As Pressenza readers will know, wlections have recently taken place in Israel. Pressenza is delighted to publish here a podcast interview done for the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO). Sharon Dolev is the Israeli executive director of METO.

Paul Ingram interviews Sharon about the recent Israeli elections in which Benjamin Netanyahu was finally ousted from power, the prospects for the new government, the possibility of moving towards Israel recognising its possession of nuclear weapons and engaging with states of the region to establish a WMD-free zone, and what people outside the region can do to help.

Transcription:

Paul Ingram

We’ve just had elections in two of the most important states in the Middle East, Israel and Iran. In this second of two special episodes of In The Zone I’m talking with Sharon Dolev about Israel. Sharon is founder and executive director of METO, a long-time courageous activist for peace in Israel. Proud to be Israeli, she is also passionate about change within the country. She has worked within political parties and other organizations in Israel and set up and ran the Israeli Disarmament Movement. She, with a little help from me, dreamed the impossible idea of the Middle East Treaty Organization back in 2016 after hosting round tables in Tel-Aviv and is now bringing it to reality. She’s also a close friend. We’re going to talk now about the background to the Israeli election, but most importantly, the impacts of this election on regional peace and security and prospects for the Zone. So, Sharon, thinking about the election…

Sharon Dolev

Hi, Paul.

Paul Ingram

Sharon, thinking about this election, was this an anti-Netanyahu wave that the media seemed to interpret it as? Was it really about one personality, and if so, what does that suggest about the future cohesion of this new government?

Sharon Dolev

Well, it’s a very complex question, but before I say this. First, I love the introduction. It was a very generous introduction, but there was one word that jumped to me, and from that I’ll go to answering your question, and that was “proud to be Israeli”. I’m not a proud Israeli. And the reason I’m not a proud Israeli is because I don’t think there’s anything to be proud of, not because Israel is behaving this way or that way. It’s because I think I’m an Israeli, because I was born in Israel, and that a state is not something that you should be proud of or not proud of. A state is supposed to be the body that I give money to to run my life as smoothly as possible. And if I’m taking this, I’ll take it back to your question, Netanyahu was doing it the wrong way. He was doing the opposite. Like most of the leaders in the Middle East and the vast majority of leaders around the world, the leaders of the states are not working to benefit the people of the state. And when you look at security questions, you usually see a huge gap between what is the security for the person and the security of the state. And when it came to Netanyahu, the state became him. He was the protector of Israel, the protector of the Jewish people. And basically, what it meant was that he gave pompous speeches about Iran at the UN and not much more than that. Apart from that, Netanyahu was willing to destroy the structure of Israel as long as he remained in seat. And that’s what generated the anti-Netanyahu movement. It was not a movement against a person, it was, really, I think and I believe, a movement of pro-Israel: let’s preserve something of what we believe we grew on. And that is why it made this government possible. If it was just anti-Netanyahu, and that’s what most people see, I mean, the vast majority of the conversation in Israel it’s like that: “it was anti-Netanyahu”. But I don’t think that only anti-Netanyahu could have made this government work, or at least start to work. I think, it was really a vision of after-Netanyahu: he did enough damage that now we need to do something to save what is left: what is left of the judicial system, what is left of the police, what is left of the health system, but what is left of the belief of people in this system.

Paul Ingram

So Netanyahu, as you say, joined himself to the state, and thereby, in many different ways corrupted the state. He’s accused of all sorts of corruption. Do you think he’s going to be exposed now to legal action and what do you think the political consequences of chasing Netanyahu at this point will then have?

Sharon Dolev

Well, because I have such strong feelings about Netanyahu, of course, I would love to see him go to court. Sadly, he’s going to court for the things that I care about less. But there was a major corruption, and not to see him in court will mean that it’s okay to behave in such a corrupted way. But most people don’t feel as much about it, because the corruption was seemingly mild, most of it. I’m not talking about the submarines, because the submarines touched the base issue of security, but he’s not going to court on that one for some reason. Very strange. He’s going to court for giving favours for better coverage on the news, for receiving gifts that made him look like a lord, you know, cigars and champagne, things that made him look like King Bibi. And most people in Israel actually like that they have a king, so he’s going to court for something that most people think is very mild, not that important. While there’s an importance for him going there, most people that follow Netanyahu believe that this is the system against Netanyahu, so their anger will be with the system. There’s also a fair chance that the new president will pardon him before he goes to trial. So, I would like to see him go to trial and I would like to see him go to jail, but that’s because I believe he’s a criminal, but not for these things. I would like to see him go to jail for what he has done to the society: for the hate, for the mistrust, for the way he divided us. I mean, in 1996 he started with saying the leftists forgot what it is like to be a Jew, and suddenly if you don’t agree with him, you’re not a legitimate Israeli. This is what he’s done to the society.

Paul Ingram

Okay, thanks. I think it’s really clear, and I’m sure that a lot of Americans listening to this will feel a certain recognition there. And like Trump, Netanyahu sucked all the attention towards himself and made the issue about him. And I guess, I’ve done that by asking you these questions. So, what I’d like to do now is just draw a line behind this guy, put him in the box, where he deserves to be, whether that’s in prison or somewhere else, and now focus on this new government. So, this new government, Sharon, what are your hopes and fears around this government, particularly when it comes to regional and foreign policy? I mean, will it be coherent despite its diversity or is its diversity part of its strength?

Sharon Dolev

Both, as always. So, when it comes to security issues, this government is as divided as possible. But we will see it on more local issues, we’ll see it mainly when it comes to the Palestinians. Sadly, when it comes to more regional issues, I don’t think that we will see much difference here. And when it comes to the Iran deal, the JCPOA, or to Israel participation in international forums, the deal with the weapons of mass destruction, I think that we won’t see much difference at all. And that mainly because they don’t discuss it, and they don’t know how to discuss it, and they were not exposed to most of the discussions around it. If there were, and I’m sorry to bring back Netanyahu, but one thing that you could have seen is that even though those reporters that never believed anything he said, those who believed nothing that came out of his mouth, when it came to Iran, they just cited him without criticism, without asking questions, and sometimes even those who are now in the new government, those who were in the opposition, my friends in the left parties, when it came to Iran, they cited him, because there’s no knowledge, because reporters here don’t know what questions to ask, and there was not enough courage amongst those who know to speak on time, when the first Iran deal was discussed, and now they regret it.

Paul Ingram

So, this is really important and I’d like us to just delve a little bit more into it, because I think, there’s the key here to the question that, I think, is on the minds of many-many people who look at the challenges of the Middle East and the way Israel relates to them. The key here is that Israel is a democracy, Israel has a free media of types, and yet the education of the people, the education of the journalists, the discussions that would be necessary to a lively and healthy democracy, they’re just not there. So, I guess, my question is if they’re not there, what are the keys to unlocking that challenge in Israel today?

Sharon Dolev

So, there’s a huge discussion that we can have about what is a democracy. So, I’ll agree with you that Israel has democratic procedures, but we never had democratic behaviour or democratic education. We didn’t learn what democracy means apart from the procedures. So, we have the procedures, but if you look at ambiguity, it’s one of the biggest examples…

Paul Ingram

Ambiguity of nuclear possession.

Sharon Dolev

Yeah, the new nuclear ambiguity, because nobody told us that we’re not allowed to. We knew it somehow by ourselves, there is no legislation, there’s no rule about it, and yet we think it’s not legal to talk about it. The question was always just about whether Israel possesses or not possesses nuclear weapons, and somehow we managed to not discuss any of the issues related, not the waste, not energy, nothing. If we are a democratic state, how come none of the green organizations have ever done anything about the possible pollution in Dimona city next to the reactor? There was never a democratic discussion, when it came to security in general, and definitely, not when it comes to nuclear issues.

Paul Ingram

That is because, to try to hit the nail on the head, there is an almost universal acceptance that Israel is surrounded by enemies and requires some capability to respond to its neighbours to create peace and security, with the emphasis on security. Is that right?

Sharon Dolev

Yeah, I mean, it’s not something that is debatable. We are surrounded by enemies, and whether they should have stayed our enemies or we could have done something about it, that’s a totally different question, but we are surrounded by enemies. Even those states that have peace agreements with us don’t have normalization, we don’t feel secure, and we have a known history. So, this is one part of it. But this is not the reason why there’s secrecy. The secrecy and the ability of not discussing things is because we don’t have a democratic society that asks, why is that a secret and how does it keep us safe. Because if you look at the secret, nobody else knows that it’s the secret. You know, when I went to my first Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting at the UN, I was shocked and, you know, I’m a lefty, I know how the world works, and yet I was shocked. All the states talked about our nuclear weapons. Everybody! And none of them said “alleged” or “according to foreign sources”. They just talked about our nuclear weapons, as if it’s a reality. Like, how rude of them! And only in Israel we don’t discuss any of it. So what are they keeping the secret from? They’re keeping the secrets from the green organizations, from human rights organizations, and from peace organizations, and from an internal discourse, that’s where they’re protected.

Paul Ingram

And the secrecy sounds like it’s a symbol of fragility and weakness, because if they were confident, then there would be no problem with having a public debate, because the public debate would be based upon overwhelming support amongst Israelis for an independent nuclear deterrent. Is that right?

Sharon Dolev

Probably the vast majority of Israelis will support the fact that we have nuclear weapons. And yet, right now this is something that they can put or take money out, and they can take care or not take care of whatever waste that they throw around the reactor without any supervision. Israel is taking part in international discourse and even threatening Iran with nuclear weapons. I mean, when Netanyahu stands in front of the reactor, and gives a speech, and says: “If Iran will do this…” This is the leader of a nuclear-armed state standing with his weapons behind him threatening Iran, and nobody in Israel is even realizing that our prime minister just… because if it’s not in the discourse, people don’t think like that. So, there’s a whole discourse that goes above our head. Israel is participating but not Israelis. And “not Israelis” also means the members of Parliament, and the ministers, and those who are supposed to be a little bit more engaged in this discourse.

Paul Ingram

Do you think this election, its results, and the movement, and the leadership, has any possibility of starting to address these taboos we’re talking about? Is there any slither of hope, that at some point in the future the Israeli government will put its hand up and say: “Yes, we do have nuclear weapons. We are in an environment where we feel the need to have nuclear weapons, but we want to reach out and have a dialogue, have a discussion, take part in the global conversation about nuclear disarmament”?

Sharon Dolev

So, I have an answer, and it’s sad and vain at the same time. No, I don’t think that they’re going to. However, I do think that this is the job of the Israeli Disarmament Movement, or the remains of the Israeli Disarmament Movement, or METO in Israel. You know, there’s no legal movement in Israel, but there are some people like me. It’s our job, we need to now go to this new government to find our path to this new government and try to force the discourse on them somehow or to invite them to the discourse, give them the information that was missing and allow them to talk to those who usually don’t speak with them and ask questions, and that might sound a bit maternalistic, allow them the room to ask a question that maybe they don’t dare to ask, because there was so little discourse. I think that there is lots of ignorance there and I think that it’s dangerous.

Paul Ingram

So if there is some shift as a result of the new government, it is possibly a little bit movement away from simply opposition and protest towards drawing them into a conversation that is more informed, but that would also, I assume, require a greater level of public education and information. I guess, what I’m inching towards here is you, Sharon, displaying a little bit of your plans for action over the coming months and years.

Sharon Dolev

So, to say years, when it comes to an Israeli government, is being super optimistic. But if we’re talking about the upcoming few months, as you know, we are now about to finish a new draft. And that’s a very good reason to talk to Israeli reporters.

Paul Ingram

Can I just butt in here, just to clarify. A new draft of the Draft Treaty that the Middle East Treaty Organization has been developing over the last few years.

Sharon Dolev

So it might give us a good reason and the upcoming November Conference and the upcoming NPT might give us a good reason to talk to reporters in Israel, try to brief them, so they’ll know how to cover it in a bit different way. Now that they don’t have Netanyahu to cite, I mean, Netanyahu will continue talking about it as the head of the opposition. But now they have other people to cite and now they can ask different questions, but those who they should cite should also get the information that we think that they need to have. Yet, it’s not easy in Israel. To talk about these things still looks bad to most Israelis. So, we will try to meet as many Members of Parliament as possible in the upcoming few months. We’ll try to meet some of the ministers and hope to get them at least curious enough and feeling safe enough to ask more questions. And they don’t have to ask just us, we should show them that there’re others in the arena, other think-tanks that think the opposite of us, but let’s have a conversation.

Paul Ingram

Right, yeah. And what do you think people from outside of Israel can do to support the peace process that you described within Israel? I mean, it reminds me of the round table that you invited me to come and co-host with you in Tel-Aviv back in 2016. Actually, no it was before then. And you said at the time that suddenly Israeli officials, think-tankers and others were treating you and others that think like you more seriously, because there were foreigners in the room. Is there something that people from outside today can do to help you in this process?

Sharon Dolev

Well, it’s not just that anyone that comes to Israel and is the foreigner in the room can make this reaction. And it’s not just that they took me seriously suddenly, I don’t know if they took me seriously, but at least they were engaging. And the reason that they were engaging was because suddenly it was an international meeting. Let’s not belittle you, Paul, but with the head of BASIC then, with Paul Ingram and they already knew you, some of them, so getting an invitation from somebody that they already are familiar with and used to talk to, and to do it in Tel-Aviv made a huge difference. And if people want to help and want to do something, there are two major things. First and foremost, they should lead by example. So, those states that want Israel to disarm and still possess nuclear weapons, they should go ahead and adhere to the Nuke Ban Treaty and get rid of their nuclear weapons. Those who do not possess nuclear weapons and want to help, well, for years the campaign in Israel was based on very, very limited funds and volunteers that financed most of the activities by themselves in Israel. If now we have a government that we can really talk to, now is the time to have a real campaign in Israel, and a real campaign needs, I’m sad to say, funds not just dedication. And we need it. Some people can host us or come to Tel-Aviv, if they can, and if they’re already in the arena, and have an organization behind them, something that can allow us to bring people together, they are welcome to do that too.

Paul Ingram

And neighbouring governments, what could they do right now to improve the chances of a constructive relationship with Israel starting to overcome the obstacles? Because let’s face facts, it’s not just Israel that needs to move in this arena.

Sharon Dolev

Well, the rest of the states in the Middle East now, regardless of where they’re coming from and why they’re coming from, are sitting in one room at the UN. They’ve done so in November 2019 just before COVID hit us all, and they will do the same in November. And the states in the region are supposed to come up with a text that they can all agree on, on a WMD, weapons of mass destruction, free zone in the Middle East. So, on one hand, they’re doing exactly what we would love them to do. The thing is that Israel is not there. The rest of the states have to make up their mind: are they moving ahead or are they waiting for Israel? And if they are moving ahead, how are they going to do so? If they’ll come up with a text that will allow Israel to join at the end, that’s the most responsible thing that they can do – move ahead and do it in a way that will allow Israel to move. Understanding that maybe Israel can’t join the room right now, people don’t understand enough to do it in a way that will allow them to go back to the people of the state and in Israel, because if a prime minister will announce now, for example, that he’s going to talk about it, people will be quite shocked, they won’t understand it. So, Israel might need some time, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no job to be done, a text that can be written, allowing us to do what we can, and the rest of the states, when they talk to Israel, whatever they can to make sure that Israel is able to join.

Paul Ingram

Sharon, thank you so much for this interview. It’s left me feeling quite positive, as I always do when I’ve talked to you. I also want to thank you for setting up the Middle East Treaty Organization and the energy that you put into it, but most of all I want to thank you for working so hard within Israel which is such a tough place to be working. I’m going to finish there.

My usual end point is to encourage you to get involved. You can find us online at www.wmd-free.me, you can subscribe there to our newsletter, donate money, volunteer to work with us. We’re also on social media, on Twitter @WMDfreeME, and similarly on Facebook and Instagram. And find us on Soundcloud, Spotify and YouTube. I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did, and I’ll see you and I hope you’ll hear me at a future podcast. Cheers! Bye for now.

The original article can be found here