The debate over the state of Israeli democracy (or the rise of fascism) is code designed for lefty Zionists. Others don’t get it, and it may even do more harm than good. Some thoughts following Haaretz’s interview with Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell.
There has been growing discussion over the last few weeks regarding the risk of fascism in Israel and the dangers to Israeli democracy, most recently in an extensive interview by Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell in Haaretz. I hold Sternhell in high regard, and his book, The Birth of Fascist Ideology, is among the few required readings in my undergraduate degree I actually remember in some detail. But while this terminology may be of use to foreign observers trying to make sense of what is happening in Israel against the backdrop of their own historic experience, I have serious issues with the incessant talk about “fascism” and “democracy” in the current Israeli moment.
In fact, I think we should stop using the word “fascism” altogether. I know that the warnings about fascists and fascism sound very grave, but my feeling is that the word does not mean that much to anyone here. At best, it’s a sonorous warning against something general and obscure; more commonly, it’s simply isn’t scary enough.
It’s also a lousy base for political organization. Israel does not have a tradition of anti-fascism, like Greece or Germany. Maybe some of the Russian-speaking Israelis have anti-fascist consciousness, but if they do, it doesn’t seem the recent cries impress them overmuch. I just think that outside a very small circle, “fascism” is simply a code word used by one political camp. When it cries “fascism,” the Left just wants to say “help, I’m getting beaten up.” This is a legitimate statement, but there is no need to hide it behind generic terminology cribbed from an introductory political science class.
On a personal level, whenever I hear the word “fascism,” I see the European middle class – a kind of conservative bourgeoisie that goes berserk. This is why using this term to dub Israeli followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane – religious, messianic, hardly middle class – seems contrived. If anyone in Israel here reminds me...Read More