14 Nov 2010
There is a debate in Israel about whether the Zionist state is on the slippery slope to fascism or is already fascist. As far as I am aware the mainstream Western media has not drawn any attention to this.
It was Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics, who, along with 27 other most influential Jews, first warned of the danger of the rise of fascism in Israel. In a letter to the Editor of the New York Times published on 4 December 1948, when Menachem Begin was soliciting support in America, they said this:
"Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.
Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions, public manifestations in Begin’s behalf, and the creation in Palestine of the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives of Mr. Begin and his movement. The public avowals of Begin’s party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future."
More than six decades on, under the headline Weimar in Jerusalem: The rise of fascism in Israel, Uri Avnery wrote: “Throughout the years, we were careful not to mention the word fascism in public discourse. It raises memories which are too monstrous. Now this taboo has been broken.”
Avnery recalled that Yitzhak Herzog, the minister of welfare in the Netanyahu government, a member of the Labour party, the grandson of a chief rabbi and the son of a president, had said a few days previously that “fascism is touching the margins of our society”. He was wrong, Avnery declared. “Fascism is not only touching the margins, it is touching the government in which he is serving, and the Knesset, of which he is a member.”
Einstein-like, Avnery warned that “fascism will overwhelm Israel” unless progressive forces “awake from the coma, understand what is happening and where it is leading to.”
On 3 September, under the Ha’aretz headline “Fascism is already here“, Yossi Sarid wrote that “Israeli democracy is mainly for decoration, like a tree grown for its beauty, not to bear fruit.”
Sarid asked what a citizen could do when his or her soul “is fed up with occupation.” And this was his answer:
"If he participates in the popular struggle against the separation fence, he will be buried outside the fence of the cemetery; if he demonstrates in Sheikh Jarrah, he will feel the heavy hand of the police; if he is a university lecturer, they’ll send the watchdogs after him in the name of Zionism; if he belongs to a theatre troupe, someone who can still see the Green Line in his mind’s eye, they will threaten the source of his income; if he is a school principal who tries not just to support settlements, they will look for a different institution for him because that is not how we do things; if he is a judge who dares deny that security is of the utmost importance, they will blame him for bloodshed; if he is a journalist who refuses to join in the chorus, there will be cries to boycott his newspaper; if he is a citizen who wishes to protect a child being threatened with expulsion from the country, he too will be blacklisted as an enemy of the people; and a long list remains."
In a special investigation for Ynetnews on 21 October, Uri Misgav reported that “experts were divided on whether nationalistic trends in Israel were tantamount to fascism.”
He pointed out that over the years leftist demonstrators had chanted “Fascism won’t pass!” but the Left, he added, “keeps on declining, while fascism is increasingly gaining a foothold here. Significant parts of the Jewish public endorse blatant nationalistic and fascist principles, as shown by the Yedioth Ahronoth and Dr. Mina Tzemach poll published last week, including limited freedom of expression and association as well as limiting voting rights to Jews only.”
As Misgav noted, there are scholars who are warning against using the term “fascism” too lightly and cheapening it. Tel Aviv University Professor, Yossi Shain. was quoted as saying, “The question is whether a threat to democracy exists.”
Among those who think there is such a threat were several hundred youth group members who held rallies across Israel to condemn the government’s loyalty oath decision as racist and anti-democratic. This was after actors and authors had protested in Tel Aviv, read out the Declaration of Independence and published a new document entitled “Declaration of Independence from Fascism.”
One of that protest’s initiators, author and journalist, Sefi Rachlevsky, said: “This successful and miserable people, which experienced persecution and a holocaust, deserves independence, democracy and a life free of fascism. The real struggle today is not between leftists and rightists, but rather, between democrats and fascists.”
Misgav also noted that some religious figures are losing sleep over the latest trends. He quoted Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman as saying:
"We saw the emergence of a new Jew in Israel; this does not include Lieberman alone, but rather, anyone who voted for the loyalty oath law, including religious parties. This Jew is no longer interested in religion or in Jewish values, but rather, uses his Jewishness to produce hatred and nationalism. The discourse around the loyalty oath gives rise to a corrupt situation: Instead of Judaism being used to criticize nationalism… it turns into a means that leads to fascism."
As Einstein observed all those years ago, the American public “must” be informed about what is really happening in Israel. But there’s no chance that it will be as long as the mainstream media is unwilling to give voice to those Israeli Jews who can see fascism coming.
Alan Hart has been engaged with events in the Middle East and globally as a researcher, author, and a correspondent for ITN and the BBC. Read other articles by Alan, or visit Alan's website.