A time for good men to speak out

The deputy chief of staff was right to point to disturbing trends in today’s Israel.

Martin Buber (photo credit: MOSHE PRIDAN / GPO)
Martin Buber
(photo credit: MOSHE PRIDAN / GPO)
FASCISM HAS always been highly controversial and produced eloquent spokespeople on both sides.
When the Fascists came to power in Italy in 1922, there were intellectuals who enthusiastically welcomed the new regime. The celebrated playwright Luigi Pirandello declared that “I am a Fascist, because I am Italian.” In 1935, he supported the invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and its annexation to Italy. He actually sent Mussolini the Nobel Prize medal he had won a year earlier and suggested that it be used to make bullets.
But there were also prominent Italians like Giacomo Matteotti, the trade union leader, neo-Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci and socialist leader Pietro Nenni who openly derided Fascism as morally bankrupt and politically disastrous. For his outspoken criticism, Matteotti paid with his life – murdered in 1925 by blackshirt thugs.
Similarly, when the Nazis seized power in Germany 83 years ago, there were intellectuals like the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Bruno Bauch, psychologists Carl Jung and Felix Krueger and the theater critic Herbert Ihering, who enthused at the resurgence of the German national spirit; but there were also others like novelist Thomas Mann, playwright Bertolt Brecht, author Stefan Zweig, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and a few other “defeatist and treacherous moralizers” who loathed Nazi ideology and condemned its rapacious realization against Jews long before the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom and the ensuing genocide.
In the 1920s and 30s, there were also Jewish intellectuals from the Revisionist camp who identified with German and Italian-style pursuit of radical, unbridled national self-interest. They saw in it a model for national conduct, a means of expressing Jewish patriotism, grandeur and national pride. Their only regret was that what they saw as healthy nationalism in Europe was heavily tinged with an anti-Semitic hue.
In those days 80 years ago, supporters of Fascism could not foresee that rampant nationalism would lead to the Holocaust. On the first anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber observed that even “after all these actions, there are still those among us who say: This envoy of Satan indeed hurts us, but Satan himself is right. Satan is the true god…When we were weak – we said what we said because we were weak. But now we must build our strength and carry out satanic deeds like the strong in order to prosper on the land.” And he warned: “Those who engage in Hitler-like deeds will be swallowed up along with him.”
In today’s Israel, attempts to legislate a new nation-state law, efforts to undermine the legal system, a call by a member of parliament to bulldoze the Supreme Court, the Naqba Law that limits the Arab minority’s freedom of expression, the systematic assault by settler “hilltop youth” on Palestinian property, life and limb, with most of the perpetrators not being brought to justice, the unimpeded activity of the Lahava organization against mixed couples to safeguard the purity of Jewish blood (reminiscent of the spirit of the racist 1935 Nuremberg Laws), widespread identification with a soldier who shot dead a prone and already incapacitated Palestinian terrorist, the “kill verification” of a 12-year-old girl armed with a pair of scissors, and the ascendant spirit of national-clericalism all justify the remarks by Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan who said in early May, “If there is something that frightens me in remembering the Holocaust, it is identifying horrific processes that occurred in Europe and particularly in Germany, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding evidence of them here among us today.”
There is no danger of a rise of national-socialism in Israel today, because socialism is dead. But there is a very palpable danger of an ascendant national-clericalism, whose results could be as disastrous as those of radical European nationalism in the first half of the 20th century.
In the more distant past, in the days of the Second Temple, national religious fanaticism led to the destruction of Jewish independence.
The hue and cry against General Golan show that what he said touched a raw nerve.
Joshua Sobol, one of Israel’s leading playwrights, has written several plays set in the Nazi period, including the highly acclaimed ‘Ghetto’ as well as contemporary social criticism.