Stop Calling the Israeli Government Fascist

A change of elites – more than the bullying of Arabs or the delegitimization of the left – is the driving force of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governments.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Miri Regev, now minister of culture and sport, waving the flag at a women's panel.
Miri Regev, now minister of culture and sport, waving the flag at a women's panel.Credit: Amir Avramovich
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The following words aren’t intended to diminish the gravity of the situation in Israel, which is being overwhelmed by abhorrent bills infused with racism, violence and uncouth behavior. It’s hard to stay optimistic while one minister promotes “loyalty” bills that would determine who gets financial support from the state, while the defense minister, seconded by the police chief, explains why Palestinians aren’t as sad as Jews when their children die. Almost reminds one of skull measurements.

It’s tempting to automatically label these frightening words “fascist,” a brand name popular on the left. But if we overcome this temptation and lower the flames of hysteria a bit, we could describe these declarations less dramatically – as a change of elites, for example.

Let any old-timer in Israel say it honestly – when was Israel truly a liberal democracy? When was the individual not subordinate to the state, with patriotism and the army serving as a religion with legions of orthodox followers?

Was it during the pre-1966 military government ruling the Arab parts of the country, during which the members of this community were denied freedom of movement, with curfews imposed at a whim? Was it in the days when women or Mizrahi Jews were nothing but fig leaves in a few positions of power, with most doors shut to anyone not holding a red labor-federation card?

The occupation that began in 1967 is responsible for a dramatic moral corruption of Israeli society, but even before it the Arab minority wasn’t a partner with equal rights. MK Haneen Zoabi wouldn’t have happened if her generation hadn’t balked at the conciliatory pragmatism of its elders, who stood in line like good Arabs to receive their rewards from the ruling Mapai party.

Try to find one person under 40 who calls himself an “Israeli Arab” as his parents called themselves, fearfully adopting the jargon of the occupier. Now they’d rather swallow their tongues.

So what’s more “fascist” today than before? It’s no longer shameful to be a racist, polite European gestures are no longer adopted, and the view in the mirror is as ugly as can be. But ultimately this is only nuance. What has changed is the hand controlling the faucet. What has changed is that someone like Culture Minister Miri Regev decides on things.

Naftali Bennett.Credit: Avishag Sh'ar-Yeshuv

A change of elites – more than the bullying of Arabs or the delegitimization of the left – is the driving force of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governments. This is taking shape with ever-increasing aggressiveness.

In his latest government Netanyahu appointed Regev culture minister and Naftali Bennett education minister. They display an obsessive sense of persecution, even though they’ve been in power for nearly a year. They employ “fascism,” or more accurately, undemocratic anti-liberal ideas, in their proposed bills, declarations, incitement and patriotic propaganda. These are tools to solidify their electoral base, which will let them carry out their cultural revolution and changing of the guard.

The rulers of Israeli society in its first decades are watching mournfully how the army, the Knesset, the government, cultural institutions, the media, academia and soon the courts are being wrested from their hands. This change is a like a small civil war, and as in every war terrible dangers lurk, especially when the new leaders often evince derelict irresponsibility.

It’s quite scary and very painful, fascism or not.

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