God Save America - From Becoming This Israel

Do what you have to, America. Don't let hatred win and bigotry take power. Don't take that road, America. We know how it ends.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016.
Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. Credit: Jonathan Bachman, Reuters
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

The country of my birth is slashed and broken. In the shock and anxious doubt in the wake of eight killings in three days in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, I can barely recognize the United States I thought I knew. But this much I can recognize:

Never has America seemed more like this Israel.

"I never really understood how fascism could have come to Europe, but I think I understand better now," commentator David Brooks wrote on Tuesday in The New York Times.

People, he wrote, "begin to base their sense of self-worth on their tribe, not their behavior. They become mired in their resentments, spiraling deeper into the addiction of their own victimology. They fall for politicians who lie about the source of their problems and about how they can surmount them."

Brook's colleague Charles M. Blow described a nation in which too many "seem to be living with an ambient terror that someone is somehow targeting them."

Back here in Israel, we know only too well the potential triggers and dark consequences of a nation in prolonged anguish, apprehension, and despair.

America, we're way ahead of you.

We know what you can expect when for decades, bloodshed and terror claim the lives of the innocent. We know what can erupt when for decades a blind eye is turned to brutality and wrongful killings by inadequately trained security forces against minorities prejudged to be threats, prejudged to be violent.

We know what can happen to the values, the freedoms, the equality of rights in a country whose people are so battered and broken that many have just given up hope of change for the better.

We've seen that if things stay bad enough, long enough, people will give up on the freedoms and the rights of others. After that, over time, they'll even give up on their own.

We've seen what happens when we choose silk-tie demagogues to lead us, when we let fanatics cue the demagogues, when we let misogyny, maltreatment of minorities, and misuse of power be their guide.

America, don't go down the road we're on.

A few highlights of the last few days in Benjamin Netanyahu's personal democracy:

— In a marathon storm of a Knesset session late Monday, the Netanyahu government enacted its now-notorious "NGO Law," which cloaks incitement against, and overt harassment of, left-leaning human rights organizations, in a mantle of bogus bureaucratese.

— In a move which has yet to fully come to light, a new policy by the Israel Prisons Service could free former president Moshe Katsav on parole. Katsav is now serving a seven-year sentence for two counts of rape and obstruction of justice.

Less than three months ago, a parole board unanimously rejected a parole request by Katsav, whose full term is to run until the end of 2018. The board said then that Katsav showed no remorse or empathy for the women he raped, that he continued to deny all charges, and viewed himself as a victim.

— The army announced the nomination of Colonel Eyal Karim, a rabbi noted for astonishingly extreme views on women and non-Jews, for the influential post of IDF Chief Rabbi.

Karim first came to public attention for a response he gave online to a theoretical question about rape in wartime. As part of maintaining fitness for the army and the soldiers' morale during fighting, Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Karim as having replied, "it is permitted to 'breach' the walls of modesty and 'satisfy the evil inclination by lying with attractive Gentile women against their will, out of consideration for the difficulties faced by the soldiers and for overall success.'"

Karim later said that his remarks had been taken out of context and that he opposed rape in all forms. But on other issues, he was quoted as saying that according to Torah sages, the practice of women serving in the IDF was "completely forbidden." He also said that women soldiers should not sing at ceremonies.

Karim oversaw the 2013 publication of an IDF booklet — later repudiated by the army — which stated that “the concept that non-Jews have equal rights with Jews in Israel goes against the opinion of the Torah, and the state’s representatives have no authority to act against the Torah’s will."

Dismantlement of democracy, allowances for misogyny, church-state fanaticism, incitement against minorities and those who support them — landmarks on a road we’ve come to know all too well.

And that road's now headed west.

First stop, Cleveland, the beginning of next week, the convention of Donald Trump's new Republican Party. And, behind Trump all the way, media and gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, the man who's bought and paid for Benjamin Netanyahu to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year, the man who less than two years ago declared "So Israel won't be a democratic state, so what?"

Do what you have to, America. Don't let hatred win and bigotry take power.

Don't take that road, America.

We know how it ends.

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