Israel Needs a Leftist Revolution to Stop the Fascism

A social-democratic revolution on the left is the necessary condition to stop the time of fascism exemplified by a loyalty oath to a 'Jewish and democratic state.'

Letting street-corner fascism seep into the halls of government is one of the ways the right wing deals with changes to how the occupation influences Israeli society. The amendment to the Citizenship Law that incorporates a loyalty oath to a "Jewish and democratic state" is one example of this.

Tal Cohen

The intention behind the amendment is made clear, paradoxically, by the opposition it arouses among those who view Israel today as already being Jewish and democratic: Dan Meridor sees it as an unnecessary provocation of Arab citizens, and Isaac Herzog defines it as a disclosure of fascism. As such, those who oppose the amendment claim, it is intended to appease extremist coalition partners. It appears, however, that the loyalty the amendment seeks to prove is actually that of voters on the right, especially those for whom the government's economic policy is undermining their social security.

Since 1977, the occupation has served the right wing as a mechanism with which to compensate the victims of privatization: The housing and generous social services offered in the settlements supplanted the workings of the welfare state. The policy of privatization may be the common enterprise of left and right, but its victims tend to favor the right, because it is identified with the continuation of the occupation and its system of compensations, and also because they loathe the left for the neo-liberal peace it offers, out of a concern that the end of the occupation and the abolition of that system will turn them into economic "victims of peace."

However, in Benjamin Netanyahu's second term as prime minister, such compensations have been losing their effectiveness. Unskilled Jewish laborers are subject to tough competition from foreign workers, while the construction freeze damaged the most significant return offered by the settlements - housing.

Along with these reduced benefits, some on the right now have to deal with the transformation of fascism from scattered, isolated "weeds" to an official policy. The change in the loyalty oath making citizenship dependent on loyalty; the revocation of citizenship; and the incitement against foreign workers being advanced by Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai intend to raise the price of citizenship in order to provide a substitute for the occupation's once-desirable advantages.

This is the way a privatizing regime completes its task: by turning social services from citizens' rights into merchandise which is gained via the merchandising of citizenship itself. In this way fascism replaces the occupation as a mechanism of compensation; the grip on the occupation, which becomes desperate as its usefulness shrinks, nurtures fascism. And so fascism is, therefore, a continuation of the occupation by other means, and as such it imports the logic of occupation rule into Israel itself.

The completion of the privatization process will eliminate the need for the occupation to provide compensation, and enable the right-wing stands expressed in Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan University speech to be realized. At the same time, in light of deepened social gaps caused by privatization, fascism becomes an internal Israeli mechanism of compensation, through which the privatizing regime strengthens its hold on society. In this way, as fascism inherits the occupation's role as a mechanism of compensation, the occupation changes its function and turns into a justification for the deepening of fascism.

The struggle against fascism and the occupation requires dealing with the fear and hatred provoked by the privatizing regime, and its replacement with a welfare state that can rebuild socio-economic confidence. This should have been the role of the left. But in contrast with its preaching against the occupation and high-flown language about democracy, the Israeli left's support for privatization has turned it into a collaborator in the creation of social conditions that allow the occupation to continue and fascism to seep into the country. A social-democratic revolution on the left is, therefore, the necessary condition to stop the time of fascism.

The writer teaches economic and social history at the University of Haifa.