Israel’s right-wing future
|Wednesday, January 19,2011 21:38|
|By Lawrence Davidson|
Zeev Sternhell is an Israeli historian and a recognized expert on fascism. He is also an occasional contributor to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. On 14 January 2011 he published a piece originally titled "The Right To Resist". One never knows about the titles of newspaper pieces, whether they are penned by the author or a sub-editor, but in this case the title did capture the flavour of the writer’s intent. However, by 15 January the title’s connotations proved too much for someone at Haaretz and the piece has now been renamed, "Gov’t Protects the People, Not the Other Way Around".
Odour of fascism
However you want to title it, Sternhell’s message is clear. He is very concerned about Israel’s right wing government. He thinks the present regime is controlled by dangerous people such as Avigdor Lieberman (the present foreign minister) and a Knesset full of folks who believe that the Israeli "left" are traitors. The present rulers are also the patrons of Israel’s settler movement which Sternhell has always strongly opposed (his house was bombed by these fanatics back in 2008). In other words, as a expert on fascism, he knows it when he sees it, and what he presently sees in Jerusalem at least has intimations of that sort of authoritarianism. The latest intimation is the desire of the Knesset, seconded by Lieberman, to intimidate human rights organizations such as B’Tselem into silence by investigating their sources of foreign income. The suggestion here is that these organizations are linked to a foreign cabal seeking the "delegitimization" of Israel and you can allegedly demonstrate this by following the money trail.
“When the government breaks the social contract, the citizen has the right to resist”
Sternhell’s position is right out of 17th century British philosopher John Locke’s social contract theory. The bond between citizen and government is contractual. The government’s obligation under the contract is to protect the citizens life, liberty and property. It is the liberty part that Sternhell is suggesting the Knesset is undermining (he makes no mention of the stolen property of Arab-Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories). According to Locke, and Sternhell too, when the government breaks the social contract, the citizen has the right to resist.
”You see, Zionism really is racism”
A real problem for Sternhell is that Avigdor Lieberman and his Knesset proteges are more representative of Israel than either he or liberal journalist Gideon Levy. Indeed, not just the traditional "left", but those who fancy themselves as "liberals", are just about done for in Israel. Some of them know it and are packing their bags to leave. This process has been building for a long time and it makes perfect sense. You see, Zionism really is racism.
1. Zionism is a political ideology dedicated to the creation of a state for one select group (A).
There is a certain logic to this process and it is hard to see how such a project as Zionism could have played itself out differently. The truth is that the process toward an Israeli-style fascism did not begin (as Sternhell believes) with1967 and the taking of the occupied territories. It did not even begin in 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. It began with the very inception of Zionism.
You just cannot conceive a state for one religiously or racially defined group, and implement it amidst a population of "others", and not end up with an authoritarian discriminatory society. You can, of course, kill or chase away all the others and then, in your homogeneous solitude, act like you are a democracy.
However, in the post-World War II, post-Holocaust world, this strategy is totally anachronistic and it will fool almost no one on the outside. And, it can only be carried forward by a band of fanatics who don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of them. If you are one of the few on the inside who decides to criticize the process, the fanatics will turn on you with a vengeance. After all, there is nothing worse than a traitor to the sacred cause.
This is exactly the present situation in today’s Israel.