Israel / Occupied Palestine: Culture, Race, and National Destiny between the River and the Sea
By Yossi Schwarz, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), 2.2.2016, http://www.the-isleague.com/
Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, recently submitted a bill to the Knesset's Education Committee entitled “loyalty in culture.” (1) If passed, this legislation will change the way the ministry of which she is currently in charge supports cultural institutions, denying any state funding to persons or groups who allegedly attack or disgrace the national flag or other state symbols, incite racism, violence or terrorism, mark Independence Day as a day of mourning, or deny Israel’s status as a “Jewish and democratic state.” (2)
À propos racism
Ironically, perhaps, the degree to which the Israeli state objects to racism was recently revealed once again when the “director of communications for the Likud, Eli Hazan, … invited a senior member of Austria's far-right Freedom Party on an official Knesset visit.”
The Freedom Party is a far-right, populist, anti-immigrant party. According to the American Arch-Zionist Anti-Defamation League:
“Its previous leader Joerg Haider is known for his dubious statements about Jews and his praise of Nazism. Joerg Haider was born in 1950 in Upper Austria to parents with direct links to the Nazis. His father joined the Hitler Youth in 1929 and the Nazi SA storm troops a year later. The senior Haider reportedly traveled to Munich with Adolf Eichmann and Alois Brunner in 1933 as a member of the Austrian legion. Haider's mother belonged to the Nazi Party’s League of German Girls. When asked to comment on his parents' wartime activities, Haider remarked: “In retrospect one is always wiser. As a descendant, one should not be so arrogant as to say, ‘I would have known better.’” (3)
By the way, the very same senior member of the Freedom Party, David Lasar, who was invited to visit the Knesset by Eli Hazan also happens to be “on a[n Israeli] Ministry of Foreign Affairs blacklist.”(4)
Banned in Tel Aviv: the threat of miscegenation
That being as it may, clearly, in Regev’s mind at least, state sponsored “culture” should be nothing more than right wing propaganda directed against the Palestinians and the memory of the Nakba. Such a vision is also in line with the intent of the present government’s Minister of Education, Naftali Benet, who on December 28th, declared in the Knesset that “The time has come to say Israel is ours… To go from strategic defence to a process of initiating the implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the territories under Israeli control in Judea and Samaria.”
Indeed, the same minister recently banned an Israeli novel from the high school curriculum, Gader Haya (literally “Hedgerow” but titled in its English translation as Borderlife) by Orit Rabinyan. The book tells the story of a love affair between and Jewish Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. According to Haaretz:
“Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s Gader Haya … is the need to maintain what was referred to as ‘the identity and the heritage of students in every sector’ and the belief that ‘intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.’ The Education Ministry also expressed concern that ‘young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation.’” (5)
So it would seem that the Ministry of Education is determined to create its own index libririum prohibitum of books and plays which are strictly forbidden to be taught in schools.
Noteworthy is the fact that, after the initial international outcry, the official reasoning for banning the book was modified to its “spreading lies about IDF soldiers.” Furthermore, Rabinyan’s book does not actually promote ethnically mixed relationships, seeing how, at the book’s end, the relationship between the main protagonists doesn’t work out, and Rabinyan is on even on record as opposing mixed marriages (because they lead to “assimilation,” a term with long-time Jewish religious connotations). (6) Rather, like the case of Adam Verde – a liberal Zionist civics teacher who was almost fired for saying that Israel's army is not the most moral in the world – or that of Breaking the Silence – an organization of former Israeli soldiers which records testimonies of soldiers serving in the occupied Palestinian territories, but who nevertheless remain loyal to both the Zionist army and state – these are hardly radical statements and should not be portrayed as such, which is exactly what many “leftist Zionists” and segments of the semi-Zionist left in Israel tend to do. However, these voices should still have our support when they are attacked because such attacks are part of a broad rightward shift in Israeli public opinion, and staying neutral would mean supporting the dominant force.
Ostensibly everything is only relative – Indeed?
The measures in Israel pale in comparison to the ones taken in the West Bank: regular curfews; the newly introduced numbering system in Hebron; a ban on entry of Palestinians into settlements where they work and general ban on Palestinian workers walking in industrial areas in the West Bank; the storming of the Beir Zeit and Al-Quds universities; the closing of newspapers and radio station; the military arrest of journalist critical of the Palestinian Authority; and so on.
However, Israel’s role in repression takes place not just in Occupied Palestine, or even only in the Middle East, but worldwide as Israel seeks to censor the internet worldwide and does good business exporting surveillance drones and other “security” technology to repressive governments and regimes around the globe. (7)
Has Israel become a fascist state?
The Netanyahu government is using the despair of the Palestinian youth to push the Israeli public further to the right. At the same time, the useless official opposition led by Zionist Union leader Issac Herzog has joined the incitement, having said last Wednesday that the two-state solution is not a realistic option in the near future. “I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution,” he told Army Radio. “I want to yearn for it, I want to move towards it, I want negotiations, I will sign off on it, and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of implementing it right now.” (8)
Not that a two-state solution has ever been one that could end the oppression of the Palestinians; nor has it ever really been the policy of any of the Israeli governments; but Herzog’s position at this conjuncture simply reveals how useless the Zionist Union opposition is. Instead of blaming the government for the despair of the Palestinian youth, a hopelessness that drives them to attack with knives mostly settlers, police, and soldiers, the head of the opposition joins the anti-Palestinian chorus.
Even UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon understands that it is only “human nature to react to occupation,” leading, of course, to his condemnation by the Israeli government as just another Anti-Semite.
Israel is clearly moving in the direction of a right-wing populist autocratic regime. However, it is popular among Palestinians and some left-wing circles in Israel and among liberal Jews outside the country to speak of the current government as being fascistic.
For example the Journalist Khalid Amayreh, a veteran Palestinian journalist and political affairs commentator living in Occupied Palestine, wrote:
“From a third-party perspective, e.g., a Palestinian viewpoint, and in light of the composition of the new coalition, we can assume that the next Israeli government will be the most fascist, most extremist, most pugnacious and most anti-peace government in the Jewish state's history.” (9)
Richard Silberstein of Tikun Olam published an article on November 25, 2014 entitled “Israel and the Rise of Judeo-Fascism” in which the author contends that the racist laws of Israel under [previous Netanyahu] government makes it a type of fascism or at least on the road to fascism. (10)
Following Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, Israel Prize laureate and renowned scholar Zeev Sternhell stated in an interview with Haaretz:
“As I say, there are worse things than fascism. You don’t need that exact definition. For example, people say that if there isn’t a one-party regime, it’s not fascism. That’s nonsense. A party is a means for achieving power, not a means of rule in itself. What needs to be examined in this context is the resilience of the democracy – and Israeli democracy has become increasingly eroded, until it reached a new nadir in the current war. The indicators [of fascism] you asked about definitely exist here.” (11)
The Marxist point of view on Fascism and Bonapartism
While we understand and have sympathy with those who say that Israel is moving in the direction of fascism, the problem with such a position is the inherent misunderstanding of what fascism is and, at the same time, a misunderstanding of the nature of the Israeli Apartheid state. The Zionist ruling class of Israel does not need fascism because fascism is a mass movement of the petit bourgeoisie aimed at the destruction of the working class organizations and the atomization of the working class, and is motivated out of fear of a socialist revolution.
However, in Israel most of the Jewish workers support the racist policies and laws of the right-wing government, and therefore are justifiably not perceived either as a threat to capitalism or to the Zionist regime. The gradual rightward shift of Israel society is not against the Jewish working class but against the oppressed Palestinians. The situation is similar to the Nationalist party policies during the Apartheid regime in South Africa. While the latter was an oppressive racist regime, it was not fascist, as most white workers supported the Apartheid regime.
In fact, Israel is not moving in the direction of fascism but rather right wing populism with an element of Bonapartism. Leon Trotsky dealt with the difference between Bonapartism and fascism in his 1934 Article “Bonapartism and Fascism.” (12) There he wrote that in times of acute crises all kinds of transitional, intermediate situations and combinations arise. For those who simply employ formal logic, the regimes of Primo de Rivera, Mussolini, Chiang Kai-shek, Masaryk, Brüning, Dollfuss, Pilsudski, and the Serbian King Alexander were all seemingly forms of fascism. What escapes the authors of such evaluations is that between parliamentary democracy and a fascist regime, there exists a series of transitional forms. Sometimes these regimes take power “peacefully.” At other times, they do so by means of civil war. Prior to Hitler’s rise to power, the Brüning, Papen, and Schleicher governments in Germany represented examples of the first stage from parliamentarism to Bonapartism, a stage which is characterized by the machine of parliamentarism having lost all importance.
Moving towards right-wing autocratic populism and military-police dictatorship
From the perspective of class relations in Jewish Israeli society, Netanyahu’s government is moving “peacefully” in the direction of right-wing autocratic populism. It cleverly and maliciously exploits the desperate blind attacks by Palestinian youth who are reacting to the endless Zionist oppression, the only reality they have ever known. For its part, the government remains aloof above the meaningless parliamentary dialogue lacking in any serious opposition from the Zionist Union, which only manages to stoop and criticize the government from the right. However, this government is not, and cannot, be suspended in mid-air. Like anything else in this world, it is subject to historical movement. And the axis along which the present government will move passes through the police, the bureaucracy, and the military clique which are supported by most Jews in Israel. Therefore, what we are going to be confronted with in Israel is not a fascistic form of rule, but rather a military-police dictatorship.
What we see is not classic Bonapartism which is transitional form of a “strong” government that seems to stand above the working class and the bourgeoisie, between parliamentary democracy and fascism, based on military force in a period when capitalist class rule is not secure. In Israel what we see is a government that is based on the Jewish lower middle class and sections of the Jewish workers in support of Israel as an open apartheid with no pretentions of being a bourgeois democracy, one that will steal more lands and properties from the Palestinians and transfer part of it to their own pockets. The economic roots of the upper middle class Jews are based in the 1948 dispossession of the Palestinians; the right wing movement of today wants the same for itself from the loot of 1967. This right wing movement sees the upper middle class, its liberal Zionist culture and its two-state program as an obstacle to their aspirations to improve their own conditions by dispossessing the Palestinians. Thus the “class struggle” we witness is not between the working class and the capitalist class but between the lower middle class and the upper middle class. The only way out of it for those Jews who do not want open apartheid is to completely break with Zionism and join the Palestinians in a struggle for a democratic and red Palestine.
(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miri_Regev: Miri Regev, currently Minister of Culture and Sport, began serving as the IDF Spokesperson's representative in the Israeli Southern Command. Regev was promoted to a Colonel rank for the position of Deputy IDF Spokesperson in 2002. In 2003, she was appointed coordinator of the national public relations efforts at the Israeli Prime Minister's Office in preparation for the Iraq War. After a short stint (2004–2005) as the Chief Press and Media Censor, she was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and to the position of IDF Spokesperson in 2005. She served in this position during Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the 2006 Lebanon War.
(2) Moran Azulai Regev to submit culture bill - no loyalty, no funding, Ynet 26/1/2016 http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4758047,00.html
(5) Or Kastti Israel Bans Novel on Arab-Jewish Romance from Schools for threatening Jewish Identity, December 31, 2015, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.69462
(8) Raoul Wootliff: Herzog: For now, two-state solution unrealistic, The Times of Israel, January 20, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/herzog-for-now-two-state-solution-unrealistic/
(9) Khalid Amayreh: Israel's new government: Fascist par excellence, http://english.palinfo.com/site/pages/details.aspx?itemid=71581
(10) Richard Silverstein: Israel and the Rise of Judeo-Fascism, http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2014/11/25/i November 25, 2014
(11) Signs of Fascism in Israel Reached New Peak During Gaza Op, Says Renowned Scholar Zeev Sternhell, August 13, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.610368
(12) New International, Vol.1 No.2, August 1934, pp.37-38, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/ni/issue.htm#ni34_08