Sunday, May 2, 2010

Israeli Warnings of Fascist Shadow in Israel

The chairman of the democratic political party Meretz (now completely marginalized by the rightwing wave) Haim Oron wrote the following important warning in the Hebrew language Israeli daily Maariv [thanks to Ron Skolnik on the Meretz USA Website 2/4/10 for the translation]:

hatred is hatred, racism is racism, and fascism is fascism, whether it’s directed against Jews by the haters of Israel, or whether it’s directed by Jewish racists against the objects of their hatred. The Israel of 2010 is moving away from fundamental tenets of democracy that we once took for granted. The famous sayings of the liberal philosophers who laid the foundation for democratic rule were once self-evident slogans. Voltaire’s comment that, “I don’t agree with a word you’re saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, and similar quotes, were once studied in civics lessons in high school and then absorbed as part of the agreed-upon code of Israeli politics.

Perhaps such sayings are still studied in civics - occasionally they’re still voiced by politicians - but these basic democratic insights are disappearing – quickly – from our landscape. There’s a straight line that leads from the arrest of human rights protestors at Sheikh Jarrah; to the recruitment of the State Attorney’s office against Palestinian-Israeli director Muhammad Bakri; to the police interrogation of the women who wish to pray at the Wall; to the apathy with which the current campaign is being received. This line is moving us away from the enlightened world.

A society does not lose its sanity in an instant. It does not turn from democratic to fascistic overnight. As history shows, these processes occur in a string of small events. Some of these occur because the establishment is not standing guard over democracy, and some are at the initiative of the establishment itself. Each one of them is a small, almost imperceptible, step, and when it is allowed to pass without anyone taking notice, the boundaries are stretched a bit further. And further. And further.

Until one day, the society wakes up to discover that it’s somewhere that, not long ago, we wouldn’t have believed we could be. Usually that’s too late, and the awakening comes only after the catastrophe that rouses people from their slumber. “Have the courage to change before troubles strike,” Yitzhak Ben-Aharon once said. Well the troubles are at our doorstep, and we’re desperately in need of courage.
So much for the opinion of one Israeli politician. Now shift to the opinion of an Israeli political scientist [Democracy Now 2/11/09]:

what I think John Stuart Mill would say is that Lieberman is more dangerous to Israel than, say, Hamas, because Lieberman can destroy the Israeli political realm more easily than Hamas, because Lieberman does not want to allow any view that is other than his own, any criticism of the government, to enter the Israeli political realm, and that is an anti-democratic and an anti-political message that he’s giving the Israeli citizenship. So I think Lieberman is extremely dangerous. As I mentioned before, I think his party has strong neo-fascist tendencies, and I think that their rise is a manifestation of the direction Israel is going. And I would say it’s an anti-Israeli stance....

we have to blame the whole atmosphere in Israel, which is indeed a racist atmosphere, an anti-Arab atmosphere, anti-Palestinian Arab atmosphere. And Lieberman, what he has learned to do well is to feed on the hatred and the fear of the Arabs, to use a xenophobic method. And this is extremely dangerous. And to tell you the truth, I fear for Israel. I fear for the citizenry in Israel. And I think we are in a watershed moment in Israeli politics.
Consider also the words of an Israeli expert on fascism:

What caused the Nazi disease to break out in the past? Why did it break out at a certain time and not at another? Why in Germany and not in another country suffering from similar problems?

The answer is that fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an "extreme Right", an extension of "nationalist" or "conservative" attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation.

Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a "superior nation", the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality. All these attributes together create the phenomenon, which has no agreed scientific definition....

Is the State of Israel approaching an existential crisis - moral, political, economic - that could leave it an endangered nation? Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini?

In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel's Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. The democratic regime is in a never-ending crisis. The economic situation may descend into chaos, so that the masses will long for a "strongman". And the belief that we are a "chosen people" is already deeply rooted.

These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster. Absolutely not. History is full of nations in crisis that recovered and returned to normalcy. Besides the real Hitler, who rose to historic heights, there were probably hundreds of other Hitlers, no less crazy and no less talented, who ended their life as bank tellers or frustrated writers, because they did not meet a historic opportunity.


Fascist tendencies may be identifiable in Israel, but as long as its press remains free enough to include warnings such as this and professors articulating such opinions remain employed in Israeli universities, democratic tendencies will fortunately also be identifiable: there will still be hope.

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