'The Gatekeepers' Director: Netanyahu Is the Greatest Danger to Israel

Film director and producer Dror Moreh says the prime minister is doing everything he can to undermine Israeli democracy.

Ayelett Shani
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Dror Moreh.
Dror Moreh.Credit: Gali Eytan
Ayelett Shani

Talking to: Dror Moreh, 54, film director and producer, lives in Tel Aviv. Known for: His documentary, ‘The Gatekeepers.’ Where: A Tel Aviv café. When: Sunday 8 A.M.

Your book “The Gatekeepers” – the transcripts of original interviews with six former heads of the Shin Bet security service, as seen in the eponymous, Oscar-nominated documentary – has just been published in English [“The Gatekeepers: Inside Israel’s Internal Security Agency”; Skyhorse Publishing]. Your introduction to the Hebrew edition, published two years ago, was extremely gloomy. You wrote that you were worried and despairing. What would you write today?

My remarks today would be far grimmer. I would start with the [1995] assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, because I think that’s really the nadir of Israeli society. To this day, 20 years on, we have not come to terms with the meaning of that murder. That’s because of the cowardice of the left; the cowardice of Shimon Peres – who talked about some imaginary unity that had to be preserved; and the cowardice of [former Supreme Court President] Meir Shamgar, who chaired the 1996 commission of inquiry but didn’t want to go into all the aspects and implications of the incitement and sedition.

I myself was fiercely attacked after being interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN about the incitement that preceded the assassination, and saying that many people who are walking around free – even in the government – should have been incarcerated along with Yigal Amir, because they bear responsibility for Rabin’s assassination. I have no doubt that Israeli society’s downward spiral stems from our failure to contend with that event.

What do you mean?

We are now suffering the consequences of the failure to deal with the incitement of rabbis and politicians at that time. Last year, people in Tel Aviv who demonstrated against the war in Gaza were beaten up. A coalition MK [Habayit Hayehudi’s Moti Yogev] dares to say we should crush the Supreme Court with a D9 [bulldozer] because of its decision to demolish two buildings [in a West Bank settlement]. The Jewish people has a kind of crazy gene – the journalist Rino Tzror talks about some sort of destructive cycle, every 70 years – and the madness is usually related to religion.

Doesn’t your birthday fall on November 4, the anniversary of the assassination?

Yes. Terrible. Terrible. Because that really is the worst date of my life.

Do you celebrate your birthday at all on the day?

No. The assassination is a huge fracture – the most significant event in my life. Many people like me still carry the scar. There was hope when Yitzhak Rabin was elected, notwithstanding the enormous difficulties. Today, there is nothing. We have changed. The United States was in this situation before the Civil War: One side was saying, “We want to keep slavery”; the other was saying, “No, it’s immoral.” And there was a war.

Do you see the same thing happening here?

I think the State of Israel has to ask itself what it is doing. The religious far right is no longer just a few extremists, and it will go to war. Look what happened over the decision to evacuate two buildings [in the Beit El settlement, in July], carried out by a clearly right-wing government. Everything is fragile and can change in an instant. Bosnia, Rwanda and Libya all seemed to be fine, but the situation was reversed in an instant. A war broke out [in Bosnia], Christians and Muslims were at each other’s throats and people found themselves in concentration camps. Look what’s happening in Syria, as the world watches and does nothing. Think about the decision to bomb Iran, which was blocked by [former Mossad chief] Meir Dagan, [former Shin Bet head] Yuval Diskin and [former IDF chief of staff] Gabi Ashkenazi. Just imagine if that had actually gone ahead.

I suppose it could still happen, depending on what the polls look like ahead of the next election. You also know the historical outcome of each instance in which the crazy gene you’re talking about appeared.

That’s exactly my concern. Our primary security threat is internal. The supportive international community is tired of us. Sanctions are approaching.

In retrospect, your 2012 film “The Gatekeepers” had no influence. Despite the incredible response to it both here and abroad, and its Oscar nomination for best documentary feature, nothing came of it.

No, not nothing. The film had an influence. I know it did.

I’ll refine the question. There’s a growing feeling that anything goes in Israel. Six former Shin Bet heads warned us – but despite that, everything continues as before.

The Israeli public is like a boxer in the 15th of 16 rounds, being pummeled right and left, bleeding. The only way to influence it is via the margins. What else could have happened before the last election? Almost all the security establishment – including the ultimate terminator, Meir Dagan – warned vociferously against Benjamin Netanyahu. Also, there were all those scandals – from the [state comptroller’s damning] report on housing, to the deposits for the bottles [which Sara Netanyahu was alleged to be pocketing], to the [alleged irregularities at the prime minister’s] residences. And in the end the man shouts “Arabs!” and wins.

In a way, even “The Gatekeepers” worked in his favor. It’s true the Shin Bet chiefs are fiercely critical of him, but then he’s perceived as the permissive leader who allows things, who doesn’t silence people.

I doubt he would agree with you. I don’t think he cares that “The Gatekeepers” was presented as an example of Israel’s strong democracy, because he doesn’t care about Israel’s resilient democracy. He’s doing all he can to undermine it, even though he cloaks himself in the image of the knight who’s safeguarding democracy.

That’s exactly why the film serves him.

Let me tell you something from inside the Prime Minister’s Office. I was told that when Netanyahu analyzed the results of the 2013 election, he said there were three reasons for the weakening of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu [joint slate] and the disparity between the 38 seats predicted by the polls and the 31 they got. One was “The Gatekeepers,” which was released a month before the election; the second was the “Diskin document” – the interview I conducted with Yuval Diskin for [Israeli daily] Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he talked about the cigars and the chefs and the shameful behavior of the triumvirate that ran the country; and the third was the country’s rightward thrust. He estimated the combination of all those factors at six-seven seats. There’s a good reason why Netanyahu doesn’t like “The Gatekeepers.”

When it was released, he announced he had no intention of watching it. Do you know whether he actually saw it?

I think he did.

Maybe you enjoyed bashing him?

I am not ashamed to say this: I think Netanyahu is the greatest danger to Israel’s existence, because he is so deceptive. The thing is, he thinks it’s working for him.

Well, it is.

Not internationally, I assure you. I talk with senior officials in the U.S. administration. Nobody believes him.

Why are you speaking to senior U.S. officials?

I’m working on a new documentary, provisionally titled “The Corridors of Power.” I started the project in the United States, and the film will also be shot in France, Germany and Russia. I am in touch with administration officials, foreign ministers, national security advisers, about what takes place in the decision-making rooms when they have to make decisions about situations of genocide elsewhere in the world. I’m trying to figure out what the considerations are for and against intervention, when it’s clear that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated and they could prevent that, such as in Bosnia.

Whom have you spoken to so far?

With former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and George Shultz, and with former national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

So once more you’re sitting across from decision makers – this time on a global scale – and hearing them express remorse.

Yes. And again it’s that business of people who want to talk because something is bothering them. These cases aren’t easy for them, because they could have changed things but it was decided not to intervene. So they want to vent, say what went on inside the room. The United States, for example, intervened in Somalia because of a humanitarian situation. George H.W. Bush was due to hand over power to Bill Clinton in January 1993. A month before the inauguration, he informed Clinton he was sending a U.S. force under UN command to Somalia, to provide humanitarian aid. Clinton entered the White House, and the force remained there.

In October 1993, it was decided to capture senior figures in the Somali militia. American forces went in, things got complicated, and the result was that [U.S.] soldiers were killed and images of their bodies being mutilated were broadcast around the world [also later depicted in the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down”]. That had an enormous effect on the U.S. administration. The war in Rwanda broke out [six] months later, but because of what happened in Somalia, Washington didn’t want to hear about Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered with machetes, and the United States did nothing. To this day, Clinton regrets that they didn’t intervene.

You’re playing the confessor role.

Absolutely. The truth is that it started with the [2008] film I did about Ariel Sharon. I tried to understand why the father of the settlement movement was evacuating settlements in Gaza and four more in the West Bank, in the face of the settlers’ insane campaign in which they claimed it was all related to corruption issues. Which isn’t true, by the way – the investigations against Sharon ended a year before the disengagement. So, yes, I really am working a great deal with decision makers and the corridors of power, and the conclusions are truly depressing. Tragic, even.

What do you mean?

First of all, we think that the people who occupy the seats of power are gifted with extra intelligence. Well, they’re not. People think – as I myself used to – that decisions about going to war, say, or about a natural-gas framework accord, are made by serious people who are intent on serving the public and who weigh the pros and cons carefully. It’s not like that. It’s all passions, ego trips, quid pro quos, extraneous considerations. And I’m talking about the highest levels, the ones most critical to our lives.

Any names?

Take, for example, [then-prime minister] Ehud Barak’s decision to go to Camp David [in 2000]. That was an insane decision when you understand the impetus behind it, or the sloppiness with which it was all managed. It was the hubris of a person who believed that the whole world, including the biggest superpower, should fall in line with his way of thinking. Not that Yasser Arafat was alright – definitely not – but before Camp David, Barak eradicated every remnant of whatever trust Arafat still harbored. And then he told the world, “There is no partner.”

Yes, that was a line that really caught on.

The implications of that for Israel’s situation today, for the peace camp, for the lives of everyone in the region, were catastrophic. Barak shattered the peace camp and shattered all hope, and there were no grounds for what he said.

If you compare what you heard from, say, Albright and Powell, with what you heard from Diskin and [former Shin Bet chief] Avi Dichter, do you find a similarity between the nature of decision making in Israel and the United States?

In the case of the Americans – from what I have seen, heard and encountered – these people are a lot more serious than here in Israel. The president of the United States is surrounded by super-professional units that are supposed to help him make the best decision. Of course, they make mistakes, too. But when I spoke with Yuval Diskin about his experiences in those closed rooms of the decision makers here in Israel, it was just plain scary. People don’t understand that the decisions Netanyahu is making now, with Israel facing choices of huge proportions, will determine our entire future. Look at his decision to clash with the United States [over the Iran nuclear deal]. I was in Washington on the day he addressed Congress, and what I heard was truly shocking.

What did people say?

That it was unthinkable; that it hurt, at the most profound level, the essence of relations between the United States and Israel; that he was aggravating Israel’s security situation; that it was impossible to believe he was actually going ahead with the speech. And I’m not talking about officials from the Obama administration. These were people from the Bush and Clinton administrations, who truly love Israel and always supported the country, who declare their love of Israel publicly. They were stunned.

And what about his actions now? Israel’s ambassador to the United States met with members of Congress to dissuade them from supporting the president’s [Iran] plan. That’s insane. Imagine if Likud wanted to push through some decision and the American ambassador, Dan Shapiro, sat with MKs and told them, “Don’t do it.” Diskin once told me, “You think we have reached the bottom rung? Below the lowest rung there is another, even deeper ladder.”

For years, you’ve been sitting opposite the string pullers and seeing their lack of effectiveness. How does this affect you?

It makes me appreciate much more what we have now and to understand that it could change in a second, with a decision by some idiot in some department. In the place where the leader sits and makes decisions, nothing is happening. But the fluctuations at the edge, on the other side, are crazy. I’m far more realistic today, far more fearful. I’m worried about my children. The truth is, I’m scared.



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