Bashful Fascism

It's possible the future will prove that Israeli fascism, which has been at the gate for decades, will finally overcome its strange bashfulness and enter the living room. But it's also possible that those who predict that fascism is just around the corner simply don't understand Israeli society very well.

If someone seriously tried to claim that MK Hanin Zuabi doesn't support an armed struggle against Israel, she would probably be deeply insulted. Still, the Supreme Court did the right thing when it overruled, as expected, her disqualification as a Knesset candidate.

To those who feared that the disqualification heralded the collapse of freedom of expression, as well as to those who feared that the extremist rhetoric of Zuabi and her colleagues would lead to violence, we should say rest assured. Both freedom of expression and the country's internal security are in far better shape than you think. The level of violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel is remarkably low (certainly compared to what would be expected during a prolonged national conflict ), while the level of freedom of expression is remarkably high.

Israel's Arab minority, through its spokespeople and leaders, generates a great deal of verbal provocation against the state and the Jewish majority, but it generates very little nationalist violence - far less than could be expected under existing conditions. The rhetoric of most leaders of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland during the conflict there was far more moderate than what we hear from Arab MKs, but the situation on the ground - in terms of violence by both the minority and the majority - was immeasurably worse and more murderous than in Israel.

When two ethnic and religious communities live intermingled in the same region and really hate each other, no deterrence will help. Life in such a place becomes a hell for both the majority and the minority. In Israel, relations between Jews and Arabs, though of course far from idyllic, are far more complex and on the whole far better (or perhaps less bad, if you prefer ) than could be expected. They're far better than what is implied by both sides' nationalist rhetoric.

Not that there are no serious cases of violence here, or direct incitement that should be stopped, but on the whole the freedom to say harsh things is apparently more of a substitute to committing violent acts than a preface to them. Under such circumstances, lowering the current level of freedom of expression would be a dangerous mistake.

For decades we've been hearing that this freedom is about to collapse, and that fascism is at the gate. There has never been a lack of worrisome signs that confirm these fears. We shouldn't make light of threats to democratic values; we should fight against them with all the means of a free society. There is genuine extremism here, and genuine fascists aren't lacking either.

Still, the fact is, Israel is a far freer country today than it was in the 1970s, when talk about the danger of fascism became fashionable. Anyone who reads the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2009 approved Spain's decision to outlaw two Basque parties accused of political support for terrorism, will immediately see that the Spanish and European interpretation of "supporting terrorism" for outlawing parties is far more draconian than the Israeli one.

It's possible the future will prove that Israeli fascism, which has been at the gate for decades, will finally overcome its strange bashfulness and enter the living room. But it's also possible that those who predict that fascism is just around the corner simply don't understand Israeli society very well, just as right-wing nationalists don't understand the national interest very well.