“[Benjamin Netanyahu] and each of the 41 MKs [members of Israel’s parliament] who voted for the establishment of a political committee to hunt the human rights organizations, will be remembered as being the ones who attempted to smash what is left of democracy in Israel and impose a fascist regime,” a group Israeli intellectuals wrote in a letter sent to all members of the Knesset this week.
The group included a number of Israel Prize laureates, among them professors Yehuda Bauer, Chaim Adler, Yermiyahu Yovel and Micha Ullman, Shulamit Aloni, David Tartakover, Danny Karavan and Ram Loevy. Signatories also included Prof. Haim Ben-Shahar, Prof. Yaron Ezrahi, the painter Yair Garboz, Prof. David Harel and authors Ronit Matalon, Sami Michael, Yehoshua Sobol, Sefi Rachlevsky and Yoram Kaniuk.
In issuing this grave warning, this group of prominent Israelis were willing to use a term that Israel’s critics overseas, even now, are largely hesitant to utter: fascist.
Time magazine reports:
If there were any doubt about the direction in which the government of Israel is headed, another clear marker emerged in the overheated air of a Knesset committee room on Monday.
On the table was a bill proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home), the right-wing party headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The measure called for stripping the citizenship of any Israeli convicted of espionage, but the only Israelis under discussion were the country’s Arab minority. The move follows a loyalty oath that Lieberman would make a condition for acquiring citizenship; calls for bans on Jews from renting property to Arabs; and street demonstrations demanding prohibitions on dating between Arab boys and Jewish girls.
Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions. These include Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers that has published a book of testimonies detailing human-rights abuses, which the former soldiers say they witnessed while serving in the West Bank; the rights group B’Tselem, which documents abuses by settlers and security forces in the West Bank; Gisha, which monitors the plight of Palestinians caught between Hamas and Israeli collective punishment in the Gaza Strip; and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which recently reported in gruesome detail the plight of African economic immigrants, who are commonly referred to “infiltrators.”
The measure passed by a more than 2-to-1 margin, prompting a stunned response from quarters both expected and not. Outside the government, a group of leading intellectuals issued a letter declaring that the bill’s supporters “will be remembered as being the ones who attempted to smash what is left of democracy in Israel and impose a fascist regime.” Even inside Netanyahu’s coalition, minister without portfolio Benny Begin, the arch-conservative son of Menachim Begin, told Israeli Radio that the measure broke from the conservatism he knew: “This decision sends a warning signal — here is darkness.”