Israelis Who Speak for Justice

Despite the growing power of right-wing extremists, some Israelis are speaking out against legislation and attitudes that target both Arabs and the core principles of democracy. They represent a movement of conscience seeking to salvage Jewish ideals of justice, as Lawrence Davidson reports.

By Lawrence Davidson

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,” in which she tells us that “in fascist regimes the state is above all” and 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.”

For instance, Hass cited a proposal from Danny Danon, a member of the ruling Likud Party, mandating that “Every certificate issued by the state will oblige [the recipient] to sign a document with a clause declaring loyalty to the State of Israel,” or as one settlers’ Web site explained: No declaration – then no driver’s license, no identity card, no passport.

Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass

According to Hass’s article, Danon told Army Radio that his plan was only part of “the total solution.” Danon proclaimed, “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.”

Danon mainly has in mind the quarter of Israel’s 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, such as those who object to the mistreatment of Arabs (or who protest the growing ultra-Orthodox demands for discrimination against women).

In other words, Danon’s aim is to manufacture “statelessness” for those who object to signing loyalty oaths. (Statelessness is when people are denied a connection with or protection from a state, often as a result of discrimination or persecution.) As both 20th century European history and Israel’s 45 years in the Occupied Territories attest, statelessness is a one-way road to physical and cultural destruction.

But could this be so? Could it be that Israel, often hailed as the “only democracy in the Middle East,” the U.S. friend and ally that allegedly reflects American values is morphing into a fascist state? It seems that, in Danon’s efforts to be “just like us,” this good-looking and clean-shaven fellow is following in the footsteps of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Deeply indoctrinated Americans are going to need more than Amira Hass’s word on this, however. They are going to need supporting evidence. So after consulting with Danny Danon, they may want to move on to 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 the settlers’ 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, declaring: “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.”

He said Israeli 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 Islamic 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 percent 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 is 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.

Jewish Humanitarians

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, 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 was a distinguished past member of the Knesset. However, he has also always asserted that Israel evolved along the wrong path.

Avnery said 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 against him and the office of his newspaper, Haolam Hazeh, was bombed. Avnery is a shining light of humanism and 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 such as 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), and he has been arrested and beaten up. His fate reminds one of the treatment received by civil rights workers in the 1960s in the U.S. South. This seems to be another way that Israel is “just like us.”

Avnery, Ascherman and other Israeli Jewish men and women who fight for human decency probably command the support of, at most, 15 percent of the Israeli Jewish population.

The Indifferent

And what of the rest of Israel’s Jews? Well, the survey mentioned above found that the other 60 percent are indifferent to the Palestinians, but in a generally negative way. For instance, many in this category (up to 46 percent) “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 percent to gain power and assure the country’s status as a truly apartheid state. The 15 percent who may support Avnery and Ascherman essentially become social misfits within the Israeli milieu.

They have somehow escaped the full impact of Zionist education and ideology. They have broken free of the conformist pressures of family, community, army and media propaganda. And, having freed themselves from what Gabriel Kolko calls “enforced consensus,” they collectively become a fringe element.

It is strange that all countries seem to have such self-aware and active humanitarians in roughly the same relative proportion about 15 percent. 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 a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

8 comments for “Israelis Who Speak for Justice

  1. Morton Kurzweil
    January 22, 2012 at 15:32

    It is not strange that all countries seem to have such self-aware and active humanitarians in roughly the same relative proportion – about 15 percent. That same proportion of any dedicated fanatical population will sway a general population to their views within a generation, Their theme becomes a meme, an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other forms of communication. Familiarity breeds acceptance. Hitler didn’t succeed on his good looks. Those who are insecure and need a group identity will be attracted to any political or religious organization. 15 percent is enough to start a second generation of believers. It wasn’t Christ or Muhammad who organized a world religion It began with a few fanatical isolated groups who influenced culture like a virus.

  2. Marilyn A.F.
    January 20, 2012 at 18:48

    You can’t help but wonder what makes a terrorist. Did the British arrogance and intransigence, disallowing Jewish immigration into the Palestine, contribute to Begin’s hardline militancy? Did his experience with antisemitism in Poland and his embrace of Jewish nationalism spur his lust to win at all cost?

    Is this the same Menachem Begin who softened enough to give voice finally to the immigrant ‘oriental’ Jewish immigrants and initiate the Camp David Accords, making peace with Egypt? Israel surrendered the oil fields and territory of the Sinai back to Egypt in a bid for peace. Perhaps he tired of war, gaining perspective in old age.

    As I have observed, evil and greed are not race or ethnic specific. Also, every society has its nationalistic conservtives, who value status quo, and its progressives, who are comfortable with broader horizons. This tension is what makes politics so unstable and fascinating. Sometimes, compassion is just another way of indulging in politics of another color.

    Unfortunately, not all societies adhere to the rules of engagement. It is easy to make snap judgments from afar. And it is easy to disengage in the middle of conflict hoping it will just go away (the over 50 percenters).

    • flat5
      January 21, 2012 at 10:12

      a voice of sanity amongst those who would finish hitler’s final solution.

  3. flat5
    January 17, 2012 at 10:17

    What hyporicy! Davidson, the self hating Jew, all of a sudden is interested in Israel’s welfare?

    • F. G. Sanford
      January 17, 2012 at 10:41

      Letters to the Editor
      New York Times
      December 4, 1948

      TO THE EDITORS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:(From self-hating Jews, including Albert Einstein)

      Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
      The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughoutthe world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.
      Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions, public manifestations in Begin’s behalf, and the creation in Palestine of the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives of Mr. Begin and his movement. The public avowals of Begin’s party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.
      Attack on Arab Village
      A shocking example was their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. This village, off the main roads and surrounded by Jewish lands, had taken no part in the war, and had even fought off Arab bands who wanted to use the village as their base. On April 9 (THE NEW YORK TIMES), terrorist bands attacked this peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants ? 240men, women, and children – and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish community was horrified at the deed, and the Jewish Agency sent a telegram of apology to King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. But the terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this massacre, publicized it widely, and invited all the foreign correspondents present in the country to view the heaped corpses and the general havoc at Deir Yassin. The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the Freedom Party.
      Within the Jewish community they have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority. Like other Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions. In their stead they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model. During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the IZL and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.
      The people of the Freedom Party have had no part in the constructive achievements in Palestine. They have reclaimed no land, built no settlements, and only detracted from the Jewish defense activity. Their much-publicized immigration endeavors were minute, and devoted mainly to bringing in Fascist compatriots.
      Discrepancies Seen
      The discrepancies between the bold claims now being made by Begin and his party, and their record of past performance in Palestine bear the imprint of no ordinary political party. This is the unmistakable stamp of a Fascist party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike), and misrepresentation are means, and a “Leader State” is the goal.
      In the light of the foregoing considerations, it is imperative that the truth about Mr. Begin and his movement be made known in this country. It is all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin’s efforts, or even to expose to its own constituents the dangers to Israel from support to Begin.
      The undersigned therefore take this means of publicly presenting a few salient facts concerning Begin and his party; and of urging all concerned not to support this latest manifestation of fascism.

      M. GALLEN, M.D.
      H.H. HARRIS
      M. SINGER

      New York, Dec. 2, 1948

      • Big Em
        January 17, 2012 at 21:55

        Very interesting letter – – – thanks FGS!

  4. Big Em
    January 16, 2012 at 23:32

    Good article once again by Prof. Davidson. It’s so enlightening to once again read that many (obviously, NOT a majority) Israeli Jewish citizens are opposed to the belligerent policies of their government, and to have it brought out (in the last paragraph) “…that all countries seem to have such self-aware and active humanitarians in roughly the same relative proportion – about 15 percent.” The US obviously is such a case in point, where it seems that we have equal amounts (I’d estimate 15-25%) of relatively enlightened progressives and the same proportion of right-wing conservatives, with the remaining 50-70% of voters not holding strong views and often swayed by political ads and campaign hype, and pride themselves in being oblivious to politics. So while it’s often easy to say “Israelis say/believe X…”, it’s ultimately as erroneous as saying “US citizens believe X”. One can undoubtedly find individual opinions that run the gamut from embracing X to those whom abhor X among both populations.

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