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Meet Bibi Netanyahu's Refusenik Nephew Who Says That Israel Is an Apartheid State

Jonathan Ben-Artzi reveals a perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is completely missing from the discourse in the U.S.

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JBA: So this has been a contentious issue. There are these sort of gated communities. There used to be gated communities in the United States that didn’t accept Jews, for example. That no longer exists, but I think that used to be the case. In Israel there are all these communities that don’t accept non-Jews. On paper this was ruled illegal, but in effect it’s still going on. There are many of these communities -- mostly in the north, in the Galilee area. There was actually an official policy of the government even before the formation of Israel, in the 1930s or before, to try to Jew-ify various areas that have a majority percentage of non-Jews. Primarily this is in the Galilee in the north, and the Negev in the south. This continues to this day.

JH: You’ve written a piece in the Christian Science Monitor. You wrote, “If Americans truly are our friends, they would shake us up and take away the keys. Because right now we are driving drunk. And without this wakeup call we will soon find ourselves in the ditch of an undemocratic, doomed state.”

Can you unpack that for us? What do you think the American government should be doing in terms of trying to advance a real peace in this region?

JBA: There’s a hidden assumption in your question. When you say, "What should the American government be doing to promote peace?" you’re assuming the American government wants peace.

Among liberals who give a lot of thought to American and Middle East issues there are two competing views. There are some, like Chomsky, who would say that the US is the dominant power, and within that there are various interests, like corporations. Any other player around the world basically does what the US bids them to do.

There’s this competing view which is at least primarily raised by two professors from Chicago and Harvard [Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer]. It’s about the Israel lobby, and it holds that Israel has a lot of control over US politics. I lean more towards the Chomsky point of view. In that sense I’m taking back some of the things I actually wrote, because I think that a lot of what Israel does is with the consent and pushing of the US.

The US is fully complicit in everything. What I still think holds is that the American population has a lot of influence, but they don’t know many things. The American population has it in their interests to have good health insurance, or to have a controlled Wall Street. That is not happening, because that’s the way the political system is designed.

JH: I want to move on to the BDS movement. Here in the United States, this is seen as anti-Semitic unto itself, which I think is kind of ironic because we’re always being told that Palestinians should engage in non-violent activism. Now when they do, it suddenly becomes beyond the pale. You support boycotts, which I see as a somewhat natural expression of the lack of a real peace process.

First let me ask you. Do you support boycotts against Israeli products in general, or just the ones manufactured in occupied territories? I think this is a split among BDS supporters.

JBA: I think the concept is complicated. One has to be very cautious with it. I always kind of sway. I’ll give an example. People discuss boycotting universities. That’s always a very difficult thing. So you boycott Tel Aviv University or the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I did my undergrad. Then let’s consider an institution like MIT. If you talk to Noam Chomsky, who works there, he will tell you that MIT receives millions of dollars in funds from DOD and all sorts of governmental agencies. It has all sorts of collaborations with armament development and all sorts of things that promote what’s happening in Afghanistan or Iraq, or wherever else the US ships arms around the world. Nobody can really boycott MIT. So this becomes a really difficult question. If you say you need to boycott Tel Aviv University then you’re just picking a university that’s easier to boycott.

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