Important news from the new Israel, whose former reputation as a democracy is giving way to that of an authoritarian bunker. Israeli army radio did a program on the late leading poet of Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish, earlier this week, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the broadcast should not have happened. He likened Darwish to Hitler, and his writing to Mein Kampf.
The New York Times headlines the story: “Israeli Defense Minister Compares Beloved Palestinian Poet to Hitler.” James Glanz leads:
Israel’s ultranationalist defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, managed to offend both Palestinians and free-speech advocates on Thursday, comparing the Palestinians’ national poet to Adolf Hitler and threatening the independence of Israel’s Army Radio station.
The JTA report in the Forward says Lieberman made the comparison in a meeting with the head of the army radio:
“By that logic, the complete legacy of the Mufti al-Husseini or the literary merits of ‘Mein Kampf’ could also have been included,” the defense chief said.
Al-Monitor’s report rightly focuses on on the repressive Israeli political environment:
Zionist Camp Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich . . . slammed Liberman’s reaction on Facebook, calling it “a step that can only be defined as characterizing fascist regimes.”
The rightwingers inside the Netanyahu coalition found it outrageous that Darwish would ever be on Army radio.
The Darwish storm broke following a Facebook post by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. Regev wrote that she was shocked that Army Radio had featured the work of the Palestinian national poet. “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] radio station has gone off the rails,” she said, and quoted a section of “Identity Card,” which was featured on the program. In his famous poem, written in 1964, Darwish wrote, “I do not hate people. I steal from no one. However, if I am hungry I will eat the flesh of my usurper. Beware, beware of my hunger and of my anger . . .”
The outrage over Darwish’s poem joins the ongoing perversion of anything rejected by the worldview of the right-wing regime in Israel, including educational and cultural issues and basic historical concepts.
There are many examples of this erosion, from the rewriting of the civics textbook for Israeli pupils by Naftali Bennett’s Education Ministry, to Regev’s brutal assaults on cultural and artistic institutions and her demand that these establishments declare their loyalty to Israel or face budgetary cutbacks and culminating in attacks by right-wing ministers on Israeli media outlets and their “encouragement” to adopt the Israeli narrative and work to strengthen Israel’s Jewish heritage.
That’s the context. But the New York Times doesn’t delve into these fascistic trends; although it does report Netanyahu’s greatest incitement, saying that Hitler got the idea for the Final Solution from a Palestinian leader, and does note that the Israeli attorney general phoned Lieberman “to remind him he has no authority to intervene in Army Radio’s programming,” according to Haaretz.
The backstory here is a battle over tolerance inside the Israeli establishment. Lieberman’s predecessor Moshe Ya’alon quit the Defense Ministry job, saying fascism was on the rise in Israel. He did so after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked him to walk back the comments by the deputy chief of staff of the army that Israeli political culture is getting to be reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The deputy chief of staff made those comments in the wake of an Israeli cabinet meeting in which Israeli leaders including Netanyahu embraced a medic who had murdered an incapacitated Palestinian on the street inside the occupation — an action supported by Israeli Jews in polls. Israeli army radio is clearly taking a role in that battle over Israel’s future, by highlighting a great Palestinian’s work in a gesture of tolerance; but the Times doesn’t want to cover this crisis.
As author Lillian Rosengarten observes, an ideology of Zionism is fostering fascism, “and the silence is deafening.”
The incoming Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times, Peter Baker, tripped up in tweeting his colleague Glanz’s story.
That led one of us to challenge Baker. Where’s the “debate?” North asked.
Baker amended his statement. Good for him.
P.S. This controversy highlights another issue for the incoming bureau chief. James Glanz quotes Yossi Klein Halevi as some kind of dispassionate observer of the Israeli scene, slamming Darwish as intolerant and merely faulting Lieberman for being out of step with the latest lingo. “Indulging in Holocaust rhetoric belongs to an earlier era of Israeli political discourse and reveals an anachronistic way of thinking that’s out of step with contemporary Israeli discourse.” Quoting Halevi as a balanced guru is a Times tradition. Peter Baker’s predecessor, Jodi Rudoren, extolled Halevi as the guide to the psyche of Israel, recommending his book on the heroes of the Six Day War to readers at NY’s Jewish Community Center and to her in-laws. Halevi should not be a touchstone for liberals. He is an ardent Zionist and an occupier; he lives in a settlement in East Jerusalem; he describes Hamas as an “existential threat” to Jewish Israel; he justified Israel’s massacres in Gaza; and he has called for French Jews to come “home” to Israel.