Informed Comment / September 7, 2023
Ann Arbor – Tia Goldenberg at AP got the scoop. She landed an interview with the former head of Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, in which he unloaded on the Israeli system of Apartheid.
She quotes him as saying, “There is an apartheid state here. In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”
Tamir Pardo, roughly 69, served as the head of Mossad from 2011 to 2016. He is no leftist or bleeding heart liberal, but an exemplar of the tough, pragmatic and somewhat ruthless Israeli tradition of security officials. He once observed that Mossad is a criminal organization with a license and that is what makes it fun. I suspect the same thing can be said about most external intelligence organizations, including MI6 and the CIA.
Goldenberg added, “Pardo said that as Mossad chief, he repeatedly warned Netanyahu that he needed to decide what Israel’s borders were, or risk the destruction of a state for the Jews … Pardo warned that if Israel doesn’t set borders between it and the Palestinians, Israel’s existence as a Jewish state will be in danger.”
What he means is that if the extremists in the current government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeed in their goal of annexing the occupied Palestinian territories, they will willy nilly make 5 million Palestinians Israeli citizens. Taking the land without the people and keeping the indigenous Palestinians stateless is the very definition of Apartheid. The only way to regularize and make legitimate such an annexation would be to give Palestinians citizenship. But if they were added to the nearly 2 million Israelis of Palestinian heritage, that would make about 7 million Palestinian-Israelis versus 7 million Jewish Israelis. Pardo’s point is that Israel would no longer be a Jewish state under those circumstances but a multi-ethnic one, like Belgium or Lebanon.
The Jewish Power and Religious Zionism extremists in the government, I think, hope to chase the Palestinians away to Jordan, creating a large new wave of refugees. I’m not sure, though, that such a thing is possible now, as it had been in 1948 and 1967. Jordan’s army would try to stop it. If such expulsion or “transfer” succeeded, it would likely make Jordan unstable, with highly negative security implications for Israel. And of course such an expulsion of the Palestinians would be a major war crime that might well lead to sanctions on Israel.
Pardo supports the massive protests that have roiled Israel since January, and which aim to pressure PM Netanyahu to back off his plan to neuter the country’s High Court. Pardo also, like many Israelis, despises the Jewish Power and Religious Zionism zealots who now control key cabinet posts. He said in a radio interview in late July, “Someone took the Ku Klux Klan and brought it into the government.” The someone was of course Netanyahu, as Pardo acknowledged.
He even went so far as implicitly to compare Bezalel Smotrich’s call for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be wiped out to the mass parties of the 1930s, including, presumably, the Nazis.
He said the government’s rules allowing Jewish communities to exclude Palestinian-Israelis were “antisemitic”: “Tomorrow morning, they can’t enter a club, or a locality, or can’t buy a house in a certain area, or have less rights, that is antisemitism for its own sake.” I think his point was that Arabs are also Semites, and were being discriminated against on racial grounds.
Jonathan Shamir at Haaretz wrote, of Pardo’s revelations in his radio interview with Kan, “When Pardo confronted Netanyahu with the fact that Israel ‘rules from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [river] Jordan, and in practice, holds Gaza as the largest open air prison in the world,’ he said he was never met with any substantive response. ‘His vision [on this issue] is the vision of Smotrich,’Pardo charged.”
Pardo worried about an exodus of physicians, the hi tech sector, and academics from Israel, without which, he said, “we won’t have a country anymore” or it will become a third world state. He also worries about the military and Mossad being weakened by the increasing number of Israeli refuseniks who decline to serve.
Pardo not only had a long career in the Mossad, starting in 1980, but also was detailed to the Israeli Defense Forces for a while, and worked briefly in the tech sector himself. In 2011-2016 while heading Mossad, he came into conflict with Netanyahu over the prime minister’s plans to launch a unilateral attack on Iran without parliamentary approval. On the other hand, Pardo has lobbied the international community hard to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
So he isn’t saying that Israel is an Apartheid state, or that it keeps Gaza as an open air prison, or that the Israeli extremist parties are the KKK because he is a Marxist or has studied intersectionality. He is saying these things because as a former security official, he sees them as dire security threats to Israel.
The problem he points to, however, of not having settled borders and not really wanting them goes back to David Ben-Gurion. As Israel was coming into being in May 1948, Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary that the new state, like the US, had no recognized borders. He was implying that it could still grow, just as the US extended west through the nineteenth century under the doctrine of manifest destiny. It is one reason that the claim by Israel apologists that Israel recognized the 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan whereas the Arabs did not falls flat.
The Israelis did not really recognize it. They took lots of territory that the UNGA did not award them, and in later years they tried to annex Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, one tenth of Lebanon, and both the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. They only managed to keep the latter two, but they were clearly attempting to grab as much of their neighbors’ territory as they could get away with. (The UNGA plan, by the way, did not have the force of law, since it was never ratified by the UN Security Council).
That is, Pardo seems to think he is asking for a return to pre-1967 normalcy, but what he is really asking for is for Israel to settle down and become an ordinary country instead of behaving like a messianic cause with an expansionist remit, as it generally has done since its founding.
Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam