More Than a Few Fringe Extremists Threaten Israeli Democracy

It is no longer just marginal acts by crazed extremists, but the heads of important Knesset committees - and even ministers - who formulate anti-democratic laws.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

"Fascism?" Incredulously, Prof. Shlomo Avineri scolded the many writers who use this term, saying "Don't make me laugh" (Haaretz, November 15 ). The problem is that the joke isn't funny.

Avineri is an admired icon who has attained impressive academic and public status built for himself. It is precisely that which makes his decision to dig in his heels with his position so regrettable: With one hand he conducts all-out war against the "post-Zionists," while with the other he tries to damp down what he perceives as needless, damaging hysteria.

With regard to post-Zionism, Avineri is chasing a train that has already left the station. The fiery argument led by members of Im Tirtzu and others proves that Zionism is alive and kicking, and in no need of defenders. The intimidation campaign being waged by these new nationalist Zionist partisans in the school system and in institutions of higher learning is getting the job done: Anyone who dares to differ is silenced by shouts of "leftist!," and his name appears in reports submitted to the Knesset and the cabinet. Yet Avineri's all-clear siren is worrisome. What is happening in Israel, he writes, offering his readers a political science lesson, is not fascism. People here are not being whisked away in the dead of night. Newspapers are not being shut down. The secret police does not keep tabs on citizens. There are no restrictions on trips abroad, and draft resisters are not executed. True, "bad things" happen, but that's all. There is no need to resort to extreme descriptions.

It can be assumed that Avineri grasps that the persons who warned recently about fascism can distinguish between a regime and a trend. Yet one suspects that Avineri himself does not acknowledge the importance of delivering unpopular warnings at a time when distinctions are blurring. No one is saying that a fascist regime now rules Israel; but it has been claimed, justifiably, that there is a worrisome trend.

It is no longer just marginal acts by crazed extremists or "groups ... with representatives in the Knesset and the government," as Avineri puts it, but the heads of important Knesset committees (interior and environment; education, culture and sports; constitution, law and justice ) as well as to cabinet ministers, who formulate anti-democratic laws. What is the foundation of Avineri's arrogant premise that these laws will not be passed? Some already have. Has the High Court of Justice overturned them? In any event, there are ways to bypass the High Court.

The citizenship revocation bill, which has not stirred a public outcry because it is directed against Arabs (even Avineri fell into the incitement trap that set the stage for the law: Azmi Bishara did not "flee the country after being accused of espionage while continuing to draw a pension"; he was suspected of espionage ); McCarthyist reports on university teachers, with the support of the education minister; the silencing of opinions; racist violence; the delegitimization of leftists and the stigmatization of political activists as traitors who "slander the country"; threats against people who rent to Arabs and a foreign minister who declares that there will be no peace and that in the Middle East only the strong survive (and we haven't mentioned what goes on in the country of settlers and in East Jerusalem ) - all of these "bad things" with a clear fascist flavor.

As in the parable of the six blind men, each of whom declares after feeling one part of an elephant that the beast is not so terrible, Avineri refuses to look at the entire creature. Instead, he reassures his readers, while grasping the trunk or the tail. He is not alone. All of these calmers, who belong to an elite that has lost its political influence, sound like people who are mostly trying to calm themselves. Though they sound like calls for public responsibility, these reassurances actually project detachment from responsibility. We do not need to look to comparisons or historical examples; it is enough to realize that the fascist regimes rose gradually and their goose steps were drowned out in a flood of reassurances. Even if the fears of the Cassandras seem hyperbolic, no intellectual who lives here these days can calm or be calm.



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