Text size

Bad things have been happening in Israel of late. Take a look at recent legislative initiatives, recent political proclamations and recent attempts to harm non-Jews. There are all kinds of names for it, but fascism it is not.

"Fascism" is not simply a word of condemnation, nor is it a literary genre subject to interpretation. Fascism is a political regime based on one party, in which all other parties are banned. Fascism is a regime in which there are no free elections; it is headed by one person ("The Leader" as he is referred to in various languages ) who makes all the decisions.

Fascism is a regime in which there is no freedom of the press and the regime controls the media. Fascism is a regime in which there is no multiplicity of opinions and every book, newspaper and play is subject to censorship. Fascism is a regime in which there are no independent courts. Fascism is a regime in which concentration camps can exist. Fascism is a regime in which anyone who doesn't agree with the government is thrown into prison - without a trial - or is murdered or disappeared.

Fascism is a regime in which someone who refuses to serve in the army can be executed. Fascism is a regime in which there is one educational system that dictates the reigning ideology. Fascism is a regime in which the secret police keep citizens under surveillance. Fascism is a regime in which there are restrictions on travel abroad. Fascism is a regime in which anyone who is interviewed by a foreign correspondent may find himself in prison. Fascism is a regime in which Haaretz would have long since been closed and its editors and writers thrown in jail.

And here? Exactly the reverse. Not one party but many; not one "leader" but a disturbing lack of leadership. Here in Israel, someone who received stolen classified documents isn't sitting behind bars; rather, law enforcement authorities negotiate with him. And here in Israel, an MK who fled the country after being accused of espionage continues to receive his pension. Fascism? Don't make me laugh.

Does that mean there are no chauvinistic, anti-democratic forces out there who support discrimination and racism? There are, and in recent years, they've intensified. Does that mean there are no groups in Israel - with representatives in the Knesset and the government - whose inclinations are anti-democratic? Unfortunately, there are.

It is incumbent on us to wage a public battle against these forces, and we are. That's why most of the problematic legislation recently initiated has not passed into law and is not likely to. Even if it does, we can count on the High Court of Justice to overturn it.

Things are happening today in Italy that undoubtedly have the potential to undermine democracy there; but even a dyed-in-the-wool leftist like Carlo Ginsberg warns against drawing comparisons with Mussolini's Fascism.

David Avidan and I were students at the Shalva high school in Tel Aviv when communist North Korea invaded pro-American South Korea in 1950. Avidan, then at the start of his career as a poet and member of the Communist Youth Alliance, explained to me that I was a fascist because I didn't accept the Soviet version of events, according to which South Korea was the aggressor that invaded the peace-loving North. He also promised that when the revolution finally came, my fellow fascists and I would be hanged.

Over the years, Avidan changed his tune. Neither of us hanged the other, and we remain good friends. But it is sad to me that the sort of aggressive language he used is once again dominating the public discourse. While debate is the heart and soul of democracy, there are limits to how far one can go in describing those who don't agree with him. After all, words can also kill.