My opinion piece this month on why some Israelis like to compare their country to Nazi Germany annoyed many people. In their responses, they repeated their positions, which is a good thing, because to my relief I discovered that many of the people screaming “fascism” don’t really mean fascism.
They don’t mean a one-party regime with a leader above the law and a secret police that may knock on your door at any moment. They mean that ultranationalism and racism are on the rise, which could endanger free society in the long term. Therefore, they scolded me, one shouldn’t dismiss their arguments using pedantic comparisons to Germany on the eve of the Nazi takeover.
But is even this claim, one undoubtedly milder than the scary headlines it received, justified? Is Israeli society really becoming more ultranationalist and less free?
To help prove this trend, Prof. Ishay Rosen-Zvi cited a survey by the daily Israel Hayom, according to which most Jewish young people don’t believe Arabs should be represented in the Knesset. I’m guessing, based on other positions expressed in his article, that Rosen-Zvi doesn’t always unreservedly rely on Israel Hayom.
He doesn’t have to this time either. Deeper and more systematic surveys, such as those by Prof. Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa, show the Jewish public’s improving attitudes toward Arabs over the last decade and a half.
The Israel Democracy Institute’s Democracy Index also doesn’t point to a catastrophic deterioration in Israeli democracy. The institute’s pollsters have noted that “the pained and despairing public discourse about the deterioration of Israel’s democracy to its lowest level” isn’t supported by comparisons with data from abroad.
One problem with crying “fascism” lies in the anecdotal supporting testimony. Thus, for example, much weight is given to forms drafted by the culture minister (which may not stand up at the High Court of Justice), while there is no mention of the fact that this government has launched a historic reform in allocating resources to the Arab community, a reform not seen since the days of Yitzhak Rabin. (Cynics eulogized this reform at its birth, but most of it has already been launched.)
In the same way, much has been made of an ugly expression by the prime minister on Election Day, without mentioning that the election strengthened the center-right at the expense of the extreme right. A sober look reveals a more democratic Israel, one more pluralistic and liberal than ever. That doesn’t mean all is well, only that there is no justification to this theatrical despair.
Still, we’re told that the crying and wailing is serious in and of itself. After all, what’s wrong with a little exaggeration to rouse people from their complacency?
The problem is that exaggeration doesn’t serve the cause well. It serves the right. When large segments of the left write with such emotion about how awful Israel is, seeming at times to be gloating, it’s not hard to convince voters to stay away from these people.
Why should they put at the helm people who are so bad in their judgement, or worse, who no longer believe that the ship is worth saving? Anyone using an extreme term such as fascism is actually implying that any decent person should turn his back on Israel.
To convince Israelis that there is an alternative to the current government, we need a left and center that have empathy for Israel, not people who have despaired and who seek to isolate themselves in order to preserve their purity. In my piece, I called this “narcissism” because the cry “fascism” is actually a person complimenting himself. It comes at the expense of Israeli democracy, not in its service.
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