Fascism in Israel
JERUSALEM: As the cycle of violence consumes more lives, many an Israeli has lost the ability to think clearly. According to a recent poll, which appeared in the country's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, 74 percent of Israelis are in favor of the government's assassination policy. But when asked if they thought the assassinations were effective, 45 percent claimed that they actually increase Palestinian terrorism, 31 percent stated that they have no effect on terrorism, and only 22 percent averred that assassinations help deter terrorism. Almost half of all Israelis believe that the government's reaction to terrorism is inimical to their own interests, but continue, nonetheless, to support assassinations.
This suggests that a visceral instinct has taken over the national psyche, marginalizing and repressing all forms of political reasoning. Already in the Republic, Plato warns against the ascendancy of feelings and emotions in the public sphere, claiming that these traits characterize the emergence of despotic rule. Many years from now people may ask (like we wonder about other times and places) how it was that the population did not realize what was happening.
Israel's gravest danger today is the one it faces from within: fascism. The fascisization of politics takes many forms, some more apparent than others. Perhaps most conspicuous is the dramatic change in the Israeli landscape, which is currently covered by thousands of billboards, posters, car stickers, and graffiti with slogans like "No Arabs, No Assaults," "Expel Arafat," "Kahana was Right," and "The Criminals of Oslo should be Brought to Justice." Israelis, so it seems, are neither shocked nor alarmed that their slain Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, has been criminalized by his own people.
The Israeli secret service routinely intercepts the emails of peace groups and often obstructs solidarity meetings or protests in the West Bank by declaring whole regions "closed military zones." Peace activists are "invited" to meetings with the secret service, where they are "warned" about their activities. For months, the Gaza Strip has been totally closed off to Israelis from the peace camp--including Knesset Members--and only Jewish settlers, journalists, and soldiers can now enter the region.
Torture, which was finally banned in September 1999 after a decade-long struggle in the Supreme Court, has reemerged with a vengeance. According to the Israeli Public Committee Against Torture, the secret service has not only replaced outlawed methods of torture with new ones, but ill-treatment, police brutality, poor prison conditions and the prohibition of legal counsel are now widespread. B'tselem, the Israeli Human Rights Information Center, has recently documented the torture of Palestinian minors, while the Association of Civil Rights and other organizations have appealed to the Supreme Court against the new practice of holding suspects incommunicado.
The Israeli media, which was well known for its constructive criticism of the establishment, currently spends most of its time reiterating the official line. On the one hand, Jewish opposition leaders and peace groups find it extremely difficult to get their opinions aired. On the other hand, the media is actively assisting the state and its different organs not only in legitimizing its actions, but also in delegitimizing Israel's Palestinian citizens.
The exclusion of almost a fifth of Israel's citizenry from the demos is accomplished by attacking their leaders. Jewish cabinet ministers and other Knesset Members repeatedly refer to the Arab representatives as Arafat's agents, collaborators, and a fifth column. Joining the fanfare, the newspapers, television and radio have not only marked them as "other" but also as enemies, which serves to justify the harassment they are currently undergoing. In the past year, six out of ten Arab Knesset Members from opposition parties have undergone police investigation for "anti-Israeli" statements they made during political speeches, while the immunity of one has already been stripped. Simultaneously, Israel's public radio and television have prevented the Arab leaders from voicing their claims and grievances by ceasing to interview them, and, in this way, have intensified the alienation felt by their constituency.
Darker times are lurking around the corner. The Sharon-led government is determined to wreak havoc on Palestinian Authority infrastructure, destroying the feasibility of an independent Palestinian state in years to come. All the while, the opposition is systematically silenced and security forces given free reign. In order to mount some kind of viable resistance to the dreadful cycle of violence and destruction it is crucial first to recognize that in Israel democracy is also under attack.
Neve Gordon, a Notre Dame graduate, teaches in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and can be reached at email@example.com