The Divergent Faces of Israel

Last month Amira Hass, one of Israel’s best, bravest and most disliked journalists wrote a short piece in Haaretz entitled “When ‘fascist’ is not a rude word.” Here she tells us that “in fascist regimes the state is above all” and then notes that the sort of fascist style bills pouring out of Israel’s Knesset would “make Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter [the leaders of the far right party of France] look like amateurs.”

Could this be so? Could that singular country which, for 64 years made every effort to show but one face to the American public, the face of a Dr. Jekyl, be hiding the hideous features of a Mr. Hyde?

Could it be that the “only democracy in the Middle East,” the friend and ally that allegedly reflects American values, the mighty dam protecting the West from the flood of Islamic radicalism, the supposed champion of “gender equality” in the patriarchal East, and the reliable, if indirect, source of financial support for 99% of the U.S. Congress, is morphing into a fascist state?

Deeply indoctrinated Americans are going to need more than Amira Hass’s word on this. They are going to need supporting evidence, and so here are some other experts they might consult.

Your average pro-Israel Americans might look up Danny Danon, who is a good looking, clean shaven sort of fellow as well as a Likud Party member of the Israeli Knesset. Danon has been working very hard to pass laws that would root out all those who might not be loyal to his Jewish state.

It seems that, in his efforts to be “just like us,” he is following in the footsteps of Senator Joe McCarthy. One can hear the echo when Danon proclaims, “there are many people who act against the State that protects them. Anyone who is not faithful to the State should not be a citizen.” He mainly has in mind that quarter of the population who are not Jewish, but he would also throw into this category those Israeli Jews audacious enough to stand up for political equality for all citizens.

In other words, Danon’s aim is to manufacture statelessness. And as both 20th century European history and Israel’s 45 years in the Occupied Territories attests, statelessness is a one-way road to physical and cultural destruction.

When our figurative American supporters of Israel are done talking to Danny Danon, they might move on to consult Benni Katzover. Katzover is a major figure in the Israeli settler movement and a supporter of the terrorist activities of the Zionist “price tag” campaign, a bunch of “patriots” who attack Palestinians and Israeli peace groups whenever the government frustrates their helter skelter expansionist activities on the West Bank.

Katzover may well have the same ends as Danon, but he is much more out front about them. “I would say that today, Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.”

All those leftists who find this proposal frightening are just “against anything that smells of holiness, and…act against the foundations of Jewish faith.” One wonders what American Zionists who see Sharia law undermining the foundations of democracy make of Benni Katzover?

While estimates vary, it is not unreasonable to assume that Danny Danon and Benni Katzover together command the support of at least 25% of the Israeli Jewish population. Otherwise the Israeli Knesset would not look and act as it does and the settler movement would not be so openly aggressive.

And this category of Israelis are nothing if not aggressive. According to a recent survey the Danon-Katzover types are mostly young and express their opinions in an “open and unabashed” racist way. They express open hatred for Arabs and a wish that those under Israeli control would die.

Part II – Jewish Humanism

Of course, there are other Israelis who represent the opposite point of view. Thus, our figurative American supporters of Israel might also want to interview some of them. First they should look up Uri Avnery. Avnery is a founding member of Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc. Avnery has solid Israeli credentials: he was a heroic fighter in the 1948 war, a well known journalist and a distinguished past member of the Knesset.

However, he has also always asserted that Israel evolved along the wrong path. It should not be a “nationalistic, theocratic ‘Jewish State’” but rather a “modern, liberal state belonging to all its citizens irrespective of national or religious roots.” This position earned him a lot of enemies including Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and his successor Golda Meir. Both considered Avnery a “public enemy.”

Subsequently there was an assassination attempt and the office of his newspaper, Haolam Hazeh, was bombed. Avnery is a shining light of humanism in Israel’s dark corner, but he is not the only one.

After talking to Avnery our figurative inquirers should move on to Rabbi Arek Ascherman, the Director of Special Projects for Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. Ascherman’s position is that the only legitimate way you can have Israel be a Jewish place is by having its institutions uphold Jewish values.

For Ascherman that means getting in the way, as best one can, of the “ugly side” of Israeli behavior and policies: standing against the house demolitions, land confiscations, settler encroachments, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and killings of Palestinians, etc. For his efforts Ascherman and his organization have suffered the same sort of attacks as has Avnery. Asherman’s car has been stoned (by Israelis), he has been arrested and beaten up. His fate reminds one of the treatment received by Civil Rights workers in the 1960s U.S.- another way Israel is “just like us.”

Avnery and Ascherman are drops in a very shallow bucket.  They and the other Israeli Jewish men and women who fight for human decency in the a country falsely rumored to be “a light unto the nations” probably command the support of, at most, 15% of the Israeli Jewish population.

Part III – The Indifferent

And what of the rest of Israel’s Jews? Well the survey mentioned above found that the other 60% are indifferent to the Palestinians, but in a generally negative way.

For instance, many in this category (up to 46%) “would not be willing to live next door to them.” It is actually the negatively tinged indifference of this majority of Israeli Jews that allows the more assertive and aggressive 25% to gain power and assure the country’s status as a truly apartheid state.

In turn, the 15 % that may support Avnery and Ascherman become social mistakes within the Israeli milieu. They have somehow escaped the full impact of Zionist education and ideology. They have somehow broken free of the conformist pressures of family, community, army and media propaganda. And, having done so, collectively become a fringe element.

Part IV – Conclusion

It is strange,  all countries have such self-aware and active humanists and all of them probably have these people in the same relative proportion–about 15%. This is just large enough to remind us of what good humanity is capable of, but just too small to help us realize that good.


Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history. –

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