Is Israel cracking up? There have been more and more reports in recent days that suggest the political culture is going crazy; and that there’s nothing to hold that craziness down.
There was that argument in the Knesset in which a Palestinian parliamentarian was dragged out after calling Moshe Feiglin a “fascist.” There’s that Avigdor Lieberman “peace plan” that has just one idea: pay Palestinians to leave Israel. And that from the country’s Foreign Minister! There’s the prime minister’s bill to bar the Palestinian flag as an “enemy” flag at demonstrations and deport Palestinian Israelis accused of crimes to Gaza. There’s the new bill to declare Israel the “nation state of the Jewish people,” which would demote Arabic from being an official language so that the 20 percent non-Jewish population don’t get any ideas that this is their country, too. The bill would formally define Israel as “belonging to Jews around the world” and “make ‘Jewish tradition’ and ‘the prophets of Israel’ a primary source of legal and judicial authority” (per Jonathan Cook).
The bill has already borne fruit. There was a bookburning at a bilingual school in Jerusalem two nights ago. And warnings of more bookburnings from a leftwing graffiti artist: “In a place where nation-state laws are passed, books will be burned.”
The fascism allegations are going in both directions. Several leading politicians who oppose that bill were pictured on Facebook wearing Nazi outfits. The Times of Israel reports that the minister of public security has demanded an investigation of the satire, because it crosses a line:
Fabricated images of the president of Israel, top ministers and the police chief dressed in Nazi uniforms were published on the Internet on Sunday as a protest against their objection to a controversial bill that defines Israel as a Jewish state…
A caption accompanying the montage called them, “The anti-Semites who oppose a Jewish state in the land of Israel.”
According to information in the Facebook account profile, “Zoabi” is a resident of Tel Aviv and a graduate of Tel Aviv University, and claims to be employed by the IDF.
And here’s another fearful report. Singer Amir Benayoum released a shockingly racist song called Ahmed Loves Israel, which says that Palestinian Israelis are just waiting to stab Jews in the back. Rogel Alpher in Haaretz writes that Israelis shouldn’t be shocked by it: “A Racist Society Composes Racist Songs.” Here are some of the hateful lyrics, thanks to Uri Avnery.
Today I am moderate and smiling
Tomorrow I shall ascend to heaven
I shall send to hell a Jew or two
It’s true that I am just ungrateful scum
But I am not to blame, I grew up without love
The moment will come when you turn your back to me
And then I shall stick into you the sharpened axe.
When I was in Israel last month, I went to a demonstration at which 50 rightwing Jewish demonstrators shouted “B’Tselem is Hamas” — equating a human rights organization with the Palestinian Islamic political force — and at which a young man explained calmly/angrily to me that he is a Jew before he is a human being (minute 4 at the link). Being familiar with American political culture, I wanted to believe the demo was a bunch of knuckleheads; but it had ministerial support, as Angela Godfrey-Goldstein explained to me (she’s the blonde woman wearing glasses who’s in the video, a human rights worker), and a lot of folks trying to attend the B’Tselem exhibit were harassed/threatened. Dan Cohen reported from that event that the rightwingers accused the human-rights advocates of being Nazis and threatened to make “soap” out of them.
At another rightwing demonstration, I interviewed three Israeli-American Zionists with a bad case of Jerusalem syndrome: they want to destroy the Muslim sites in the Old City and replace them with a Jewish temple. Just a few knuckleheads? As Allison Deger has reported, they have the support of government ministers. “Netanyahu appears to have adopted a political strategy of intentionally aggravating relations between the state and the Palestinian minority, in part, it seems, to position himself as the true champion of an Israeli public moving ever further to the right,” Jonathan Cook says.
In short, Israel’s leaders are catering to knuckleheads and crazies because there’s a political payoff. Max Blumenthal saw/predicted a lot of this with his book of a year ago that the mainstream has done its best to ignore. Now at last the global community is frightened by this trend; the New York Times says Netanyahu’s initiative is “heartbreaking” for those who believe in Israeli democracy. You don’t have to be such a romantic to recognize that the political culture in Israel is going nuts; and that a lot of this craziness is the natural result of enfranchising one ethnic/religious group and disenfranchising another.