Israel must face threat from within

January 23, 2002|By Neve Gordon

JERUSALEM -- Fully 74 percent of Israelis are in favor of the government's assassination policy, according to a recent poll in Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.

But when asked if they thought the assassinations were effective, 45 percent claimed that they actually increase Palestinian terrorism, 31 percent stated that they have no effect on terrorism and only 22 percent averred that assassinations help deter terrorism.

Nearly half of all Israelis believe that the government's reaction to terrorism -- such as the summary execution Jan. 14 of Tanzim chief Raed Karmi in the West Bank town of Tulkarm -- is hostile to their own interests, but they continue to support assassinations.

The poll indicates that many Israelis have lost the ability to think clearly, suggesting also that a visceral instinct has taken over the national psyche, marginalizing and repressing all forms of political reasoning.

In the Republic, Plato warned against the ascendancy of feelings and emotions in the public sphere, claiming that these traits characterize the emergence of despotic rule. Many years from now people may ask how it was that a whole population did not realize what was happening.

Israel's gravest danger today is the one it faces from within: fascism.

The fascistization of politics takes many forms, some more apparent than others.

Perhaps most conspicuous is the dramatic change in the Israeli landscape, which is currently covered by thousands of billboards, posters, bumper stickers and graffiti with slogans like "No Arabs, No Assaults," "Expel Arafat," "Kahane was Right" and "The Criminals of Oslo Should be Brought to Justice."

Israelis, so it seems, are neither shocked nor alarmed that their slain prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, has been criminalized by his own people.

The Israeli secret service routinely intercepts the e-mails of peace groups and often obstructs solidarity meetings or protests in the West Bank by declaring whole regions "closed military zones."

Peace activists are "invited" to meetings with the secret service, at which they are "warned" about their activities.

For months, the Gaza Strip has been totally closed to Israelis from the peace camp -- including Knesset (parliament) members -- and only Jewish settlers, journalists and soldiers can enter the region.

Torture, which was finally banned in September 1999 after a decade-long struggle in the supreme court, has re-emerged with a vengeance.

According to the Israeli Public Committee Against Torture, the secret service has not only replaced outlawed methods of torture with new ones, but ill-treatment, police brutality, poor prison conditions and the prohibition of legal counsel are now widespread.

B'tselem, Israel's Human Rights Information Center, has recently documented the torture of Palestinian minors, while the Association of Civil Rights and other organizations have appealed to the supreme court against the new practice of holding suspects incommunicado.

The Israeli news media, which were well known for their critical edge, spend most of their time reiterating the official line.

Jewish opposition leaders and peace groups find it extremely difficult to get their opinions aired. But the media are actively assisting the state and its different organs, not only in legitimizing its actions but in delegitimizing Israel's Palestinian citizens.

The exclusion of nearly a fifth of Israel's citizenry from democratic life is accomplished by attacking their leaders.

Jewish Cabinet ministers and other Knesset members repeatedly refer to the Arab representatives in the Knesset as Yasser Arafat's agents and collaborators and as a "fifth column."

Joining the fanfare, the media have not only marked them as "other" but also as enemies, which serves to justify their harassment.

In the past year, six out of 10 Arab Knesset members from opposition parties have been the target of police investigation for "anti-Israeli" statements they made during political speeches, while the immunity of one has already been stripped.

Simultaneously, Israel's public radio and television have prevented the Arab leaders from voicing their claims and grievances by ceasing to interview them and, in this way, have intensified the alienation felt by their constituency.

Darker times are lurking around the corner.

The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is determined to wreak havoc on the Palestinian Authority infrastructure, destroying the feasibility of an independent Palestinian state in years to come.

All the while, the opposition is systematically silenced and security forces given free rein.

In order to mount some kind of viable resistance to the dreadful cycle of violence and destruction, it is crucial first to recognize that, in Israel, democracy is also under attack.

Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, Israel.

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