Israel Is in Danger of Emulating Its Worst Enemies

It would be appropriate for the leadership to ensure that the present system of shutting its eyes to what is happening does not bring us to a track characteristic of the rise to power of authoritarian regimes.

In April 1933, Nazi S.A. stormtroopers carried out an attack on Jewish businesses in Germany, ransacking them and assaulting their owners. The German propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, personally supervised the application of the "boycott day" which was designed to segregate the Jews and provide the Nazi party that had just risen to power an opportunity to make an impression.

In November 2011, Meir Ettinger was detained for questioning after he had wandered around the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem in a suspicious fashion. He said that he was taking part in a project known as "Hebrew work" that aims at mapping those shops which employ Arabs and warning Jews not to buy from them. One can assume that Ettinger abhors the Nazis and everything they represent. Nevertheless, he chose to use the system of marking [others] that anti-Semites have employed against Jews throughout the generations.

The act of marking another person as different, with the aim of protecting the society of the majority, is known from the pre-Muslim period when the Arabs obliged Jews and Christians to wear separate colored signs round their necks. In 1215, the Lateran Church Council decided that Jews must be segregated from the Christian community by wearing different clothes whose nature was not determined. Later they were forced to wear a ridiculous hat with pointed ends. At the time of the Spanish exile, the Inquisition marked the homes of those who continued to keep the Jewish precepts even though they had publicly declared their allegiance to Christianity.

The Nazis further developed the system. Following the "boycott day," they legislated the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service which led to the dismissal of some 2,000 Jewish civil servants, and they aroused nationalist instincts by publicly burning books written by Jews. The racist Nuremberg Laws, adding the names "Sarah" and "Israel" to the original names of all Jews, stamping the passports of Jews with the letter "J" and imposing the wearing of the yellow Star of David, were all precursors to the total annihilation of the Jews.

Today, as well, there are certain groups that mark the Jews. Israeli academic institutions for the study of anti-Semitism document these acts in Europe: insulting Jews and beating them in public places, writing something deliberately harmful, and spraying swastikas on Jewish gravestones. This last idea has recently been adopted by Jews who have desecrated Muslim cemeteries in Israel.

"Hebrew work" is the start of a slippery slope whose end it would be best for us not to see. Marking the shops is legal, apparently. But the underlying thuggery that it embodies is a threat not only to Arab workers but to all Israelis. It is possible to be heroes on the back of the Palestinians who live and work inside Israel and who constitute a minority. But this "heroism" is likely to lead to a widespread conflagration in the region in which Israelis are an insignificant minority. It is also likely to undermine the democratic foundations of the country, and to sever its connections with its allies.

Actions of the kind taken by Israeli right-wing groups on the borders of the Green Line and beyond them have been going on for many years. They fit in well with the more comprehensive framework of humiliating foreigners on the part of government representatives, and of initiating future bills to restrict freedom of information and the media.

Perhaps the right-wing movement does not intend to cause Israeli society to deteriorate into the type of violence adopted by Israel's worst enemies. But, despite its weaknesses, it would be appropriate for the leadership to ensure that the present system of shutting its eyes to what is happening does not bring us to a track characteristic of the rise to power of authoritarian regimes. The prime minister, as the son of an important historian, is surely aware of the danger.