In the last few years Israel has been the object of increasingly severe criticism in the West. Almost all of this criticism has focused on Israeli policies and behavior towards the Palestinians—such as the ongoing occupation and various forms of repression, the failure of the Netanyahu government to seek a two-state settlement, the expanding settlements, the creeping annexations and slow-motion ethnic cleansing, the continuing economic punishment and impoverization of Gaza, the settler assaults, pogroms and lynchings, and the like.
Sure, this is the downside of Israel—no country is perfect, and I won’t deny it has been discomforting to me and other “liberal Zionists.” Still, the picture it portrays of Israel, focusing as it does overwhelmingly on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, is imbalanced. When passing judgment on Israel, surely it is only fair to take into account the full picture, for there is another Israel, the internal Israel, the vibrant democracy of Israel, which (as the saying goes) continues to be the only democracy in the Middle East.
The purpose of this commentary, then, is to help correct this imbalance, by focusing attention on a number of developments, news stories, and commentaries concerning different aspects of Israeli democracy that have appeared in the past year.
The major elements of liberal democracy include (not necessarily in this order) the following:
1. The rule of law
2. Civil rights and liberties for all, including minorities
3. Freedom of speech, especially dissenting political speech.
4. Political competition, especially a vigorous opposition parties;
5. Democratic control of the military and police.
6. Economic fairness and justice.
7. The non-violent settlement of political and other internal conflicts.
8. Racial, religious, and gender non-discrimination
9. Separation of religion from the state.
10. A vigorous and critical media
12. An informed and enlightened public, deeply committed to democratic and liberal values; tot this end, there must be a universal and first rate education system which, among other functions, inculcates civilization’s highest values, including reason and morality.
So, how does Israel fare in terms of these components of liberal democracy? The following discussion is based only on events so far in 2012.
The Rule of Law
A number of Israeli law professors have decried Israel’s unequal legal systems—one for the country itself, a different and worse one for the Palestinians it occupies, often described as one set of law for the Jews, another set for the Palestinians. In the last year, the court system as a whole has become increasingly politicized, and even the Supreme Court cannot be relied upon to provide judicial oversight of the government on “security” related matters—i.e, the settlers and the overall occupation.
A few recent examples:
*Eyal Benvenisti reviews a number of Knesset proposals that aim “to usurp land from its Palestinian owners and give it to settlers;” the title of his June 12 Haaretz column--“Israel, Where Laws are Made to be Broken”-- makes it clear that he doesn’t expect the court system to intervene. Zvi Bar’el explains why: “The State of Israel’s highest court…has transformed itself into a plaything in the settler’s hands.” (Haaretz, Jan. 25)
*Gideon Levy, one of Israel’s bravest and most outspoken journalists, writes frequently about the politicization of the court system: “even the High Court…usually automatically accepts the positions of the security establishment.” (Haaretz, Oct 5) Similarly, a Haaretz editorial accuses the “judicial and security agencies” of “excelling in failing to enforce the laws” that prohibit the building of settlements on private Palestinian land.” (“Justifying the Highest Crime,” July 4) Several months later another editorial points to a variety of ways in which the government provides political and economic assistance to settler expansion that is not only contrary to international but also to Israel’s own laws, and concludes that the government is guilty of “blatant contempt for law and justice.” (Sept. 4)
*In the same vein, Levy writes that the Supreme Court is upholding racist Knesset actions that “discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel solely on the basis of their ethnicity,” and “which in the name of security is prepared to deny basic rights.” (“Israel’s High Court Doesn’t Deserve To Be Defended,” Jan. 9. On May 10 Levy noted other examples of Israel lawlessness, and concludes that Israel is “not only flouting international, but our own law.”
*Moreover, Israeli governmental lawlessness apparently is not limited to the treatment of the Palestinians and the Israeli Arabs. Akiva Eldar points to a number of ways in which the Netanyahu government has proposed “ways that create a detour around law and justice, which bypass…the court system.” (Haaretz, June 11) Merav Michaeli notes some of: “Israeli governments have in past decades pulled the plug on social services. With institutionalized violence, each government has cut budgets drastically, implemented privatization policies behind the Knesset's back….voided enforcing social welfare laws, and has even proactively violated labor, education and public housing laws.” (Haaretz, “Israel Is Privatizing Its Citizens' Despair,”July 18)
Civil Rights and Freedom of Speech.
2012 has been a very bad year for civil rights and freedom of speech in Israel. Zeev Sternhell-- one of Israel’s leading political philosophers, an expert on democracy, and a recipient of the Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor--writes that “here in Israel the term ‘human rights’ is a term of abuse, and human-rights organizations are persecuted. As the Israeli right sees it, only Israel-bashers fight for human rights because that principle gives the Palestinian Arab exactly the same rights to freedom and self-termination as the Israeli Jew.” (Haaretz, Oct. 7)
Here are only a few of the events in 2002 that illustrate Sternhell’s conclusion:
*In March, the Knesset passed a law prohibiting public institutions from referring to the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians in 1947-8 as a Nakba, or catastrophe. Similarly, the Knesset passed legislation making even nonviolent calls for boycotts of Israel a civil crime.
*Throughout the year settlers and other Israeli extremists increased their violent attacks not only on Palestinians or Africans but also against Jewish dissidents; typically the police refused to interfere, or even joined in the violence. Gideon Levy wrote:: “The Israeli Police…is not what the police force in a democracy should be. [It] does not like demonstrations, and therefore it is a political police force…. Growing numbers of police officers beat up law-abiding citizens…Legitimate, nonviolent political protest is being suppressed with illegitimate political police violence.” (Haaretz, June 24)
Following the release of an Israeli film maker’s graphic documentary of the behavior of Israeli forces in the occupied territories, Levy wrote: “The reality of the occupation is that there is no such thing as nonviolent struggle…..The Israel Defense Forces soldiers and the Border Police will ensure that it becomes violent. Just one thrown stone, despite the pleas of the demonstration organizers, will suffice; just one verbal altercation will also suffice [for the Israeli forces] to pull the pin, to release the gas, the rubber bullet…and sometimes the live fire, and to cut off the impossible dream of a nonviolent struggle.” (“The Documentary That Should Make Every Decent Israeli Ashamed,” Haaretz, Oct.5.
*In July, Michael Sfard, widely regarded as Israel’s most prominent human rights lawyer, summarized the recent events: “Israel’s democracy is under attack….There has been a wave of legislation designed to confine public discourse and limited political freedom of action….The government has incited against human rights organizations, presenting them as traitorous….and fellow travelers with terror. There has been an effort to derail funding received by such organizations….There have been efforts to deter protesters….such as mass arrests on false pretenses, police violence and the enforcement of draconian restrictions against the protesters.” (Haaretz, July 25)
*Apparently, the thugs, the fanatics, and the police had little reason to be concerned that the violence might precipitate a civil backlash: a 2011 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute that found that fifty-one percent of Israelis believed that people should be prohibited from harshly criticizing the State of Israel in public.
Recently, even Israeli universities, heretofore a haven for free speech and vigorous dissent, are under governmental threat. There are many examples, the most dramatic one being the decision by the government Council of Higher Education to shut down the political science department at Ben-Gurion University, which includes several unsparing and public critics of the Israeli occupation. A Haaretz editorial comments that this decision “stems from desire to punish faculty who dared offer their students a critical viewpoint. (Oct.2)
Zeev Sternhell writes that the aim of the current campaign is “to strike fear into the other universities and their faculty members…This bullying behavior…is threatening to eliminate the institution of tenure, an essential condition for the freedom of academic research and teaching.” (“The Respectable Right in all Its Ugliness.” (Haaretz, Sept.18)
Political Competition and Vigorous Opposition Parties
The Haaretz journalist Yossi Verter points out that in the 1992 Israeli election of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Labor Party and smaller Israeli parties to its left won 49% of the vote; in the 2009 election of Benjamin Netanyahu the left won only “a paltry 29 percent.” (Haaretz, Aug. 9) Little change is expected in the next Israeli general elections: as the prominent Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar wrote in a widely-noted The National Interest article, even if one included the hardly very leftist Labor Party as part of the opposition, recent opinion polls indicated that if elections were held today, the left would win only 32 seats, a little more than a quarter of the Knesset. (“Israel's New Politics and the Fate of Palestine,” July-August 2012)
In any case, the Labor Party (as Eldar points out in an October 5th column in Haaretz) has been fully involved in coalition government decisions to “dissolve the Oslo Accords…build the settlements….and begin the Second Lebanon War.” The only true “leftist” or, better said, liberal dissenting political party in Israel is Meretz. Netanyahu is expected to call for new elections within the next six months; current surveys indicate that Meretz will win no more than 5% of the Knesset seats.
To illustrate what he calls “the collapse of the Zionist Left,” in his National Interest article Eldar pointed to public opinion surveys showing that 72 percent of Israeli Jews defined themselves as “rightwing.” Similarly, the future is likely to be even worse, Verter observes: “The left is particularly weak among young people: only a quarter of people aged 18-29 have a positive view of the left, while two-thirds have a strongly negative view” (“Reviving the Israeli Left is a Ten Year Project, Says Think Tank,” Haaretz, Aug. 9) For these reasons, Carlo Strenger, an Israeli professor and Haaretz columnist has concluded that for the foreseeable future there is not likely even to be a center-left government in Israel.
Sternhell spells out the implications: “The existential question [of the occupation]…has miraculously vanished from the agenda, thanks to a tacit agreement between the right, which controls the government, and the Labor Party. Thus, the danger of the liquidation of the democratic Jewish state has ceased to be a bone of contention. This development is without precedent in the history of democratic politics: It's doubtful that there has ever before been a democratic state where an incomparably controversial issue on which its very existence depends has been silenced and buried by agreement between the government and the opposition.” (“The Battle Isn’t Just Economic,” Haaretz, August 8)
Non-Discrimination Against Minorities
Never mind how the Palestinians are treated, in the past year there has been a marked increase in contempt, hatred, incitement and violence against various Israeli minorities in Israel, including openly expressed racism against the Israeli Arabs, the Bedouin, and black immigrants or refugees fleeing from African civil wars. While worse than ever, discrimination and racism in Israeli society is hardly new; Uri Avnery points out that even when the Jews who migrated from Arab countries arrived in Israel, “they were received by a society that held everything Arab in total contempt.”
Here are just a few despairing comments by Israeli writers:
* Neri Livneh: “in present-day Israel, the racism has for some time been as overt as it is ugly,” but is becoming steadily worse, not surprisingly because “it is based on religious values which hold that the Jews are superior to goyim, that men are superior to women and that whites are superior to blacks.” Even Ethiopian Jews continue to be the objection of discrimination and racism, Livneh writes: “It’s unbelievable that after so many years of living in our midst we haven’t yet begun to integrate them.” (“Believe It Or Not,” Haaretz, Jan. 27)
* Gideon Levy, “Israel is the most racist country in the West” (Haaretz, May 31)
* Ithamar Handelman-Smith, a leading poet and writer: “Every day, our children hear the same Israeli racist incitement against everyone and everything foreign, other or different….a massive wave of racism and ultranationalism is washing over the entire country.” (Haaretz, Sept 6)
What is new is that government officials themselves increasingly are expressing openly racist attitudes; as Rina Rosenberg the Israeli Director of the “Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights,” writes: “Racism is [not only] becoming normalized among the Israeli public,” it is increasingly legitimized in Israeli politics.” (Haaretz, June 1)
*Some local officials are trying to prevent Arab citizens of Israel from living in their communities.
*These and similar acts of discrimination are tolerated if not supported and even promoted by some government officials. Anat Biletzki writes (May 9), that the Minister of Finance asked her whether “you really want an Arab living next door to you?” Biletzki comments: “that a serving government minister could so bluntly voice such a racist comment is something with democratic proclivities shudders at,” and concludes that “far more racist epitaphs are now regularly expressed by Israeli officials.”
The recent wave of Africans seeking refuge in Israel has exacerbated the racism, including among government officials; as a Haaretz editorial (June 5) put it: “politicians vie with one another over who can inflame anti-migrant sentiment more.:
Don Futterman-- program director of the Moriah Fund, a foundation supporting migrants and working to strengthen civil society in Israel—writes: “Public officials have been competing to make the most outrageous accusations against the Africans, and to incite the public against the aid workers and rights activists trying to help these desperate people. As we listen to [their] words we must wonder if they have any Jewish collective consciousness or memory. (“A Rhetorical Pogrom,” Haaretz, June 8)
As a consequence of these trends, especially of government toleration and even incitement, racism in Israel is becoming increasingly violent:
In an August 29 Haaretz article entitled “Pogroms and Patriotism: the State is With You,” Rachiel Liel, the Executive Director of the New Israel Fund (described as a fund “dedicated to religious pluralism and civil rights in Israel”) wrote that beyond the routine settler attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territories and the destruction of their mosques, farms, wells and olive trees, “to this disgraceful list we must add the variety of serial abuses that Palestinians, foreigners, and those of different faiths suffer in Israel,” including a growing number of spitting at, physical assaults and even firebombings, directed against Israeli Arabs, African immigrants, Christian monks and priests, and even Ethiopian Jews. Liel concludes: “This entire evil horde has one common denominator: the carefree, comfortable belief that the government is with them. That the regime is on their side. That with the legal authorities and their enforcement arms turning a blind eye, they can give free rein to their impulses.”
In a similar vein, Gideon Levy writes: “The government incites the weaker classes against [African immigrants] and after violence breaks out, the prime minister makes do with a weak remark that “there is no place for this.” In fact there is a place for violence against the migrants. After all, what did we think? That when they are described as a cancer….that there would not be an outbreak of violent crimes against them?” (May 31)
Even women are the object of discrimination in Israel -- primarily but hardly exclusively by increasingly large and powerful ultra-Orthodox religious sector, which rigidly separates women from men in public places, buses, synagogues and so. Sexual harassment, of course, is hardly limited to Israel, but some Israeli commentators argue it is worsening; for example, 165,000 women were harassed at their work place over the past year, including by the country’s president, who was recently convicted of rape. (Livneh, “A Country for Men,” Haaretz, Feb. 2)
Zahava Gal-On, the leader of the Meretz political party, concludes: “the Orthodox establishment tells us how we can marry, divorce, convert, and be buried…There can be no democracy in which there is no equality for women…” (Quoted in interview with Neri Livneh, “Meretz Leader Zahava Gal-On is Not Looking to be Loved,” Haaretz, July 12)
Political Control of the Military
The Israeli Army is increasingly being drawn from the settlers and religious. Almost one-third of infantry officers are religious, up from just 2.5% in 1990, and they rising into the top ranks. (Geoffrey Aronson, Report on Israeli Settlements, March-April 2012) The parties based on the settlers and religious are working to increase these numbers, so as to ensure the settlers can never be removed from the occupied territories in a peace settlement. “There are those who fear, and others who hope,” Aronson writes, “that when and if Israel’s political establishment decides to remove settlements, the security forces with either rebel or simply refuse a politically or religiously untenable command.”
Economic Fairness and Justice
Economic inequality and even poverty is growing, as a consequence of the Netanyahu government’s love of what Shimon Peres once called “swinish capitalism.” (quoted in Uri Avnery, Jan. 21, 2012, “The Blockbusters”) According to Haaretz, one out of every three children are beneath the poverty line.” The Haaretz journalist Merav Michaeli writes that a detailed report by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel “describes how over the past few decades Israeli governments have pulled the plug on social service…cut budgets drastically, [and] avoided enforcing social welfare laws.” (“Israel is Privatizing Its Citizen’s Despair,” July 18)
Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the Labor Party, repeats Peres’s language in her description of Netanyahu’s economic policies: rampant deregulation, worker layoffs, “swinish salaries for CEOs [and] insider deals that spit in the public’s face,” “hundreds of thousands of small and medium-size business owners who are gasping for air,” and high prices that are the result of “swinish” employer behavior. (Haaretz, Oct. 3)
As well, in her July 12 Haaretz interview, Zahava Gal-On observes that “There can be no democracy without a stable and broad middleclass….the middle class is collapsing under the burden of a centralized economy and shrinking govt. services. Basic rights like decent medical care have become a product that costs a pretty penny, and the weaker sectors are suffering from the ongoing and systematic government neglect.” Uri Avneri concludes that Israel today is “a state without democracy, without equality, with the gap between the abject poor and a handful of immensely rich growing from year to year.” “Thou Shalt Not Kill (Thyself),” February 18, 2012.
Separation of Religion and State.
According to Carlo Strenger, “the original sin of Israeli politics [is] the lack of a complete separation of state and religion.” “The Thinking Man Vs. the Theocrat” (Haaretz, June 24). The political power of the Orthodox was evident even in Israel’s early days, and has grown steadily since. Uri Avnery explains that even David Ben-Gurion, who was not religious, needed the Orthodox sectors to provide him with a majority coalition; consequently he made major concessions to them, including the establishment of their own education system, financed by the state. Since then almost all Israeli governments have relied on the religious, because no political party has ever won an overall majority in the Knesset.
Today, the importance of religion in Israel is rising, unlike most of the West. For example, according to an Israeli Democracy Institute survey, 70% of Israeli Jews believe that the Jews are the chosen people, and 61% think that Israel should “ensure that public life is conducted according to Jewish religious tradition,” up from 44% in 1991. And in less than two decades, it has been estimated, over half the armed forces officer corps will be graduates of the religious schools.
Writing in Haaretz, Uri Misgav points out some of the ways in which the state and religion are entwined in Israel: noting that many of the most extreme orthodox groups are funded by the government, including the Education Ministry, he writes that “There is no other country in the Western world where the supremacy of religion is as blatantly enshrined in law….From birth to burial, and matters of marriage, divorce, food, the day of rest…Israeli citizens are subject to religious regulations and to the religious establishment….The state, with its ongoing weakness and the cynical and irresponsible coalitions that rule it, is perpetuator of this craziness.” (Jan. 24)
The future looks even grimmer: in the current school year, 56% of Jewish Israelis entering first grade are attending state-funded religious and ultra-Orthodox schools. Schools, that is, “that teach that non-Jews are non-human.” (Sefi Rachlevsky, Haaretz, June 5) In a later column, Rachlevsky points to the anti-democratic consequences: “boys and girls study in separate classes, never see a secular person, and receive a racist-religious-extremist-and-anti-liberal education, whose inevitable result is the [recent} violent events.” (September 18)
Reacting to Netanyahu’s efforts to associate Israel with Western enlightenment and modernity, Zeev Sternhell writes: “Apparently Netanyahu doesn’t know that in the West, enlightenment is identified with human rights, with secularism, with rationalism and with universalism….The Israel of the settlers and rabbis who stir up hatred for gentiles; the Israel of the various kinds of messianic movements….is light years from secular Europe. Israel—with the emphasis that is placed here on religion in defining nationhood, in legislation, and in everyday life; with the power of religious parties in politics—really does belong to the Middle East and not to Europe.”
A Vigorous and Critical Media
Many Israelis have written about the uncritical nature of the Israeli mass media, which is enthusiastically nationalist and rarely challenges the government and the military. (Haaretz is an exception, which is why Benjamin Netanyahu was overhead saying that “The New York Times and Haaretz are our main opponents.” (Reported by Akiva Elda, Haaretz, June 11)
Gideon Levy, in particular, has written many columns on the failure of the media to perform its critical function in a healthy democracy. For example, in a recent column he wrote:
“If Israeli society today is more nationalistic, more racist, it is thanks to the media, which inculcated in it the demonization and dehumanization of the Palestinians; which taught us to treat African refugees as ‘infiltrators’ who pose an existential danger; taught us that the whole world is against us…. It was the media that taught us to applaud every war, at least in the beginning, and that military correspondents are army spokesmen in mufti…that taught us to worship the generals and the wealthy…to avert our eyes [from the occupation].”
The cheerleading of the media, Levy goes on, is not primarily because the government pressures it: “there is no pressure from authorities—everything they write and broadcast is a matter of choice [with]minimal censorship but for self-censorship….The goal is to sooth, to dumb and entertain …” (Haaretz, Sept. 9)
Elsewhere, Levy writes that “hardly any courageous journalism remains in Israel…..a vast majority of the local media decided not to report on the occupation any more.” (“The Documentary That Should Make Every Decent Israeli Ashamed,” Haaretz, Oct. 5)
The prognosis is even grimmer, as revealed in a New York Times story of October 5: “Israel’s print media are in crisis, squeezed by both the global pressures of the digital age and a small, crowded Hebrew-language market that is undergoing convulsions of its own. Channel 10, one of Israel’s two commercial television stations, also hangs precariously, waiting to be salvaged either by the government or by investment from abroad. Media experts here speak of an ominous trend: a once-diverse news bazaar that is becoming more concentrated and prone to political influence. In particular, they say, the economics of the print media have been skewed by the arrival five years ago of Israel Hayom, a free national newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, a conservative American billionaire who is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel Hayom, viewed as pro-Netanyahu, now claims the widest distribution of any Hebrew newspaper on weekdays. Public television and radio have also come under tighter state control.” (Israel Kershner, “Political and Market Forces Hobble Israel’s Pack of Ink-Stained Watchdogs.”)
An Informed and Enlightened Government and Public, Deeply Committed to Democratic and Liberal Values
Carlo Strenger, Chair of the Clinical Graduate Program at the Department of Psychology of Tel Aviv University, writes that he is “profoundly amazed and distressed” by his conversations with Israeli politicians, revealing “their total lack of understanding of the world at large, and an equally total lack of interest in it….The political class’s mentality seems to reflect a general trend in Israel.” As many opinion surveys have demonstrated, “the majority of Israelis nowadays define their identities in religious, ethnic, or nationalistic terms and their adherence to liberal democratic values is often weak and in many cases, nonexistent.” (“Time to Circle the Wagons,’ Haaretz, July 29) For example, “less than half of Israeli Jews think that, in a clash between Jewish law and democracy, democratic values should always prevail.” (Nir Hass, Haaretz, Jan. 27).
In despair over mounting mob violence, the Israeli poet and writer Eyal Megged writes: “I do not speak in the name of morality, but of expediency, for that is, apparently, the language that the splendid, cruel breed developing here understands best of all…“The one argument that may still convince us, that may still alter, however slightly, the national face peering back at us from the mirror, that may still sway a public that has, for the most part, come to ignore moral considerations, is the pragmatic one: We cannot afford it….. If we go on being callous and cruel, no one will have mercy on us anymore. We will see how well we survive without the world’s mercy.” (“Our Moral Capital Has Run Out,” Haaretz, Aug. 23)
What accounts for this shocking discrepancy between Israel’s supposed democratic and liberal values and the reality of Israel today? Part of the explanation is the continuing rise of rightwing orthodox religiousity—as David Remnick puts it, “these days, emboldened fundamentalists flaunt an increasingly aggressive medievalism.” (Remnick, “Threatened,” New Yorker, March12, 2012); another part, as Uri Avnery has argued, is a consequence of the influx in the last twenty years of a large number of Russians who “grew up in a society that despised democracy [and], admired strong leaders..When the Russian Jews came to join us, they brought with them a virulent nationalism, a complete disinterest in democracy.” (Avnery, “The Blockbusters,” Jan. 21, 2012 ) How many democracies, he might have added, would appoint a thug as its foreign minister?
Whatever the explanations, the prognosis for the future is no better and probably worse. As Zeev Sternhell writes, “What should one think of a young people who don’t utter a peep in the face of the daily oppression in the territories, and also aren’t frightened by the erosion of basic democratic values in the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the education system?” (“The Battle Isn’t Just Economic,” Haaretz, Aug. 8)
According to Sefi Rachlevsky, “the collapse of liberal life” in Israel is leading to an “internal migration” to Tel Aviv, Israeli’s most cosmopolitan city, by Israelis alarmed by the national trends. However, as the title of his commentary demonstrates--“The Final Moment Before the Liberal Population Leaves Israel,” (H, Sept 16)—the flight from the incipient fascism might not end there.
Fascism is not too strong a word. The anti-democratic trends in Israel are increasingly so labeled by Israeli journalists, academics, intellectuals, and dissidents. Here is a particularly powerful example, written by the daughter of Holocaust survivors after riots in Jerusalem:
“They are not alone, these marchers and screamers, these rioters and kindergarten-torchers, these window-smashers and cursers, and this is not just “the street”….they received support from most of the Israelis, by the government and the mayor. In Tel Aviv-Jaffa they received the backing from mayors of six more cities, led by the mayor of Tel Aviv, and they are not ashamed to publish ads calling for imprisonment and deportation. They were also supported by Knesset Members from the Likud, Kadima and the National Union who get up on stage, encourage the frenzy, partake in the fury, and engage in incitement.”
“Where did they learn this, all these recruiters of hatred and evil? What did they forget from their history classes, from the individual and collective memories of the darkest period in Jewish history, as they made their way to these stages and stormy streets? It is the same hatred of the other, the stranger and the weak thatis being directed against Sudanese refugees, Eritreans, labor migrants, or Palestinians.” She concludes: “I do not know how to stop fascism.” (“A Hatred That Stalks My Home,” Haaretz, May 30).
The characterization is apt: to the typical components of fascism—extreme nationalism, racial or religious hatreds, and violence—Israel has added religious fanaticism and medieval fundamentalism. Even a line that has almost never been crossed in the past-- comparing Israeli behavior with that of Nazi Germany—is being breached. For example, one of the rare exceptions to this prohibition was the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz—himself a practicing Orthodox Jew--who was the target of a “rain of curses” when he spoke about “Judeo-Nazis” after the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. (Yoel Marcus, “Back to Zion Square,” Haaretz, Aug. 24) Marcus adds that in light of the recent mob violence, “you begin to suspect that the professor… God forbid, may have been right.”
More: writing of the comments by Miri Regev, a former spokesman for IDF and currently a Likud MK, that “the Sudanese [refugees] are a cancer in our body,” Don Futterman notes that “Jews have been called a cancer by our Islamic extremist enemies, but more famously by Adolph Hitler, who termed them “a cancer on the breast of Germany…. Is it conceivable that she almost directly quoted Hitler and didn’t know it?” Futterman adds: “The most bizarre comment” comes from a Knesset member, who said that Israel “should lock up all the human rights people and transfer them to the camps that we are building.” (“A Rhetorical Pogrom,” June 8)
Finally, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On charges that what has been happening in recent months in regard to refugees and migrant workers is leading to fascism: “There is a growing group in Israeli society that has made it its goal to wipe out any trace of liberalism, of universal and humanistic principles, and above all, of the idea [of] democracy”
Have they already succeeded? Is Israel still a democracy? Of course, to the extent that it is, the moral implications are even worse, for the freely-elected government’s criminal policies are supported by a majority of the public. However, it is increasingly dubious that Israel deserves to be called a democracy, as opposed to (as many have put it) a democracy for the Jews. Indeed, if current trends continue it might not even be worthy of that description--as opposed to a democracy for Jewish Israelis who support the government’s policies towards the Palestinians and other non-Jews.
Who are these people, anyway—obviously they can’t really be Jewish. What to do? The two state solution is all but dead, and the one-state idea never had the remotest chance. I know: let’s work to transform Israel into a Jewish state.