Tag Archives: fascism

Responding to Fania Oz-Salzberger, and searching for the ghost of Israeli democracy

Fania Oz-Salzberger has challenged my characterization of her comments at the Nexus Institute’s “Return of Ghosts” symposium. Here is what she wrote in the comments section of my post:

I am befuddled by your representation of what I thought had been a cordial and thoughtful exchange. The snippets you report of my symposium input are inaccurate and out of context. My arguments in the symposium and the accompanying article are far more qualified and complex than represented here. I do stand by the claim that Israel is a vibrant democracy, but it is also – as I said clearly – a flawed one. Wilders is unwelcome to many Israelis, certainly not the handful in which you purport to place me. More crucially, I never “proclaimed” “that occupation has little or nothing to do with the motives of suicide bombers”, but spoke against any insinuation that suicide bombings could be justified by occupation. Finally, I did not “jump in” but politely awaited my turn, despite being an Israeli. In our public and private exchanges I gave your opinions the respect that your blog has now denied my own views. You have good arguments in your arsenal, why the cheap shots?

I have been waiting for video of the symposium before responding to Oz-Salzberger or clarifying my own account, which was based on my impressions from the panel and recorded without the benefit of notes. Now that we are able to view a portion of the symposium’s first debate, let’s go to the videotape:

In her opening remarks (at around 2:45), Oz-Salzberger went on at length about Israel’s democratic tradition. I did not take her comments out of context. Oz-Salzberger said, “My own experience, I come from Israel; 62 years old. Always a democracy ever since it was founded, it was made a democracy which was quite an achievement for its generation, but always a democracy under siege from outside and from within.” I did not hear her describe Israel as a flawed democracy, though she did make a general statement against majoritarian rule and in favor of protecting minority rights in Israel and Europe.

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Confronting the Hebron Settlers in New York

Jewish settler graffiti painted on door of Palestinian home in Hebron's H2 apartheid zone (photo by me)

Jewish settler graffiti painted on door of Palestinian home in Hebron's H2 apartheid zone (photo by me)

On November 16, the Hebron Fund, a tax exempt 501 c-3, held its annual fundraising dinner at Chelsea Piers. The Hebron Fund named its gala “The Hebron Aid Flotilla,” deliberately mocking the massacre of 9 activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The event consisted of a few hundred supporters — and residents — of the most racist, violent Jewish settlements in the West Bank cruising around New York for a few hours. To paraphrase Benjamin Netanyahu, this was no love boat. I do not think it is much of an exaggeration to describe the Hebron settlers as the Ku Klux Klan of Israel. These are the people who celebrated Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, who hailed Baruch Goldstein as a gever, who routinely terrorize and attack defenseless residents in Hebron’s H2 apartheid zone, and who abuse the Star of David as a symbol of Judeo-fascism, painting it on the doors of the Palestinian homes and shops they have forcibly closed.

I stood with about 100 demonstrators outside Chelsea Piers in silent protest of the Hebron Fund’s cruise. A group from J Street’s campus division protested nearby, but would not stand with us, which was weird but not unexpected. Regardless, it was nice to see that a few liberal Zionists were willing to back up their talk about removing settlements to make a Palestinian state possible. I hung around for an hour with good people like Joseph Dana, Noam Sheizaf, Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf, Emily Henochowicz, Rebecca Vilkomersen, the Bitar family, Daniel Levy, Daniel May and a former Givati brigade soldier who turned his back on the occupation and now wears a Cynthia McKinney button emblazoned on his IDF uniform.

After the demo petered out, Joseph and I decided to gather up as many people as we could to speak to the Hebron Fund organizers directly. We found about 12 people still milling around; not many, but enough for a minyan. As soon as we reached the Hebron Fund’s registration desk, the group’s director, Yossi Baumol, began screaming about a series of prank phone calls he had received in the past few days. An activist who goes by the alias of Harrabic Tubman and who co-founded the Palestine solidarity/hip-hop network Existence is Resistance, which promotes the music of Palestinian hip-hop queen Shadia Mansour, confronted Baumol with his cheerleading for a settler leader’s decision to run over a 10-year-old Palestinian boy with his car in Silwan, Jerusalem. I told Baumol he should be ashamed to be raising money in public. For some reason this prompted him to launch into a bizarre rant that concluded with his announcement that he was a liberal. (Arthur Schlesinger has nothing on this guy!) Then, like the settlers of Hebron, Baumol scurried away behind a phalanx of security guards. See it for yourself above.

The Return of Ghosts: Debating the rise of Geert Wilders and the far-right at the Nexus Symposium

The Nexus Institutes Return of Ghosts conference was inspired by the rise of far-right politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands

The Nexus Institute's Return of Ghosts conference was inspired by the rise of far-right politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands

I spent last week in Amsterdam, where I participated in the “Return of Ghosts” symposium of the Nexus Institute, a discussion/debate about the resurgence of neo-fascism in Europe and anti-democratic trends in the West. Besides providing a forum for debating European politics, the symposium was the occasion for the first public appearance in Europe by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa since he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last month. The arrival of Vargas Llosa, one of the world’s foremost intellectuals, resulted in an overflow crowd filled with members of the Dutch media, the country’s political class, and the royal family.

Even with Vargas Llosa in the spotlight, the participants’ attention was focused on Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-right Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, which is now the third leading party in the Netherlands. With his gathering influence, Wilders has essentially placed the Dutch coalition government in a stranglehold; the government meets with him every Wednesday to gauge his opinions and ask for his instructions. While Wilders dictates at will to the government, he remains independent of it, comfortably avoiding the consequences of policies he has helped to shape. It is the perfect position for a politician whose agenda is comprised exclusively of xenophobic populism, and typical strategy of the far-right in countries across the continent.

Wilders’ base lies in the mostly Catholic south, where ironically few people have ever encountered a Muslim. He has also generated support in the city of Groeningen, once a citadel of the communists. Seeking to expand his base, Wilders promised to hire scores of “animal cops” to investigate and prosecute the abuse of animals, a clever wedge strategy in the only country I know of that has a party dedicated exclusively to animal rights. Of course, Wilders could care less about our furry friends. His stated goal is to end immigration not just to Holland but to all of Europe; ban the Quran (free speech is only for the “Judeo-Christian” community), and severely limit the rights of Muslim citizens of Europe by, for instance, instituting what he called a “head rag tax” on Muslim women. Wilders’ international allies include the goosestepping neo-Nazis of the English Defense League, the far-right pogromist Pam Geller, the Belgian neo-fascist party Vlaams Belang, and a substantial portion of the US neocon elite. Over the course of just a few years, he has become perhaps the most influential Islamophobe in the world.

But does this make Wilders a fascist? Rob Riemen, the director of the Nexus Institute, thinks so. Riemen has just published a book entitled “De Eeuwige Terugkeer Van Het Fascisme,” or “The Eternal Return of Fascism” (I eagerly await its English translation), dedicated to highlighting the danger of Wilders’ eerily familiar brand of right-wing populism. In the book, Riemen urges readers to compare Wilders’ politics to the early incarnations of European fascism, not to the genocidal terminal stage fascism of late World War II. He calls the parallels between Wilders and the early fascists “one-and-one.” In an economic and civilizational crisis like the kind the Netherlands is facing, Riemen warns that reactionary figures like Wilders can easily seize power while centrist elements stand by politely and passively, refusing to call a spade a spade. Where Wilders’ ascendancy will lead is unknown, but if he is not stopped in his tracks, Riemen is certain the story will not end well. In the week after its publication, Riemen’s book flew off the shelves, selling 5000 copies while generating heated reactions from across the spectrum of debate.

Riemen told me that despite the public enthusiasm for his book, his characterization of Wilders has been attacked as “un-Dutch.” In Dutch culture, as in so many others, open confrontation is avoided at all cost. Political disagreement is welcomed only if it is expressed in a collegial manner, as though nothing more than reputations were at stake. So the Dutch cultural elite generally goes along to get along. The resistance Riemen has met since he called Wilders out seemed to have alarmed and frustrated him. Why was it so difficult for liberal elements in the Netherlands to recognize the clear resonances of fascism in Wilders’ political style? he wondered. And why did they seem more concerned with regulating the terms of debate than with forming a united front against the far-right? Once the symposium opened and I was able to see the Dutch elite in action, I began to understand Riemen’s indignation.

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Feeling the Loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel

The Israeli Knesset is debating a bill proposed by David Rotem of the extreme right Yisrael Beiteinu party that would require all Israeli citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” This bill is targeted at increasing pressure on the twenty percent of Israelis who are Palestinian citizens while forcing the ultra Orthodox Jewish minority who reject the legitimacy of any state not based on Jewish biblical law to accept Zionism. If passed in its proposed form, citizens unwilling to take the loyalty oath would be at risk of losing citizenship.

Israeli leaders committed to a classic secular political Zionist platform have always fought at all costs to guard Israel’s “Jewish character,” even while they reveal their inability to properly define exactly what it is. The loyalty oath and push for a two-state solution are the most profound examples of the insecurity that has roiled beneath the surface in Jewish Israeli society since the state’s inception. Without a Jewish majority exhibiting clear legal and political dominance over the non-Jewish or non-Zionist minority, the Zionist movement becomes meaningless. So as the Palestinian-Israeli minority actively resists its dispossession and the ultra-Orthodox stubbornly reject the concept of a Jewish state, the Israeli establishment feels increasingly compelled to seek draconian measures to salvage its vision of Zionism.

The loyalty oath was one of the main platform issues for Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far right Yisrael Beitenu party when it campaigned in 2009. “No citizenship without loyalty,” was among Lieberman’s most effective campaign slogans (his other slogan: “Only Lieberman speaks Arabic”), helping guide his party to an astonishing third place, with 15 of the 120 seats in Israeli Parliament. The draft bill currently debated in the Parliament would allow the Interior Ministry to strip even native Israelis of their nationality if they refused to swear allegiance to the Jewish state and “its symbols and values,” and failed to profess their willingness to perform military service. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has expressed support for Yisrael Beiteinu’s loyalty crusade.

After the proposed law failed its first reading in the Knesset due to opposition from a handful of liberal members of the ruling Likud party, Yisrael Beiteinu released the following statement: “Yisrael Beitenu will continue to act for Israel’s basis as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and will fight against disloyalty and the negative exploitation of Israeli democracy.” In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet has approved a similar bill requiring all new citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. The measure would make attaining citizenship nearly impossible for Palestinians residing inside Israel.

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