Israel and 'Fascism'

By Jeffrey Goldberg

So I was speaking on a panel about Iran this past weekend in Boulder, Colorado, at a very dynamic synagogue, Congregation Har HaShem, with Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Jared Polis, who is a member of the synagogue. Both legislators were very thoughtful -- Goldblog's favorite senator, apart from Orrin Hatch (R.-Hannukah) is Michael Bennet, who is a friend, and also the brother of the editor-in-chief of this magazine. Goldblog had not previously met Jared Polis, who seems like an impressive guy. Both men gave nuanced answers to questions about Iran, though they were both muscular in defense of the idea that a nuclear Iran is untenable.

The rabbi who led the discussion, Joshua Rose, asked very provocative questions, and at one point, late in our conversation (after Bennet and Polis had departed the panel) I mentioned that I thought that certain politicians on the Israeli right have been drifting toward fascism. I thought this was safe thing to say in Boulder, which is to the left of Havana on many issues, but after the talk, a couple of people came up to me and said I was wrong to even mention the word "fascism" in association with Israel. One of my interlocutors also told me I shouldn't use the word "occupation" to describe the occupation. I asked if I should refer to it instead as a "Renaissance Fair," or "picnic" but that didn't go over well. In any case, "fascist" is a strong word, and obviously, Israel's democracy is still vibrant -- an independent judiciary, a free press, fair elections, and so on. But there are figures on the right who strike me as intolerant of these concepts. And then there was this, which happened earlier this week:

Knesset members engaged in a stormy debate on Monday, following comments by Interior Minister Eli Yishai that Israel should not let African asylum seekers work and that the United Nations is responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) and the committee's chairman, Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) confronted one another on the matter. "They are all infiltrators," said Danon. "We must drive them all out."

Yes, indeed, a Jewish member of Knesset used the following words: "They are all infiltrators. We must drive them all out." Just appalling.

I understand that the issue of illegal immigration is a serious challenge for Israel, as it is for many prosperous countries, and I readily understand that these immigrants (the lucky few who make it through the Egyptian gauntlet and the Sinai desert) are a strain on limited resources. But, really? We were strangers once, too, as Jewish tradition teaches. There has got to be a better way. Then came the disturbing news that in a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Sudanese immigrants were set upon by Israeli hooligans. 'Fascism' might be a strong word, and of course Israel is judged by a double-standard (triple-standard, actually), but this is not what should be happening in a country that calls itself a Jewish state.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/israel-and-fascism/257440/