Israeli Columnist Akiva Eldar
on Military Censorship in Israel and the Influence of the Israel
Lobby in the United States
interviewed by Amy Goodman
AMY GOODMAN: The University of St. Thomas
in Minnesota has canceled Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African
Archbishop Desmond Tutu's scheduled appearance next year. School
officials say they're barring Tutu because of previous statements
he's made "against Israeli policy." Tutu has compared
Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
to South Africa under Apartheid.
Being able to voice criticism of Israeli
government policy is becoming a major issue on university campuses
across the United States. It's also an issue in Congress. We now
turn to a well-known Israeli journalist for a sense of what this
and other debates look like inside Israel.
Akiva Eldar is the chief political columnist
and senior analyst for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz,
and he is co-author of a new book; it's critical of Israeli settlement
policy. It's called Lords of the Land: The Settlers and the
State of Israel. I interviewed Akiva Eldar last month and
asked him how the so-called "Israel lobby" in the United
States is perceived in Israel.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: They are a very important
instrument in order to pursue Israel's policy, but I'm afraid
that they're a little bit behind the Israeli government and the
Israeli people. We are in a different mode, which I think takes
time for the American Jewish organizations to digest, the fact
that we don't want to keep those territories. And probably the
Israeli propaganda was so efficient that it's very hard now to
change the mode and to convince them that it's a different era
now. It's a different government. We have seventy out of 120 members
of the Knesset who support a two-state solution based on the '67
0. And, you know, if for forty years, you tell the Jewish community
that Israel cannot afford to give up the territories, they are
important for Israel's security, just overnight to tell, "Sorry,
we were wrong. Now, we don't need those territories," it's
probably -- I remember, you know, those groups that were taken
to the Golan Heights, for instance, we didn't mention Syria, but
the Golan Heights, we told them we can't live without it, because
look at the geography or topography, with us sitting there, and
they were shelling the Kibbutzim down there, and now, after all
this time that they spend going to Capitol Hill and using their
leverage to convince the American people not to put any pressure
on Israel to give up the Golan Heights, now all of a sudden the
Syrians are the good guys and we can get down to business with
them? It's very difficult. I think that we are paying the price
of having our PR doing a very good job for many years.
0. AMY GOODMAN: Would you say then the American Jewish organizations
are presenting an obstacle to peace?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: They are, I think, behind the Israeli people,
and I think that the bottom line, if you measure this by their
results, I don't think that the mainstream Jewish organizations
-- there are others like Americans for Peace Now, IPF in America,
the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and other organizations
who are doing a good job, and I think that they are getting more
and more listeners.
0. AMY GOODMAN: How -- what kind of effect did President Carter's
book have in Israel?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: You know, this is a kind of over-killing. I think
that it's like Mearsheimer and Walt's -- the book --
0. AMY GOODMAN: On the Israel lobby.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: On the Israeli lobby. Just to say that Israel
and the Jewish lobby controls the United States is overdoing it.
They are very powerful, and I think that we, Israel and the Jewish
lobby, are playing according to the American rules. You know,
when I moved to Washington to be bureau chief of Ha'aretz,
I got a tip from a colleague who said, "If you want to succeed,
if you want to understand America, follow the money." And
the Jewish lobby has the money and has the motivation and has
the power. And they use this, and Washington, as you know better
than me, is a city of power. And if you have the power, nobody
is disturbing the Arab lobby to use the same kind of power. There
are six million Jews who live in the United States and more or
less six million Muslims who live here. And it's a free country.
0. AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think the -- would you say that the
Israel lobby is more powerful?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: Because they're more committed. I think that they
are very committed to the -- Israel's security and well-being
of the Israelis, and they are motivated to work and to invest.
0. AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they're making Israel more secure?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: No. I think that they have good intentions, but
you know sometimes where good intentions are taking people.
0. AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about former UN Ambassador John
Bolton's comments, declaring the Bush administration would support
an Israeli attack on Iran. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper,
Bolton said, "We're talking about a clear message to Iran.
Israel has the right to self-defense, and that includes offensive
operations against WMD facilities that pose a threat to Israel.
The United States would justify such attacks," he said.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: I'm not sure if an attack on Iran is in the cards,
simply because I don't think that the United States and Israel
know exactly where they're hiding the facilities. Iran is a huge
country. They have a big desert, and, as far as I understand,
both the Israeli and the American intelligence don't know where
they're hiding this. You can do this -- what we did in --
0. AMY GOODMAN: That didn't stop an attack on Iraq.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: Exactly, but this was different. You can do this
only once. What we did -- you mean Israel in '81 attacking the
unit, the Iraqi nuclear facilities in Osirak. The Iranians are
not going to repeat the same mistake. They are not putting all
their eggs in one basket. They have too many baskets all around.
And as far as I know, from my sources, a military attack is not
0. What is possible is to reach an agreement with Iran and with
other Arab countries, because it's not going stop with Iran. I
interviewed King Abdullah of Jordan six months ago, and he said,
"In no time, you will see every Arab country with nuclear
power, including Jordan." Now, it starts, of course, with
nuclear power for civil use. But you don't know where it ends
and what will happen if there will be a coup d'etat in one of
those Arab countries in a few years. So the Middle East is going
to be nuclearized in no time.
0. And I think that the solution should be a regional agreement.
I wonder why the Arab League didn't offer to add another paragraph
to the initiative from -- that started in 2002 and was ratified
recently, that the Middle East should be nuclear-free, including
Israel. I think this has to be part of a regional agreement.
0. From talking to Iranians, the message that is coming out of
the most liberal Iranians, not only from Ahmadinejad, is that
"Why shouldn't we have what we think the Israelis have, Pakistan
and India?" If Iran will agree to stop their nuclear program,
that means that they admit that they are pariah, that they are
worse than other countries. So I think we need to offer them a
ladder, where they can climb down, and this ladder, I believe,
is a regional agreement. And, of course, that means that Iran
will have to stop putting out clear threats to the very existence
0. AMY GOODMAN: So you're saying that Israel should give up its
nuclear weapons. You have people like Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear
whistleblower who's been re-sentenced again, after serving, oh,
many years in jail.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: As part of a regional peace process, a regional
peace agreement. As long as Israel's existence is under threat,
I don't believe that you can find any Israeli government that
will agree to that. But -- actually this has been the Israeli
position when Shimon Peres was prime minister. The official Israeli
position was that we will join the NPT and any kind of --
0. AMY GOODMAN: Nuclear [Non-]Proliferation Treaty.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: -- Nuclear [Non-]Proliferation Treaty, once the
Arab-Israeli conflict, or the Middle East conflict, including
the threat from Iran, will be over, not a minute before that,
because of the deed of Israel to keep whatever people believe
that it keeps in Dimona to deter a war.
0. AMY GOODMAN: How many nuclear bombs does Israel have?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: I don't know.
0. AMY GOODMAN: But you know it does have them?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: That's according to our policy, I -- when I write
about this, and this is what I have to do now, is to quote the
foreign media. But according to foreign media, Israel has got
0. AMY GOODMAN: Explain that policy.
0. AKIVA ELDAR: The policy is that we have an Israel military
censorship, and there is an agreement between the military censor
and the editors of the Israeli papers that when it comes to sensitive
issues, we have to submit every story to the censor, such as the
last occasion of when the Syrians claimed that the Israelis, the
Israeli airplanes, penetrated and attacked some units in Syria,
we had to quote the Washington Post, CNN and the Syrian
0. AMY GOODMAN: And your understanding of what happened there?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: Yes, I do.
0. AMY GOODMAN: What happened?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: According to foreign sources --
0. AMY GOODMAN: You're in the United States now. Do you still
have to abide by --
0. AKIVA ELDAR: I'm afraid so.
0. AMY GOODMAN: Why?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: You don't to want put me into trouble, right?
I have to go back to Israel. Well, if you offer me asylum, then
I will consider it. But my children are waiting for me at home,
so I -- you'll have to forgive me.
0. AMY GOODMAN: So can you explain what happened according to
0. AKIVA ELDAR: According to these sources, Israel got information
from good sources that Syria is hiding nuclear facilities that
were transferred from North Korea. I understand that this happened
before the agreement between the United States and North Korea.
And since Israel had a clear proof that Syria is hiding this and
Israel had the opportunity to send Syria a message, that this
is just the beginning, that they can't do this, that Israel cannot
come to terms with the idea that such cooperation will take place,
Israeli -- the Israeli Air Force attacked those units.
0. AMY GOODMAN: What would happen if you defied the censor?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: My editor on my newspaper will be fined. I don't
think that I will go to jail, but there will be a big fine.
0. AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of the criticism, when people
in the United States criticize the Israeli government or the Israeli
military, that they are being anti-Semitic?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: Look, some people may -- if this book Lords
of the Land was written by an American journalist, two American
journalists, I'm sure that they would be blamed of anti-Semitism,
like President Carter was blamed on being anti-Semite. I think
that we are doing great damage to anti-Semitism when we use it
in the wrong -- in the wrong time and in the wrong context, because
there is anti-Semitism, and it's going to be, you know, the cry
-- the wolf's cry, once there will be anti-Semitism. And I'm afraid
it's not -- you know, at the end, nobody will listen to us. So
I would be very much careful not to inflate the use of anti-Semitism
whenever there is criticism.
0. For instance, you know, for many years, people were talking
about a Palestinian state and negotiations with the PLO. When
I was writing articles in the '80s, in the beginning of the '80s,
in favor of negotiations with the PLO and a two-state solution,
some people called me a collaborator with the Palestinians. And
if I was not Jewish, they -- I'm sure I would be titled anti-Semite.
0. AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of the Arab League renewing their
peace offer, full peace for full withdrawal? Israel rejected it
the first time. What about now?
0. AKIVA ELDAR: You know, in November, we are going to celebrate
ninety years of the Balfour Declaration, which was the first most
important document offering a Jewish state to the Jewish people,
a state in Israel. I think that the Arab League declaration ninety
years later is closing the circle that started, because the Balfour
war -- the Balfour Declaration started actually another round
of violence, because the Arabs didn't -- were not willing to accept
the idea of a Jewish state. Ninety years later, the Arabs are
completing what Balfour started. And I think that this is the
best news that we had in ninety years. And I think it is not only
stupid, I think it is criminal to miss this opportunity. And I
hope that the generations who will come will not regret this.
AMY GOODMAN: Akiva Eldar, the chief diplomatic columnist and senior
analyst for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is
co-author of a new book published on the fortieth anniversary
of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It's called
Lords of the Land: The Settlers and the State of Israel.
We interviewed Akiva Eldar when he came into our studio.