The Real Reason Why Some Israelis Like to Compare Their Country to Nazi Germany

Responding to the arguments of those who make this baseless comparison gives it far more respect than it deserves, but a closer look the motivations behind it reveals a desire not to save Israeli democracy but to turn one's back to it.

Protesters burn a swastika symbol during a pro-Palestinian protest against the Israeli military offensive in Gaza,  during a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009.
AP

The increasingly common comparison in the country between the Israel of 2016 and Germany in the 1930s is so baseless that the very effort at responding to it, in my humble opinion, seriously accords it greater respect than it deserves. Anyone who thinks there is a resemblance between the fanatic hooligans in Israel and the roughly three million people in the S.A. paramilitary wing of the Nazi party – 30 times the size of the German army of the time – and anyone who thinks our right-wing politicians, damaging as they are, can be compared to Hitler and his associates, is suffering from more than a little historical blindness.

And the argument that thats also how it started there is, of course, also totally baseless. That is actually not how it started there. Anyone with an interest in how it started needs to ponder not the existence of extremists and racists — a phenomenon everywhere, including of course Israel — but rather the nature of the political, economic, and cultural crisis that became such fertile ground for them.

On the contrary, the more relevant question is not what Israel today and Germany in the 1930s have in common but what brings people, some of them serious, to fervently embrace such a baseless comparison. On the face of it, the answer is their fear for the future of Israeli democracy. There are in fact forces in Israel seeking to erode democracy, and here and there they are actually making inroads on the margins. But viewed from a level-headed and unsentimental perspective, their success at the moment is very limited. The foundations of Israeli democracy are sufficiently resilient to ultimately rebuff most of these attacks.

Nevertheless, it is worth paying attention to the repeated warnings about fascism, not because of the validity of the comparison, but actually rather because of how unfounded it is. Theirs isnt a political analysis of the situation but rather the most dramatic epithet that such speakers can find in their political lexicon (other than the open use of the term Nazism, which even those who compare Israel to Germany hesitate to use explicitly, although of course it is implied in their comments). The use of extremist terms like these is not exactly an argument with ones political rivals but rather their delegitimization. And when a political rival is democratically elected, it constitutes delegitimization of the process itself.

It therefore seems that despite their claims to be defenders of democracy, in practice those making use of the comparison are not contributing to the strengthening of democracy. Instead they are attacking its legitimacy even if from a different direction than the extreme right does. It might therefore be assumed that behind some of these cries of distress, there is really a desire to disassociate from Israeli democracy rather than a desire to address its faults.

Painting Israel in the darkest possible colors doesnt provide the basis for galvanizing an effective opposition. Instead its justification for turning ones back on Israel and Israelis. As for the actual impact of such positions, its clear that these arguments wont mobilize the public — nor is that apparently their intention. When all is said and done, it is difficult to attract people with the claim that they are repellent and incorrigible.

Therefore, in my view, this trend needs to be seen not in terms of building an opposition or of protecting democracy. The emotional push behind all of this is the effort to build a sectoral identity among those seeking to isolate themselves from Israel rather than competing for votes in an electoral process. In this respect, these circles of the intelligentsia are fundamentally different from the Zionist movements old elite. This new elite is building its identity on alienation rather than service. It defines itself as the antithesis of Israeliness rather than as part of it. And since Israel has rejected its diplomatic positions, it seeks to isolate itself from Israel rather than leading it. Perhaps all of this can generate narcissistic satisfaction, but certainly not the beginnings of reform.