Monday, August 04, 2014
How much fascism? posted by Richard Seymour
And so the question is: how much fascism is there in Israel? I don't mean, how fascist is the Israeli government, since there is no way to make sense of such a question. A state is either fascist or it isn't. I mean, how much is fascism becoming a mainstream, everyday, accepted part of the political culture?
If we judge this with reference to that ideological sine qua non of fascism, eliminationist racism, the answer is not encouraging. In 2008, Matan Vilnai, then deputy defence minister, calls for a "Shoah" against the Palestinians. That was a few months before Cast Lead. In 2012, Michael Ben-Ari, former MK and leader of a small far right party Otzama LeYisrael, stands before an excited, screaming crowd and yells that the army must be allowed to "exterminate". This was during Operation Pillar of Defence. In July, Ayelet Shaked MK, a member of the government and the far right Jewish Home party, calls for genocide against the Palestinians. This is at the beginning of Protective Edge.
Now, Moishe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Knesset and a leading member of Likud, says that all of the territory claimed as Eretz Yisrael, including Gaza, belongs to Israel. He calls for concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and the extermination of resistance. Martin Sherman, the executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, writes that "Gaza must go." The Palestinians who fight must be crushed, and the rest must be driven out ("transferred"), and Israeli sovereignty extended over Gaza. Yochanan Gordon, columnist for the Times of Israel, writes an op-ed explaining "When genocide is permissible."
If these examples stood aloof, as lonely cases of rightist lunacy, there would be nothing more to do than condemn them and perhaps appeal to the 'reasonable' forces in Israeli politics. They are not, however, isolated instances. Genocide is an uncomfortably mainstream option in Israel. David Sheen recently wrote an article about a number of Israeli tweeters who excitedly cheered on the IDF and urged the extermination of Arabs. Explaining the article, he said: "Those words the girls said are not in any way strange to the discourse in Israel. When you translate it into English you realize how horrific it is, but in the Israeli context there's nothing shocking about it." The centre-left Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz made a similar point: "Abu Khdeir’s murderers are not 'Jewish extremists'. They are the descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance that is nurtured and fertilized by the guides of 'the Jewish state'."
Following the murder of four Palestinian children on a Gaza beach, Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy reported the 'below the line' reactions in Israel:
Shani Moyal: “I couldn’t care less that Arab children were killed, too bad it wasn’t more. Well done to the IDF.” Stav Sabah: “Really, these are great pictures. They make me so happy, I want to look at them again and again.” Sharon Avishi: “Only four? Too bad. We hoped for more.” Daniela Turgeman: “Great. We need to kill all the children.” Chaya Hatnovich: “There isn’t a more beautiful picture than those of dead Arab children.” Orna Peretz: “Why only four?” Rachel Cohen: “I’m not for children dying in Gaza. I’m for everyone burning.” Tami Mashan: “As many children as possible should die.”
A question worth asking: amid reports of IDF 'revenge' attacks on Gazans, and the shooting of fleeing civilians, in the rubble and death-stench of neighbourhoods turned to graveyards, how much do Israeli soldiers partake of this ideology?
A crucial aspect of this mainstreaming of eliminationist racism is that it is linked to the perception of existential peril. Practically every such exhortation cites not just Hamas rockets, which are merely the evident emblem of the threat, but the long-term viability of 'the Jewish state' if the Arabs are not dealt with. And so, there is an increasingly bellicose countersubversive edge in Israeli politics, with verbal and physical attacks on the Left, and growing harassment of Israeli Arabs and their small number of Knesset representatives. Because, if 'they' represent doom for the 'the Jewish state' in Gaza, 'they' also represent doom in Israel, and so do their traitorous allies. Now this is a fairly straightforward reactionary motif in some senses; it externalises the dysfunctions and antagonisms that are internal to Zionism onto selected opponents. Hamas, Iran, the UN, their idiot commie allies: they threaten our extinction.
Blood and soil
If fascism is being mainstreamed in Israel, it is most unusual in a way. In most states where there is a fascist potential, what is most visible is protracted class conflict (usually settled in favour of capital), political polarisation between left and right (with the right tending to have the initiative), collapsing hegemonic apparatuses, and a stalemated parliamentary leadership. You see these characteristics in Greece; not in Israel. There is class polarisation, sure, but not a great deal of class struggle. There is a political polarisation, but it's a polarisation almost exclusively to the right. The race/class hegemony is relatively stable, the hegemonic apparatuses are not falling apart, and the state is not in deadlock. Hardly any Jewish Israeli opposes what the government is doing. In that circumstance, what space would there be for a mass movement of the middle class to take state power? Who would even need to cancel parliamentary democracy?
But of course, Israel is different. It is a colonial settler state, and a peculiarly ideological one at that. Its territorial claims and its demographic imperatives conspire to create an auto-radicalising dynamic. Hardly any political current in Israel disagrees that Gaza and the West Bank belong to Israel by right. The main tributaries of Zionism, Labour and Revisionist, converge on this, and on the absolute necessity of maintaining fluid and thus expandable borders potentially capable of absorbing the whole of Eretz Yisrael. Of course, the secular wing of Zionism does not 'take seriously' the Biblical promise to Abraham and his descendants upon which the claim to Palestine is based but, like all nationalisms, it does need a sacred mythology to explain the otherwise totally contingent relationship between people and territory.
There is also necessarily a profoundly messianic element in Zionism. To dream in the first instance of a new nation state, a Jewish state, in a part of the Ottoman empire, where there are few Jews and no Jewish nationalists, as a deliverance from the darkness of Europe, is to believe in a fairy tale - no matter what Theodore Herzl said on the matter. To summon the political will to do this, to get people to believe in it, to suppose that the will itself will suffice, is a type of magical thinking which surely draws from the same well as religiosity. Surely this partially explains the peculiarly spiritual language of secular Zionists, from Ben Gurion to Jabotinsky. It also furnishes part of the reason why the historical claim cited by secular Zionists is essentially a 'blood and soil' mythology derived from German Romanticism, and founded upon the supposed ancient connection between Jewish 'forefathers' and the land (a mythology debunked most efficiently by Shlomo Sand). One could go on, but the point is that the 'settler movement' and the religious right, usually mocked as some sort of 'extremist' outlier of the Zionist project, are in a way its inner truth. When they say that cities should be built across the Middle East, that there are 'halachic imperatives' demanding the colonisation of not just Palestine but Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, they are not in fact deviating far from the secular 'founding fathers', all of whom agreed that Eretz Yisrael, the 'native land' of the Jews, extended well beyond British Mandate Palestine.
The problem is that expanding in this way is dangerous if the foundational purpose is to have a specifically Jewish state with a Jewish majority. You end up ruling over a lot of Arabs with a high fertility rate, and something has to be done with them. This is what Israelis call the 'demographic timebomb'. Every Israeli politician is acutely aware of this contradiction.
Bantustans, apartheid or genocide
The positions available for managing the dilemma are limited. There is a pragmatic 'two-state' option, which concedes nothing in principle to Palestinian national rights, but allows that the Palestinians must live somewhere, and preferably not in Israeli territory. This is the position of Livni and Lieberman: while "the people of Israel" have a historic right to all the land, they may strategically concede a part of it in order to maintain a Jewish majority. This is the ideological basis for the 'bantustan' solution in Israel, which would also include "population transfer" (a concept that is deeply rooted in Zionist doctrine, and played a key role in the ethnic cleansing of 1947-8). Netanyahu, of course, has openly stated at the beginning of this war that he can never support a sovereign Palestinian state in the territories he refers to in Biblical language as "Judea and Samaria". This is the ideological basis for the perpetual apartheid solution, in which Israel rules over Palestinians, periodically crushes them, but never incorporates them into the polity and slowly tries to destroy the political movement aimed at establishing a Palestinian nation-state. Much of the Israeli Right, like Livni, thinks it impractical for Israel to rule over Arabs; but, like Netanyahu, has no interest in a Palestinian state. And this is the ideological basis for genocide.
Israel's class antagonisms have always been displaced onto the racial/colonial plane. If there is a struggle over resources, citizenship, justice, and so on, it is chiefly a struggle carried out with and against Arabs. (And, increasingly, the African migrants referred to - in the most polite official Israeli term - as 'infiltrators'). Of course, colonialism was the predecessor of European fascism in so many ways, as Aimé Césaire insisted: "it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples."
The question is how has the colonial struggle been so radicalised as to summon a political culture that is tolerant of the notion of genocide, but deeply hurt by the recognition of Arab life? It is not, I suggest, because the Palestinian movement has become more threatening to Israel. The advent of Abu Mazen suggests the precise contrary. It is not because Israel is in an objectively weaker position. With the confirmation of the Egyptian military in power, there is little for Israel to really worry about, at least for the time being.
This is a radicalisation that is internal to Israel, I suggest. It is in the contradictory imperatives of ethnic nationalism and territorial expansion, integral to Zionism in its dominant forms, that lead to this impasse. There is no guarantee that this problem is soluble, or that Israel will remain strong enough to solve it. And what will become of the Jewish state if it remains permanently harried by a people whose mere existence calls its legitimacy into question? And the longer the problem is unresolved, the more Palestinian resistance holds out, the more impatient and frantic the culture becomes. "They want us dead. They want to destroy the Jewish state. Haven't we been more than generous? Must we tolerate this forever? Isn't it time to let the army go in there and finish them off? Who let those stupid radicals talk?"
The remaining Israeli antiwar activists are now chanting in the streets, "no, we will not let fascism pass". They are too few. They may be too late.