Mohsen Abdelmoumen: How do you explain the submission of Western governments and their media to Israel?
Jean Bricmont: By the pressure of the lobbies, the constant insistence on commemorating the holocaust, etc. This creates a situation in which Zionist intellectuals can never be criticized without the risk of being treated as fascist or Nazi. All this is very effective and people are silent because they lack courage.
Why, in your opinion, all those who condemn Israel’s criminal policy are labeled anti-Semites?
Not all those who criticize Israel’s policies are treated as anti-Semites, let’s not exaggerate. But criticism must always be made within a relatively limited framework. We can criticize in the name of human rights, but we can not talk about the Palestinian right of return or things that would affect Israel’s legitimacy or what is called Israel’s right to exist. Yet the right to exist is an empty concept for States; for example, I do not think that one can say that Belgium has the right to exist, it may disappear tomorrow because of a splitting of the country. A country may choose to unite or separate, the regime may change, but when it comes to Israel, you have no right to go too far in your criticism, no call for boycott for example. You will be told that you singularize Israel in your criticism, that you criticize Israel more than other states, so it is anti-Semitic.
Recently, an Israeli leader admitted that Israel has armed and supported terrorist groups in Syria, and no comment or treatment of this serious information has been seen. Why do you think about it? And why, in your opinion, does the rogue Zionist state of Israel enjoy complete impunity?
With regard to Syria, many left-wing Zionist or crypto-Zionist movements have aligned themselves with other left-wing movements to support the overthrow of Assad, and they do not like it to be known that Israel also supports rebels or terrorists who want to overthrow Assad. Psychologically, people do not like to appear to be on Israel’s side. Israel is not popular. We are in a situation where things are changing and, in fact, Israel is no longer popular at all, unlike the years 1950-60. The expression of criticism of Israel is still extremely limited, but privately, people do not hesitate to criticize it. Before, Israel was considered as the advanced post of the West, it is not the case today. All the “Democrats and Progressives” who called for overthrowing Assad, ostensibly on human rights grounds, do not at all like it to be shown that, in fact, overthrowing Assad was very much on the Israeli agenda.
What is the real weight of the Israeli lobby in Europe?
It is less strong than in the United States, but it also varies from country to country. For example, Norway or Ireland are countries where the lobby carries no weight and so they do more or less what they want, but they are marginal. The lobby is very strong in France and Great Britain. Just look at the attacks against Corbyn in England while Corbyn has never said or done anything anti-Semitic. His party was defamed; research was carried out searching for any sentence that could be used to demolish him. This was done with Ken Loach, with Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London. The slightest ambiguous sentence is held up as evidence to destroy these people, who are in no way anti-Semitic. In France, you have people like Bernard-Henri Levy who from the start claimed that the Yellow Vests are anti-Semitic despite the fact that there is no real anti-Semitism in this movement.
Are the media in the West not become propaganda tools for the establishment?
I would not use the word “propaganda” because I like to refer to the book of Herman and Chomsky “Manufacturing consent”. There is no propaganda in the Soviet sense of the term, it is not naïve propaganda, journalists appear to be free and actually are free, but those who work for the mainstream media implicitly accept certain mental constraints without even thinking about it. Obviously, once they accept these constraints and think inside these constraints, they are free.
Why, in your opinion, the Yellow Vest movement is disturbing the establishment?
They disturb because there are no specific claims that could be more or less satisfied and so there is a kind of global challenge to the system that goes in all directions. It could be fewer taxes, other taxes, fairer taxes; it is such a global challenge that the system does not know how to handle it. When there are trade union demonstrations, a little something is conceded and then the unions are satisfied with it. It’s a pretty controllable situation, but here the power does not know what it has to do to satisfy the Yellow Vests. Even if Macron left, things would not change much.
According to you, is not the emergence of Yellow Vests historical? Is not this movement very important in its desire to restore power to the people?
Yes, I think so, but it is very complicated to imagine the form by which the people would take power. They talk about the RIC (Citizens’ Initiative Referendum) and the European Union, but they are not at all clear on the latter issue. The problem is that it is a spontaneous and unorganized movement, so there are no leaders, no method for collective thought. There is collective thought developed by people discussing in the traffic circles and who think of alternatives, but the movement is not yet structured enough so that we could know where it will lead. I tend to think that we have to wait to know what will come of all this. For now, they are resisting, which is already remarkable, but where it will go, I do not know. They should not, for example, create a list for the European elections; I think it’s a mistake. Most Yellow Vests agree that it’s a mistake, but there are still various attempts. There are very harsh attempts to repress the most radical people and at the same time attempts to recuperate the less radical people willing to enter into dialogue with Macron and play the electoral game.
Does the movement of Yellow Vests not have the merit of showing us the panic of the oligarchy which directs France and the world?
(Laughs). I do not really like the term “oligarchy”, so I will say the ruling class. It is not just the capitalists, there is the whole petty bourgeoisie, there is the media, and so on. And I will not call it the oligarchy. We can see that in all these milieux there is a kind of panic. In France, artists, intellectuals, are very reticent. There is a slight mobilization in favor of the Yellow Vests, but they do not really know what to do. Since the movement is intensely patriotic – they sing the “Marseillaise”, wave the French flag, etc. It is an attitude that deeply disturbs the left. The people show that they are attached to their country – as the Algerians are attached to Algeria, the French are attached to France -, which does not imply any hostility towards foreigners, but it implies a certain idea of national community and this is something that the left has hated for decades. It is the great problem of the left that it is cut off from the majority of people because it rejects this idea of a national community and puts forward its membership in Europe, globalization, etc. From this point of view, the left is completely cut off from the people.
How do you explain this outburst of police violence, as we saw especially with Jerome Rodriguez who was blinded in one eye by a rubber bullet shot?
In my opinion, they do not know what else to do. I do not think that police violence is only a response to the violence of Yellow Vests because the rioters, the Black Blocks, etc. are everywhere. It’s curious because if they wanted to arrest them, they would, but they do not arrest them. They are violent but have nothing to do with Yellow Vests and they come in all the demonstrations to bring chaos. It seems that they could be infiltrated, arrested, but nothing is done. I have already participated in Yellow Vests demonstrations; the policemen are very violent with Yellow Vests, and it is voluntary. The shooting of rubber bullet, the teargas grenades, are voluntary. The policemen are not always in situations of danger. Often they provoke the demonstrators. It’s voluntary and I suppose the orders come from above, from Minister Castaner or from the prefect, I do not know. There are multiple tactics to discredit Yellow Vests in the media in order to repress them to the maximum by saying that there are violent without specifying where violence comes from, and to try to divide them with European electoral lists and dialogues with Macron, etc. So, all tactics are used by the power to discredit this popular movement.
Do you think the Macron regime is unable of giving a political response to the Yellow Vests crisis and has only one offer that is violence?
Yes. What political answer could it give? In a way, Yellow Vests ask such fundamental questions that no European government could answer them. Moreover, Macron is a prisoner of the European Union logic. He throws oil on the fire with his provocations, but the crisis is the result of decades of neoliberal politics, deindustrialization, destruction of public services, and so on. And so, we are in a rather catastrophic situation that is not only his responsibility, but which goes back to the Mitterrand years.
How do you explain the fact that the European governments, while claiming to be against the extreme right, support the fascist Jaïr Bolsonaro, and the extreme right in Venezuela and Ukraine? Can the Western governments which created Gladio and the “stay behind” say they have nothing to do with the far right?
Yes, they support the far right in Ukraine on one side and condemn Dieudonné by saying that he is far-right. It’s completely ridiculous but it has always been like that. During the Cold War, they said that it was necessary to fight authoritarianism while supporting the dictatorship in Greece, Chile, etc. and bombing Vietnam. They have always had this policy. They can support things outside that they claim to fight inside. But they do not really fight them inside either. The movement of Yellow Vests is not far-right and even Marine Le Pen is not fascist in the historical sense of the term, but they use her as a scarecrow. During the Cold War, they used the far left as a scarecrow. They always need a scarecrow. And curiously, they put Russia in the same bag with the far right, so they can also make anti-Russian agitation. All powers need an enemy, so it is necessary to have a scarecrow that is more or less credible to the population.
Is not the far-right the useful idiot of the European capitalist system like terrorists and jihadists are the useful idiots of imperialism?
Yes, one can make this comparison. Except that there are different far rights. Before, there was a far right that was, to some extent, patriotic and anti-Zionist. There were far-right tendencies that were pro-Palestinian. Today, all this has disappeared. They all decided that in the face of pressure from pro-Israel lobbies, the only way out was to be even more pro-Israel than the others, to want to put the embassy in Jerusalem like Trump, Bolsonaro, etc. And then say “if we are so Zionists, then maybe they will leave us in peace on immigration and so on”, since in general Zionists have been for open borders.
How do you explain that far-right parties are against Europe while they have always participated in the European elections?
Participating in the European elections is not contradictory to being against the European construction. One can participate as Nigel Farage has done to denounce the European construction in the European Parliament.
Is there no inconsistency?
No, it is not inconsistent. There are lots of communist parties that participated in elections while denouncing the bourgeois parliaments. I would not say that it’s inconsistent. The problem of the far right is not that it criticizes the European Union but is not favorable to leaving the European Union. It depends on which extreme right, but in any case, Marine Le Pen, in France, is not for the leaving the E.U. I think also of Eastern Europe, they criticize the European Union, but they want to continue to receive money from the European Union; in Italy, they have accepted the conditions of the European Union. So it is mostly agitation. Often the extreme right is demagogic in making noise on one subject or another, like immigration for example, in order to come to power, but if they come to power, they won’t do much, except for cracking down on immigration and Muslims.
According to you, do we live in a democracy in the West or is it rather a plutocracy? Are Western governments free and democratic or obey an oligarchy?
I do not agree with the fact that they obey an oligarchy. It is a bit like journalists, to get into the political process and to be accepted, you have to subscribe to a certain ideology. And those who are in power, of all parties, share a certain ideology that is for the European construction, for globalization, for so-called free trade, for the so-called free market, it is the ideology that has been in place since the 1980s and dominates the thinking of all the so-called responsible people in the West. All these people have the same ideology. If we say they receive orders and ask them about it, they will answer “no, there is no one who gives me orders”. It’s true that no one gives them orders. Journalists and politicians are free, but the constraints of the system make those who succeed, those who get ahead and continue to be part of the system have a certain way of seeing the world and of thinking that makes them acceptable to the system, but they do not receive orders.
You heard about Oxfam’s latest report that talks about 26 people who own half of the world’s wealth. Does not this capitalist system lead to the extinction of the human race?
I think it is exaggerated because I do not see why the human race would disappear. Nor should we exaggerate because the standard of living has increased over time in many Third World countries, such as China and even in Africa.
The capitalist system leads us to the wall.
That is not certain. I agree that there are astronomic inequalities, but this Oxfam report is open to criticism because concerning those 26 individuals, one must examine just what one considers to be their possessions and how one estimates the possession of the rest of humanity. The numbers are questionable. That there is increasing inequality, there is no doubt about it, but on the other hand there is also rising standards of living because of technology and science. I am not defending those inequalities, but I am even more opposed to the power relations that these inequalities allow. But it is not because these inequalities are growing that humanity will necessarily disappear. I do not believe it because agricultural productivity has increased dramatically.
This is the opinion of the scientist that you are.
I am a physicist. Scientists, aside from those dedicated to the climate, are not catastrophists.
You have written several books in partnership with Noam Chomsky. Do not you think that his book co-authored with Edward S. Herman “Manufacturing consent” is very important to understand the role of the media and their propaganda in the service of the empire?
Yes, what they are showing is a model of propaganda, but it is also important to say that for them there was no real brainwashing in our system. People are free in the media. I think that even in totalitarian systems, they are sometimes free, that is, at least those who enter the system and conform to the ideology of the system. Of course, there are cases where they are not free. But we see that there are people like Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald, Seymour Hersh and many other well-known journalists who were in the system and who came out because they were disgusted with the system or because the system no longer allowed them to function inside it. In this way people are de facto fired for ideological reasons.
How is it that these propaganda media in the service of the oligarchy pride themselves on talking about fake news while they have not stopped misinforming the public during all the imperialist interventions in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria etc. ? Do the media of the empire still have any credibility or morality?
No, I think they have none, of course, but all the fake news discourse tries to reinforce the ideology because they claim that fake news are due to the social networks, the Russians, etc. There is much fake news in social networks, I do not dispute that, but the mainstream media uses that as a weapon to defend itself. They want to discredit all the media critics and all the alternative information. With alternative information, you must of course pay attention and find the right sources.
What do you think of the deafening silence surrounding Saudi Arabia’s criminal war against the people of Yemen?
It is indeed horrible. We sell arms to Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia is closest to Israel among the Arab countries. They cannot say that they are openly allied with Israel because it is a Muslim country, but they are as close to Israel as one can be while being a Muslim theocracy. And in addition, they encouraged jihadism everywhere in the Arab world. And we, we are allied with this regime, for three reasons: arms, oil and Israel. At the time of the Khashoggi case, Trump had some pretty critical words about Saudi Arabia but it’s forgotten now. They want to overthrow Maduro by calling him a dictator but they won’t touch Saudi Arabia.
What can say the committed man you are to all the resistance fighters in the world who resist imperialism and Zionism?
I think they are in a better situation than in the past, because both Russia and China offer resistance to the United States, Russia more openly than China, but there is real resistance. The problem for Europe is that it remains trapped in the ideology of submission to the United States. For the rest of the world, I think things are going rather better, there is a historical trend towards weakening the United States – for Latin America, it depends on the countries – and somehow also Zionism. There was a time when people loved Israel, today it is no longer the case.
The extreme right has returned to some Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil, etc.
It is complicated. The far right has benefited from the difficulties of the leftist regimes. The United States is on the offensive in Latin America, but before, it dominated everything in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, etc. The war in Iraq was a disaster for them, of course above all for the Iraqis, but also for them. In Afghanistan, they are blocked. Israel, no one likes them, even in the United States. The Americans controlled Russia at the time of Yeltsin, now they do not control it anymore. China, we can say that it becomes more independent. The situation of the United States in the world is rather bad. Trump has a more imperialist policy than he promised, for sure, but on the other hand, because of his personality, he is also hated.
Do you think we have a multipolar world right now?
It’s hard to say. In any case, the Europeans should be more independent but that does not seem to happen.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Dr. Jean Bricmont?
Dr. Jean Bricmont is a Belgian physicist. He is an emeritus professor of theoretical physics at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) and he is a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1976 at the Catholic University of Louvain. He worked as a researcher at Rutgers University and then taught at Princeton University, in the United States. His research has earned him two distinctions: the J. Deruyts Prize of the Royal Academy of Belgium in 1996 and the five-year FNRS prize (A. Leeuw-Damry-Bourlart) in 2005.
Jean Bricmont is also known as a rationalist activist who associates with American intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Alan Sokal, etc. He is the author of several books, including Intellectual Impostures (2003) with Alan Sokal; Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (2007); Making Sense of Quantum Mechanics (2016) ; Chomsky Notebook (2010) with Julie Franck and Noam Chomsky; Hidden Worlds in Quantum Physics with Dr. Gérard Gouesbet (2013) ; Occupy with Noam Chomsky (2013 ); Raison contre pouvoir : Le pari de Pascal with Noam Chomsky (2009) ; Le monde qui pourrait être : Socialisme, anarchisme et anarcho-syndicalisme with Bertrand Russel (2014) ; A l’ombre des Lumières : Débat entre un philosophe et un scientifique with Régis Debray (2003), etc.