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Netanyahu in Australia: Just what is he selling? by Jeff Halper

For Israel, the Palestinians have long since ceased being of any interest, let alone an existential threat. So what is really on Netanyahu’s mind, and what are he and Turnbull really discussing?

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Australia, attention is naturally focused on the issue of Israel’s occupation and its treatment of the Palestinians. That has been the thrust of the protests, but it is far from what is on Netanyahu’s mind—or what the two countries’ leaders are discussing.

For Israel, the Palestinians have long since ceased being of any interest, let alone an existential threat. True, Israeli leaders have to fight minor rearguard actions against protests and criticism when they leave their gilded cage, and they are waging a battle against BDF (the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement). Overall, however, Israel’s position in the international community remains strong. Witness the Australian government’s embrace; even the UN Security Council resolution against settlement construction was merely symbolic, carrying no sanctions. Domestically, Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government is stable and, among the Israeli public, the Palestine issue has become virtually a non-issue. On the contrary, the government is poised to annex a substantial part of the West Bank, ending prospects of a two-state solution and formally instituting an apartheid system, with little push-back either internationally or at home. Netanyahu is sitting pretty.

So why is he in Australia? Well, it never hurts to boost relations with an ally, and particularly with an influential Jewish community that keeps that ally in line. And there is a certain symbiosis of two settler-states with some common experiences repressing crimes done to their Indigenous peoples on the way to establishing democracies.

But the agenda in fact has more to do with security politics than with security. Australia is potentially a major market for Israeli security and military technologies, and an entrée into other lucrative Southeast Asian markets, Indonesia in particular. (Netanyahu stopped in Singapore on the way, a country whose very army was built from the ground up by Israel and which purchases patrol and missile boats, fighter planes, intelligence equipment, control and command centres, Israeli drones and dozens of Israeli-made Merkava tanks.) So Australian purchases of security and surveillance systems, cyberwarfare devices, drones, ship-borne missile defence, Battle Management Systems, Integrated Infantry Combat Systems that equips soldiers with advanced, miniaturised hi-tech tools (especially relevant to Australian Special Operation Forces), armoured vehicle protection and much more is high on the agenda.

But Netanyahu is peddling something far larger and more insidious: a Security State. Just as it has embarked on a campaign of ‘lawfare’—getting the international community to revise the rules of war in ways Israel and other states would like, i.e., making any civilian suspected of being a ‘terrorist’ fair game—so too is it working to transform other countries’ democracies into Security States that resemble, and legitimate, its own.

What is a Security State? A state that places security above all else, which considers democracy and human rights ‘liberal luxuries’ in a world awash with terrorism. When Brussels was bombed last March, the Israeli government did not convey its condolences. Instead, Israel Katz, the Minister of Intelligence, said infamously: ‘If in Belgium they continue to eat chocolate, enjoy life and parade as great liberals and democrats while not taking account of the fact that some of the Muslims who are there are organising acts of terror, they will not be able to fight against them’. In what may be history’s greatest act of chutzpa, Israel presents itself to countries like Australia as the model of the future.

You should not be criticising us, say Netanyahu and his cohorts, you should be imitating us. For look at what we have done. We have created a country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River that provides its citizens with personal security, a vibrant democracy and a flourishing economy—even though half the population are terrorists (i.e., Palestinians living in enclaves of the country, non-citizens ruled by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas). If we can achieve that, imagine what we can offer Belgium, France, the UK and the US, countries that have suffered terrorist attacks—and potentially Australia.

Israel has turned resistance arising out of 50 years of occupation—and all resistance is termed ‘terrorism’, another way of empowering states in their struggles against their own peoples—into a marketable product. ‘As a country that’s endured decades of conflict and terror,’ writes Anthony Bergin (senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and co-author of The Wattle and the Olive, urging greater Australian-Israeli security cooperation), ‘yet still managed to build a flourishing economy and vibrant democracy, Israel offers insights into individual and societal resilience’.

The Security State being peddled by Netanyahu is merely a form of a police state whose populace is easily manipulated by an obsession with ‘security’, as Israel has succeeded in instituting at home. It is a state driven by the logic permanent war, of absolute security that trumps all democratic protections. If Australia can be persuaded to buy into that dystopian notion of security, it offers Israel both a major market for security technologies and a reliable ally that will buy into its self-serving paranoia.

*Jeff Halper is an Israeli anthropologist, the head of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the author of War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (London, Pluto Books, 2015).