The rise of fascism

Professor Avraham Oz lectures at Israel’s Haifa University. After last week’s attack by an Israeli extremist that killed four Israeli Arabs, Oz sent the following email to his worldwide network:

I deplore the comparisons sometimes made between Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian dependents – whether citizens or conquered non-citizens in the occupied territories – and what happened in Germany during the Nazi period. There are no state agendas for extermination, and the cold blooded, sadist, evil mechanism which dominated Germany has no equivalents in Israel. Such comparisons miss the mark, and are certainly counterproductive.

The despicable act of terrorism perpetrated yesterday by a young Jewish deserter – who deserted his service, but not provisions and regalia; and, clad in his army uniform and using his army weapon blindly shot innocent Palestinians on a bus in the town of Shfara’am (Shfa’amer), is no different from any other terrorist act in London, New York, or Tel Aviv. The young terrorist was not a lunatic, as the settlers’ and right wing propaganda machine has already started to spread out. He was a brainwashed young man incited by cynical right wing terrorists, who pulled the trigger of a young troubled soul.

With one exception, though. Rather than a fanatic, or brainwashed member of a deprived section of society, marginalised by the state, he was a member of the dominant sector of Israeli society: its Jewish population. It was his innocent victims who belonged to a deprived minority, marginalised by the state.

In Germany of the 1930s, acts against the Jews and other marginalised minorities were directly inspired, or officially carried out by the state. This is not the case in Israel. I do not share the simplistic view as if the Israeli government has any direct complicity in yesterday’s abominable act of murder of innocent civilians, riding on a city bus.

But terrible events are composed of seemingly isolated factors, incidents or policies. Hundreds, no, thousands detailed factors constituting the Israeli national consciousness today add up to the brainwashing which led to this act of murder. A Parliament which passes, or prepares at this very minute, a host of racist acts, depriving the Arab population, and creating apartheid-like legislation, sends a message. A police force which treats differently Palestinian and Jewish demonstrators, sends a message. A media, spending tedious hours sympathising with the alleged grief of settlers about to be evacuated (from their wealthy villas built on stolen Palestinian property, confiscating Palestinian water resources, destroying their olive trees, and getting large sums of money as compensation for being evacuated), but goes on airing an Israeli soap opera while the Palestinians are being murdered on the bus, sends a message.

A chief of staff who states he is not troubled by targeted killings even if civilians are killed, sends a message. A university, 20% of whose students are Palestinians (and less than 1% faculty), which promotes racist conferences on “the demographic problem” (meaning too many Arab babies spoil the figures of a Jewish state), closes its university theatre for mounting plays in Arabic, would not officially recognise the Arab students representative body, denies Christian Arabs to place a Christmas tree in the main building of campus, or would rather pay a lawyer to prepare a legal defence why it is not obliged to put signs in Arabic on campus, rather than invest the money in putting those signs sends a message. An academic community the utmost majority of which doesn’t see itself obliged to take a public stand, not even those who, well conversed with fashionable jargon, publish “progressive” academic stuff to impress their colleagues abroad, sends a message.

A group of law professors, who refrained from petitioning when Palestinians were killed, injured, or denied basic rights, but suddenly become aware of human rights when Jewish minors of the settlers persuasion, who break the law are put in jail, sends a message. Theatre managers who would produce mainly commercial theatre for the consumption of the masses, but will not recognise cultural resources or conflicts related to the society they operate in, send a message. A Mini-Stress of Education and Culture who vetoes a school program about multiculturalism, since its bibliography included, among many others, entries by Edward Said and MK Dr Azmi Bishara, and who would create havoc if poems by Mahmoud Darwish were offered as part of the curriculum, but would have the “legacy” of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians promoted by former Minister Ze’evi thoroughly studied, and have the Israeli flag put in any classroom, sends a message. A Minister of Finance who, beside ruining the social fabric of Israeli society by favouring the rich and famous, and obviously the Jewish sector to the Arab minorities, openly supports the lawbreaking settlers and votes for the postponement of the Gaza pullout, sends a message.

Murderous and hooliganic settlers, and their rabbinical supporters calling the soldiers to refuse evacuating the few settlements about to be evacuated, who coined the battle cry “A Jew does not drive out a Jew,” implying that a Jew is most welcome to drive out anyone who is not a Jew, and now deny responsibility for creating that shooting monster, send a message. A government building a wall of hatred in the middle of Palestinian villages and towns, making the daily life of their inhabitants misery; which still endorses the policy of targeted killings, and house demolishing, and destruction of villages, towards the Palestinians, while manifesting leniency towards lawbreaking settlers and their supporters; and above all, does not dismantle the illegal settlement but rather divert a fortune for building more settlements in the occupied territories, sends a message.

A Prime Minister who is about to evacuate 8000 settlers, while massively building more houses on the West Bank settlements, sends a message. A nation living in the Middle East, which fosters orientalism only to the extent it is the most vulgar folklorist superficial tissue of popular culture, but ignores Muslim cultural values – or for that matter, the profound Jewish legacy created in negotiating with the Islam, sends a message. A culture whose major resources are directed to promote its exclusionist concerns, oblivious to the existence of the other among us; one which instead of writing the experience of its holocaust as a constitutive part of its humanistic consciousness, demeans its memory by waving it as an alibi for ignoring, or contempting the other, shuns all sympathy to the sorrows of the others, regards the Palestinian Naqba a dirty word, and denies its Armenian minority the proper commemoration of its genocide, lest it will diminish its own enshrined trauma, sends a message.

Over twenty years ago, I translated into the Hebrew C. P. Taylor’s play “Good,” which tells the story of a German professor of literature back in the 1930s who gradually finds a way to rationalise every act of the Nazi regime as compatible with humanistic values, until he becomes the personal assistant of Adolf Eichmann. When I heard the major Israeli actor who played the part at the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, I shuddered to realise that the idiom I have instinctively chosen for the part was similar to my own. I think I, my colleagues at the academy and in the theatre, and all around Israeli society have a lot of shuddering to do today.

For better days,
A. Oz

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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