Those who read history will likely know that revolutionary regimes often go through periods when they turn on their own countrymen. The French did this during their revolutionary Terror, the Americans did it early on with the Alien and Sedition Acts and later with the McCarthy hearings, the Russians turned against millions of their own citizens under Stalin, and the Fascists, in their myriad manifestations, did the same with their equal gusto. Presently, the Iranians seem to be walking down this same road.
Periodically the Zionists, who are their own brand of revolutionaries, have also turned on their own. Before Israel was founded Lehi, or the Stern Gang, would on occasion assassinate rival Zionists. This was a violent legacy that did not pass away with the founding of the state and, in November, 1995, Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the meantime Jews both inside and outside of Israel who did not adhere to the official party line were isolated, slandered and otherwise pressured into silence. This started quite early with the marginalizing of men like Judah Magnes and persisted in the form of an on-going witch hunt against “self-hating” Jews. The Zionists have made this sort of self-mutilation into a real art.
Now Israel, governed by right wing ideologues, seems to be entering into a period of more intense acrimony wherein the hunt for “traitors” has acquired greater energy. This is actually a predictable event. Ideologically-driven revolutionary regimes will often respond to outside pressure by identifying citizens with a conscience in their midst as collaborators and traitors. And so it is now in Israel. Here is some of what is happening.
1. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has initiated the process for passing a law that would impose crippling fines on any Israeli citizen who supports foreign boycotts of “any Israeli individual, company, factory or organization.” The fines can be imposed without having to first prove that the boycott has caused damage to those it is directed against. The sponsor of the bill, the Likud party MK Zeev Elkin, noted that there is “wall-to-wall support for this bill” and said that the law is one way the state can protect itself against “increasing processes of delegitimization.”
In the debate on the bill no Israeli Jewish member of the Knesset addressed the question of why such boycotts have come to be. But this is not unusual. The majority of the Knesset are Zionist ideologues whose worldview is custom designed to automatically “delegitimize” (using the word now popular among Zionists) any criticism of Israel’s blatant racism and illegal colonial policies.
For these Zionists, their sins are seen as patriotic acts.
2. Elia Leibowitz of Tel Aviv University has noted (Haaretz July 14, 2010) that “in recent weeks there has been vigorous anti-intellectual activity throughout Israel, mostly against professors, both male and female, writers, artists and intellectuals, who are depicted as anti-Israel, haters of the state and traitors in the principles of Zionism, the bedrock of our existence.” This campaign is being carried on in the media as well as by the accusatory and threatening pronouncements of government officials. The law against supporting boycotts described above is one aspect of this dynamic. Leibowitz sees this as a step in the direction of a “cultural revolution” similar to the disastrous one that occurred in China in the 1960s, and fears that if it persists it will seriously endanger Israel’s status as an intellectually modern Western place.
3. As this attempt at “cultural revolution” gains momentum it naturally targets notable “outsiders.” Israel has always discriminated against Israeli non-Jews but it has also kept up a facade of democratic practice by granting citizenship to Israeli Arabs and allowing a small number of them to sit in the Knesset. The assumption must be that those who were elected to parliament will be quiescent collaborators. But, of course, this is not always the case. Now there is a concerted effort to silence those who do not play this role. If Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has his way all of Israel’s Arab citizens will be disenfranchised and eventually forced into exile.
In the meantime, those Israeli Arabs who are elected members of the Knesset and who dare to speak out and act against Israel’s crimes in Gaza and the West Bank are harassed and threatened. On Tuesday, July 13, 2010, the Knesset stripped the Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zuabi of much of her parliamentary immunity. Zuabi’s crime was to have participated in the aid flotilla that was illegally attacked by Israel in international waters. The flotilla was attempting to break Israel’s equally illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. Acting against the blockade transformed Zuabi into “an enemy of Israel” and a criminal case against her has now been launched. Some members of the Knesset admit that this action is a “blow to democracy in Israel.” However, for most Israelis this seems less important than the need to root out alleged traitors and the enemies who lurk within.
4. Moderate Israelis have been reduced to ambivalence or confusion by all of this. One can see this in the editorial position taken by the moderate Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the behavior of Reuven Rivlin, erstwhile defender of democracy and the current Speaker of the Knesset. Haaretz says that the Knesset’s decision to revoke Hanin Zuabi’s key parliamentary privileges “endangers democracy” but also agrees that “it is difficult to ignore that Zuabi, like other Arab Mks, is enthusiastically participating in acts of extreme provocation.” Rivlin “sharply criticized” the action taken against Zuabi but then abstained in the vote to deprive her of immunity, rather than voting no. No one has placed the action against Zuabi within the context of ideological fanaticism that has increased in proportion with the outside criticism of Israel as a racist and colonialist state. The moderates sense that something is rotten in Israel but are too ignorant or fearful to analyze the causes of the decay. If they performed the analysis they would find that all roads lead back to Israel’s racist ideal of Zionism. The problem then is a structural one.
Edmund Burke once observed, “What is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness…without restraint.” Such appears to be the case in modern Israel. Here liberty has freed ideology to exercise its madness with increasing abandon. And, when the rest of the world notices and starts to point fingers, Israel turns upon its most upright citizens — the last vestiges of its national conscience.
Lawrence Davidson teaches history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is a Contributing Editor to Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture, and author of, among other works, America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood, and, most recently, Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest.