How Israel Uses Occupation to Develop Military Tech
Paris Marx is joined by Antony Loewenstein to discuss how the Israeli weapons industry tests new military technologies on occupied Palestinians before selling them internationally.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist who’s written for the New York Times and the Guardian. He’s the author of The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports The Technology Of Occupation Around The World. Follow Antony on Twitter at @antloewenstein.
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Paris Marx: Antony, welcome to Tech Won’t Save Us!
Antony Loewenstein: Thank you so much for having me.
PM: I’m very excited to chat with you and to discuss your new book. We haven’t really done an episode looking at Israel and Israel’s tech industry and military industry. I thought that your book was a good way for us to talk about that, and to get a bigger picture of how this all plays out. Because obviously, Israel is in the news quite a lot, and our countries have close relationships to this country that has an ongoing and long-term occupation of people that we too often, I think, ignore, or both-sides it. Before we get into the depth of the book, and the real topic of it, I want to ask you about your evolution on this question. Because, in the introduction, you talk a bit about your childhood growing up and what you were told about Israel at that time, and then how your views changed as you visited Israel, and were reporting from there and learned more about that country over time. So can you talk to us a bit about that?
AL: So I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. I was a liberal Jew, which means, for those who don’t know, someone who was not religious, particularly. I did go to synagogue; I would observe family, Sabbath every Friday, most Fridays. I would go to Jewish holidays, Passover, etc., to synagogue. But Israel — I’d say then, and now — is kind of like the unofficial religion of many Jews. This obviously wasn’t the case for a long time. But I think in the last decades, Israel has almost replaced religion for many Jews, Many Jews who support Israel are not religious, but Israel is that religion. So when I was growing up, I understood very clearly, like a lot of Jews do, that most of my family was killed in the Holocaust. My family came from Germany and Austria. So the vast majority of them were in death camps in Auschwitz and didn’t survive. The handful did escape in 1939, were spread around the world. At the time, most countries didn’t want to take Jews, for mostly very sadly, obvious anti-semitic reasons. Some took a handful, Australia, Canada, US, etc. And my grandparents came to Australia in ‘39.
When I was growing up, they would say to me, and my parents would say to me that they were never hardcore Zionists. When I lived in Germany before Israel’s birth it was actually quite uncommon to believe in the concept of a Jewish state because before the Second World War, and before the rise of Nazism in 1933, most Jews in Germany — it sort of sounds crazy to think this now — were integrated to an extent. There was anti-Semitism to be sure, but in general, they were seen as part of society. One of my relations fought on the German side in World War One. It was normal; it wasn’t unusual. He was Jewish, but it wasn’t particularly strange.
Obviously, fast forward to the Holocaust. Fast forward to after World War II, Israel is formed. And when I was growing up in Melbourne, Australia, and I was growing up in the 70s — but I think it’s not that different now, although I think Jewish opinion is shifting, which we can talk about, if you like — but in general, Israel was seen as a safe haven. God forbid something happens to Jews, again. Just for listeners who aren’t aware: as a Jew, if you can prove to Israel that you are Jewish, meaning you have a Jewish mother, you can have documentation to prove that, you can become an Israeli citizen within a handful of months, and that was almost seemed like a life raft for many Jews. Not that most Jews have taken that up. But it was the idea sort of held out as: God forbid something happens we can always go to Israel if Hitler, mark two, comes along.
So I grew up with this myth, I guess, Israel was not necessarily perfect, but it was the cherished land. It was somewhere that we could always go. Palestinians were generally demonized. Yasser Arafat, who was then the leader of the Palestinians, was a terrorist, so the thinking went. Palestinians were terrorists — that’s just who they were, so we were told. And when I say we, this is either through my synagogue, through the Jewish community, through my parents, through families. I have a distinct memory when I was having Sabbath meals with my family on Friday nights. There may have been a suicide bombing that week or something may have happened in Israel or Palestine. And there was heated conversation because, essentially, Palestinians were said to be the new Nazis and I heard this expression all the time. Palestinians are the new Nazis. Palestinians want to erase us. Palestinians want to kick us into the sea. And we have to fight back, fight back meaning we have to have a strong Israel, a strong military, a strong army.
I think one of the things that many non-Jews maybe don’t know is after the Second World War, when a lot of Jews went to Palestine, to then build up Israel — and this is also the case in Jews, generally — that Jews who survived the Holocaust and survived the Nazi death camps were often criticized by fellow Jews. Why? Because they were seen as not fighting back enough. They were seen as being too weak. Why didn’t you fight back enough? Why didn’t you rebel? Why didn’t you take on the Nazis more? Now, to be clear, a lot of Jews did. There was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, there were lots of resistance. I mean, Nazis were a massive, powerful fascist army with huge amounts of influence and power. It’s not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do. But that criticism was there, that Holocaust survivors, they were partly to blame almost for their own fate, which sounds gross to think of that now in the 21st century, but that view was there.
The thinking of that, therefore, was that, never again, can we as Jews be undefended. Never again, can we be without protection, and Israel was that protection. Ther has to be a strong army, strong military, strong intelligence, strong ties with the world. And of course, as we’ll talk about soon, that also meant making friends with as many countries as possible, whether there were democracies or dictatorships. I grew up in that environment, but it always struck me as uncomfortable. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment when that happened, but I remember in my teenage years, I just found the really blatant racism against Palestinians profoundly problematic. I hadn’t fully met a Palestinian then. It sounds bizarre in a way, but I think many Jews then and now actually don’t spend time with Palestinians, don’t speak to Palestinians, don’t hear from Palestinians. They see and hear Palestinians filtered through either their family, their Jewish community, or through the media.
And to be sure, in the last couple of decades, there has been some improvement in the Western media coverage of Palestine, which we can talk about later if you want. But in general, for a long time, Palestinians were one note. Angry, aggressive, the new Nazis. But I felt uncomfortable about that, and when I go to University in Melbourne in the 1990s, I started reading as any good leftist does, John Pilger and Noam Chomsky and Edward Said and many others. Works that I maybe had heard of before, but never really appreciated, never really understood. I didn’t study Israel-Palestine in university, I’ve never studied this particular subject, per se, I guess I’ve studied it as a journalist just on the ground over there.
But I guess over time, I started feeling, not just frustrated, but incredibly angry that the Jewish community — and of course, I’m generalizing here, there are Jews who are critical decades ago now, obviously — but in general, the only way Israel has survived as long as it’s has, 75 years now, with its massive power, influence, etc, is because of the Jewish Diaspora. Of course, the US role is central, the EU role, etc. But it’s a Jewish Diaspora. They are key advocates, key funders, key defenders, but what they’re often defending is an Israel that proudly occupies an other people, and that to me over time became intolerable.
So I started speaking out about and writing about it. In the process, lost Jewish friends, my parents lost a lot of their Jewish friends, because I spoke out about this issue. It was because the sins of the son, they themselves were not speaking out particularly about it, publicly. They weren’t in the media or on radio, or the internet. But I was speaking out about it and because if they had not condemned me, they themselves were condemned, and therefore shunned by many in the Jewish community. Back then in the early 2000s, and now. My mother has passed away now, but my father is still alive, and the same thing has happened. So I’ve had a real evolution on this and you realize who your friends are pretty quickly.
PM: It’s unfortunate to hear that and I’m sorry your parents had to experience that. That does give us a good picture, or at least some history of how these things evolved and how this took place. So I wanted to ask you the book is obviously about the arms industry of Israel, and how Israel uses that to get influence around the world. And so I wanted to start by asking you how does this arms industry get started in Israel? When does it become clear that Israel is going to have to develop this industry, and how does it kind of grow over time?
AL: Look right from the beginning in 1948, in fact, May 1948, was when Israel declared independence. David Ben-Gurion, who was the first prime minister of Israel, made it pretty clear. This is often documents that came out years later in declassified information, but it was pretty clear, realized, that Israel had to have friends around the world. Now, it’s maybe obvious to say that, but Israel is not an island. Israel had, what they thought at the time, were various enemies, many Arab countries didn’t like them, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, etc. And those Arab countries weren’t shy about that, they didn’t accept Israel as a Jewish state. They didn’t want Jews there. I mean, to be clear, Jews have had some presence in that area for a very, very, very long time. To be sure, however, the vast majority of Jews that founded the State of Israel came mostly in the 20th century, there were some there that had been there. And that’s historically accurate.
Jews had been there very, very long time. But [David] Ben-Gurion realized they had to have friends. Now, obviously, the US was a key ally, but the US’s influence and power, although major, was not as big as it has become now in the 21st century. I talked about this in the book, but one of the big questions that Israel had near its birth was: How do we relate to Germany? Now Germany, obviously, was the site of the Holocaust, along with Poland and Austria and elsewhere, and Hitler was Austrian. But Germany was the beating heart of the Nazi empire. And there was a lot of discussion in Israel at the time, and the Jewish community globally, how do we deal with Germany? Meaning Germany was very keen after the war, to make amends to say, sorry, to pay reparations. And in fact, Germany wanted to pay reparations to Israel as a way of saying sorry.
Obviously, it sounds like a very inappropriate word. Sorry about that Holocaust. But it was basically a way to apologize and to make friends with the Jewish state. Israel accepted that relationship and that friendship in the 50s. And the reason I mentioned this is this is where, to some extent some of this logic within Israel began. Finding a way to export Israeli defense equipment. Initially, it was literally guns. We’re not talking about sophisticated missiles in the 40s and 50s, talking about guns. Many of which had been used, in fact, in Israel’s independence in 1948. Some of which had come from the British who, of course, used to occupy Palestine for a long time. And by the 60s, there was, to some extent, a growing and flourishing defense industry. Most of these companies were state owned, or state backed, there wasn’t really a private industry of sorts.
There wasn’t an official occupation until 1967. Although, it’s important to note that the Palestinians who lived in Israel itself between 48 and 67 were under a military curfew. And this is why people often talk about the occupation starting in 1967. Yes, the occupation, the West Bank, and Gaza, is now 56 years old. And that’s tru, but Palestinians have always been treated as second class citizens from day one. It’s sort of very much in the DNA of Israel. But the defense industry started growing in the 60s, growing ties with countries like France, Germany, the US. And also a growing awareness that the way that you could make friends, and including at the UN, where there clearly was a sizable Soviet backed block that did not support Israel. That often aligned itself with certain Arab states who despised Israel for a range of reasons, either political or other reasons.
So Israel, in their view, had to make friends with often unsavory characters, nations in Africa. But a key ally, that really was, I would say, central to Israel’s development as a nation, and continues to this day is the relationship with Apartheid South Africa. Now, obviously, apartheid ended in 1994. Officially, although I would argue apartheid still exists in that country, sadly, economically. But Israel and apartheid in South Africa were the closest of friends for the entire history of that regime until it fell in 1994. And the reason that’s important is, is that they didn’t just support each other in defense terms, and provided diplomatic backing. Often, when even at the end, the US had decided to turn against South Africa, Israel was the last friend standing of apartheid in South Africa, which speaks volumes. And why is that? It’s an ideological alignment. Documents that have come out since 1994, and I detail some of them in a book and people can Google this if they want to see more, shows that both regimes admired each other deeply.
They admired the way in which they treated each other so-called, “unwanted populations.” So with South Africa that was these awful blacks who were trying to override this glorious white Afrikaan’s regime and in Israel, of course, it was these terrible Palestinians who want to drive the Jews into the sea. And the defense industry both developed on that. They both trained in each other’s countries, Israel assisted although it was not successful, to try to get uranium from South African apartheid regime to make nuclear weapons. Thank God that didn’t happen. And the often South African military figures came to the West Bank and vice versa to black townships run by white South Africans to observe how each other was managing their Bantustan. Bantustan is like a managed area by an overlord. So in Israel, a lot of the West Bank settlements are essentially quasi-Bantustan. They have nominal Palestinian control, but in fact that control by Israel and South African Bantustan were the same and the other way around.
PM: Usually whay you see, like on these maps, is that these are small territories that are really kind of broken up as well. Between territories controlled by — whether it’s Israel or apartheid South Africa during that period, as well.
AL: Exactly, and South African apartheid regime said that the Bantustans, that’s their vision for what blacks deserve. Lack of independence? What are they complaining about? and Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister, regularly said, publicly and privately, his vision for Palestinians was the South African Bantustan. A good way to compare this would be almost what many Americans did to Native Americans put them on reservations. So that relationship between Israel and South African apartheid was central to developing each other’s defense industry. And also, I’d say, it gave them confidence. And I think what it showed —importantly which was very key, as the Cold War developed and grew in the 70s, and 80s, when Reagan came in — was that Israel was often America’s wing-man.
That meaning that in many places during the so called Dirty Wars in Latin America, even when the US Congress barred the US funding, arming or training, the worst death squads in Latin and South America. Israel was happy to be there. We’re talking about Honduras, Colombia. Now, this is not to absolve American responsibility, their hands were drenched in blood. But Israel was key there, and the US and Israel formed almost like a unofficial alliance around the world. Latin and South America, Africa and elsewhere. If one country wouldn’t sell weapons to a dictatorship, the other would. This in some ways is how the Israeli defense industry grew. It was public for a long time, it started becoming private. Elbit is the most famous company. Now, Elbit makes drones and various other weapons.
What happened after 1967 — when the occupation began, just briefly — is that Palestine suddenly became the ultimate testing ground for weapons, this is the key shift. So before 1967, yes, obviously, as I said, Palestinians were hardly treated like equal citizens, but there wasn’t a so called official occupation. After ‘67, there was. And very, very soon you have Israeli army officials, generals and other Israeli figures, using their experience in the West Bank and Gaza as soldiers or generals, and taking that to the defense industry. And then when they promote those weapons, to countries, to individuals, around the world, they say: This is how it’s worked in Palestine. This is how it actually works, to control and oppress Palestinians. Now, lets not also forget, finally, for many, many years, the left loved Israel. Now it’s hard to imagine that. The left, in general, is not exactly a big fan of Israel.
But for years and years and years after ‘48, Israel was the promised land. You had leftists going there, to go on kibbutz, and that was celebrating the glories of Israel. Now, they didn’t think too much about Palestinians or equal rights, which doesn’t say much about those leftist. But nonetheless, that was a key left position. 1967 change that where the occupation became so blatant, that many leftist had turned away from Israel, and that just continued for the last half century. So that’s how the defense industry kind of began, this disparate way. But I see this South African apartheid-Israel relationship as a key way that the defense industry both grew in a weapons development sense, but also an ideological sense.
PM: I think that historical perspective is really important. And I want to come back to the ways that Israel is working abroad and selling weapons and the consequences of that. And also what it means for Palestinians and all these things. But before we get to that, I wanted us to fast forward a little bit, as well. Because the link between the Israeli military and the Israeli tech industry, and the larger global tech industry, is very close. There’s a unit within the Israeli Defense Force called the Unit 8200, that is often closely associated with a lot of these tech companies. Can you tell us a bit about those relationships? And what major global tech companies are working with the Israeli military as it develops these military technologies?
AL: Well, pretty much all of them but we’ll get to that in a minute. It’s almost hard to find the major ones that are not Hello Google, but there are others I’ll get to that. Unit. 8200 is is essentially Israel’s intelligence arm so day to day. You have initially people often enter the army at 18 says young men and women who are joining the military at a young age, their job day to day is essentially to monitor Palestinians surveil them. All communication in the West Bank and Gaza, occupied territory in East Jerusalem is listened to and controlled by Israel, the equivalent would be the US NSA. But the US is a massive superpower with 340 million people. Israel is a population that’s minuscule and the unit at 200. and Israeli surveillance is not as powerful but pretty damn close. And that speaks volumes about how Israel has developed that initially to monitor both Palestinians in its own territory, but also the region perceived enemies.
So that could be Syria, Iran, Saudi, Jordan, any, essentially, regional enemies or friends. And of course, as America does, everyone surveills everybody. It’s not like their just surveilling their enemies. I mean, in fact, it’s interesting. That was a recent report, this is a brief aside, that Israel was one of the most surveilled nations in the world by the US. This is a close ally. So yes, they’re close friends, and they love each other on paper, but they don’t really entirely trust each other in what they’re doing. And a recent report by William Arkin in Newsweek, and I have not seen a more recent figure than this, so I’m certainly quoting him. He is a long time journalist who does work on these issues, said that he’d discovered there were roughly 400 US intelligence officials on a day to day basis, essentially monitoring everything that’s done and coming out of Israel. Now, I can’t question that. I put that in the book, that figure, because that’s the latest that I read. I couldn’t believe that. I’m actually surprised it’s not more to be honest.
Now, the NSA have a lot of people to do a lot of spying on friends and enemies anyway. So Unit 8200 essentially does everything from surveil communication, and also do some pretty horrible things, I mean that’s horrible enough, but I have this in the book, and I’ve interviewed a former Unit 8200 officer. I couldn’t name him in the book, but he’s in there. He gave some more details to flesh out because these people mostly don’t speak to the media, even when they’ve left the Unit. They’re still a bit cagey. They feel, I guess, a patriotism towards their nation and don’t want to shit on them, basically. But one of the things, to me, that was the most disgusting — and it’s not unique to Israel, other countries do this as well — is basically try to entrap Palestinians.
So they will surveil, for example, a Palestinian man who’s married to a woman with three kids (I’m just making up an example.). They discover that he’s having an affair with a guy, sleeping with a man. And they will take that information to that Palestinian. They will say: There’s a lot of homophobia in the community, you wouldn’t want that information to come out to your wife would you, to your community? If not, you need to do spying for us. And you’d be not shocked to know that a lot of people go along with that, because they don’t want to be exposed. Now, this is sort of the moral collapse, that is the occupation, this is what occupation does. That it almost requires people’s personal lives to be used as a weapon. Another reason I mentioned this is, this is what Unit 8200 does, it’s not particularly glamorous. It’s pretty grubby.
PM: In that example that you give, it particularly stands out that Israel is a country that has traditionally kind of pink washed itself, like: We’re good for LGBTQ people.
PM: They’re welcome here. But then you see which gay and queer people are they actually okay for and which ones are they just taking advantage of as much as possible? It’s really disgusting.
AL: It is. Whenever Israeli officials or Israel supporters say, as they regularly do to people who criticize Israel: Well, why don’t you go and have a gay pride in Gaza City and see how that goes. Now, yes, it wouldn’t go very well, because Hamas is an Islamist organization. It doesn’t like gay people, newsflash! I don’t support Hamas either. And a lot of people I know on the left don’t. But the point is that Israel claims to be a vibrant democracy. It’s a democracy for Jews. And as you rightly say, the way in which the occupation has seeped into every aspect of Israeli life means that Palestinians who don’t live in inverted commas — normal heterosexual lives — potentially are going to be victim to this kind of blackmail happens all the time, all the time. So Unit 8200 has developed some very sophisticated surveillance technology and tools. One of the aspects of that unit is to try to funnel that into then the private sector.
So the aim is that when those people leave the unit — when they’re 25, 30, whatever age, hey are — they set up organizations and companies that could be facial recognition, so-called smartwalls, spyware, whatever it may be. And in fact, as I show in the book, a lot of the major Israeli tech companies and surveillance companies have veterans from that unit. And the reason that’s relevant is that it shows that a lot of these Israeli companies are only private in name. The most infamous, I guess, is NSO Group, Pegasus, the phone hacking tool. Listeners will have heard of this. Essentiall, now, technology which allows your mobile phone, Android or iPhone, to be hacked without you even knowing all your information taken. Essentially, it’s a silent hack, really, without your phone being checked. You’ll never know. And a lot of the people who started that were veterans in the military, and some in Unit 8200, and some just in the IDF itself.
One of the things I say in the book over and over again, because it deeply frustrated me about this in the media coverage, is that it’s regularly framed as is this rogue Israeli company, selling all this crazy spyware to countries around the world. No, no, no no — NSO Group is basically working on behalf and with the Israeli state. That’s the point. So essentially, yes, NSO Group is a very convenient front for what the Israeli Government wants. So just briefly on this, I know we’ll maybe get back to this later. But NSO Group is used and it’s Pegasus’ tool as a key diplomatic tool that Netanyahu, over the years, dangles over countries and says: You want to be friends with us; we’d love to be friends with you. If you vote for us nicely, the UN will give you some great spyware and you can spy on your dissidents or human rights activists or journalists you don’t like — that’s how it works.
That’s why in the last roughly decade and a half NSO’s Pegasus has been sold to — we don’t know exactly the number — but dozens and dozens and dozens of countries, from dictatorships to democracies. The country that’s used that the most, by far, is Mexico, previous governments and the current government. So even the so-called new leftist government, not that new anymore, AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador). Big fan of Pegasus — they’ll deny it, but the evidence is there. So it is too attractive a tool for governments to give up. And the reason I mentioned all this is to hshow how the funnel of Unit 8200 works. This is how the intelligence unit in the Israeli military then transitions into an export business that Israel can then say, as these companies often do, NSO Group and others. Some of these people have veteran experience in the military, they’ve worked for years controlling Palestinians. So this the language they use: they have developed these tools, often using Palestinians as guinea pigs. There is lots of evidence that Pegasus has been used against Palestinians in Palestine.
Indeed, as far as we can tell, some Israeli critics in Israel itself, it’s principally exported. But it’s also done internally. And why wouldn’t it be? But I think it’s also important to note that Pegasus is just the tip of the iceberg, as I say in the book, because of course, when you write a book, you don’t know what events are going to overtake you after the book goes to print. Pegasus still exists. But if Pegasus shuts down tomorrow, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. There are already countless other companies that are doing exactly the same thing, Israeli companies. Because the tool to hack people’s phones is so attractive to so many countries and regimes. The Israeli intelligence services is not just weaponized against other nations through these companies, but is encouraged by governments, whether it’s Netanyahu or someone else to develop the most evasive tools, spyware, weapons, drones, whatever it may be.
They’re mostly used initially or tested in Palestine, and then exported and the material that these companies then use, they often show the so called Evidence of, of being used in Palestine. In just one key example. Finally, the US Mexico border is controlled by a countless amounts of technology. But one of the key surveillance tools that the US government uses is Israeli surveillance towers along the US Mexico border by Elbit, Israel’s biggest defense company. Now, I’m not saying the US couldn’t find these tools elsewhere. But it’s important to remember that people should understand this that there was so much hatred against Trump about his border policies and not about to defend them, don’t worry, but Biden has actually not changed as much as people like to think. His rhetoric is different, mostly.
But what they’ve rather than building these crazy, ridiculous high walls that Trump seemingly was obsessed with. Trump wanted to build like a moat — you can read about this — he wanted to maybe have a moat and crocodiles. I mean, Trump is a, wow, he’s really is quite a guy. But what Biden is doing is continuing what Trump and Obama did before, which is essentially making the border wall, so to speak, much more technological. and Israeli defense tech is central to that — central to that. And the reason the US government would have wanted those surveillance towers is because they first used them in Palestine, sometimes along the Israel Gaza border, and, inverted comma, “they work.” And when I say they work, I mean, obviously, the aim in the US Mexico border is to, in theory, keep migrants out. I’m not sure how effective that really is. But that’s the supposed aim. So they’re the connections, I guess, that one tries to make that what starts in Palestine never stays there.
PM: It’s a very important connection. Before we explore more of that global role, I want to know what this looks like in Palestine itself. Palestine, obviously, serves as a testing ground for many of these technologies, weapons, but also military and surveillance technologies, as you’re saying. How are they deployed against Palestinians? And how does it shape their lives, as they live under this occupation?
AL: Well Paris, there are so many examples, but one that comes to mind, because some this has been in the news just recently, and I mentioned the book, but it’s worth letting people understand this. Hebron is one of the largest Palestinian cities, and it has, for people who don’t know, the most insane situation. There are roughly 800 to 1000, utterly fundamentalist, not just far-right but genocidal Jewish settlers living in the heart of the city. And the Israeli military protects these people against the thousands and thousands of Palestinians who are living in their own city. So the reason I mentioned that is that the surveillance tools and technologies that Israel has deployed there, Hebron is often the model that then expands to other parts in Palestine.
Amnesty International put out a report recently in April this year about one of the tools, exposing something called Red Wolf, which was a tool of facial recognition, which essentially documents or tries to document, all Palestinians coming in and out of various checkpoints. And the only way you could get to your home, if you live in Hebron is to go through various entries and exits. So the Palestinians who were interviewed for this report, and I spoke to some other Palestinians for my book last year, would say that when you arrive at a checkpoint, and so listeners understand a checkpoint, Israel claimed this is about security. But actually, it’s about controlling Palestinians access and ability to move from a-to-b, literally to go from your home to a market, literally to go from take your kids to school. And you’re living within an environment of hardcore — and I use the term genocidal because I spent time in Hebron, alongside some of these settlers.
It’s really hard to explain and convey how utterly crazy these people are. If you think of the most extreme fundamentalist Christian evangelicals, if listeners can imagine this in the US or somewhere, who are, I don’t even know if they’re genocidal. Maybe some of them are. But people who are just have such intense hatred for Palestinians that their vision is to essentially get rid of them all. And they don’t shy away from saying that. So it’s important for people to understand that because they’re the people that have been protected here by the Israeli State and the military. And these tools and technologies like Red Wolf, the facial recognition, is not used against Israeli Jews, it’s used against Palestinians. So if you want to go anywhere, essentially, there are profiles built up about you, who you are, where you’re going, who’s your family, what is your workplace, all these details.
And it emerged that the two companies that apparently are involved in this one is European and one is Chinese. And this to me seems like two things: one, a pretty ripe company for boycott, by the way, but two, these kinds of companies in general operate with impunity, because so many other countries are keen to take their technology in their own space. So an element of facial recognition is one part. There’s also other checkpoints that I’ve been through where there is obviously biometric data taken. All this to be clear, is done without consent. It’s really important to say this people’s information there are massive and growing databases being built by Israel without any transparency. No one has access to this outside the Israeli military. You can’t sort of put FOIs in; you can’t of claim as a Palestinian: Can I get my file? That just doesn’t happen. Obviously, it’d be lovely if there was a Snowden type leak of these files — please leak it now someone — but that just doesn’t happen, or hasn’t happened so far.
And weirdly, actually, there are very few leaks in the Israeli system, unlike the US, which is actually quite curious. That’s maybe a slightly separate issue. But very, very rarely do you get leaks in the Israeli military. There is a — and I have a big chapter in the book about this — growing war on Palestinians, pushed by social media companies. I’m talking about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, i.e. Google. So, what does that mean, practically? It means that Palestinian posts, videos, comments are routinely barred, censored cut, deleted — for no reason. I’m not talking about Palestinian comments that are horrific, that maybe should be pulled down. I’m not talking about comments or videos that are violent. I’m talking about and I detail this extensively in the book, that there is not just an inbuilt bias within the systems. And I explained in the book that, in general, the so called Israeli point of view is front and center in these companies. Facebook, in this so-called oversight board, which I know you’ve talked about in the past. On one hand it is part of the oversight board, which are not too bad. But on other issues, it’s very, very problematic.
But nonetheless, they assisted in putting out a report not that long ago assessing how Israel often covers. There was a horrible Israel Gaza conflict, I think it was in May 2021. A lot of Palestinians reported at the time that a lot of their posts were just disappearing and being shadow banned. Why? God knows why. Course you can’t reach Facebookl you can’t speak to a human being. These companies are run by ghosts, very profitable ghosts. And this report essentially found, surprise, surprise, that there was an inbuilt bias against Palestinian points of view. So there’s two issues here: one, if there’s a human actually seeing content, they’re not trained well enough to actually understand that if, for example, someone is talking about the term “martyr”. This term is used routinely, in Palestinian Arab society. It doesn’t mean necessarily a suicide bomber. It could mean someone who is killed, who died in whatever context that may be. Often those posts were just deleted, because somehow it was, I guess, perceived that someone was celebrating a terrorist. That was the perception. So that’s the human content moderator not being trained well enough.
But of course, so much of that content moderation these days happens automatically. It’s not done by human being at all. And again, as is so much the issue with AI and all these kinds of questions, it depends what information the system has in the first place. And there is massive pressure by the Israeli state on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube to make sure — and on TikTok for that matter — for Palestinian content to be disappeared or reduced in visibility. And the evidence for that is overwhelming, that this was happening time and time and time again to various other people. When these companies are questioned about that, or challenged on that, and I have some details in the book about this, their response is either to plead ignorance. I think one comment from someone was the Facebook spokesman said: Look, we’re just an entertainment company. In other words, you can’t expect too much from us. Where to begin with that? I mean, okay. Yes, some people do use Facebook for entertainment. But as I detail in the book, Facebook has been found complicit in the genocide in Myanmar, when they are amplifying genocidal posts in Myanmar. They’re amplifying genocidal posts in Ethiopia. This is not me saying this. People can find this out online. It’s openly available. And what’s interesting, that I think reveals so much that most of these companies are often mirroring US foreign policy agendas.
So when the Russian war on Ukraine began in February last year, there was lots of Facebook posts and lots of obviously people talking about the war and how horrific it was and Russia’s brutal invasion. But Facebook made a decision, they would allow certain kinds of posts to say it was acceptable for Ukrainians to say to kill Putin and kill Russians. Those posts will be left up, they wouldn’t be pulled down. Even though there was a call for violence; it was a call for humans to be killed. Now, I’m not defending Putin. I’m not defending the Russian army by any means. But do you think that if a post of a Palestinian says that we should kill Netanyahu will be left up? What our listeners think? Of course not. This is a difference. And Facebook was asked about this. And the response was: Well, it’s a complicated situation, and Russia is committing war crimes. Yeah, I agree. Russia is committing war crimes, but so is Israel. And again, there was a lot of documents I show in the book that it’s very clear that over time, these companies want to align themselves with US foreign policy goals, and the State Department agenda and that also means supporting Israel. So when they’re pressured by Israel to censor various posts of Palestinians, they’re often more than willing to do so.
PM: We see that time and again. There’s not only the fact that these companies often have offices in Israel and have a relationship there. But Israeli authorities also have the resources to be flagging things that Palestinians don’t have. You gave us a good picture of what this looks like on the Palestinian side, as these technologies are rolled out, as all of this surveillance is used against Palestinians, what it means for them to just live in their day to day lives with all these checkpoints that they have to go through with all this surveillance that they’re subjected to. I’m wondering as well, as you described, the Israeli military and Israeli defense companies, and even tech companies as well, are developing these technologies by testing it and using it on Palestinians before selling it abroad. But I wonder if, as this kind of occupation hardens, and as Israeli society faces challenges to its limited democracy, as you’ve said, are those technologies also kind of being weaponized against the Israeli public as well as kind of the political mood sorts of change there? And as the government takes a more kind of harder line stance?
AL: I mean, the short answer to that is possiby, yes. And of course, I guess the context for that is, as listeners will be aware, in the last four or five months, there’s been massive protests in Israel against Netanyahu, hundreds of 1000 of principally Israeli Jews, it’s important to note that barely any Palestinians are protesting. There’s a reason for that, because they don’t feel a part of that movement. They’re not that keen on saving Israeli democracy, because democracy doesn’t really serve them very well. But nonetheless, yes, there has been Israeli surveillance techniques used against Israeli Jewish protesters, yes. Evidence that some people have been hacked by NSO Pegasus spyware. But the fundamental difference is that if and when an Israeli Jewish citizen in Israel is, say, maybe arrested, it is nothing like what happens to Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. And even for that matter, if an Israeli settler in the West Bank is arrested, he’s not treated, he or she is not treated in the same way. As a Palestinian.
Just so listeners are aware, Israel imprisons over currently a thousand Palestinians just in administrative detention. This is a euphemism, which basically means you can arrest someone indefinitely. You don’t have to charge them. It gives some vague claim that they’re supporting terrorism in Israel has arrested and imprisoned Palestinians for writing Facebook posts. Now, I would argue most of the ones I mentioned, some in the book, are not calling for death to Jews. They’re not. I’m not saying no one has ever written those posts, I’m sure people have.But some prominent examples of people who have been arrested for Facebook posts is insane. And it goes, I guess, to the idea that Israel imposed the military occupation in the West Bank against Palestinians. But yes, for sure, there are growing numbers of Israeli Jews. It is far too few though let’s be honest, who recognize the occupation always comes home — it always comes home. Just so people are aware who don’t know a geography, if you’re living in Tel Aviv where a lot of so-called liberal Israeli Jews live, it takes you less than half an hour in a car to go to Palestine, half an hour. And the vast, vast majority of Israeli Jews don’t go there. They have no interest to go there, don’t care what goes on there. Now, yes, many serve in the military there, which of course, is part of the problem. And very few Israeli Jews refuse service.
But I’ve rarely been to a country with such cognitive dissonance. I lived in East Jerusalem for four years between 2016-2020 I’ve been visiting Israel and Palestine now for close to 20 years, and I have a lot of Israeli Jewish friends. The very small band of left-wing Israeli Jews, which you might like to think is getting bigger, actually is miniscule. There’s no real Israeli left politically, sadly. There are people on who claim to be Israeli leftists. But sadly, the agenda of the opposition parties and Netanyahu are no different on the occupation. They’re not interested in ending thee occupation. For them, when you have a state of complete impunity, there’s no reason to end it. It suits Israel just fine. They’re not being punished for it. And in fact, as we’re talking about here, the defense industry is soaring after the Russian war on Ukraine the last year and a half. A lot of European countries are running to Israel, begging them: missile defense shields, spyware, help protect us from the potential Russian invasion. I’m not minimizing that there is risk in Europe, by any means. But there’s a reason why a lot of countries are coming to Israel for that assistance.
But yes, a lot of Israeli Jews are potentially at risk of being surveilled, too, but there is still a real cognitive dissonance, ignorance, willful blindness, that almost somehow for a lot of people, there is such a [feeling] — you get this from such a young age, both in the Israeli education system, but also, frankly, in the Jewish diaspora — that we have to protect ourselves no matter what, because of our history as Jews. And well, if Israel is doing that to Palestinians, maybe they deserve that. Maybe this is what needs to happen. And maybe they’re threatening us, maybe we need to occupy them, maybe we need to listen to their phone calls. Maybe we need to imprison them. This is a price of Jewish liberation, so the argument goes. And it’s unbelievably dangerous and racist and ahistorical and also, frankly, as a Jew, contributes, in my view to anti-Semitism against Jews. If you as a society say that Israel and Judaism are one in the same thing, which is what Israel essentially does and what the Jewish diaspora often says, then what about the many people including Jews who don’t accept that connection? So, I am hoping, although not expecting much, that more Israeli Jews wake up to what their country is doing in Palestine and how that’s being exported globally.
PM: It seems to have been a missed opportunity, as all these protests were happening around Netanyahu’s government and the Supreme Court reforms that they were trying to push through, that there wasn’t a recognition of the broader issues in the country, and that you can’t just have a democracy for one people and and not for everyone. Asking that question, I want to broaden it out as well. Because you’ve given us many examples of how Israel sells weapons in order to get favor with many other countries around the world, and how this is kind of a key part of its foreign policy, and has been for many decades. In the book, you quote Eli Pinko, former head of Israel’s defense Export Control Agency, who said, “It’s either the civil rights in some country or Israel’s right to exist,” to put that into context, as the way that this is kind of seen. So can you talk to us a bit about kind of how Israel approaches arm sales and how this is part of how it sees defending itself?
AL: Israel will sell to anyone is the long and the short of it. There are some exceptions. As far as we know, they don’t sell to North Korea, Syria, Iran. They have sold to Iran in the past before the 1979’s revolution. And I suspect it’s very conceivable in years to come, they’ll sell to Iran again. But as far as we’re aware, there’s a very few countries in the world they won’t sell weapons to what they perceive as enemies of the state, not that North Korea, particularly as much of an enemy, but it’s just such a pariah that they just don’t want to piss off the Americans. But they’ll sell to pretty much anyone. Now, some listeners might say, well, the US sells weapons anyone — true. France, Germany does — true. But I guess there’s a difference to me.
And I’m not supporting the American arms industry, either, or any other arms industry. Israel is now the 10th biggest arms exporter in the world. It’s a tiny country. And Israel claims to be a light onto the nations. This is how it promotes itself — that it’s somehow a moral beacon after the ashes of the Holocaust. And the difference I suppose is, although I think America did, for example, use the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a testing ground for many new weapons that they weren’t even shy about that. The wars are both complete disasters, but they were great for the defense industries, as listeners will be aware, I’m sure. They did very well on the last 20 years, extremely well. And they’re very excited about the Ukraine war, too, by the way.
PM: And as you say about what happens in the war or the occupation zone coming home, that’s exactly what we saw with Iraq and Afghanistan as well. Many of the technologies and weapons tested there ended up being deployed against the American public and people globally, basically.
AL: So Israel’s arms industry is, if you ask them: We have checks and balances; we assess human rights. I mean, it’s kind of funny when you speak to them about it. The evidence is so overwhelming in the other direction, on paper at least. So in theory, a company has to get an export license to sell a weapon X to a country that could be a spyware technology, drone, missile defense shield or whatever it may be. There obviously are a handful of large Israeli companies, Elbit is one, Rafael is another one, obviously NSO Group. There’s a very interesting new company called Toka. I think I put this in the book, which is partly funded by Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, which essentially has the ability to change footage in security cameras. Think about how potentially transformative that is, to so many events. Our societies are surrounded by security cameras; everything’s being filmed all the time. If there’s an ability to change what is being seen, to insert other footage into that feed, and that is a tool that has been promoted and sold by thee Israeli company called Toka. You can imagine many countries would be pretty keen on that technology. A lot of local governments and a lot of police forces would be pretty cool on that technology to so anything dystopian you can imagine, Israel has invented it. I go into in the book and obviously huge numbers of examples.
PM: Maybe it’s good for me to note a few of those examples. I was looking over my notes before we talked, and I didn’t make note of all of them. But just some of the really egregious cases of where these weapons were sold, for example to the Hutus during the Rwandan genocide. Israel was training death squads in Colombia; trained and armed the Chilean army under Pinochet; arming South Sudan; arming apartheid South Africa; selling weapons to Iran under the Shah, as you said; they worked with Suharto in Indonesia; armed Sri Lanka, against the Tamil Tigers; Myanmar, while it was committing genocide against the Rohingyas. Say what you will about arms industries, but these are many examples of times when you’d think that there would be, even if you’re going to sell arms to terrible people around the world, those are probably times when you probably wouldn’t want to be doing that. Right? Especially if you want to claim that there’s any kind of human rights checks and balances and export controls and things like that. Obviously, that’s a long history there. That’s not just in the past few years.
AL: Absolutely. But again, it comes down to, Paris, one word: impunity. That’s it! They sell it because no one stops them. They sell it, because there’s a demand for it, and they’re going to get money for it, and they are going to possibly get diplomatic support in the UN. Israel is aware, in the last decades, and I have lots of quotes in the book that a lot of the world doesn’t like its occupation. It doesn’t like it. It opposes it on paper. It opposes that on paper. Palestinians deserve human rights. The Arab countries for decades have been saying this: two state solution, Israel have to end the occupation; it’s terrible. So what have we seen in the last 10 years or so? Israel has now become officially friends with UAE, Bahrain, and unofficial friends with Saudi Arabia is selling the most horrendous spyware to all those nations. I talk in the book at length about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, who I’m sure listeners will remember was killed a number of years ago in a Turkish consulate in Istanbul.
There’s strong evidence that Saudi knew where Khashoggi was going to be when he was going to be doing his movements because of Israeli spyware put on his phone, and friends’ phones. The company NSA Group has denied that, but in my view, that denials are bollocks. And it’s not like his death really caused much of a policy change. Initially, the world was outraged, and everyone was getting upset with MBS (Mohammed bin Salman), the Saudi dictator. And I think for a few short weeks, Israel wasn’t sure if they were going to keep on selling technology and spyware to Saudi Arabia. And you’ll be shocked to know didn’t make a damn difference. Netanyahu, in fact, I have in the book says: Keep selling. You think Israel cares if they kill a journalist? in fact, this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists has released a report, in fact, saying that in the last 20 years, 20 Palestinian journalists killed, the vast majority killed by Israel, and nothing’s been investigated. There’s no accountability. That’s how they view journalists. That’s how they view the media: expendable.
And so, as you say, there is a long, long, long list of countries that Israel is selling technology to I guess what I try and do in the book is humanize it. Because often this can be the numbers and can just feel a bit overwhelming. So I speak to a leading activist in Togo, a country no one ever thinks about in Africa, where it’s an awful dictatorship, where a lot of her friends start disappearing and being arrested and I had no idea why that was and why? Because they regime had NSO spyware put on people’s phones and of course, the regime could look at all their WhatsApp messages. It also makes people realize hopefully reading this book that as much as we get told and sold the idea that we should use secure or apps like Signal. I’m not against Signal, particularly. But just to be clear, if your phone is compromised, it doesn’t matter what apps you’ve got. It makes not a damn bit of difference. So, just so people are aware of that. The only secure way is not to use a phone. Now I’m not saying that’s a practical way to live our lives. But that’s the reality.
I also speak to, as I think I said before, Mexico is the biggest user of Pegasus spyware. Initially, it was bought as a way to fight the drug war, allegedly. As a small side note, some listeners will remember when Sean Penn went to Mexico years ago, and to find El Chapo, who was then the world’s biggest drug lord. And then in the end, El Chapo was captured and now he’s in a US supermax prison and no doubt will die there in the coming decades. But one of the reasons that the Mexicans could find El Chapo through Sean Penn was the use of Pegasus. That’s kind of an amazing, crazy story. That’s not the moving story I wanted to recall briefly. I speak to a woman whose husband was killed. He was a respected journalist with a lot of work reporting on corruption and cartel work in Mexico and he was murdered. In the West, people often say they’ve got nothing to hide. What do you worry about? This argument you hear all the time? Sure, I don’t love the fact that Facebook can read all my messages, but what I’ve got nothing to hide, why do I care? So the argument goes.
Well, firstly, we all have secrets. So that’s nonsense. And secondly, that’s such a privileged position. Maybe a lot of people listening don’t have life and death secrets. Maybe they don’t. But if you’re a journalist in vast parts of the world, or an activist or just a human in Mexico, or lots of other places, you do have secrets. You’re trying to keep secrets away from people who want to harm you. So this journalist was murdered. And I interviewed his wife, who just said that the utter horror of a discovering not just her husband was murdered, but then discovering that her own phone was also surveilled. The authorities, probably the police, probably the government — there’s never real transparency about what happened and why — wanted to find out who she was speaking to. So her life is also in jeopardy because of what happened to her husband. So I interviewed people in India, where India is also a massive user of lots of other surveillance. And people who are trying to investigate or challenge government corruption or repression are increasingly find they’re up against governments with massive amounts of power.
And until there is a real move to regulate these surveillance tools, the problem is, no one wants to do it. Because no country wants to lose access to those tools. There’s finally, the Biden administration a few years ago put export bans on NSO Group, which on paper sounded great. They said we’re against human rights abuses, and this Israeli company, and one other one, is committing abuses, and they shouldn’t have the right to work in America. Okay, well, that sounds great, on paper. A few problems with that: A, lot of other Israeli firms are doing exactly the same thing, and then B, as the New York Times has reported extensively, the US government still works with NSO Group, and is using Pegasus. So, as is so often the case, they were going for the headline — they being the US government, under Biden — but in reality, I think a lot of the war that the US is fighting on Israeli spyware, is jealousy. The US wants to have global dominance, through the NSA and Israel is seen as a threat. Israel is a threat to its own intelligence gathering services. So they’re trying to quash any potential competition.
PM: I can definitely see that being the case. We know how the US is. And on that piece on competition, obviously, right now we’re seeing the US is very focused on China as a major kind of technological competito, and some of the things that we hear very often is that Chinese technology needs to be sanctioned, needs to be kind of cut off, so it can’t develop any further. There’s a lot of concern around kind of Chinese military and surveillance technology as well. But you make the point in the book that even though there’s all this concern about what China is doing, there’s not nearly the same degree of concern about Israel selling similar or even more advanced technologies to many governments around the world who are then using them and deploying them in the ways that you’ve been talking about. What do you make of that?
AL: There’s something I really wanted to put in the book. Because what I found in the last years, when I started looking into this book, China was kind of a friend. People often forget this now, but China was our great mate until not that long ago, post 9/11, the US and Britain and China were having regular meetings to talk about how to fight terrorism. This was the case until 2015, 16, 17. Really, no one cared about the Uyghurs — I’m not saying no one, I’m talking about the governments who didn’t care. I’m not saying people didn’t care. But in general, governments didn’t care. Obviously, things changed during the Trump eral, and with COVID, sure. I won’t go into all the details of that. But things have certainly shifted, and you’re right. Now, there is a new Cold War, which I view very cynically and with concern. And as I say, in the book, there’s no doubt that China has developed, probably now the most sophisticated forms of surveillance on the planet, against its own people — everything from spyware, facial recognition, biometrics, all this go on and on, both deployed against all citizens, but also particular minorities they don’t like.
And that is, as I say, in the book, exported to other countries around the world now to and that is a deep concern. But what I say is: Why isn’t there equal concern about Israeli technology? Repression doesn’t really care if it has a Chinese or Israeli flag. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. And to me, there is unquestionably no comparison between the number of countries that Israel has sold and is selling repressive tech, compared to China. Israel is way ahead by a mile. Now, could that change in years to come? Obviously, China’s massively powerful, much bigger. It’s possible, sure. But right now, where it stands in 2023, to me, it’s incomparably true that Israeli repressive tech is as much, if not more, of a threat to global democracy and privacy and human rights and Chinese repressive tech, which is also a threat. But it’s not in the media viewed in even close to the same way.
PM: I think it’s a really good point, and certainly we’ve seen a bunch of media reporting on Unit 8200 in the past, and all of the startups coming out of Israel and framed in this really positive way. We had the backlash on the NSO Group stuff, but not a wider backlash or criticism to a lot of those surveillance technologies that are being deployed and sold from Israel. We talked about the export of weapons, but one of the things in the book that you say is really important is also kind of the export of an ethnonationalist ideology that has taken root in Israel, and that is increasingly kind of being adopted well beyond Israel, as well. We can see places like Hungary; we can see it taking root in the United States; we can see many European countries heading in that direction. I guess we could say India, as well with kind of the Hindu nationalism that is going on there. Describe this ideology for us, and how Israel’s actions helped to ensure that other countries are moving in this direction, as well?
AL: So Israel has always been and is becoming increasingly so a Jewish ethnonationalist state. It proclaims that it’s a Jewish state. If you’re not Jewish, you’re not treated the same way. You’re often a second class citizen. A few years ago, a Jewish nation state law declared that Judaism is the primary identity of the state. So if you’re not Jewish, then you’re not an equal citizen. So Israel is not ashamed of that. In fact, it’s proud of it. And what I tried to do in the book is explain and as the concern that I’ve had for a long time, is that I see increasingly, not just countries admiring Israel and wanting to copy it. So when you mentioned Hungary or India, that’s true. Hungary under Orbán is — how would you describe it — quasi-democratic. It’s not a full blown dictatorship, but it certainly is only quasi-democratic. It increasingly wants to be a Christian ethnonationalist state. Orbán and Netanyahu are very close; they see an ideological alignment with each other. They also both loathe Palestinians and Muslims, so that helps.
India under Modi, as you rightly say, is a Hindu fundamentalist state, again, quasi-democratic, not a full blown dictatorship, but certainly going in that direction. There are anti-Muslim pogroms. It’s important to note, though, that I’m not saying that India or for example, Hungary needs Israel to do horrible things. Modi is going to Modi — he’s going to do his thing. But it’s very interesting in the last years, and I give details of this in the book, a growing ideological affinity. A few years ago, there was Indian officials saying that they deeply admire what Israel is doing in the West Bank, namely bringing a lot of Jewish settlers to settle Palestinian land. And they want to do exactly the same thing in Kashmir. Kashmir is a Muslim majority area. And what they’re increasingly doing is bringing in Hindus from the southern part of India. Now, does India need Israel for that alone? No, they don’t. But Israel is sort of held up as a model, because Israel can say, sadly, with some justification: No one’s stopping what we’re doing; we can act with impunity; the world essentially has accepted us. Yes, there’s opposition and there’s noisy people on the left who don’t like us, who cares? Bottom line, we can do what we want.
And what disturbs me is obviously that but also the growth in elements of the global far-right, who traditionally don’t like Jews. When you have neo-Nazis at their rallies, often waving the Israel flag now some people might go: Sorry, what? How doees that even compute? It computes not because they like Jews, because for them their vision — not that one can say, well, neo-Nazis have the same vision — but their vision, in general, is of a ethnonationalist, probably Christian state. And they love what Israel is doing. Not because they’re Jews, but because they’re pursuing what they view as a Jewish supremacy agenda. And they want to do exactly the same thing with the Christian ethnonationalist agenda. So Israel, again, is a model. And also they love the war on terror rhetoric. I say this in the book. But, you know, in after 9/11, when the US adopted a war on terror, both policy wise and rhetorically, Israel have been there for decades. And a lot of what the US did post 9/11, was modeled on Israel’s so-called war on terror against Palestinians and Lebanese decades before.
So when you have people like Richard Spencer, who is not as well known as he was few years ago. He’s an alt-right, so-called leader — if that’s not a contradiction in terms — who openly says: I’m a white Zionist. Now, that’s a very revealing line. I’ve never spoken to Richard Spencer, thankfully. But I suspect he doesn’t like Jews very much. But he loves how Israel is dominating the land, doesn’t care what Western human rights organizations say, is proudly pushing their agenda. That’s what he wants in America. Now, these views in the US and many Western states are on the fringes, but as you rightly say, they’re actually becoming far more mainstream. And that’s why when you have, for example, in Germany, the AfD (Alternative for Germany), who is in the parliament there, it’s a minority, but it’s the far right German political party, who might say openly anti-Semitic, openly anti-Semitic, with Nazi overtones: Big fans of Israel. Now, if Israel was rational, which arguably, they’re not, they’d be pretty worried about that. They would say: Hang on a minute, we don’t want to be friends with political parties that have neo-Nazi backgrounds.
But sadly, Israel, and not just under Netanyahu — he accelerated but it wasn’t that different when he wasn’t in power — are happy to foment those kinds of relations, this loose, quasi-global coalition of either religious supremacists and those who completely reject the so-called Western ideas. And not that uncritical of this, I am. Nut so-called Western ideas of democracy, human rights, equal rights, rights for all citizens, gay rights, all those kinds of rights. And a lot of these states reject it, they say: We don’t want that; not interested in that, we reject all that. And as you said before, yes, Israel likes to proclaim that it has gay rights. But let’s be very clear about that A, doesn’t apply to Palestinians and B, one thing that Israel is now facing, because it has allowed this cancerous mutation to grow for decades within its own borders, and in the West Bank, is a settler movement, which is a minority of the population, but has a much higher birth rate than so-called liberal Jews, that is now essentially taken over the country. And I’m not just talking about Netanyahu’s time talking about in the last, frankly, 50 odd years.
That’s where Israel is going, I fear, a trajectory, the great fear is ethnic cleansing. There is a growing constituency amongst Israeli Jewish population to ethnically cleanse Palestinians to finish what they claim wasn’t done in 1948. Kick out as many Palestinians as possible to where? Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, God knows. And years ago, Paris, I would have said: Oh, the world wouldn’t accept that, it’s just an outrageous thought! Now, I think, really, who’s going to stop them? Now, I’m not saying no one would. I mean, it’s hard to predict how that plays out. But the Arab countries would complain, but would happy to take Israeli spyware. The EU would release a stern press release, and the US, well, it depends if Trump was president, he’d be celebrating and clapping. If it’s a Democrat, like Biden knows what he would do. I’m not sure. But this to me is the mood within Israel and that’s what many in the global far-right They admire that. They admire the fact that ethnic cleansing is on the agenda, which it is in Israel. It’s not like it’s a view by two or three people, it’s not most of the polling there suggests a sizeable and growing minority of Israeli Jews support ethnic cleansing. It’s scary stuff. So, that’s a pretty grim way to end it. But that’s the situation.
PM: It is pretty grim. But I think it’s a sobering conversation more genuinely — not only to understand what is really going on in this part of the world, but also the relationship between the military that is enabling this occupation, undertaking this occupation, and the technologies in the tech industry that is very much supporting, very much profiting from it, and using it to test and develop and sell more weapons. And I think that is something that we need to understand, not just in the Israeli case, as we talked about in this podcast very frequently, how the US tech industry has its roots in the US military and comes out of the defense industry. And so these relationships happen everywhere. But I think it’s particularly important right now, as you have an apartheid state like Israel, and we need to be paying attention to that. Anthony, I really appreciate you taking the time. There’s so much more we could have talked about from the book. But thanks so much.
AL: Thanks for having me.