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Truthdigger of the Week: Yuval Diskin

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Imagine if FBI founder and notoriously malicious snoop J. Edgar Hoover pronounced the views of 1960s antiwar protesters and other dissidents correct. Now set imagination aside and read this July 24 interview with Yuval Diskin, the former director of Israeli internal security service Shin Bet.

At the start of the third week of the Israeli government’s air and ground campaign against Hamas in Gaza, Diskin, who served as the head of Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011, criticized right-wing President Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish allies for reacting belligerently to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in mid June, and more generally, failing to pursue a peaceful relationship with the two-tiered unity government in charge of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“Israel should have been more sophisticated in the way it reacted,” Diskin told Spiegel Online interviewer Julia Amalia Heyer. “We should have supported the Palestinians because we want to make peace with everybody, not with just two-thirds or half of the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu pronounced Hamas responsible for the abduction of teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah three days after they went missing June 12. The conclusion may have been premature. Hamas denied responsibility for the kidnappings and no evidence came forth from Israeli intelligence to support the claim. (A BBC journalist later tweeted that an Israel police official said Hamas did not direct the attack.)

An ongoing insistence on Israeli exceptionalism maintained by force cannot produce long-standing peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Diskin argued. “I would warn against believing that the Palestinians are peaceful due to exhaustion from the occupation,” he told Heyer. “They will never accept the status quo of the Israeli occupation.” Instead, their passion for resistance will increase. “When people lose hope for an improvement of their situation, they radicalize. That is the nature of human beings. The Gaza Strip is the best example of that. All the conditions are there for an explosion,” he said. Later in the interview he added: “Real security can only be achieved through peace. Israel, despite its military strength, has to do everything it can in order to reach peace with its neighbors.”

The point is impossible to miss. In Diskin’s view, his peers in Israeli leadership bear significant responsibility for Palestinian behavior. Recently deceased American political scientist Chalmers Johnson, author of a number of historical studies on the dynamics of imperial power, termed spontaneous and inevitable resistance to indiscriminate applications of state force “blowback.”

Why does the ruling Likud Party persist with policy that is certain never to produce peace? Partly, Diskin answered, because the existence of a common enemy is a source of political power. He believes for example that Iran is not Israel’s “real problem,” and rather than the problem being the Palestinians themselves, he very carefully talks about the “conflict with the Palestinians.” Combined with the occupation of the West Bank, the conflict is “the biggest security risk for the state of Israel,” Diskin argued. But Netanyahu holds steady on a more vague enemy like Iran. “And of course he has derived political profit from it. It is much easier to create consensus about the Iranian existential threat than about an agreement with the Palestinians,” he said. Others in power similarly seek to maintain only their short-term political strength. They “are acting irresponsibly; they are thinking only about their electorate and not in terms of the long-term effects on Israeli society,” Diskin noted. And they are putting their fellow citizens at increasing risk in the process.

Diskin does not absolve Palestinian leaders of blame. For a peaceful resolution to the conflict, he said “we need commitment on the Palestinian side and the acceptance of the Middle East Quartet conditions” — a set of principles of coexistence outlined by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia and opposed by Hamas. Diskin made his career leading an institution engaged in violent confrontations with people he policed, but his interview gives the impression of a man committed to the safety and well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians. It is a rare and urgently needed display of inclusiveness among the Israeli leadership. And he is not alone. “There are plenty of people within Shin Bet, Mossad and the army who think like I do,” he said. That appears to include 50 reservists who criticized the current operation in Gaza and the military itself in an open letter this week. It also includes all surviving six former leaders of Shin Bet, as was shown in the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers.”

But the composition of values in the military and government is moving rightward, becoming more extreme and violent in the direction of exclusive, self-contained jingoism. “[I]n another five years, we will be very lonely people. Because the number of religious Zionists in positions of political power and in the military is continually growing,” Diskin contended.

For representing the old Israel of progressive secular values and speaking up for all sides, we honor Yuval Diskin as our Truthdigger of the Week. Hear him talk in a clip from “The Gatekeepers” below.

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