Now It's the Turn of the Intellectuals

If a committee of inquiry into human rights groups is established, the government will lose the last of its legitimacy.

A group of Israeli intellectuals, including Israel Prize laureates, have decided to take action and send an open letter to the 41 MKs who voted to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to study the sources of funding for human rights groups. In their letter, they warn that if the committee is established, "the Israeli government will lose the last of its legitimacy. All its activities and laws will be patently illegal."

Public protest by intellectuals in Israel is important and encouraging. Their warning of the shift from democracy to racist fascism is the last call to those sliding down this slippery, dangerous slope. The race to pass discriminatory laws in the Knesset like the loyalty law and the prohibition against Arabs living in small Jewish communities - along with the support for racist rabbis and now, the war against human rights groups - is already more than a worrisome phenomenon. It has generated a cultural and governmental revolution that began back when the High Court of Justice was the scapegoat of the far right and the ultra-Orthodox.

It is a culture led by the extreme religious right-wingers in Israeli politics, who seek to redefine the concept of civil and human rights. Their means are well-tested: First they cast aspersions on the human rights groups, then they investigate the suspicions and finally, they emerge with public condemnation, regardless of whether it would stand up in court. That way, these extremists can control civil society, citizens' last refuge from arbitrary government.

We would be deluding ourselves to think that the intellectuals - themselves suspected, in the eyes of many, of being "anti-Zionist" - have the power to stop this trend. Without action by upright politicians and active public support, it is doubtful that sane voices will break through the wall of fascism that is in the process of imprisoning the state.

This is no longer a matter only of Israel's good name and global image. It is about redefining Israeli society, turning it into a society that, as in China, North Korea, Iran and some Arab countries, spews out even the intellectuals who are still seeking the honorable path.