The Road to Fascist Hell

It is not enough to combat anti-democratic terrorism, and it must be combated. The exploitation of democracy that feeds it must also be eliminated.

Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending World War I. It required payment of huge reparations and the ceding of territory by the war's main aggressor, Germany. The aggressor's punishment was absolutely justified. Nonetheless, one wise man, a British delegate to the peace conference, the economist John Maynard Keynes, resigned in anger, warning the victorious powers that humiliating Germany, justified as it was, was also a sure recipe for another war. History proved him right.

In Israel, a controversy has raged over whether we are in a similar situation as the Weimar Republic after World War I, on the road to a fascist, racist regime. But it's actually those who warn against such a danger who should be reminded of the broader context of Weimar's collapse. The Nazis took control of the country at the end of a process that began, along with other events, with Germany's humiliation by the victors of World War I. Moral responsibility for the atrocities is entirely the Nazis', but historic responsibility also rests with those with good intentions who created the chain reaction.

The Israeli right wing in 2011 has indeed made dangerous statements, in the form of the video calling for the murder of Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the rabbis' letter calling for Jews not to rent or sell to Arabs. The extreme left, however, also does dangerous things that intensify the extreme right's response and the legitimization the radical right receives from broad sectors of the public.

One kind of such left-wing activity involves the exploitation of democracy. This is seen, for example, in the readiness to accept the participation of a Knesset member, Hanin Zuabi, on the Turkish flotilla seeking to break the Gaza blockade, an action the participants intended from the beginning to hurt Israeli soldiers. It is also seen in the readiness to accept a situation in which an MK, Azmi Bashara, continues to receive a state pension after fleeing to avoid trial on espionage charges.

More serious are attempts to totally delegitimize the country and its army. It can be said that the activities of right-wing MKs or the Im Tirtzu movement against academics and left-wing organizations, even if these activities are serious, are a kind of tit for tat. Just as those academics and organizations seek to dissuade contributors to Israel and hurt its status, the people on the right seek to dissuade contributors and hurt organizations' status on the left. The organizations seek to persecute the country and find themselves persecuted by it.

Regarding the argument that there cannot be symmetry between the power of the state and leftist organizations, the response should be that, at least at the current stage, the activities of the organizations against the state are more effective than the activities against them. Witness the fact that the sweeping delegitimization campaign has limited the freedom of movement of several of the country's political and military leaders. It also threatens Israel's academic standing and its economic and diplomatic ties. In contrast, the Knesset's investigation of left-wing organizations is declarative in nature.

Another major error by people on the left is their sweeping characterization as racist of any initiative seeking to strengthen Israel's security or its identity as a state of the Jewish people. One can quibble over the logic or necessity of a law that seeks (without reference to ethnic background) to rescind the citizenship of accomplices to terrorism, or the initiative that seeks to support communal villages' right to screen candidates for residency (though the screening will not necessarily be based on national background). Are these really racist initiatives?

The two errors create a situation in which exploitation of democracy provokes anti-democratic responses from the other side. Meanwhile, the sweeping characterization of national activity as racist results in an insensitivity to warnings about racism even when they are genuine. We can conclude from this a paraphrasing of a well-known expression in the left-wing lexicon. It is not enough to combat anti-democratic terrorism, and it must be combated. The exploitation of democracy that feeds it must also be eliminated.



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism