Among the more disturbing aspects of last Tuesday’s rally in Tel Aviv in support of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a subdued terrorist in Hebron, were a group of demonstrators shouting “death to Arabs” and “Bogie is the name of a dog” (alluding to Chief of Staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon).
Ya’alon’s “crime” was that he believes, as he publicly stated the day before the rally, that “we are not [Islamic State].
When it is necessary to kill, we kill. But when we are dealing with someone who has been neutralized, or has surrendered, this is where it is important that we preserve our moral compass.”
The rally’s participants clearly did not agree with that statement, and the conclusion that follows from it: that if the evidence suggests Azaria acted contrary to IDF rules of engagement, he should be tried and, if found guilty, punished.
The demonstrators were calling for his unconditional release.
Though not all the rally’s participants (whose number was evaluated at between 2,000 to 7,000) were among those shouting against Ya’alon, the “Kahane was right” banners, the presence of numerous members of the infamous “la familia” Betar fan club and the racist Lehava organization, and the statement from the podium made by the accused soldier’s father, Charlie Azaria, that “all the sane people are here” didn’t leave much room for doubt about the nature of the rally.
It was not a rally of love and support for the soldier, as claimed rally organizer and former MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu), but a not very impressive turnout of extreme right-wing racists with an inclination to violence. The presence of three Likud backbenchers – Oren Hazan, Nava Boker and Nurit Koren – didn’t manage to lend the rally an aura of respectability.
Many left-wingers were quick to label the rally a fascist event. I disagree.
Though there were certainly numerous persons with fascist inclinations present, and some of the views expressed – especially off stage – may certainly be classified as fascist, it was not a fascist event. What was missing to turn it into a fascist event was a fascist leader – an Israeli Benito Mussolini , deliberately trying to mobilize a fascist mood to realize a fascist agenda and his own aggrandizement.
I believe that a fascist mood is certainly to be observed in Israel, though whether the number of Israelis with fascist inclinations has really risen, or whether many such persons who were previously hidden have decided to “come out of the closet” and speak out (or rather shout out), is not clear. Certainly today people are less ashamed than in the past to express what are regarded as fascist views.
However, though the public mood is not to be ignored or belittled, the issue that ought to be addressed, in my opinion, concerns our leadership. That our current leadership is much more rightwing than any of our leaderships in the past is an undeniable fact. The question is whether this is a right-wing leadership merely inclined to conservatism and laissez-faire economics, or a rightwing leadership with radical inclinations, whether in religious-messianic terms or secular-fascist ones.
Though there is no question that our one National Religious party – Bayit Yehudi – is much more radical than any of its predecessors, and that a part of it – Hatkuma – is on the worryingly hallucinatory spectrum, we tend to forget that currently this party has no more than eight Knesset seats, and the degree of its influence is merely a function of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to tolerate the behavior of its leaders.
Last Wednesday he was reported to have threatened to oust Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett from the government for questioning the exclusion of a certain item close to his heart from the Cabinet agenda.
Since the other small right-wing party – Yisrael Beytenu with six Knesset seats – is currently in the opposition, and its leader, Avigdor Liberman, remains an unpredictable enigma, all one can say with certainly is that several of its former MKs will apparently soon stand trial on corruption charges, and that another is the man behind the rather pathetic rally last Tuesday.
That leaves us with the Likud, and its leader: Netanyahu.
A well known left-wing academic recently made hay out of Netanyahu’s statement in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last January to the effect that he would like to be remembered as the “Protector of Israel,” commenting that this title is reminiscent of the those adopted by totalitarian leaders as part of their self-aggrandizing personality cults.
I believe this academic is wrong. Though Netanyahu is certainly obsessed with his own political survival, seems to believe he will go down in history as one of Israel’s greatest political leaders if not the greatest of them, appears to feel more at ease with political leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin than with US President Barack Obama or even German Chancellor Angela Merkel and is reported to have designated his son Yair as his heir, he lacks most of the characteristics of totalitarian leaders, fascist or otherwise.
In fact on most issues he seems to be too lily-livered to adopt determined positions and follow up on them (two exceptions were his policy regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran and the natural gas deal, in both of which cases his sense of realpolitik failed him).
On the other hand, though he threatened to fire Bennett last Wednesday, his position regarding plans by some of his ministers (including from the Likud) to weaken the foundations of Israeli democracy is vague at best, and his contempt for the Knesset as an effective overseer of his government’s policies is well known.
However, most worrying of all is the absence of any clear-cut and unequivocal condemnation of vicious, libelous attacks against the president, the defense minister, the chief of staff, the court system and anybody else determined to defend the rule of law and moral principles, coming from the extreme right-wing circles.
And what about Likud as a party? No one denies that there are hardly any liberals left in the party, and that the ideological heritage of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin is treated by most of the current Likud MKs like last year’s rain. Some seem totally ignorant of this heritage – including the three Likud backbenchers who participated in the rally at Kikar Rabin last Tuesday.
What will remain of Likud after the Netanyahu era? Probably very little, unless by some miracle the party changes its DNA.
Of course, none of what was said above tells us what turn events will take in Israel’s future. It should be noted that most of the outward manifestations of a fascist mood in various sections of the Israeli society are all functions of Israel’s occupation/liberation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Six Day War, and Israel’s 50-year rule over close to five millions disenfranchised and desperate Palestinians.
In other words, whether Israel will take a slippery road to fascism largely depends on the future of the occupied/liberated territories.
And incidentally, Bogie is not a dog’s name.
The writer is a political scientist and former Knesset employee.