For years, Israel and its powerful lobby in the US and Europe have presented the Jewish state as the model of democracy in a region typically referred to as “anti-democratic.” Naturally, many pro-Palestine activists, among countless others, have long argued that the central principles of Israel’s Jewish supremacist ideology, its legal structure, and its society broadly represent anything but democracy.
Such voices have correctly noted that Israel’s policies and very essence run counter to the traits traditionally associated with democracy: the rule of law, respect for minorities, and protection of civil and human rights. While no objective analyst could reasonably dismiss those important points, recent developments in Israeli politics do point to a disturbing, and painfully ironic, trend: Israel’s loving embrace of outright fascism is, to a large degree, an expression of its democracy.
The Government and the People’s Will
When Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud Party won a landslide reelection victory in March 2015, many Israelis, and activists and analysts around the world, were understandably disturbed by what this development portended for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the future of the entire region. Although many had predicted a defeat for Likud, the elections resulted in a landslide victory for Netanyahu’s right wing party.
While the reasons for Likud’s victory are obviously myriad, one of the decisive factors was Netanyahu’s resorting to racist scaremongering in order to drive the ultra-right wing fascist base to the polls. In a widely disseminated Facebook post, Netanyahu warned of “Arab voters…coming out in droves to the polls.” Although Netanyahu claimed he was simply mobilizing his base, the obvious fact, self-evident to even the most naïve political amateur, was that the Netanyahu was resorting to and exploiting the anti-Arab racist views deeply held by the bulk of Israeli society. And it worked. The elections boasted a 72.3 percent voter turnout, the highest since 1999.
But there were still some right wing apologists who, despite Netanyahu’s inflammatory rhetoric, chalked it up to electioneering, and not a reflection of the fundamental shift to the extreme right in Israeli politics. “Sure Netanyahu vowed that there would be no two-state solution,” the apologist narrative goes, “but he was just playing politics; he’ll still take part in negotiations.” Or the notion that Netanyahu would not support the extreme “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” bill which would essentially codify in Israeli law Arabs as second class citizens by reducing Arabic from an official language to a second-class one, preserving only Jewish symbols as state symbols, and granting freedom of immigration and citizenship only to Jews, among other things. The apologists would say “See, Netanyahu wants a more moderate version of the bill. He’s not a racist, nor does he pander to the fascist elements in his government and in Israel generally.”
But these are utter obfuscations, belying the fact that more than pandering to a fascist extreme fringe, Netanyahu and Likud reflect the popular will of much of Israel; they are, in effect, the will of the people. For, a close analysis of Israeli reactions to the draconian “Jewish nation-state” bill illustrate unequivocally that such racist legislation, in one form or another, is supported by a broad cross-section of Israelis, from the moderate left to the extreme right. And this is precisely the point. Far from being extremist, Netanyahu and Likud represent a “moderate” position in Israel, and show clearly the democratic character of an ethno-nationalist, fascistic state.
The Ascendancy of the Extremists
With the appointment this week of Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party to the post of “Justice Minister,” the political landscape of Israel has taken a still further leap to the right, and towards an open embrace of the policy of overt, unabashed genocide against the Palestinians. This is no hyperbole, as Shaked is notorious for her open promotion of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the people of Gaza, and Palestinians generally.
In an infamous public Facebook post at the height of Israel’s criminal war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, Shaked wrote:
The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war…It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority…This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people… What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? Every war is between two peoples, and in every war the people who started the war, that whole people, is the enemy… Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs… They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.
Such rhetoric, with all the attendant dehumanization, is reminiscent of any number of fascist ideologies, from German Nazism of the 1930s to the contemporary Ukrainian politics of Right Sector and Azov Battalion. The notion of “total war” against an entire people, including non-combatant women and children, is really beyond simple war propaganda, it is the advocacy of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
And this is exactly the point, namely that ethnic cleansing as both a concept and military objective has become the political currency of modern Israel. With potentially supra-legislative, quasi-constitutional laws such as the “Jewish nation-state” bill, the erasing of Palestinian and Arab identity from modern Israel’s political and cultural body will become enshrined in policy and practice. The effective creation of a single ethno-nationalist state of, by, and for Jews only is the obvious goal.
Certainly one is reminded of the phrase “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (one people, one empire, one leader), or the recent marches in Ukraine where attendees chanted “One race, one nation, one homeland.” The similarity between these ghastly slogans and political expressions, and the ideology of Shaked is striking. Indeed, she has demonstrated an affinity for Ukraine’s current fascist political character, showing solidarity for the US-backed Nazis and oligarchs in a number of Facebook posts. For Shaked, the Arabs are sub-humans, just as Russians are for Ukrainian Nazis of Right Sector, Azov Battalion, Svoboda, and other groups. The continuity of these outlooks is striking to say the least.
But again, the point must be reiterated that Shaked, like the Jewish Nazis of the Otzma Leyisrael party – avowed followers of the fascist Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League – represents a very popular perspective in Israel. It is false to claim that Israel is anti-democratic because of the presence of such degenerate extremists in the halls of power. If anything, Israel’s democracy has become more apparent, as the extremist socio-cultural sentiment is now reflected even more strikingly in the political institutions. It is clearly a democracy, but only for Jews. And this is the salient point.
For these reasons, no one should be surprised by the vicious attacks against Palestinians in the occupied territories, or Arab Israelis within Israel. So too they should not be astonished by racist attacks on African migrants. The worldwide condemnation of Israel’s heavy-handed assault on Ethiopian Jews recently only further illustrates the point.
But here one additional point must be added. The Israeli establishment is not only perpetuating a Jewish supremacist ideology, it is inherently racist and white supremacist as well. For, as the case of the beating of the Ethiopian Jewish soldier and demonstrators shows, even a Jew can be treated as an animal, if his skin is dark. For the black Jew is closer to the Arab than the “Israeli” in the minds of so many in Israel.
Perhaps it might be time to stop calling for Israel to respect democracy and the democratic rights of Arabs, Palestinians, and Africans alike. Perhaps it is high time that those around the world who reject the racist, ethno-nationalist ideology of Israel come to realize that there already is democracy in Israel; that the will of the majority is, in fact, being carried out.
And perhaps this is why the entire Jewish supremacist project is what must be rejected, not simply its political veneer. One nation for all the people, not just the Jewish ones.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.