Opinion |

Netanyahu to Make It Official: Fascism Is What We Are

Benjamin Netanyahu has a message for you. 'Jewish' is not what this state is. Our message, our mission has become something else. And it starts with an F.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Netanyahu and Culture Minister Regev ahead of a cabinet meeting, February, 2018.
Netanyahu and Culture Minister Regev ahead of a cabinet meeting, February, 2018.Credit: Emil salman
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Benjamin Netanyahu has a message for you.

It's right there, right between the lines of his every action, his every silky video clip:

"Jewish" is not what this state is. Our message, our mission has become something else. And it starts with an F.

If Netanyahu's Israel were actually a Jewish state, you'd expect that the prime minister's priority would be the security of the thousands of Jewish families whose communities border Gaza, families whose children cannot sleep for the specter of rocket and mortar attacks, children who grew up loving fields and nature reserves and animals which have now been charred to ash.

>> Israeli president warns Jewish-only communities undermine Zionist vision

No. Benjamin Netanyahu has much more important matters on his mind. He can’t be bothered even to visit them, to be seen with them. In any case, they're not his voters.

Whether its clear tolerance of far-right anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and Trump's America, or support for cruel and authoritarian regimes worldwide; whether it be a relentless campaign against democracy at home or the step-by-step annexation of West Bank lands and the literal trampling of Palestinian rights in Khan al-Ahmar and all across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Netanyahu has no problem in sending out the signal:

Fascism is what we are.

By word and deed, the prime minister and his closest people are putting out a consistent message about what Israel has become on their watch. Consider:

First among Netanyahu's current priorities this is the Nation-State Bill. As its name suggests, the proposed law has everything to do with extreme nationalism, and with the exercise of raw, explicitly unequal power. It has nothing to do with what we used to know as Judaism.

So ill-advised is the Nation-State Bill, so giant a step it is toward the implementation of fascism – and, in fact, so anti-Jewish is its essence - that President Reuven Rivlin, a lifelong advocate both of enhanced democracy in Israel and of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, wrote in an open letter Tuesday that a central clause of the bill "could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world and in Israel, and could even be used by our enemies as a weapon."

The push to pass the Nation-State Law comes at a time when Netanyahu's lieutenants are driving full-speed toward expanding and deepening anti-democratic policies.

Among their recent moves:

- Science Minister Ofir Akunis - interfering with and ruining the work of a German-Israeli committee which could have brought millions in funding for neuro-science research in Israel - this week barred one of the country's foremost brain researchers, Prof. Yael Amitai, from the panel. Akunis' explanation? In 2005, along with hundreds of other Israeli academics, she signed a petition supporting soldiers who, while continuing to serve in the military, refused to serve in the territories.

The step came a few days after Netanyahu, Akunis, and the government supported the supposed right of the ultra-Orthodox to refuse all military service on supposedly Jewish grounds.

- Culture Minister Miri Regev, a confidante of Netanyahu's overwhelmingly influential wife Sara, and an unapologetic voice for racism against African asylum seekers, announced Monday that she would seek what has been called a "cultural loyalty bill."

The measure would allow her ministry to cut off funding to institutions and films which, in her view, "participate in incitement against the state," "delegitimize Israel," or violate the Nakba Law, which is meant to defund any institution which views Israel Independence Day as a day of mourning for the Palestinians who fled or were forced to flee in 1948.

- Netanyahu government officials at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport have stepped up efforts to detain, interrogate and expel tourists to Israel whom they believe are anti-Israel and who, according to information supplied by anonymous right-wing informants abroad, support the BDS movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.

Among those detained and questioned last year was Jennifer Gorovitz, former CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation and a self-proclaimed Zionist.

Gorovitz, currently a vice-president of the New Israel Fund, was delayed and subjected to three separate rounds of questioning before she was released to enter the country.

Last week BDS activist Ariel Gold was stopped at the airport and expelled. When Gold later said she was looking into the possibility of immigrating to the country, prominent commentator and anti-BDS crusader Ben-Dror Yemini told I24 News that notwithstanding the Law of Return, which confers virtually automatic Israeli citizenship for Jews, Gold, who is Jewish and said she was "heartbroken" on being denied entry to Israel, should "totally, definitely" be barred from becoming a citizen on the basis of her anti-Israel views – even if that meant changing the law.

Rivlin, taking the unusual step of speaking out against the Nation-State Bill despite his nominally apolitical role as president, is one of a large group of moderate and pro-democracy Likud leaders forced out of key positions in the party and replaced by Netanyahu loyalists who have driven forward a broad agenda of anti-democratic legislation.

Rivlin singled out for particular condemnation a clause which Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon declared Tuesday apparently has no "equivalence in any constitution in the world." It would explicitly legalize what the Attorney General's office has called blatant housing discrimination in towns and communities, which would mean that "the residents 'selection committee' can hang up a sign saying ‘no entry to non-Jews.’”

Another clause in the same law would downgrade the status of Arabic from its original position as an official language of the state of Israel. An outgrowth of Netanyahu's periodic racism-based appeals to far-right Jewish Israelis, the clause is a pointed and painful insult – and an effective downgrade in citizenship status - to the more than one in five Israeli non-Jews for whom Arabic is their mother tongue.

Still other clauses, if passed, would expand the impact of Jewish religious legal precedents in deciding court cases, and permitting the establishment of "Jews-only" towns.

Netanyahu, in between visits to the authoritarian leaders of illiberal regimes abroad, fervently wants to get the bill passed by this coming Monday.

The president, citing the clause in the Nation-State law which reads “the state can allow a community composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community,” minced no words in his Tuesday letter.

Rivlin warned that the measure "would essentially allow any community to establish residential communities that exclude Sephardic Jews, ultra-Orthodox people, Druze, LGBT people.

"Is that what the Zionist vision means?"

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