Israeli "Meretz" leader warns against growing signs of Israeli "fascism"

Meretz’ leader in Israel is warning that the path to Israeli fascism is now being walked by important elements of the Israeli establishment, and that conscious steps must be taken to stop this journey to disaster.

Meretz in Israel is not given to shouting and screaming. It is a Zionist political party of the Left which is so much within the national consensus that it hesitated to criticize the invasion of Gaza a year ago, So it is especially important to pay attention when it warns that Israeli society is walking toward fascism.

That warnining comes at the saame moment as Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s warning against slanderous attacks by the right and even center-right against the New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights, and other independent Israeli voices. (Ascherman is diretor of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. See his letter at

Arik's letter, and the Meretz statement, do not include other dangerous signs — especially a campaign by the Israeli government to silence non-governmental organizations in Israel, which for most democratic societies are the wellspring of freedom. There is a campaign under way to stop European Union financial contributions to Israeli NGO’s, and the israeli government has started denying work permits to non-Israeli staff of NGO’s.

Strangle the roots of free discussion, and what you get is a society that is not free.

What follows is a comment and a translation by Ron Skolnik, Executive Director of Meretz USA, of the essay by Haim Doron, Member of Knesset and chair of Meretz.

"Meretz chair Haim Oron [affectionately known as "Jumas" or "Jumes"] has published an op-ed in Maariv, "Before Fascism Strikes," in which he offers a dire and uncharacteristically passionate warning about an Israel that is lurching towards fascism.

"Although a longtime leftist, Jumes has never been populist in his rhetoric. He’s never been one for hyperbolic or demagogic statements. He’s Israel’s “salt of the earth”–a "dyed-in-the-wool" Zionist–a patriot, if you will. Some have criticized him for even being too cautious in his criticism of government policy (e.g., last year’s Gaza war).

"So when Jumes warns that fascism is on Israel’s doorstep, it shouldn’t be taken lightly, or seen as the words of a politician scoring political points. That’s not his way. If Oron is writing this way, then he’s telling us that “this is not a drill”, or a bad dream or idle talk. The danger, he’s telling us, is very real. And it's time to wake up before disaster strikes.

The original in Hebrew can be found here. .My translation of the article is below:

Ron Skolnik, Executive Director, Meretz USA
114 West 26th St., Suite 1002, New York, NY 10001-6812
(212) 242-4500

Before Fascism strikes
By MK Haim Oron,
Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fascism is at Israel's doorstep

Self-styled patriots set out on a malicious campaign against the New Israel Fund and its leader, Prof. Naomi Chazan. Ironically, their thuggish campaign draws its graphic inspiration from the worst anti-Semitic propagandists. And maybe it’s not so surprising that both have a common denominator, since hatred is hatred, racism is racism, and fascism is fascism, whether it’s directed against Jews by the haters of Israel, or whether it’s directed by Jewish racists against the objects of their hatred.

Through sophisticated PR and – more worrisome – by virtue of non-investigative journalism, the “Im Tirtzu” campaign was presented as a mainstream initiative of a “centrist extra-parliamentary movement,” being led by “a secular guy from Ramat Sharon who’s in hi-tech” (according to the Maariv report), and which professes to be, “uninterested in the politics of left and right” (according to the Jerusalem Post). A real boy next door.

A 15-minute internet search reveals a completely different story, of course. This campaign is being financed by a combination of lunatic Christians who believe that Hitler was sent by God to help bring the Jews to the Land of Israel (“Christians United for Israel”, led by Pastor John Hagee) and right-wing Israeli fanatics who serve as a pipeline for contributions to Nadia Matar and her friends [of “Women in Green” – R.S.] as well as for the purchase of weapons (!) for the most extreme extremists in the settlements (the “Central Fund of Israel”, based in New York and in the settlement of Efrat).

What’s all the fuss about? About the fact that Israelis dared to publish reports and to relay information that contains some criticism of Israel. There isn’t one Western democracy in which opposition groups don’t march proudly in the streets and attack the way their government is doing things – even during times of war. In mass rallies on the streets of New York during the war in Iraq, banners were held condemning Bush and Cheney that in Israel would immediately bring about arrests and criminal charges.

I personally do not accept every single thing that was written in the publications issued by the organizations that submitted an opinion to the Goldstone committee. I agree strongly with parts, while other parts, I believe, are one-sided. But the thought that the ‘reward’ for expressing a reasoned and considered opinion, backed by research, could be a campaign like this, and that the campaign would be embraced by the mainstream of the Israeli media, is sickening.

We’re losing touch with the enlightened world

If this were a one-time incident, and if the media were to make clear to all that Im Tirtzu is a lunatic partner of the Hilltop Youth, we could make do with relating to the campaign itself. But with sadness, and I’d even say with fear, this is another link in a chain of events that is changing the face of Israeli society. Whoever cherishes Israeli democracy has to look at the big picture and has to be concerned not by the campaign itself, but by the way in which it was received by the media and public.

The Israel of 2010 is moving away from fundamental tenets of democracy that we once took for granted. The famous sayings of the liberal philosophers who laid the foundation for democratic rule were once self-evident slogans. Voltaire’s comment that, “I don’t agree with a word you’re saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, and similar quotes, were once studied in civics lessons in high school and then absorbed as part of the agreed-upon code of Israeli politics.

Perhaps such sayings are still studied in civics - occasionally they’re still voiced by politicians - but these basic democratic insights are disappearing – quickly – from our landscape. There’s a straight line that leads from the arrest of human rights protestors at Sheikh Jarrah; to the recruitment of the State Attorney’s office against Palestinian-Israeli director Muhammad Bakri; to the police interrogation of the women who wish to pray at the Wall; to the apathy with which the current campaign is being received. This line is moving us away from the enlightened world.

A society does not lose its sanity in an instant. It does not turn from democratic to fascistic overnight. As history shows, these processes occur in a string of small events. Some of these occur because the establishment is not standing guard over democracy, and some are at the initiative of the establishment itself. Each one of them is a small, almost imperceptible, step, and when it is allowed to pass without anyone taking notice, the boundaries are stretched a bit further. And further. And further.

Until one day, the society wakes up to discover that it’s somewhere that, not long ago, we wouldn’t have believed we could be. Usually that’s too late, and the awakening comes only after the catastrophe that rouses people from their slumber. “Have the courage to change before troubles strike,” Yitzhak Ben-Aharon once said. Well the troubles are at our doorstep, and we’re desperately in need of courage.