Thursday, July 02, 2009

Naomi Klein in Israel

I turned on Reshet Bet of Kol Israel a few minutes ago, to listen to the morning news show (it's the Israeli Radio news station) and who should they be interviewing but Naomi Klein, who has been visiting Israel and the occupied territories (including Gaza). The interviewer asked her why she visited Israel despite her support of the economic and academic boycott of Israel, and she answered that while she didn't want to support the institutions of the Israeli state, she wanted to engage in dialogue with Israelis. I couldn't quite understand what the interviewer said, but it sounded like she was offered some money for her interview, which she was going to donate to a charity because she didn't want to profit from an Israeli government institution (Israel Radio is part of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and is run by the state). She's now talking about her thesis on "disaster capitalism" - that terrible disasters like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2006 are then exploited by corporations who use the opportunity of destruction to bring in their own businesses and displace local people.

I find it very surprising, for several reasons, that she's being interviewed by Israel Radio. First of all, in the United States, she would be interviewed by left-wing radio networks or shows like Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. Her chances of being interviewed by CNN, for example, are vanishingly small, as far as I know, because of her left-wing economic views. I guess the fact that Israel Radio is interested in interviewing her is a sign that Israel is still much more open than the U.S. to left-wing views, even with Netanyahu as Prime Minister and Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister. (After all, Hadash, the Israeli communist party, has a few seats in the Knesset).

I was also surprised that Israeli Radio would want to interview someone who is so negative about Israel and who advocates the boycott of Israel! And I'm also equally surprised that Naomi Klein would even come to Israel and agree to be interviewed on the state radio station! (To be fair to her, it sounded like much of her time here was spent in Gaza and the West Bank - she said that one of her goals in coming here was to work against the sense of "normalization" that disturbs her in Israel by talking about what is going on in Gaza).

She talked about one thing that I found very interesting - the Israeli advertising campaign in other countries to "re-brand" Israel as a normal country that's worth visiting (rather than a dangerous country of suicide bombings and wars). I remember hearing about this a couple of years ago when the campaign was just starting. Apparently this campaign was first piloted in Toronto, where she lives. I myself was disturbed by the idea that an advertising campaign was the way to change people's minds about Israel, since of course it doesn't deal with any of the actual problems in Israel. But, on the other hand, what advertising campaign does? It just seems a very superficial way to present the official Israeli government position.

On her website she calls for the boycott of Israel in these terms: "It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa."

Her reply to the criticism that Israel isn't South Africa is interesting: "2. Israel is not South Africa. Of course it isn't. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves that BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, back-room lobbying) have failed. And there are indeed deeply distressing echoes of South African apartheid in the occupied territories: the color-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and forced displacement, the settler-only roads."

Her website also explains how she managed to get her latest book published in Israel - by a small left-wing Israeli press called Andalus. She won't be receiving any profits from the book; all will go to Andalus - "In other words, I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis." She explains more about this in an interview with Ha'aretz published yesterday - Oppose the state, not the people.

One of the things she's done while she's here is go to the weekly protests at Bil'in - see this report on Mondoweiss - Naomi Klein in Bil'in. The weekly protests are against the separation wall.

The contortions that she must go through to prove that even though she's visiting Israel and having her books published here she's still boycotting the Israeli economy are quite amazing. It seems to me that she could extract herself from the charge of hypocrisy if her support for the BDS campaign were a little less knee-jerk and more nuanced - if she said that she intends to support certain parts of the Israeli economy - like left-wing presses - and not other parts, like big Israeli corporations or state institutions.


  1. I would compare Reshet Bet to NPR rather than CNN; i.e. it is a publicly funded station, not a commercial station. And as the case with NPR, the public stations tend to be more left wing. In general, freedom of the press is seen as a sanctified right in Israel, and the government does not interfere with the political content. Of course, the stations do need to take into account public reactions to their content. There is a flourishing culture of 'pirate' stations; unlicensed stations that fill the niches unfulfilled by the official public stations: Arutz 7 is the right wing settler station, and there are a few Ultra-Orthodox stations for the religious public.

    There are plenty of people in Israel who oppose government policies, if anything Israeli academia leans heavily to the left. The boycott mostly hurts those who it wants to support.

  2. Thank you for the perspective on Reshet Bet - I hadn't thought of it that way. I do know that there are plenty of people in Israel who oppose government policies. I had just thought that there was a certain limit on a government-funded radio station to what would be considered within the limit. (And I'm not criticizing Reshet Bet in either direction - I'm impressed that they interviewed Naomi Klein, and I wouldn't have been surprised if they had decided not to interview her either).

  3. My point is that the term 'Government funded' has a very specific [negative]connotation, whereas 'publicly funded' has a different one. The money for funding public broadcasting comes from a tax which is gathered by and paid directly to the Israel Broadcasting Authority (I just paid the second half of the annual fee...) specifically in order to make sure there are no political strings attached to the money.

  4. Ah, I did not realize that. Thank you for the information.