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The story of an Israeli dissident with Meir Baruchin: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with Israeli history and civics teacher Meir Baruchin about his life since he was jailed and lost his job after denouncing the war in Gaza on social media.

Our guest this week was thrown in jail and fired from his job after social media posts he made about Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7th. Meir Baruchin, 62, is an Israeli history and civics teacher who was held in solitary confinement for four days after posts he made denouncing the war in Gaza. There was an adjudicated process in which he was later found to be wrongly fired from his job in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikv. He was later reinstated. Baruchin joins WITHpod to discuss the political persecution he says he’s faced, the intense suffering he’s witnessed, the ongoing legal process he’s experienced and more.

UPDATE: Since publishing this episode, Baruchin was granted a permanent injunction against the Ministry of Education and the municipality of Petah Tikva, which will allow him to continue teaching and physically re-enter his classes.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Meir Baruchin: I think that we are in the lowest moral point of Jewish history. That’s what I think. In the lowest moral point of Jewish history.

Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to “Why Is This Happening?” with me, your host, Chris Hayes. You know, after 9/11 in the United States, there was this sort of very intense kind of mix of grief and rage and, you know, sort of humiliation and bewilderment. And it all pretty quickly was channeled into this desire for retribution, justice, revenge, and, you know, some combination of those three.

The support for President George W. Bush was, you know, polling at 85 or 90 percent approval. Support for the subsequent war in Afghanistan was similarly very high. And dissent from that view was pretty rare and pretty far at the margins. And there was a lot of pressure in the culture and in mainstream media to not voice that dissent.

That would change over time. It would start to come undone. And it was quite strong in the runup to Iraq. And then as Iraq became more and more of a disaster, that unraveled a bit. There’s a similar situation, I think it’s fair to say, in Israel, where the vast majority of Israelis in the wake of October 7th supported the war in Gaza, the first bombing and then ground invasion into Gaza.

And the difference being that in Israel before October 7th, the country was already in the midst of the largest protest movement and kind of constitutional crisis it had had in at least a generation, maybe more over the Netanyahu government’s plan to basically change the degree to which the judiciary had independence. And the reason that’s relevant is there was a kind of existential question among Israelis and Israeli politics and society about whether the country was going to maintain being a liberal democracy.

And the reason that’s relevant is that, you know, we know what wartime provisions look like in liberal democracies where there is this kind of desire to tamp down dissent. There’s a desire to keep everyone in line. And sometimes that can tip over into the state playing that role.

And in Israel, in November, just a few weeks after the attack, Hamas entering Israel and killing 1,200 men, women, and children, taking 240 more hostages, a teacher in a municipality called Petah Tikva was arrested by the police, charged with supporting attacks on the state for a series of Facebook posts he made, which varied, many of which were just Facebook posts about people in Gaza, civilians in Gaza, and what they were facing and the deaths that they were dying.

His name was Meir Baruchin. And he was arrested. He was put into jail. He was later released. There was an adjudicative process in which he was later found to be wrongly fired from his job. He returned. You’re going to hear this entire story from Meir. And before we hear the conversation with Meir, I just want to note a sort of obvious point, which is that, you know, his views on Israeli society, the conflict, and all that are at the margins of Israeli society at this point.

He’s by no means a majority voice. I think you can tell very quickly as you hear from him. But I do think that having lived through 9/11 and the aftermath of it, having seen the way that dissent on the edges got suppressed in the wake of totally understandable upwell of anger and patriotism and desire for safety, I’ve learned the lesson that sometimes those voices at the margins contain a lot of wisdom, particularly when you think about our own country and the war in Afghanistan, which lasted 20 years, the longest in this country’s history. And in the end ended with us leaving and the Taliban taking back over.

And so, when I saw the story of Meir, I thought he would be a really interesting voice to talk to. And so, I got a chance to have a conversation with Israeli history and civics teacher Meir Baruchin.

Meir, welcome to the program.

Meir Baruchin: Thank you for having me, Chris.

Chris Hayes: Before we talk about the events after October 7th, I wanted to maybe just get a little bit about your backstory and history, who you are, where you come from, how you found your way into both your politics and being a teacher. Where are you from originally?

Meir Baruchin: I was born in Tel Aviv, but I’m living in Jerusalem for decades.

Chris Hayes: What was your upbringing like in terms of your ideological political formation? Were you from a family that was particularly political? Did you sort of get political later in life? Have you always been someone who sort of thinks about sort of big issues in public affairs?

Meir Baruchin: I come from a very, very right-wing family. I went to school. I took history classes. I went to military, to a combat unit. I fought in the summer of 1982 in Lebanon. And there are no words that I can describe to you what it’s like to be in a real battlefield. And then I decided that war as human phenomena will be present in my life somehow.

So, when I started my bachelor degree, I focused on war. I took every course I could find on war. And eventually I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on war powers in American political system.

Now, for 35 years, I teach civics and history in high school. For me, these are two political majors. And the core of my class is the dialogue with the students, the democratic dialogue. And for me, a democratic dialogue is an argumentative dialogue. When everybody think the same way and speak in one voice, you cannot have a democratic dialogue.

Now, most Israeli students get to hear only one voice since they are born. They hear the national voice. They hear the voice the government wants them to hear, and they don’t hear the Palestinian voice.

And when it comes to Jewish-Palestinian relations, there is no student that is willing to bring up the Palestinian voice, so I take it upon myself. At the beginning, some students feel very uncomfortable because they are not used to hear the Palestinian voice. But as time goes by, they get to know me and they see that I’m not so dangerous. And a beautiful dialogue is developed. A dialogue that stays with the students, years after they graduate.

I have former students that are 50-something, 40-something, and they always get back to me every year. Do you remember the class when we talked about, you know? So that’s what I do in my class.

Chris Hayes: You mentioned serving in the Israeli army during Lebanon, 1982. I wanted to just ask about that experience because I’ve been backreading through some history, and there’s lots of people who feel like that’s actually one of the closest parallels to the current conflict, what happened in 1982 in Lebanon. Would you mind just talking about your experience there and why it was so formative for you?

Meir Baruchin: I was in an armored unit in the tanks, okay? And I cannot describe the feeling of lifting the binoculars and see from a distance of 1,200 feet, which is nothing in terms of tank, to see the black hole of 120-millimeter Syrian cannon pointed in your face, knowing that in every fraction of a second, the shell would come out in your way. And luckily, I shoot first.

But, you know, for me, after I finished my military service, my own country sent me to die in Lebanon. And they told me that my death would serve, in some way, the security of the residents up in the northern section of Israel.

But I wasn’t convinced, so I didn’t volunteer to sacrifice my life. But other people did die in that war, which was a complete unnecessary war. We didn’t achieve anything other than bloodshed that lasted 18 years until the year of 2000, when we left.

Chris Hayes: You talk about how formative war was, that you studied it. You’re talking about sort of the desire for different perspectives in a democratic dialogue. But clearly, you’ve come to a set of views about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and war and the security of the state and the possibility of peace that are, you know, not widely held, particularly in Israel even before October 7th, in the year of 2023. Will you just tell me a little bit about that?

Meir Baruchin: Chris, you have to understand that I never met Palestinians when I was in school. I didn’t have any Palestinian friends, classmates. I didn’t play basketball with Palestinians in the afternoon. I didn’t prepare for a math exam with Palestinian mates. During my first 20 years, I never met Palestinians. I met them only when I started my bachelor degree. That was when I was 24.

For most Israelis, Palestinians are nothing more than a vague image. They have no name, no face, no family, no hope, no plans, nothing. If you say Palestinians, they automatically think terrorists.

So, I have a very active Facebook page in which, for more than 10 years, I’m trying to humanize the Palestinians, to give them names and faces and tell their story. And hopefully more Israelis would be able to see the Palestinians as human beings and maybe communicate with them in nonviolent ways. And some people don’t like it.

Chris Hayes: So, let’s talk about that. October 7th happens. First, just how did you find out about the news of October 7th? How did you personally react when it started to become clear what had happened?

Meir Baruchin: At 6.30 a.m., October 7th, alarm went on. I jumped off my bed and ran to shelter. Then I turned on the TV and learned about what happened. I was shocked. I was horrified.

And don’t get me wrong. If Hamas movement will disappear, I won’t be sorry. And if Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar will meet the devil, nobody will see me crying. Okay? But what happened to us on October 7th is the collapse of the right-wing conception, not the left-wing conception. The left wing, the Israeli left wing never saw Hamas as a partner, never thought Yahya Sinwar is a leader to negotiate with.

And also, I think that what happened to us on October 7th is not only humane catastrophe, but also moral catastrophe. If you go out in the street in Israel today, you get to hear two basic arguments. Some people say, I don’t care that we’re killing innocent civilians in Gaza, including women and children. After what Hamas did to us on October 7th, they deserve it.

Other people say, that hold themselves to be liberal humanistic, they say it’s too bad we killed innocent civilians, but Israel is not responsible. It’s Hamas’ fault.

And I resent that. Up till now, we killed more than 13,000 children and 9,000 women. This is crazy.

Chris Hayes: You started posting on your Facebook page, October 7th.

Meir Baruchin: On October 7th, I started posting about entire families that were wiped out. I started posting personal stories, mainly women and children. And I worked in a high school that belongs to the municipality of the city of Petah Tikva. It’s near Tel Aviv. And the municipality is being ruled by an extreme right-winger, a big supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu. So, I was called for a hearing on October 18th. The next day, I was fired.

A few days later, the Ministry of Education suspended my license, so I couldn’t go back and teach anywhere in the country.

Apparently, the municipality also filed a complaint at the Jerusalem police station against me. I didn’t know that at the time, until November 9th. I got a call from the Jerusalem police department asking me to come over for interrogation. I asked, on what charge. They said, sedition and incitement.

Now, in order to interrogate an Israeli citizen for sedition and incitement, the police needed an approval from the general attorney. The police did ask for this approval but was rejected.

So, they decided to interrogate me on two other charges. One, intention to commit an act of treason against the state of Israel. Two, intention to disrupt public order.

The minute I walked into the police station, they cuffed my hands and legs. They confiscated my phone. Five detectives escorted me to my apartment and ransacked the place upside down, searching for sedition and incitement material. Obviously, they didn’t find anything.

They took me back to the police station for first interrogation. That lasted four hours. In the first part of the interrogation, they presented 14 posts. Most of them were before October 7th. There were posts from four years ago, two years ago. They asked me, what did you mean? What was your goal? What do you think someone that read your post would understand?

The second part of the interrogation wasn’t really asking questions. It was more of a rhetoric. When you install the answer inside the question, you don’t let the other person choose his answer. Those were leading questions. They tried to put words in my mouth.

After that, I was taken to the jailhouse in the Russian compound in Jerusalem. I was categorized high-risk detainee. They put me in solitary confinement.

The next day, November 10th, there was a court hearing. I wasn’t present at the courtroom because I’m high-risk detainee, so I was in a video conference room. The judge decided to extend my detention until November 13th. Then I was taken back to my cell and started to count the hours. Every hour and a half, two hours, I did some physical training. I wasn’t allowed to take anything with me, not a book, anything. The wardens were not allowed even to talk to me.

On November 12th, Sunday, I was taken to my second interrogation, and they used the same technique, trying to put words in my mouth.

At some point, they said that my Facebook posts are just like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with this. One of the most anti-Semitic --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Meir Baruchin: -- documents that’s (sp?) ever been written. Now, I’m a history teacher. So, I asked them, did you ever read “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”? It’s 100 pages. There was no comment.

Chris Hayes: Before you keep going though, will you just describe the posts they’re showing you? I’ve seen some of them. Like, some of them are just about, they’re basically, in my understanding, the ones I saw were Gazan families, women and children who had been killed in either Israeli airstrikes or other Israeli military actions. I just want to be clear here. There was no like affirmative endorsement of Hamas or celebration, just to be clear.

Meir Baruchin: Never, never-ever. I strongly, strenuously condemn what Hamas --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Meir Baruchin: -- did. Okay? But you have to understand, people don’t understand that. If you dare to show the slightest sentiment towards Palestinians in Gaza, if you dare to criticize the government’s policy, you will be under severe political persecution. You will go through public shaming. You will lose your job and, in my case, be put in jail.

I mean, look, I get hundreds of responses from my fellow teachers, from colleagues, off the records, of course, telling me, Meir, I’m fully behind you, but I have children to support. Meir, I’m with you, but I’m paying the mortgage. Meir, I’m with you, but --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Meir Baruchin: -- my daughter is getting married. Meir, I’m with you, but we just started to redecorate the house.

They are afraid to speak up.

Chris Hayes: So, you are in detention for four days, in solitary. When they’re interrogating you, and you say sort of asking leading questions, is it with the aim of you confessing to something or signing some sort of statement --

Meir Baruchin: Yes. Yes, yes. Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- that admits guilt? That says --

Meir Baruchin: Yes.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Meir Baruchin: Definitely. So, after I was released, I began my motion at District Labor Court asking for a temporary injunction against the municipality and the Ministry of Education. On January 14th, I won the court case. The court ordered my immediate reinstatement and put $3,500 compensation, each part on the municipality and the Ministry of Education. They still didn’t pay.

I went to school on January 19th. On the day before, the principal sent me an e-mail telling she is anticipating a student’s demonstration outside the school gate. So, she’ll take care of police presence and security unit of the municipality. When I got there that morning, there was no police. There were no security people from the municipality and the demonstration took place inside the school. Okay?

The students refused to enter my class. And I was literally under siege inside the teacher’s room. Dozens of students surrounded the teacher’s room, knocking the windows. Every time I tried to get out, they cursed me, spit at me. Those were junior high students that I don’t know and I don’t teach.

This continued until January 29th. The municipality and the Ministry of Education appealed.

Chris Hayes: Hold on one second. So, you’re in the school, meaning the protests are daily every day for 10 days?

Meir Baruchin: It was five working days. I’m working day --

Chris Hayes: Five working days.

Meir Baruchin: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: For a week, a school week, there are protests every day.

Meir Baruchin: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: And are you able to teach during that period of time?

Meir Baruchin: No, no, no, no, nothing. They refused to enter the classes and they --

Chris Hayes: Okay.

Meir Baruchin: -- get greenlighted not to enter the class.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Meir Baruchin: And that was the appeal. The appeal to the National Labor Court took place on January 30th. The court set a time frame of two months that should end on March 31st. In this period of time, they said that I won’t be physically entering the class. They will record my classes and then broadcast it to the students. By the way, the students took their final exam today, this morning.

At the same time, the case goes back to the district court, this time for a permanent injunction and the hearing will take place next Wednesday.

Chris Hayes: So, I want to talk a little bit about, you’ve sort of given the chronology here. I want to talk about how this is reverberated through your life in terms of friends or family or I mean, when it first happened, when you were first arrested, did you have family members? How did they find out or friends or how did this word get out about you? I saw it was written up in a number of local newspapers, in “Haaretz” and others. But how did people in your life come to find out that this had happened?

Meir Baruchin: My sisters didn’t like it, to say the least. My kids are proud of me. And for me, that is the most important thing. I lost some good friends, you know, from my childhood that condemned me. They didn’t really know the whole picture and they, like, judged me and convicted me. But I have other friends that were very supportive. And in addition, I get solidarity from all over the world.

Chris Hayes: I don’t have any direct or subjective insight into the experience of October 7th in Israel except to recall what the U.S. was like after 9/11, which I recall very well and --

Meir Baruchin: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- I was around. It was a very, very, very powerful set of emotions that sort of completely dominated public life. A real sense of raw grief and trauma, sort of surreal disbelief, rage, desire for revenge, and a kind of iron consensus that fell down about the fact that we had been horribly wronged and we had to respond with violence and not a lot of tolerance for dissent on the basic question of what should be done next.

It seems to me from afar and from doing a lot of interviews with Israelis before and after October 7th, that’s similar to what happened in Israel, although maybe even more intense and acute there. Do you think that has changed at all over the last four or five months?

Meir Baruchin: You just gave a perfect description of what’s going on in Israel. I don’t think it started on October 7th, but it definitely intensified since then. Look, I think that for many years, we are living in a state that as a collective society, we are moving between neurosis and psychosis. We are in a state that psychologists call borderline. We cannot tolerate someone who is different.

If you are different than me in your religion, your race, your political view, then I feel threatened. If I feel threatened, I will respond violently. I’m going to hit you, okay? Many people in Israel cannot tolerate people who are different from them, and it certainly intensified since October 7th.

Chris Hayes: But just to respond to that, I mean, there’s all kinds of lines of difference across Israeli society. There’s people who present as what we would say were different races who are Israeli Jewish citizens, different levels of religious devotion. You have ultra-Orthodox and you have intensely secular. You have gay and straight. You have people with all different lines of difference, right? I mean, so in some ways, you know, Israelis will say it’s a very pluralistic society that has lots of lines of difference.

Meir Baruchin: Chris, when it comes to the Palestinians, all are unified, all. You know, the ultra-Orthodox, the secular, the Ashkenazi Jews, the Sephardic Jews, all are unified when it comes to the Palestinians.

Chris Hayes: But isn’t that just the product of, again, these are arguments that I’ve heard made, and they’re not necessarily mine, although sometimes I find them persuasive, but isn’t that the product of first the second intifada and then October 7th and the sort of sense of acute threat and danger and bloodshed?

Meir Baruchin: Chris, we kill the Palestinians. We injure the Palestinians. We have more than 1,500 Palestinians in administrative detention. We demolish their houses. We confiscate their property, their waters. We cut down their olive trees. We put them in quarantines on Jewish holidays. And you know what? It goes even beyond that. We are conducting, for generations, a campaign to conceal every sign of Palestinian identity in this land, every sign of Palestinian culture.

And most Israelis expect the Palestinians to accept it. And if they don’t, they can always leave. They can go to Saudi Arabia. They can go to Morocco, to Syria, wherever they like. And they don’t ask themselves, how can we expect the Palestinians to live under occupation forever, which is what most Israelis think.

It doesn’t really hit them in their routine, in their daily life. They don’t think about the Palestinians.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Meir Baruchin: They don’t care about the Palestinians.

They see the Palestinians only after a terrorist operation or something like that, or what’s going on in Gaza.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Meir Baruchin: And you remember that I said earlier that when I started my bachelor degree, I focused on war as a phenomena. Okay?

Now, when a country goes to war, it must define specific goals. And then it must have a tactic. How are you going to achieve those goals? And above all that, it must have a long-term strategy. What do you expect to happen on the day after?

We don’t have anything of these. We don’t have a clear goal. We don’t have tactics. We don’t have exit strategy. And the public is not demanding the government to be accountable.

Chris Hayes: More of our conversation after this quick break.

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Chris Hayes: You’re sort of, in a sense, in limbo, right? In terms of whether you will be able to teach again or whether you’ll be essentially compensated, like, you don’t know what your future holds, right?

Meir Baruchin: Anything can happen next week in court. So, we’ll see. I can tell you that I received five job proposals from five different countries. There was a principal, she called me twice. She said that she really needs good teachers and she’s willing to pay me three times as much as I get here in Israel. But look, I have a 19-year-old boy in the military right now in a combat unit.

Chris Hayes: Your son’s in a combat unit?

Meir Baruchin: Yeah, and I have a 28-year-old daughter that she is in reserve in a very, very sensitive role.

Chris Hayes: You said your children are proud of you and that’s what matters most to you. Have you gotten to talk to them throughout this situation?

Meir Baruchin: Yes, all the time. Look, I was asked after this whole affair will be behind me, what are you going to take with you from this affair? And I thought to myself, in two months, I’m going to be 63. So, I’m thinking that after I retire and look back in my career, I might conclude that this was the best civic class that I ever gave. And trust me, I did give some classes to the Pantheon (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

Chris Hayes: How much attention did your case attract? I’ve read some local coverage. How much were you, like after this, if you were like walking down the street or things like that, did it disrupt or change your daily life?

Meir Baruchin: Not really. Some people know me. Sometimes I go to demonstration and, those who know me, they curse, but it didn’t get to physical violence yet. And when I go to a demonstration, I stick to my friends. I stick to supportive people.

Chris Hayes: When you talk about demonstrations, it seems to me that there has been some opening up of debate and dialogue as time has gone on with the war. Primarily, I think about these tactical and strategic questions, you know, what comes after, whether cessation and hostility is the best chances for returning the hostages who are still there. Tensions within the coalition government that’s currently the war government.

Do you feel like there’s some trajectory towards more debate, more back and forth criticism over time? Or does it feel like it’s the same as it was on October 8th?

Meir Baruchin: No, I don’t feel that. Look, since October 7th, there is primarily rally around the flag of all sections of Israeli society. You don’t see mass demonstrations. You don’t see rage out in the streets. You don’t see rage. And the prime minister has its own methods, you know, to crack down all the criticism that does exist. But you don’t see any mass rage, you know, demanding the dismissal of the government and going to general elections.

Look, near the Knesset, there’s a tent of demonstration that’s spending 24 hours a day. They are sleeping there. And you can find there are people that have members that were murdered on October 7th. And you see from the other side of the road, extreme right-wingers yelling at them.

For example, there is a Likud member who yelled at a 73-year-old man that lost his son on October 7th. He yelled at him, it’s good that they murdered your son. I wish they would murder you too.

Okay, I mean, you know, it’s not something unusual. Every day we get those on the other side of the road.

Chris Hayes: Just to be clear, this got a lot of attention in Israeli media. It was a very controversial moment, very well covered.

Meir Baruchin: But it keeps on going. It --

Chris Hayes: Right.

Meir Baruchin: -- keeps on going. And it’s a mainstream atmosphere. It’s a mainstream. It’s not something unusual.

Chris Hayes: What do you think happens next? I mean, I know you’re a civics teacher, you’re a history teacher. You’ve had this experience where you’ve been arrested for essentially dissent, and not even dissent so much as just an attempt to humanize.

Meir Baruchin: When I was in jail, I kept telling myself that personal price that I pay is really nothing comparing the price that Palestinians are paying for generations, okay? Yesterday, I met some Palestinians that, you know, came to shake my hands. But, you know, the fact that I’m Jewish played a key role in my detention. Had I been Palestinian, it would have been completely different. There would have been much more physical violence. There’s no question about it.

Chris Hayes: And also, because you’re a citizen of Israel, you were subject --

Meir Baruchin: Yeah, yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- to appeals and all that. You’re not in administrative detention.

Meir Baruchin: No. You may have heard that a law faculty professor from the Hebrew University was also suspended because --

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Meir Baruchin: -- she wrote something in the social media.

Look, I’m not the first to be detained and fired, and I’m afraid I’m not going to be the last. I’m not very optimistic.

Chris Hayes: One thing that’s been very striking to me in the U.S. context, and I’ll just speak to the context here because obviously that’s something I know quite a bit about, is people’s information streams are very different across different lines of difference. And that’s exacerbated, I think, a bit by social media and tailored algorithmic feeds.

In the U.S., this manifests itself very generationally. I think if you’re younger, people are seeing just an absolute torrent of some of the worst images they’ve ever seen coming out of Gaza. You know, people being shot and killed and blown up and starving and children in the rubble. I mean, just, I’ve seen just some of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life, just a constant barrage of those images.

And then I talk to other people who just, you know, it doesn’t even matter what their politics are. I mean, they might have different politics on this, but they just aren’t seeing that. That is not their experience of the conflict. And I imagine that’s true in Israel, but even more acute. Like, I would imagine, by and large, people in Israel, Jewish Israeli citizens, are not seeing the torrent of images of just intense human suffering coming out of Gaza. Is that fair?

Meir Baruchin: Absolutely. What you see in the U.S. and what they see in Europe or anywhere around the world is a totally complete picture of what Israelis are seeing in the mainstream media.

The mainstream media in Israel doesn’t show the suffrage that’s going on in Gaza. The women and children, the rubbles (ph), the hunger, people are seeking drinking water, food, medical treatment. The mainstream media doesn’t show anything of these. So what Israelis are getting from the mainstream media is a completely different picture of what you get in the U.S.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, and that obviously, there’s a way in which that reinforces the sort of difference of what people are seeing, reinforces, I think, the sense of being embattled, both for American Jews who support Israel, and there’s a lot of different views on Israel among American Jews --

Meir Baruchin: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- and also among Israelis, yeah.

Meir Baruchin: Let me put it this way, okay? I think that we are in the lowest moral point of Jewish history. That’s what I think. In the --

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Meir Baruchin: -- lowest moral point of Jewish history. And you know some of Jewish history from the 20th century.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Meir Baruchin: It’s very depressing.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, I mean, it’s very brutal. I keep coming back to this, though, that these views that you’re expressing, which in the context of America, and particularly the American left, and particularly American Jewish left, which is a world I know fairly well, I know people that feel the same way about what’s going on. But I guess, how lonely or alienating does having that view make you feel in Israeli society right now?

Meir Baruchin: It makes me feel bad. It makes me feel bad that most people of my society fail to see that. Fail to see that, the moral failure. They lost every moral boundary.

It’s very frustrating, very depressing. And you know, not only because I’m a teacher, I feel obligated to my students. I want my students to have a broad perspective. I want them to be able to deal with complex situations when they grow up.

And it reminds me something an American journalist wrote in 1915, Walter Lippmann. He wrote that, when all think alike, no one really thinks very much.

And I believe in that.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, Lippmann was writing as he was watching the kind of --

Meir Baruchin: The First World War.

Chris Hayes: The war machine whip up in the U.S. It was very sudden in the U.S. because Woodrow Wilson had run for reelection saying he kept us out of war. We’re not going to get involved in the war. And then almost sort of on a dime, it was like we’re doing this. And there was an incredible amount of fervor.

They, you know, renamed the Frankfurter the hot dog. There was anti-German persecution. There was this incredible mass propaganda campaign that was engaged in the U.S. to turn public opinion towards the war.

Lippmann’s watching this whole thing happen, aghast and horrified when he says that. And it’s in the context of society-wide mobilization for war that he thinks this sort of unanimity of opinion is so dangerous.

Meir Baruchin: And you also remember the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s. And, you know, I have in my computer the picture of Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan, you know --

Chris Hayes: Mm-hmm.

Meir Baruchin: -- being sent to jail because they refused to be recruited to Vietnam. For me, Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan in this particular moment, you know, a Jew and a Muslim, you know --

Chris Hayes: Right. Yeah.

Meir Baruchin: -- refused to be recruited to Vietnam.

Chris Hayes: We’ll be right back after we take this quick break.

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Chris Hayes: I want to ask about your Jewishness and your Israeliness because --

Meir Baruchin: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: -- I think there are people maybe who are listening to this who have very different politics from you on the question of Israel who are themselves Jewish or not. But let’s say that they are Jewish and feel very strongly supportive of the state of Israel. They feel that Israel’s existence is an existential question and that October 7th only further proves this need.

I think it’s a very widely held view. And there’s a specific anger or rage that could be directed at people like yourself who are Jewish-Israelis, who say these things as, you know, self-hating or, you know, sort of betraying your own people and your own lineage and the survival of Jews in the world. And I wanted you to sort of respond to that. Talk about that.

Meir Baruchin: Okay. As a civics teacher in the curriculum, I’m supposed to teach the students that Israel is a Jewish democratic state, okay. First of all, there is no democracy that has control over another people, that hold another people under occupation. There is no such thing, as for the Jewish state, okay. I think that the term Jewish state is fascist because it treats the state as a living creature.

I think Judaism identity belongs to the individual, not to the state. I don’t want my state to tell me how to get married, how to get divorced, how to be buried, what to eat or not to eat, what to do or not to do in Shabbat. Judaism is for the individual, for myself. My father was born in Poland and he faced anti-Semitism in Poland and he kept his Jewish identity even though Poland is not a Jewish state. My mother’s family is originally from Russia. Russia is not a Jewish state.

If Israel will stop to exist, cease to exist tomorrow, I will still be Jewish. And if I relocate to New York tomorrow, I will be Jewish in New York, okay? There is nothing between my Jewishness and the fact that I’m an Israeli citizen. Thank you very much to the state of Israel. Keep your hands off my Jewish identity. Leave it to me. I will decide how I want to practice my Judaism. I keep telling that to the students as well. I mean --

Chris Hayes: I can’t imagine they like it very much. I mean, but that’s the whole foundational conceit of Herschel’s vision and Zionism and the project of Israel, you know, born of fruit in the wake of the Shoah and the worst mass slaughter of Jews in history and one of, you know, the great abominations in human civilizational history is that the two are together, you know.

That, yes, you need a Jewish state because that’s the way you protect ultimately. That’s the last redoubt, that the state’s power is the last insurance for Jews who have gone for 2000 years stateless and that statelessness has proved to make them vulnerable, right?

Meir Baruchin: Look, Herschel wrote a book. He didn’t name it Jewish state. He named it the state of the Jews. These are two completely different things, okay? Now, I’m not saying Jews should not have a right for self-determination, okay? I’m saying that the right of self-determination of the Jews cannot be achieved in the expanse of the right for self-determination of other people, okay?

I think Jews and Palestinians can live together in this place in peace, in equality, dignity, friendship and cooperation. And hopefully, I will see that day in my lifetime.

Chris Hayes: Meir Baruchin is an Israeli history and civics teacher. He was arrested, jailed and dismissed from his job after social media posts he made in the wake of October 7th. It was a great honor and pleasure to talk to you, Meir. Thank you so much.

Meir Baruchin: Thank you very much, Chris.

Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks to Meir Baruchin. I want to just give an update. We got back in touch with Meir right at the beginning of April. He’s still awaiting a decision from the Tel Aviv District Labor Court on whether or not a permanent injunction against the Ministry of Education and the municipality of Petah Tikva will be granted, which would allow him to continue teaching and also physically re-enter his classes. That decision has been postponed as of this recording. We will bring you updates when we hear them.

Also, I should just say, and I think this is fairly obvious I said in the intro, but obviously, Meir’s views on Israel and the nature of the Israeli state are, like I said, a very dissident view. It’s a small minority. And the notion of Israel not being a Jewish state, Jewish and democratic in the sort of fundamental vision of the Zionist founders of the state of Israel would represent for a huge majority of Israelis a kind of dissolution of the state as they conceive of it. So this is no small thing, obviously.

And I think that, as I said before, that’s a distinctly minority view. I think in the context of war and peace, sometimes it’s very important. Well, it’s always important, but I think particularly in the context of war and peace to hear those views. But I just want to acknowledge again that that sort of existential question is one that I think the vast majority of Israelis would reject. And I want to make that very clear. I think it goes without saying, but I want to make that clear nonetheless.

We always love to hear from you. You can send us your feedback on this or any episode, but I’d love to hear what you think of this episode. I found it provocative and really compelling. You can send us email WITHpod@gmail.com. You can get in touch with us using the hashtag #WITHpod. You can follow us on TikTok by searching for WITHpod or Threads, Blue Sky, and what used to be known as Twitter, all of which you can follow me on #chrislhayes.

“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and featuring music by Eddie Cooper. Aisha Turner is the executive producer of MSNBC Audio. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.

“Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by Doni Holloway and Brendan O’Melia, engineered by Bob Mallory and featuring music by Eddie Cooper. Aisha Turner is the executive producer of MSNBC Audio. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to NBCNews.com/whyisthishappening?