We speak with former Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader, who In a wrote a letter to President Bush this week harshly criticizing the White House for its response to Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. [includes rush transcript - partial]
Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has issued an urgent appeal to the international community to intervene saying his country has been "torn to shreds."
In a letter to President Bush this week, former Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader harshly criticized the White House for its response to the crisis. Nader is perhaps the most well known Lebanese-American in the world. He ran against George W Bush for president twice - in 2000 and 2004. He is also the most prominent consumer advocate in the country.
- Ralph Nader, independent presidential candidate for 2000 and 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: In a letter to President Bush this week, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader harshly criticized the White House for its response to the crisis. Ralph Nader is perhaps the most well known Lebanese American in the world. He ran against George W. Bush for president twice, in 2000 and 2004. He is also the most prominent consumer advocate in this country. Ralph Nader joins us on the telephone right now. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Ralph Nader.
RALPH NADER: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what you wrote to President Bush.
RALPH NADER: I wrote him a letter that basically described the need for him to get advice from his father and Brent Scowcroft and James Baker about how he should deal with this Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which of course violates a whole range of international treaties and Geneva Conventions, to which the United States has been a longtime signatory. And the first priority that Bush should adopt is to recognize that the U.S.'s indiscriminate support of Israel's indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon -- ports and hospital and roads and wheat silos and residential areas -- puts a responsibility on the President, who is shipping a lot of tax dollars to Israel, as well as a lot of weapons, to put a stop to this through a ceasefire and to take a stronger initiative in resolving the core problem, which is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: You also take on the issue of President Bush's father and where he should go for advice.
RALPH NADER: Yes, I wanted to draw a contrast as to just how extreme and messianically driven President Bush is, even in comparison with his father and his father’s key advisers, Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft, both of whom opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Bush, in 2004, was quoted as saying, quote, "I trust God speaks through me," end-quote. We’re dealing here with not just a phenomenally ignorant man, but a messianically driven man, and so when the Prime Minister of Israel visits the White House, he, Bush, knows who the puppeteer and who the puppet is, but he doesn't like to appear like a puppet, so he embraces messianically anything that Israel chooses to do militarily and to, in the words of the combat reservists who have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli combat reservists, they refuse to serve in Gaza and the West Bank and in their words they, quote, "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people," end-quote. And that is exactly what George W. Bush's unqualified support, weaponry, diplomatic cover, vetoes in the UN against UN resolutions, is providing the Israeli military regime an opportunity to do, the Palestinians and anybody in the area that the Israeli military regime wants to dominate, damage.
What’s interesting here is that the Israeli peace movement, just like the peace movement in our country, was cowed when the hostilities began a few days ago. But that doesn't mean that the Israeli peace movement and leading commentators, former ministers of justice and defense and intelligence officials, who in prior months and years spoke out against the occupation, colonization, domination, destruction of the West Bank and Palestine cannot reassert themselves. But when they’re up against George W. Bush and a supine congress and a absurdly compliant Hillary Clinton, and others, it’s very hard for the Israeli peace movement, in the Knesset and elsewhere, to reassert itself. And that’s the cardinal failure of the Bush regime, that they have sided their positions with the militarists in Israel, but not with the broad, deep and prominent Israeli peace movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, we have to break. We’ll come back to you. We’ll also be joined by a member of the Israeli peace movement, Professor Illan Pappe from Haifa, which has been hit by Hezbollah rockets. We’re also going to be joined by a prominent doctor in Gaza. We’re talking to former Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, leading consumer activist in this country. Ralph Nader, I wanted to play for you an excerpt of Tuesday's White House press conference. In it, Press Secretary Tony Snow is questioned by veteran correspondent Helen Thomas. Commonly referred to as “the First Lady of the Press,” Helen Thomas is the most senior member of the White House press corps. What many people may not know is that she’s also of Lebanese descent. At Tuesday’s news conference, she questioned Tony Snow about the U.S. response to the Israeli assault.
HELEN THOMAS: The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis.
TONY SNOW: I don't think so, Helen.
HELEN THOMAS: We have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.
TONY SNOW: What’s interesting, Helen --
HELEN THOMAS: And this is what’s happening, and that’s the perception of the United States.
TONY SNOW: Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view, but I would encourage you --
HELEN THOMAS: Nobody is accepting your explanation. What is restraint? You call for restraint.
TONY SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you, what’s interesting, Helen, is people have. The G8 was completely united on this. And as you know, when it comes to issues of --
HELEN THOMAS: And we stopped a ceasefire. Why?
TONY SNOW: We didn't stop a ceasefire. Let me just tell you -- I’ll tell you what.
HELEN THOMAS: We vetoed --
TONY SNOW: We didn't even veto. Please get your facts right. What happened was that the G8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a ceasefire when you've got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war -- he's declaring total war. When they are firing rockets indiscriminately --
HELEN THOMAS: We had the United Nations --
TONY SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer. The point here is, they're firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding as they see fit. You will note the countries that disagree with the --
HELEN THOMAS: -- bombardment of a whole country --
TONY SNOW: -- that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine, many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible, and that those who support it also bear responsibility. There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agreed on it. This was not difficult.
AMY GOODMAN: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow responding to reporter Helen Thomas's comments. Ralph Nader, beginning with his comment, when she asked about isn't this collective punishment, saying this is a Hezbollah response.
RALPH NADER: Well, of course, the history of this is not just two weeks old. In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, violating all kinds of Geneva conventions and UN resolutions, the New York Times’s Tom Friedman accused the Israeli military, actually reported, indiscriminate bombing in Beirut, and there were warships, Israeli shelling indiscriminately in Beirut. These are total war crimes, massive damage and death and destruction to innocent people.
The border between Israel and Lebanon involves raids of Israel, much more than Hezbollah, because of the more powerful factor. They still control large farm acreage, the Shebaa Farms, which are Lebanese soil. The Israelis have abducted Israeli civilians. They won’t tell the United Nations or the Lebanese government the location for thousands of land mines in South Lebanon so they can be deactivated. And during the 18-year occupation of South Lebanon, itself illegal under international law from 1982 to the year 2000, Israel drew water, precious water, from the Litani and even took fertile topsoil back to Israel, and other plunders. So, you know, for Tony Snow to act like, well, you know, everything started with this attack by Hezbollah, which is basically an attack designed to provide for a prisoner exchange. This has happened numerous times over the Lebanese-Israeli border.
But as Israeli commentators pointed out, this invasion of Lebanon doesn't have anything to do with it. This is just a pretext by Israel, that Israel wants a puppet regime in Lebanon. It cannot stand an independent Lebanon, and it seeks to achieve that objective by this massive invasion and dividing the sectarian conflicts, as it did in 1982. So, it’s really tragic to see the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, and others acting as if they were emissaries of the Israeli embassy. When Mr. Burns said on the McNeil-Lehrer Report the other night that all the civilian deaths and destruction in Lebanon are due to Hezbollah, that is the kind of go signal that the Israeli regime wants to hear from the United States.
But I think it’s important for all peace-seeking people to move to pressure the U.S. government to get a ceasefire and to finally involve the Bush administration in serious negotiations as an honest broker to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution, a viable Palestinian state, which is supported by large numbers of Israelis, as well as, of course, Palestinians, and I might add about 70% of American Jews support a two-state solution to this problem, which has gotten us involved into more and more quagmires in the Middle East, not to exclude the Iraq war.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I wanted to bring professor Illan Pappe into this conversation. Hezbollah is continuing to fire rockets into Northern Israel. 29 Israelis have been killed so far, including 15 civilians. On Wednesday, Hezbollah fired over 100 missiles, hitting Haifa and for the first time Nazareth. The rocket attacks killed two boys there. They were both Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. Nine others were wounded in the attack.
We’re going to go to Northern Israel to speak with Illan Pappe, an Israeli historian, author and political scientist at the University of Haifa. His latest book is called A History of Modern Palestine. Joining us on the line from Haifa, Professor Pappe. Thank you for joining us. We’re also speaking to Ralph Nader, on the line here in the United States.
ILLAN PAPPE: Hello, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s happening in Haifa right now, the rocket attacks on your city, and your response?
ILLAN PAPPE: Well, today was a relative quiet day. There were several sirens, but no rockets fell, unlike tomorrow. But I’m aware that what we are going through pales in comparison to what goes on on the other side of the border, where a large number of civilians have been killed.
And I think I can talk also as a spokesperson for the Israeli Committee Against the War, that the citizens of Haifa, Palestinians and Jews alike, there are quite a large number of them who ask probably the same questions that Ralph Nader asked before. Why doesn't our government accept the offer of the United Nations to an immediate ceasefire and the beginning of diplomatic negotiations? And why does the United States, in the most immoral position I have ever recalled since the end of the second World War, tells us and the poor citizens of Lebanon that it doesn't mind the mutual killing of citizens, so that the military operation could go on, where it knows that it has the power to stop today the shelling of both Israelis and Lebanese and to start maybe a more fruitful negotiations, not only over the questions of the prisoners of war, but maybe even over the question of the comprehensive solution.
AMY GOODMAN: How important is the U.S. stance, Professor Pappe?
ILLAN PAPPE: Immensely so. I think that, first of all, it has the power, like it never had before, to stop an escalation, which has already claimed the lives of many innocent people. So that’s a very powerful position. Secondly, it’s the only superpower in the area and in the world, and that’s a very great responsibility. And thirdly, without the U.S. support, the aggressive Israeli policies, not only towards Lebanon, but also towards the Gaza Strip and towards the Occupied Territories, would have changed dramatically. So I would say that in fact the Middle East conflict continues, very much because -- not only because, but primarily because -- of the American position.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pappe, we’re hearing over and over again in the U.S. media about how the Israeli population is fully behind their government, especially as the rockets continue to slam into Haifa, now Nazareth. Is this true?
ILLAN PAPPE: Yeah, it is true. It is true that the Jewish society -- as you know, 20% of the Israelis are Palestinians, and I doubt very much whether they support this policy, but it is true that the majority of the Jewish population supports the government, but they do it because (a) they’re misinformed -- nobody in Israel can see what are the results of the Israeli bombing in Lebanon -- and because it is an indoctrinated society that, through the educational system and the media and the political system, gets a very distorted picture of the reality around it.
So you can get the consensus around the government policies, but, you know, from history we know that the majority support for certain policies doesn't vindicate it or doesn’t justify it. And for the first time, I think, this war actually -- and this is my great hope, as well -- is going to bring questions to the fore, because I think more and more Israelis realize that what they were promised a week ago, that in 48 hours or so the mighty Israeli Air Force would settle all the problems of the Middle East for once and for all, this promise was made in vain, and my hope is that the Israelis will start to ask questions that would first lead to the end of this war, but maybe would start an era of pluralism in Israel, which pretends to be a democracy, with some of the more bizarre and dangerous policies of the government would be questioned by its society.