"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Israeli Right

My friend Brett in Israel has tipped me off to a couple of fascinating articles that document the language mechanisms and perhaps the mentality of the extreme right in Israel, an issue that is troubling both for the sake of peace and for the future of a decent, modern, democratic ally.

The first is a disturbing Harretz commentary by Bradley Burston.  In it, he tackles some of the more hideous assaults on law and decency that are becoming more commonplace- flouting court orders, campagins against human rights groups, increasing gender segregation, etc.  His conclusion is that the Israeli right is afraid of peace, and wants only to create the "world's last remaining legally mandated Jewish ghetto."   I think that language might be hyperbolic and create a few extreme ahistorical symmetries for the sake of emotional punch, but I understand the sentiment. 

The picture becomes a little more clear when reading the next article in Coteret, titled (even more provocatively) "Israeli McCarthyism, Circa 2010".   Author Hagai El-Ad quotes Israeli parlimentarians using the language of treason and violence against fellow Israelis who don't particularly like their country's actions in Operation Cast Lead.   Here are a couple of choice samples (all from article, with El-Ad's comments)

MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi – New National Religious Party) begun with a short introduction to the concept of treason: “My friends the members of the Knesset. Treason was defined as a crime so to prevent soldiers and civilians from providing ammunition to the enemy to destroy Israel. That’s treason…

MK Danny Danon (Likud) presented the concept of truth: “The question is very simple and we will know the answer within a few months. If these organizations did not give false information to the Goldstone Report – then all the fuss is for nothing. I’d be wasting precious time of the Israeli Knesset. But if they indeed passed false information to Israel’s enemies – if they fed them false data – we need to say: enough.”
This suggests the following philosophical question: what is a worse crime – feeding one’s enemies with false data, or with real one? Or, putting the sarcasm aside for a moment: how is MK Danon going to find out if the questions raised with regard to the IDF’s conduct during Cast Lead are true or false, if there won’t be any credible investigation into Cast Lead?

This is indeed scary stuff, but I am of mixed minds about it.  No: let me clarify a bit.  It is frightening and stomach-turning and awful.  What I am ambivalent about is its long-term ramifications.

The language will strike almost any American as the kind of stuff we hear from the American right- the with us or against us mentality, the Michelle Bachmann overdrive to root out traitors, the idea of the last decade that dissent equaled treason (funny how that has disappeared).   And that, weirdly, is why I am not too terribly worried about Israel- countries do go through periods of historical insanity.  It may seem like we are still in one, but I think it is petering out, even if it is not yet dead.  So I feel to take a moment of madness and assume it will destroy a place might be over-reaching, and playing into the idea we have now that every day is the most important one.

But this isn't a call for complacency, either.  I am not totally sold on the above.  Israel is in a strange spot right now- the heroic generation is all but gone, and the new leaders seem to want to simultaneously move forward but also feel the need to show how tough they are.  The younger generation doesn't seem to want to do much with politics or the wearying wars, but to innovate and live their lives.  Into this vacuum steps the worst actors.   Israel is also young and buffeted with enemies.  If America could lose its bearings because of one (obviously enormous, but not catyclismic) strike, a country like Israel, always on the edge of attack, can be more easily pushed over.

However, there have been signs of counter-protests.  A decent and liberal people can only be pushed so far.  But for now, this is a scary trend.  Silly or malicious people in the 2000s liked to say that the neo-cons cared more for Israel than America.  This was nonsense, but it seems what the neo-cons managed to do was provide a vicious template for their Israeli counterparts.

No comments:

Post a Comment