assume, as I think some Israelis would like to assume, that over time the Palestinians will basically just accept this circumstance. History does not support that hope, although I suppose the Israelis could point to the Native Americans, and say you know–but we’re, America is a much bigger country. Reservations are a lot farther away from–
RS: Well, and Native Americans were destroyed by military genocide, they were killed.
LG: That’s right, you can do it out of sight, out of mind. [overlapping voices]
RS: But let me ask you finally, because I think this really gets back to, what does this say of the American, particularly the American liberal community, and the Jewish component of it? Because it’s not just the–you know, occupation over there is not just corrupting for Israeli society. It’s corrupting to the American Jewish community, which had a historic commitment to civil liberty, to–right? To rule of law, to sympathy for the other, was an overwhelmingly liberal community. And here you had a president that this community finds really offensive, Donald Trump. And yet was he God’s gift to Israel–if you’re a hawk, he was. And yet there isn’t much discussion about that. All there is is intimidation.
LG: There’s not much discussion because there is this unshakeable, and understandable, sentimental attachment, and people have a great investment by now in believing the sort of imperiled victim narrative that the Israelis, you know, have so successfully propagated. I mean, the fact is, it’s true that Tel Aviv is within reach of missiles from Gaza. Undeniably true. But if you look at the record of which city has been bombed repeatedly, you know, and intensely, it’s Gaza. Not Tel Aviv. Occasionally they hit something, mostly they don’t. And they certainly don’t have planes.
You know, the notion that Israel is the victim here–and then people say, which is another argument that I’m sure you’ve heard many times, which is well, why is Israel singled out for criticism? Well, first of all, if I were asked, I’d be happy to criticize the Chinese government for what they’re doing to the Uyghurs, and I’m more than happy to criticize the U.S. government for what it’s doing, what it’s done, whether it’s Chile or what they’re doing now with Venezuela. What they did in engineering a coup in Honduras, you know, in recent memory. And all over–the United States has completely unclean hands as a world power. But that does not excuse Israel, and I could say, I suppose, also, that as a Jew and as someone who lived there, I feel a moral responsibility to contest and counter their behavior.
RS: Well, I think that’s a good summary, depressing as it may be. I want to thank you, Larry, for sharing that experience. And I want to thank Christopher Ho at KCRW for posting this on the Santa Monica FM station. Natasha Hakimi Zapata for doing the [introduction]. Lucy Berbeo for doing the transcription. Our executive producer is Joshua Scheer. And I take particular pride, really, in thanking the JWK Foundation, which in the name of Jean Stein–who like so many other American Jews took a very principled position on the rights of Palestinians, and was a big supporter of Edward Said, and a good friend of his, a professor at Columbia. So I think this particular program, Jean Stein would be very happy that she had something to do with supporting it, the late Jean Stein. So on that note, see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.