The rule of fear

Fear of an external enemy has from time immemorial been the most effective weapon of every right-wing or fascist regime.

As Benjamin Netanyahu ascends to power, his message is the danger of a holocaust at the hands of Iran. Avigdor Lieberman emerges victorious and his message is that Israeli Arabs are a cancer. Never before has a government been established here solely based on sowing fear. Devoid of promise or hope, the government being formed offers only the prophecies of apocalyptic doom on whose waves the right rode to power. Now it's the right's only agenda.

Fear of an external enemy has from time immemorial been the most effective weapon of every right-wing or fascist regime. It's good for national unity, it's effective in stifling dissent, and it hides every other pressing issue. Israel, which has known far worse dangers and which has already been ruled by rightist governments, has never had a government that only speaks the language of fear-mongering.

During the state's infancy, when all was immeasurably more fragile and dangerous, governments knew how to instill hope and encourage action. They built and paved, settled and irrigated. Even when Menachem Begin was elected, he took power imbued with the joy of creation: building housing projects, making peace with Egypt, and, as futile as his philosophy was, establishing "many Elon Morehs," that settlement in the West Bank. Now we have Netanyahu, who comes to power with only warnings. Is this why he was elected? To stoke fear? Is this the face of the state and of Zionism - only warning Israelis of the dangers lurking around the corner?

Given the booming voice emanating from Jerusalem, one can only conclude that from a historical standpoint we have been misled into buying the company line. Israel is the most dangerous place on earth for Jews. If after more than 60 years we have been brainwashed into only seeing the dangers, then something here has gone awry. The practical conclusion: It's time to pack our bags and flee. After all, in the previous Holocaust, the heroes who fought did not survive. Only the refugees who fled just in time made it out alive. If indeed we are in danger of a second Holocaust, then the lesson is clear. What do the fear-mongers offer as an alternative if their vague plan to head off the incoming danger fails? That we vaporize into the nuclear fireball? It is best to run away.

But the dangers, of course, are embellished to scare us, in a cynical and demagogic manner. Israel is stronger today than at any time in its history, a regional superpower whose arsenal does not lack for any of the world's weapons and with an ally in Washington that grants it total support. A docile Europe does not even dare criticize Israel. Life in Israel is better than in most countries of the world. We've never had it so good.

Nonetheless, the response to the threats is the one proposed by the fear-stoking right. The threats from Iran can only be neutralized by the United States, especially if the latter begins negotiations with Iran. Israel's only possible contribution would be to pull the rug out from under Iran by ending the occupation and forging peace with the Arab states. What would Iran say if Israel accepted the Arab initiative, withdrew from the Golan Heights and left the West Bank? Would it bomb Israel then? What for, and for whose sake?

This solution is possible, but it is not on the agenda of the fear-mongers. They want to perpetuate the danger because it serves their interest to do so. Even the lurking danger posed by Israel's Arab citizens can be met with a solution that the right wing is ignoring: the establishment of a regime based on equality and justice toward citizens to whom the state has been much less loyal than they to the state. We do not need loyalty tests from Israeli Arabs, we need to test the state's loyalty to them.

Netanyahu is rising to power for the second time. One could have expected him to do so this time in a different fashion. He sowed panic and, he says, his fear-mongering statements were proved to be correct after Israel did everything to ensure that his threats would be realized. Now we must demand an answer from the national fear-stoker and his mouthpieces in the press: What are you offering us besides fear? To bomb Iran and expel the Arabs? This, we can happily note, appears to be impossible.

So what is possible? There is no response. Because what would those who make threats do without their threats? They may very well be able to deal with Israel's real problems, like its moral self-image, its refusal to make peace and its socioeconomic difficulties. But this is not why Netanyahu was elected. He came to power on the wings of danger. Just don't try to clip his wings lest, God forbid, this stirs hope.