‘How is Israel a democracy ?’ – Amna Nawaz grills Naftali Bennett

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  April 19, 2023

In a breakthrough for mainstream media, Amna Nawaz of PBS grilled former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, and observed that Israel is not a democracy because 5 million Palestinians can’t vote.

Last year the PBS News Hour was anchored by Judy Woodruff, and in two marquee interviews, she exhibited a callous indifference to the Palestinian perspective. One was her interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, barely a month after Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh in May. Woodruff pressed Blinken about the Saudis’ murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 but said nothing about Abu Akleh. Then last fall, Woodruff did a softball interview of Benjamin Netanyahu, promoting his new book, and allowed him to press for military threats against Iran, and quizzed him about his relationships to presidents– then treated Palestinians as an afterthought, toward whom Netanyahu might have good faith:

“What sort of life do you foresee for them in the years, generations to come?… And do you see a home for Palestinians in years to come?”

Truly embarrassing.

What a difference a year makes. Woodruff has become a senior correspondent, and one of the new co-anchors is Amna Nawaz, an Asian-American and Muslim, who obviously is familiar with the Palestinian narrative and grants it honor.

VIDEO  :  ‘How is Israel a democracy?’ Amna Nawaz grills Naftali Bennett – Mondoweiss

Last night Nawaz interviewed former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, and she repeatedly asked him about Palestinians’ lack of rights under occupation, culminating with her comment: “We have seen Palestinian families en masse evicted from properties they have occupied for generations.”

What a breakthrough! Nawaz clearly feels supported by a trend she brought up: the Gallup poll findings showing that Democrats are now more sympathetic to Palestinians than Israelis, and by a whopping 49 to 38 percent. “That’s a real reversal in just a matter of years,” she said. “Seven years ago, sympathy was 30 percent greater for Israelis than for Palestinians.”

Bennett looked to be thrown by her questioning. He obviously intended to patch up relations with the U.S. establishment last night, pooh-poohing the contretemps between Biden and Israel and saying that Israeli democracy has been redeemed by Netanyahu’s decision last month under tremendous pressure to put off his judicial overhaul plans. Bennett said:

“I can now openly declare that the democracy in Israel has prevailed… It’ll take a while until everyone understands it, but I think what Israel got was a great gift for its 75th birthday.

But Nawaz was having none of it. She brought up the Gallup numbers on Israel’s tanking image, and Bennett said the usual– “we need to do a better job of bringing the reality and the beautiful reality, but complex reality of Israel to American viewers.” Israel is an imperfect democracy.

Now Nawaz pressed the Palestinian experience– it’s not a democracy for them:

Critics will say, how is this a real democracy, though, when you have five million Palestinians who have no voting rights, no access to government? I mean, in a true democracy, wouldn’t everyone have equal rights?

Bennett spoke of Palestinians electing the P.A. and Hamas. Nawaz then brought up the occupation. “But under occupation… in the West Bank, specifically, Palestinians do not have voting rights or access to government…. they do live under a military occupation of Israeli forces.”

Bennett claimed that apart from Israeli “security” concerns, Palestinians have “full freedom.”

Again, Nawaz was unmoved. She said, “people and critics who watch the mistreatment and the unequal treatment of Palestinian and Israeli citizens” have said that the U.S. and Israel don’t share values and the U.S. should condition military aid– a reference to the congressional letter signed by 14 last week.

Bennett bridled, that would be a “profound mistake,” and persisted that “Israel is a full-fledged democracy,” with two million Palestinian citizens voting for the Knesset.

Nawaz again addressed the “five million Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens” and went on to bring up “settlement expansions,” and “the eviction of Palestinian families” and “the demolitions of their homes” as factors that the U.N. sees as “fueling… violence.”

When Bennett said that Israel doesn’t evict anyone who is legally in a home, Nawaz had the presence of mind to say, “Legal by whose determination, though?” — and added that “we have seen Palestinian families en masse evicted from properties they have occupied for generations.”

Amazing to hear those words coming from a mainstream American news anchor. Bennett appeared a bit flustered by the uncommon treatment.

In the remainder of the interview, Nawaz pressed Bennett about “settlement expansion” and said that Saudi Arabia, having resumed relations with Iran, “is calling Israel an occupation government again.” And, How can Israel improve relations with its Arab neighbors “if the settlements continue and if the violence escalates?”

Nawaz was surely biting her tongue. Occupation and settlements are semi-acceptable terms in D.C.; it’s too bad that she could not bring herself to say “apartheid” and cite the many human rights reports describing Israel as an apartheid state.

But that day will surely come. Nawaz plainly feels buttressed by Israel’s critics in Congress and its sinking sympathy among Democrats. Most important, she grants Palestinians dignity in a mainstream space. It’s a pity that we need to celebrate the discovery that Palestinians are human beings, but it was thrilling to watch this interview and see an Israeli politician on his back foot for once.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006