Israel’s slide towards fascism

In a 2003 issue of Free Inquiry, Laurence W. Britt innumerated the characteristics of fascism:

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
5. Rampant sexism.
6. A controlled mass media.
7. Obsession with national security.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
9. Power of corporations protected.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
14. Fraudulent elections.

To this list I would add an overarching trend: an unremitting narrowing of the political space through which dissent is marginalized and then criminalized.

Israel might not yet exhibit all the attributes of a fascist state, but it is certainly on a fascist trajectory.

On Sunday, the human rights activist, former Israeli air force pilot and conscientious objector Yonatan Shapira, was summoned to a meeting with an agent from the Shabak (formally known as “Shin Beit”, Israel’s internal security service).

This is how the secret police operate: place a firm hand on the shoulder of the political dissident and attempt to steer him in the right direction. Show him the boundaries of what the authorities will tolerate and offer subtle or not so subtle warnings about the consequences of actions deemed a threat to national security. The preservation of peace, protection of the state and the duties of the patriotic citizen — these are the terms within which authoritarian rule couches the application of its power.

Noam Sheizaf provides a translation of Yonatan’s description of his interview:

Yesterday Rona from the Shabak called me and asked me to come talk to meet her in the police station on Dizengof st. (Tel Aviv). She refused to tell me what was it about, but made it clear I wasn’t going to be arrested, and that this is just an acquaintance or “a friendly talk”…

At five o’clock I got to the Dizengof police station and was sent to the second floor of the rear building, where a guy who presented himself as Rona’s security guard waited for me. I was taken to a room and subjected to a pretty intimate search to make sure I didn’t install any recording device on my testicles. After I was found clean I was let into Rona’s room. She was a nice looking girl, apparently from a Yemeni origin, in her early thirties.

Rona told me that I she knew I was active in the BDS (movement) and (calling for) an economical boycott of Israel, and she wanted to know what else do I do as part of these activities. I told her that everything (that I do) is well known and published in the internet and the media, and that I have nothing to add, and that I wasn’t going to talk to her.

Rona emphasized that there is a Knesset bill that might soon make my activities illegal. She went on and tried to get me into a political debate, asking if I know that the BDS is in fact a Palestinian organization.

Rona raised the issue of the graffiti in Warsaw and asked it was my own idea or another part of the BDS. She asked if I understood that I crossed a line and hurt many people’s feeling. Obviously the Shabak feeling’s (were hurt) as well… I offered her again to listen to interviews and read article on the issue. She said she did listen and read, but she wanted to know more. I told her I would be happy to give a public lecture to anyone who wants to hear, but not (talk about it) in a Shabak interrogation.

Apart from the BDS issue she asked me if I knew that the demonstrations in Bil’in and Ni’ilin are illegal, and that the entire area is closed for Israelis and internationals each Friday from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm. She went into length explaining how the soldiers feel in these demonstrations and that it irritates them when I talk to them and when I answer them.

Rona said she was there herself and that stones were thrown at her, and that it was really unpleasant. She said that the fact that Israelis are present there makes the Palestinians more violent, and that I have to think how the poor soldiers feel, and that all she is trying to do is for the good of the country and out of her will to defend the people living here.

I answered that all I do is out of a will to defend the people living here as well, and I asked where did she get all the information on my activities and whether they are listening to my phone. She said that she can’t answer this, but that generally speaking the Shabak has more important things to do, so I asked her whet I was doing here and why was I invited to a kind political interrogation if they have more important things to do.

I asked again if they are listening to my phone calls and Rona said she can’t answer that.

She asked me not to publish the content of our conversation because she wasn’t the type who wants publicity… I answered that as a person committed to a non-violent struggle against the occupation I would talk and publish anything I can, including the content of this conversation and future ones, if these will be such.

I documented the entire conversation on a piece of paper until Rona started discussing this paper and what I was writing down. Eventually she confiscated the dangerous piece of paper, claiming that I was not allowed to have any recording device in, and that what I was doing was illegal.

Luckily I remembered most of the conversation and Rona hasn’t confiscated my memory yet. Maybe (it will happen) in our next meeting.

That’s it. There might have been more details but from what I get these were the main issues. I understood that what they were after was our involvement in the BDS, and that they might even be preparing files for the moment the new law is passed.


Noam Sheizaf says: “Yonatan could be right in assuming the police or the Shabak is putting together files on Israelis involved in the BDS. One of the many anti-democratic aspects of the new Knesset bill is that it will be possible to enforce it on past actions as well.”

Pulse included a public statement subsequently issued by Yonatan:

Even though this isn’t the best way to start or finish your day, my conversation with Rona from the Shabak was like a nature walk in summer-camp, when you compare it to what Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of the Occupied Territories are going through. Amir Makhoul, Resident of Heifa is still caged without us knowing what the Shabak allegations against him are. Samieh Jabarin, resident of Jaffa, was under house arrest for long months, and of course, thousands of Palestinians in the [Occupied] Territories that Rona and her friends were- and will be- less “friendly” and polite to. This includes torture and bodily injuries and murder that will never be published and will forever stay buried in the Shabak basements and in the memories of those who survived.

On Sunday, I’ve experienced the tip of the tip of the iceberg of the processing of that which is called the only democracy in the Middle East. Today it happens to Israelis that express solidarity with the nonviolent Palestinian struggle, and tomorrow the circle will widen and widen. Until it will reach those who feel that they’re actually OK and that there’s no chance that Rona will call them, too.

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5 thoughts on “Israel’s slide towards fascism

  1. Norman

    It’s too bad that Israel and the western democracies, especially the U.S. Government, can’t see the forest from the trees. I think the opening of this post tells the story. When a Government runs amok like the Nazi’s & the other 20th Century fanatics, now here in the 21st Century, we have Despots, Governments, clinging to Fascism on the one hand, while pretending to be a Democracy on the other, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what happened to them by others, screwed up their mental capacities, to believe that inflicting pain upon innocent men, women & children for the deeds or actions of others is O.K. With all the so called intelligence that Israel proclaims, they should have been able to neutralize their enemies long ago.

    This leads me to believe that what really drives the Israeli leaders has to do with them wanting to be viewed as victims rather than what they have become, in order to pretend that they are right, while everyone else that doesn’t buy the B.S., as their enemy.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    That’s an excellent list. You probably realize that about 50% of the US political class also subscribe to 11 of the 14 items. Could make that a dozen if ‘2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.’ is taken to apply to those people who live outside the US.

    (The last two items are shaky with many of that 50%, too.)

  3. David

    Robert Paxton (The Anatomy of Fascism, Vintage Books) defined fascism in terms that certainly seem to apply to Israel:

    [Fascism is] “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

  4. David R. Evans

    One of the genuine “common values” shared by the U.S. and Israel is the list at the beginning of this article. Israeli and American citizens, like those of pre-war Germany, are allowing this. We can change the political calculus via our informed votes, but we choose to remain willfully ignorant and distracted.

  5. Barnabas

    I don’t think Britt’s original list actually tells us much about fascism — it’s far too generalised, and could refer to any given society from the far left to the ‘middle’ to the far right.

    The roots of fascism are far more nuanced and mercurial than that ham fisted, cliched listed.

    Anyone who has read scholar Zeev Sternhell’s serious studies of the roots of Fascism can see that it’s far more complicated than that — in fact, paradoxical and even absurd as it may seem, the roots of Fascism are also intertwined with the roots of the early avant garde and even with the roots of Anarchism. In France and Italy, the two extremes ( Anarchism and Fascism ) fed into, and nurtured each other. Mussolini’s father was a member of Bakunin’s Anarchist movement, and Mussolini himself was an early devotee of Russian Anarchist Kropotkin and of French Anarcho Syndicalist/Nihilist, Georges Sorel. Mussolini also supported Italian American anarchists , Sacco and Vanzetti, fiercely campaigning for them when they were incarcerated. He also had great respect for the Italian anarchist Malatesta. ( a respect which was definitely not mutual ! )

    The French Anarchist Proudhon, was also very popular with early Fascists ( see ‘Cercle Proudhon’, a Fascist organization ) , as was German Anarcho individualist and Young Hegelian, Max Stirner.

    The early Avant Garde too, also swerved from devotion to nihilistic , destructive Anarchism and then to nihilistic, violent and ‘aesthetic’ Fascism , and that was personified by the Italian Futurists such as Marrinetti, Boccioni, Carra, Balla and Pallesechi.

    Obviously, Anarchism and Fascism in their ‘developed’ forms are worlds away from each other , and we all know that Anarchists are often the first on the list once Fascist movements take control of the streets. ( mind you, that is also true of early Bolsheviks, Leninists, Socialists and Marxists who often despised Anarchism, a point clearly made by Lenin and Marx in their total dismissal of Bakunin, Stirner and Proudhon aswell as in the crushing of the Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War by Bolshevik and Communist forces ) . No one could seriously claim Anarchism and Fascism are similar — but looking at the early roots of both movements — there are definite, undeniable and important cross pollinations, which make Britt’s definitions look far too sweeping.

    Ultimately, I don’t think Britt’s definitions tell us very much at all. It’s not at all as clear cut as he suggests.

    I think it’s important for us to understand the enemy called Fascism : these kinds of sweeping generalisations make the enemy more difficult to know, and more difficult to understand, not easier.

    Fascism operates via creeping, vicarious, subtle and mercurial paths, and not always via Hollywood stereotypes of Rune worshipping Nazi goon squads, and we should exercise the same subtlety when trying to understand it.

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