Opinion |

Silence Reigns in Israel as the Last Whispers Against the Occupation Disappear

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, April 14, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, April 14, 2019. Credit: Ronen Zvulun / PA
Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

When the political fortunes of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked shined, and Benjamin Netanyahu incited against “the left,” we were perplexed by the cries of “fascism shall not pass.” On one hand, the incitement recalled the dark days of fascism. On the other hand we know from the history of fascism that it requires enemies of order, and that in their day the fascists eliminated a number of important figures in the “old” order, but in the chaotic cities of Italy, Portugal, Germany and Spain that order was always restored. What order did the Israeli right try to guarantee? Who ever posed a threat to order here?

One possible answer: What is taking place here is not fascism. Despite the attacks on the judicial establishment and the ongoing decline of the education system, what we are seeing here, as in many other places, is the relatively new phenomenon of right-wing populism – an alliance of factors (racism, religion, xenophobia and ultranationalism) – arrayed in the name of hostility to “order.”

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Before our eyes, the illusion that a large, decentralized political society will win the hearts of a majority of its citizens is disintegrating. Why “illusion”? Because when the political society grew, the pie shrank in an extended recession and the rage of those who remained outside was redirected against the “cake-eating elites.” From this follows the hostility to “the swamp in Washington,” the European Union and the “big labor unions.” The populist right makes use of forces from the fascist past and is aided by the so-called left, which is nothing but populism for the poor in spirit.

But there’s another possibility: that Israeli fascism won back in 1967, and has for years imposed its reign of terror on “the enemies of order” – the Palestinians.

As befits fascism, “the security forces united the entire nation around them.” A large consensus vowed to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state (and, of course, all forms of refusal to serve in the military). What is happening now, belatedly, is what Likud did not manage to do before Netanyahu: eliminate the remnants of the Israel that whispered, “The occupation will destroy us all.”

Yes, Israel lied to itself about the “temporary” nature of the occupation, succeeded in squeezing odd rulings on the territories from the High Court of Justice and mumbling the (American) lie that “the settlements are an obstacle to peace.” These lies gave rise to national unity on a shaky foundation, cultivating a Shakespearean ghost that keeps returning and refuses to stay buried: “Some day there will be apartheid,” “some day there will be a Palestinian state,” a persistent whisper that jeopardized the “order” that has remained incomplete since 1948, or 1967 – your choice.

This contradiction, on which some Israelis got drunk with melancholy peace songs, even managed to keep the Labor Party alive. Did democracy collapse with the Kahol Lavan party? Perhaps. Still, the “anyone but Bibi” panic destroyed the old cognitive dissonance. Kahol Lavan made it possible to vote for moderate fascists and to be against “Bibi’s fascism.”

A summation of the Netanyahu era: Since the turn of the century, Netanyahu has recognized that the coalition of the occupied territories requires him to change everything. He had no respect for the impotent officers’ cadre of Labor, nor for the values of the labor movement and its writers. He returned from America; choirs singing Soviet songs in Hebrew translation didn’t float his boat; he grew impatient and used everyone available in order to get rid of the excess baggage whispering, “End the occupation” (or “Oslo,” or “with the Palestinians and the world, against the settlers”).

And as much as the actual occupation caused mass Palestinian deaths, without any Jewish protest, Netanyahu, under the aegis of the ruins of Arab nationalism, eliminated the threatening presence of “the occupation” from among the Jews. Even Meretz needed the Arab vote to save itself from “extinction.” Bibi is now turning the discomfort into great comfort, with the aid of ignorance, demonization, the Holocaust, hatred of the media. Trump.

Now there is silence on our empty streets.

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