Opinion |

The Erdoganization of Israel

A global vision is needed to oppose the world’s religious-nationalist-rightist governments, starting with a call to Facebook and Twitter to muffle hatred online

Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer
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Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer

I don’t believe that an essay in a liberal newspaper will change government policy in any way, or become a call to action that will rouse the masses. It will end up in the dustbin like all its predecessors.

So what prompts an old man in his 90s, a researcher of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and genocide, to say his piece about things outside his expertise? First, because he feels it’s of the utmost urgency. Second, because he’s deluding himself that he has something to say.

So here we go. The Israel of 2017 is standing firmly on the anti-liberal global continuum that stretches from the ostensibly Communist dictatorship of China to the autocratic regimes in Thailand; the former Soviet republics of Central Asia; the Iranian, Arab and Turkish Middle East; Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. This continuum encompasses the horrors in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, and the authoritarian regimes from Africa to Latin America.

The anti-liberal leadership today is now passing to Trump and Trumpism. Israel, as part of this whole, is undergoing Erdoganization; it’s totally clear that political control of the media is a necessary stage in establishing a stable, anti-liberal, religious-nationalist-rightist government that will win the support of most of the public, which, in its fear, sees nationalism, religiosity and anti-liberalism as the answer to its problems.

The fear arises from two factors; the first is jihadist Islam and its offshoots’ boundless enmity toward Jews in which the Satan, or shaytan, is the Jew who must be destroyed wherever he is found. This isn’t an invention of the Israeli right, it’s a proven fact. Israel must defend itself against this, and what better than an aggressive regime to do so?

The second factor is the present and future Palestinian response to the occupation of Palestinian lands and people in the West Bank, to which no end is in sight. At the end of the day, an oppressed and degraded people deprived of rights will intensify its resistance and, justifiably, win ever-greater support around the world and this too is a cause for fear.

Erdoganization also means taking over the judicial and education systems. Everything is being done in keeping with legislation passed in accordance with parliamentary rules, in Israel as in Russia – after all, what’s a Knesset majority for? The chances of the liberal camp’s survival remain dependent on safeguarding certain principles of democracy that preceded the current situation. And with these principles there is even hope for change, hope for saving what can still be saved, and for rebuilding.

Israel is losing Zionism. This is the key point that Yossi Klein ignored in his notorious article. Zionism means ensuring the survival of a Jewish state in which the Jewish people have a firm majority and the non-Jewish minority has full equal rights. And by rights I don’t just mean individual rights, but also the collective or national rights of the minority.

Because yes, contrary to the chatter often heard in this newspaper, there is such a thing as an ancient Jewish people – a large group of people who saw and see themselves, historically and in the present, as a Jewish people. The contortions of Shlomo Sand and the so-called radical left who seek to cast doubt on the national Jewish identity will not alter these facts. A left that does not call itself “radical” has identified with its Jewish nationalism in the past and continues to do so. In fact, it was this group that spearheaded the state’s founding.

Thriving nation-states

As long as nation-states or would-be nation-states exist – and this process is on the rise, not waning – the Jewish people as a historic collective has a right to sustain a state entity in which it is a majority – no less than other peoples and nations like Lithuania, Latvia, Burma, Tunisia or Bulgaria. Or Iran, for instance, with its many millions of people who belong to non-Persian ethnic groups.

The Palestinian people has the same right, if only because all the Arab residents of the Land of Israel see themselves as part of it. Israeli/Jewish control, whether direct or indirect, of the entire territory between the Jordan River and the sea advances the annulment of Zionism; that is, the annulment of a state with a strong Jewish majority. It makes no difference if the Jews will comprise 45 or 60 percent of the population. This would be a binational entity with a brutal and discriminatory colonial regime, or one embroiled in continuous civil war.

The destruction of Zionism isn’t the ideology of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The destruction of Zionism is the policy of the secular and religious-messianic right that holds power here.

A global view must be adopted. Israel isn’t an exception here. The ideology of radical Islam is an existential danger to the entire world, even if Mosul and Raqqa fall and the Islamic State caliphate disappears.

This murderous ideology cannot be eliminated by military means alone. In the absence of a significant liberal force, the world that lies between Xi Jinping’s China and Donald Trump’s America has no ideological answer that will convince masses of seekers. The anti-liberal world doesn’t know how to appeal to the anti-radical Muslims. The term “Islamist terror” is misleading – one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. The struggle is not just against terrorism. It’s over the value of human life, individual and communal liberty, gender equality, freedom of expression – that it, liberalism: yes or no.

There may be a path to a solution: merging the forces opposing the global anti-liberal trend and mobilizing the countries committed to resisting anti-liberalism. In March 2016, representatives of 53 countries met in the Philippines and formed the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes. Yet in the Israeli media, as in the Western media in general, there is no trace of these efforts, because even the best journalists are blind to what really matters. There is no guarantee that the effort will be a success, but it’s happening.

One of the main forces getting in the way of any fight against Trumpism is the violent discourse and calls for murder online – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. The amount of jihadist, anti-Semitic, anti-Western, anti-feminist hatred disseminated via these companies, all of them based in the United States, is unbelievable.

The call to murder

The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (to which Israel is a signatory and the United States joined in 1988), explicitly states that incitement to genocide is part of the crime of genocide. This section has never been applied (the convention is largely a dead letter), but it is part of international law. Clearly, all mass atrocities, and genocide certainly, begin with words, with speech. Words are a lethal weapon.

The call to murder has become an integral part of mass activity on the social networks and poses an existential danger not only to the West but to the dictatorial regimes as well. In this there could be a common basis for coordinated international action against the aforementioned companies, which have no incentive to rein in the hate. Their sole interest is to increase profits.

There is an urgent need for the UN Security Council to form a committee of jurists crafting a consensus to reduce the vicious libel and hatred on the internet while safeguarding freedom of speech, the lifeblood of every democracy. Attempts have already been made in some countries to enact such laws, but the internet companies learned how to circumvent them. Still, even the little that was done caused a drop in advertising revenues for these companies; this may be the most effective way to fight this phenomenon endangering the entire world.

Israel is a small but not completely insignificant player in all this. It is a high-tech power, it has a large army and its economy is not in bad shape at all, although its socioeconomic situation puts it on the edge of an abyss. It’s in danger of being ostracized for its policy of occupying the Palestinians. A BDS-style boycott isn’t the real danger; it’s not effective. But there will be no answer for a much more serious move propelled by rightly hostile international opinion.

The argument that Israel is an apartheid state is fundamentally wrong – anyone who knows anything about how things were in South Africa understands this. The policy in the territories isn’t colonialist, because it does not economically exploit the territories for the benefit of some motherland. The situation is a lot more complex than that – and it can’t be allowed to continue, both for the sake of the Palestinians and the sake of Israeli Jews.

Still, as long as both sides are ruled by religious-nationalist elites, there’s no chance of an agreement, because even a maximum concession by one side won’t meet the minimum demands of the other side. External pressure will only escalate the conflict, yet the chance of an international solution still exists because no major power or important country in the region – with the exception of Iran – has an interest in continuing the conflict.

Again, the solution can only come out of a global vision. There is no guarantee of success, but nothing says the current miserable situation must persist.

Yehuda Bauer is a historian and professor of Holocaust studies.