Netanyahu’s Formula Is Doubly Dangerous in an Israel Prone to Fascism

His blind followers ignore the evidence before them and believe his every word, as if they were members of a cult

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony awarding people who contributed in the fight against human trafficking, Jerusalem, December 2, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony awarding people who contributed in the fight against human trafficking, Jerusalem, December 2, 2018Credit: \ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

In her book “Fascism: A Warning,” former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presents criteria for assessing the fascist tendencies of leaders. “Do they cater to our prejudices ...? encourage us to have contempt for ... the electoral process? ... seek to destroy our faith in ... an independent press, and a professional judiciary? ... exploit the symbols of patriotism ... in a conscious effort to turn us against one another?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not be a fascist, but his grades on Albright’s test are constantly rising. He has incited against the left and used it as a convenient scapegoat since entering politics, but his attacks have grown stronger and more lethal. He has always complained about a hostile media, but hitherto refrained from depicting it as an enemy of the nation; criticized the legal establishment, but did not seek to undermine it; claimed to have all the answers, but refrained from placing his personal fate above democracy and the rule of law.

Does northern op mean war?

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Netanyahu’s battle cry against the Israeli police in a Likud party gathering this week was a classic. I am the victim of a dark conspiracy, he implied. Don’t believe your eyes and ears, he told his avid fans. Ignore the evidence collected by police investigators and their findings, but believe my every word. “Nothing will come out of it because there’s nothing to it,” he reminded them, despite the clear-cut indications that he abused power, at the very least, and possibly committed serious crimes.

That was enough for his scores of advocates, as well as hundreds of thousands of blind supporters, to disseminate his message as holy writ, as if in a cult.

Netanyahu’s ploys succeed because he is not operating in a void. Israeli society may not be identical to others in which fascist regimes assumed power, but the similarities are disconcerting nevertheless. It has a dangerous fusion of religion and politics; a long-held resentment, carefully nurtured by Netanyahu and the right, against so-called elites and their liberal values; a sanctification of the nation and dismissal of all the rest and a sense of existential threat, not entirely unjustified, that trumps loyalty to democracy and the rule of law.

The horrific crimes of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis have placed historical analogies to the Weimar Republic beyond the pale, at least in Israel. Nonetheless, as Benjamin Carter Hett reiterates in his recent book “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic,” Weimar was also marked by a unified right that faced a splintered left, a parliamentary democracy that was seen as corrupt and ineffective, a world that was perceived as hostile and unfair and a willingness to blame it all on a treacherous media, a weak judicial system and a worldwide conspiracy of cosmopolitan Jewish financiers — see George Soros — that was sapping the strength of the nation. In Weimar, too, the rational right bowed its head before its extremists, comforting itself with the false hope that this too shall pass.

2018 Israel fortunately lacks the kind of complete catastrophe, utter failure or system collapse that propelled Weimar and other prefascist societies into the arms of strong, charismatic leaders who were freed from the constraints of law and democracy.

It stands in the same line, however, with countries such as Russia, Poland, Hungary and, yes, the United States, in which hypernationalism and historic grievances have created a critical mass that disdains liberal democracy — and whose leaders Netanyahu views as his brothers in arms. It is these same countries that spurred Albright to issue her warning.

“Fascism will not pass” was the famous cry of resistance issued in Valencia by Dolores Ibarruri, known as La Pasioniara, just before Gen. Francisco Franco’s troops captured Madrid and enslaved Spain to fascism for over a generation. Ibarruri relied on a “wall of bodies” to stop fascism — a task that Israel may now have entrusted to the attorney general, who will decide Netanyahu’s fate.

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