Viser arkivet for stikkord nazi

The Netanyahu speech in Congress

Uri Avnery
March 7, 2015

SUDDENLY IT reminded me of something.

I was watching The Speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the Congress of the United States. Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.

It was the shouting that did it. Where had I heard that before?

And then it came back to me. It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.

Of course, the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout “Heil” but something unintelligible. Yet the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.

But then I returned to the present. The sight was not frightening, but ridiculous. Here were the members of the most powerful parliament in the world behaving like a bunch of nincompoops.

Nothing like this could have happened in the Knesset. I do not have a very high opinion of our parliament, despite having been a member, but compared to this assembly, the Knesset is the fulfillment of Plato’s dream.

ABBA EBAN once compared a speech by Menachem Begin to a French souffle cake: a lot of air and very little dough.

The same could be said about The Speech.

What did it contain? The Holocaust, of course, with that moral impostor, Elie Wiesel, sitting in the gallery right next to the beaming Sarah’le, who visibly relished her husband’s triumph. (A few days before, she had shouted at the wife of a mayor in Israel: “Your man does not reach the ankles of my man!”)

The Speech mentioned the Book of Esther, about the salvation of the Persian Jews from the evil Persian minister Haman, who intended to wipe them out. No one knows how this dubious composition came to be included in the Bible. God is not mentioned in it, it has nothing to do with the Holy Land, and Esther herself is more of a prostitute than a heroine. The book ends with the mass murder committed by the Jews against the Persians.

The Speech, like all speeches by Netanyahu, contained much about the suffering of the Jews throughout the ages, and the intentions of the evil Iranians, the New Nazis, to annihilate us. But this will not happen, because this time we have Binyamin Netanyahu to protect us. And the US Republicans, of course.

It was a good speech. One cannot make a bad speech when hundreds of admirers hang on every word and applaud every second. But it will not make an anthology of the world’s Greatest Speeches.

Netanyahu considers himself a second Churchill. And indeed, Churchill was the only foreign leader before Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress a third time. But Churchill came to cement his alliance with the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who played a big part in the British war effort, while Netanyahu has come to spit in the face of the present president.

WHAT DID the speech not contain?

Not a word about Palestine and the Palestinians. Not a word about peace, the two-state solution, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem. Not a word about apartheid, the occupation, the settlements. Not a word about Israel’s own nuclear capabilities.

Not a word, of course, about the idea of a nuclear-weapon–free region, with mutual inspection.

Indeed, there was no concrete proposal at all. After denouncing the bad deal in the making, and hinting that Barack Obama and John Kerry are dupes and idiots, he offered no alternative.

Why? I assume that the original text of The Speech contained a lot. Devastating new sanctions against Iran. A demand for the total demolition of all Iranian nuclear installations. And in the inevitable end: a US-Israeli military attack.

All this was left out. He was warned by the Obama people in no uncertain terms that disclosure of details of the negotiations would be considered as a betrayal of confidence. He was warned by his Republican hosts that the American public was in no mood to hear about yet another war.

What was left? A dreary recounting of the well-known facts about the negotiations. It was the only tedious part of the speech. For minutes no one jumped up, nobody shouted approval. Elie Wiesel was shown sleeping. The most important person in the hall, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Congress republicans and of Netanyahu, was not shown at all. But he was there, keeping close watch on his servants.

BY THE way, whatever happened to Netanyahu’s war?

Remember when the Israel Defense Forces were about to bomb Iran to smithereens? When the US military might was about to “take out” all Iranian nuclear installations?

Readers of this column might also remember that years ago I assured them that there would be no war. No ifs, no buts. No half-open back door for a retreat. I asserted that there would be no war, period.

Much later, all Israeli former military and intelligence chiefs spoke out against the war. The army Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, who finished his term this week, has disclosed that no draft operation order for attacking Iran’s nuclear capabilities was ever drawn up.

Why? Because such an operation could lead to a world-wide catastrophe. Iran would immediately close the Strait of Hormuz, just a few dozen miles wide, through which some 35% of the world’s sea-borne oil must pass. It would mean an immediate world-wide economic breakdown.

To open the Strait and keep it open, a large part of Iran would have to be occupied in a land war, boots on the ground. Even Republicans shiver at the thought.

Israeli military capabilities fall far short of such an adventure. And, of course, Israel cannot dream of starting a war without express American consent.

That is reality. Not speechifying. Even American senators are capable of seeing the difference.

THE CENTERPIECE of The Speech was the demonization of Iran. Iran is evil incarnate. It leaders are subhuman monsters. All over the world, Iranian terrorists are at work planning monstrous outrages. They are building intercontinental ballistic missiles to destroy the US. Immediately after obtaining nuclear warheads – now or in ten years – they will annihilate Israel.

In reality, Israel’s second-strike capability, based on the submarines supplied by Germany, would annihilate Iran within minutes. One of the most ancient civilizations in world history would come to an abrupt end. The ayatollahs would have to been clinically insane to do such a thing.

Netanyahu pretends to believe they are. Yet for years now, Israel has been conducting an amiable arbitration with the Iranian government about the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline across Israel built by an Iranian-Israeli consortium. Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was Israel’s stoutest ally in the region. Well after the revolution, Israel supplied Iran with arms in order to fight against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (the famous Irangate affair). And if one goes back to Esther and her sexual effort to save the Jews, why not mention Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Judean captives to return to Jerusalem?

Judging by its behavior, the present Iranian leadership has lost some of its initial religious fervor. It is behaving (not always speaking) in a very rational way, conducting tough negotiations as one would expect from Persians, aware of their immense cultural heritage, even more ancient than Judaism. Netanyahu is right in saying that one should not trust them with closed eyes, but his demonization is ridiculous.

Within the wider context, Israel and Iran are already indirect allies. For both, the Islamic State (ISIS) is the mortal enemy. To my mind, ISIS is far more dangerous to Israel, in the long run, than Iran. I imagine that for Tehran, ISIS is a far more dangerous enemy than Israel.

(The only memorable sentence in The Speech was “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy”.)

If the worst comes to the worst, Iran will have its bomb in the end. So what?

I may be an arrogant Israeli, but I refuse to be afraid. I live a mile from the Israeli army high command in the center of Tel Aviv, and in a nuclear exchange I would evaporate. Yet I feel quite safe.

The United States has been exposed for decades (and still is) to thousands of Russian nuclear bombs, which could eradicate millions within minutes. They feel safe under the umbrella of the “balance of terror”. Between us and Iran, in the worst situation, the same balance would come into effect.

WHAT IS Netanyahu’s alternative to Obama’s policy? As Obama was quick to point out, he offered none.

The best possible deal will be struck. The danger will be postponed for ten years or more. And, as Chaim Weizmann once said: “The future will come and take care of the future.”

Within these ten years, many things will happen. Regimes will change, enmities will turn into alliances and vice versa. Anything is possible.

Even – God and the Israeli voters willing – peace between Israel and Palestine, which would take the sting out of Israeli-Muslim relations.

Israel and the Weimar republic's march towards fascism

Weimar Revisited

“YOU AND your Weimar!” a friend of mine once exclaimed in exasperation, ”just because you experienced the collapse of the Weimar Republic as a child, you see Weimar behind every corner.”

The accusation was not unjustified. In 1960, during the Eichmann trial, I wrote a book about the fall of the German Republic. Its last chapter was called: “It can happen here” Since then I have come back to this warning time and again.

But now I am not alone anymore. During the last few weeks, the word Weimar has popped up in the articles of many commentators.

It should be sprayed in huge letters on the walls.

ISRAELI DEMOCRACY is under siege. No one can ignore this anymore. It is the main topic in the Knesset, which is leading the attack, and the media, who are among the victims.

This does not happen in the occupied territories. There, democracy never existed. Occupation is the very opposite of democracy: a denial of all human rights, the right to life, liberty, movement, fair trial and free expression, not to mention national rights.

No, I mean Israel proper, the Israel inside the Green Line, the only democracy in the Middle East.

The attackers are members of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government coalition, which includes semi-fascist and openly fascist elements. Netanyahu himself tries to remain discreetly in the background, but there can be no doubt that every single detail has been orchestrated by him.

In the first two years of this coalition, attacks were sporadic. But now they are determined, systematic and coordinated.

At this moment, the anti-democratic forces are attacking on a wide front, The three main pillars of democracy – the courts, the media and the human rights organizations – are under simultaneous, deadly assault. (Remember Weimar?)

THE SUPREME COURT is the bastion of democracy. Israel has no constitution, the Knesset majority is totally unbridled, only the court can (if reluctantly) check the adoption of anti-democratic laws.

I am not a blind admirer of the court. In the occupied territories, it is an arm of the occupation, devoted to “national security”, approving of some of the worst incidents. Only in rare cases has it come out against the worst practices. But in Israel proper, it is a stout defender of civil rights.

The extreme rightists in the Knesset are resolved to put an end to this. Their front man is the Minister of Justice, who was appointed by Avigdor Lieberman. He is pushing a series of scandalous ad hominem bills. One of them is designed to change the composition of the public committee that appoints the judges, with the undisguised intention of bringing about the appointment of a particular right-wing judge to the Supreme Court.

Another bill has the undisguised purpose of changing the existing court rules in order to put a certain “conservative” judge in the chair of Chief Justice. The declared purpose is to abolish the rule of an independent court which dares, though only in rare cases, to block “anti-constitutional” laws enacted by the Knesset majority. They want the court to “represent the will of the people”. (Remember Weimar?)

Until now, since the first day of the state, the justices have been, in practice, chosen by cooptation. This has functioned perfectly for 63 years. Israel’s Supreme Court is the envy of many countries. Now this system is in mortal danger.

Another bill, which would have compelled candidates for the Supreme Court to undergo grilling by a Knesset Committee chaired by another Lieberman appointee, and obtain their approval, was withheld at the last moment by Netanyahu himself, He had already given his approval, but shrank back after the almost universal condemnation – and is now posing as the defender of democracy from his own underlings.

The chairman of the Judicial Committee of the Knesset, another Lieberman appointee, is rushing these laws through his committee, contrary to established procedures. In a stormy session this week, a female member called him “a coarse thug”. He replied: “You are not even a beast”.

A minimal purpose of these bills is to terrorize any judges considering vetoing the other anti-democratic bills that are being enacted. Some say that the effects are already being felt.

In several famous cases, the government openly flouts the Supreme Court’s orders, especially concerning the evacuation of “settlements outposts” built on lands belonging to Palestinian farmers.

Who will defend the court? The former Chief Justice, Aharon Barak, who was hated by the rightists because of his pioneering “judicial activism”, once told me: “The Court has no army divisions. Its power rests solely on the support of the public.”

THE ASSAULT on the media started some time ago when the American casino baron, Sheldon Adelson, a close friend of Netanyahu, started a daily tabloid paper with the express purpose of helping Netanyahu. It is being distributed for free and now has the biggest circulation in the country, threatening the existence of all the others (but also bribing them by giving them huge printing orders.) Money is no object. Huge sums are being spent.

That was only the beginning.

In 1965 the Labor party government enacted a new libel law (called literally “the Law of the Evil Tongue”) which was then clearly designed to muzzle “Haolam Hazeh”, the mass-circulation news magazine I was editing, which had introduced investigative reporting to Israel. I appealed to the public to send me to the Knesset in protest, and 1.5% of the voters were incensed enough to do so.

Now the right-wing gang in the Knesset wants to sharpen this anti-media law even more. The new amendment grants up to $135,000 damages to anyone claiming to be hurt by the media, without their having to prove any damage at all. For newspapers and TV channels, which are already in a precarious financial position, this means that they better give up all investigative reporting and any criticism of influential politicians and tycoons.

The new winds are already being felt. Journalists and TV editors are cowed. This week, a program on Channel 10, considered the most liberal, gave five minutes to a song glorifying the late “Rabbi” Meir Kahane, who was branded by the Supreme Court as a fascist, and whose organization was outlawed for advocating what the court called “Nuremberg laws”. An avowed member of this organization, which is alive and kicking under another name, is now a vocal member of the Knesset. (Remember Weimar?)

A major purge of TV journalists is already underway. One by one, directors of all TV channels are being replaced by confirmed rightists. It was openly admitted that the government would force the closure of Channel 10 by calling in outstanding debts if a certain journalist were not fired. Though generally an establishment type, this reporter had irked Netanyahu by exposing his and his wife’s luxurious traveling style at government expense.

AT THE same time, human rights and peace NGOs are under heavy attack. The Knesset gang is producing bill after bill to silence them.

One bill already under way forbids human rights associations to receive donations from foreign governments and “state-like organizations”, such as the UN and the EU. Right-wing organizations receive, of course, huge sums of money from Jewish American billionaires, who fund the settlements (which are also indirectly financed by the US treasury, which gives tax-exempt status to the so-called “charitable organizations” that fund the settlements.)

The law which levies huge indemnities on organizations and individuals who advocate a boycott on the products of the settlements is already in force. The hearing of an application submitted by Gush Shalom to the Supreme Court against this suppression of political protest has been postponed by the court again and again and again.

This parliamentary terrorism is accompanied by the accelerating violence of fascist gangs from the settlements. These SA-like gangs call their actions “Price Tag”. Usually, they react to the isolated cases of the army demolishing a few “illegal” buildings in a settlement by attacking a neighboring Palestinian village, setting fire to a mosque or carrying out what can only be described as a pogrom. (Remember Weimar?)

MARTIN NIEMÖLLER, a German U-boat captain and later pacifist pastor, who was thrown into a concentration camp by the Nazis, coined the famous lament: “When the Nazis came to take the Communists, I was silent. After all, I was no Communist. When they took the Jews, I was silent. I am no Jew. When they arrested the Social Democrats, I was silent. I was no Social Democrat. When they came to take me, there was no one left to protest.”

What we are witnessing now, are not isolated attacks on one or another human right – what we are seeing is a general attack on democracy as such. Perhaps only people who have experienced life under a fascist dictatorship can fully realize what that means.

Of course, the similarity between the collapse of the German republic and the processes in today’s Israel does not mean that the same events must follow. Nazism was unique in many ways. The end of real democracy may be followed by different systems. There are many models to choose from: Ceausescu, Franco, Putin.

Certainly, there is no similarity between the small German town called Weimar and Tel Aviv. Except perhaps the fact that many houses in Tel Aviv were designed according to the Bauhaus architectural school – which originated in Weimar.

Weimar was once a cultural center, where geniuses like Goethe and Schiller produced their masterpieces. The German republic which was founded in 1919, after World War I, was called by this name after the national assembly which framed its very progressive constitution there.

On these lines, the endangered democratic State of Israel, whose Declaration of Independence was signed in 1948 in Tel Aviv, could rightly be called the Tel Aviv Republic.

We are not yet in 1932. The Storm Troopers are not yet roaming our streets. We still have time to mobilize the public against the looming danger. The demonstration taking place today in Tel Aviv against the de-democratization of Israel may mark a turning point.

Uri Avnery
November 19, 2011

Avnery on the model for Israel

Uri Avnery
12.12.09

Spot the Difference

A SHORT historical quiz: Which state:

(1) Arose after a holocaust in which a third of its people were destroyed?

(2) Drew from that holocaust the conclusion that only superior military forces could ensure its survival?

(3) Accorded the army a central role in its life, making it “an army that had a state, rather than a state that had an army”?

(4) Began by buying the land it took, and continued to expand by conquest and annexation?

(5) Endeavored by all possible means to attract new immigrants?

(6) Conducted a systematic policy of settlement in the occupied territories?

(7) Strove to push out the national minority by creeping ethnic cleansing?

For anyone who has not yet found the answer: it’s the state of Prussia.

But if some readers were tempted to believe that it all applies to the State of Israel – well, they are right, too. This description fits our state. The similarity between the two states is remarkable. True, the countries are geographically very different, and so are the historical periods, but the points of similarity can hardly be denied.

THE STATE that was respected and feared for 350 years as Prussia started with another name: Mark Brandenburg. (Mark: march, border area). This territory in the North-East of Germany was wrested from its Slavic inhabitants and was initially outside the boundaries of the German Reich. To this day, many of its place names (including Berlin neighborhoods, like Pankow) are clearly Slavic. It can be said: Prussia arose on the ruins of another people (some of whose descendants are still living there).

A historical curiosity: the land was first paid for in cash. The house of Hohenzollern, a noble family from South Germany, bought the territory of Brandenburg from the German Emperor for 400,000 Hungarian Gulden. I don’t know how that compares with the money paid by the Jewish National Fund for parts of Palestine before 1948.

The event that largely determined the entire history of Prussia up to World War II was a holocaust: the 30-years war. Throughout these years – 1618-1648 – practically all the armies of Europe fought each other on German soil, destroying everything in the process. The soldiers, many of them mercenaries, the scum of the earth, murdered and raped, pillaged and robbed, burnt entire towns and drove the pitiful survivors from their lands. In this war, a third of the German population was killed and two thirds of their villages destroyed. (Bertolt Brecht immortalized this holocaust in his play, “Mother Courage”.)

North Germany is a wide open plain. Its borders are unprotected by any ocean, mountain range or desert. The Prussian answer to the ravages of the holocaust was to erect an iron wall: a powerful regular army that would make up for the lack of seas and mountains and be ready to defend the state against all possible combinations of potential enemies.

At the beginning, the army was an essential instrument for the defense of the state’s very existence. In the course of time, it became the center of national life. What started out as the Prussian defense forces became an aggressive army of conquest that terrified all its neighbors. For some of the Prussian kings, the army was the main interest in life. For a time, the soldiers and their families constituted about a quarter of the Berlin population. An old Prussian saying goes: “Der Soldate / ist der beste Mann im Staate” – the soldier is the best man in the state. Adulation of the army became a cult, almost a religion.

PRUSSIA WAS never a “normal” state of a homogenous population living together throughout the centuries. By a sophisticated combination of military conquest, diplomacy and judicious marriages, its masters succeeded in annexing more and more territories to their core domain. These territories were not even contiguous, and some of them were very far from each other.

One of those was the area that came to give the state its name: Prussia. The original Prussia was located on the shores of the Baltic Sea, in areas that now belong to Poland and Russia. At first they were conquered by the Order of Teutonic Knights, a German religious-military order founded during the Crusades in Acre – the ruins of its main castle, Montfort (Starkenberg), still stand in Galilee. The German crusaders decided that instead of fighting the heathens in a faraway country, it made more sense to fight the neighboring pagans and rob them of their lands. In the course of time, the princes of Brandenburg succeeded in acquiring this territory and adopted its name for all their dominions. They also succeeded in upgrading their status and crowned themselves as kings.

The lack of homogeneity of the Prussian lands, composed as they were of diverse and unconnected areas, gave birth to the main Prussian creation: the “State”. This was the factor that was to unite all the different populations, each of which stuck to its local patriotism and traditions. The “State” – Der Staat – became a sacred being, transcending all other loyalties. Prussian philosophers saw the “State” as the incarnation of all the social virtues, the final triumph of human reason.

The Prussian state became proverbial. Demonized by its enemies, it was, however, exemplary in many ways – a well organized, orderly and law-abiding structure, its bureaucracy untainted by corruption. The Prussian official received a paltry salary, lived modestly and was intensely proud of his status. He detested ostentation. A hundred years ago Prussia already had a system of social insurance – long before other major countries dreamed of it. It was also exemplary in its religious tolerance. Frederick “the Great” declared that everyone should “find happiness in his own way”. Once he said that if Turks were to come and settle in Prussia, he would build mosques for them. Last week, 250 years later, the Swiss passed a referendum forbidding the building of minarets in their country.

PRUSSIA WAS a very poor country, lacking natural resources, minerals and good agricultural soil. It used its army to procure richer territories.

Because of the poverty, the population was thinly spread. The Prussian kings expended much effort in recruiting new immigrants. In 1731, when tens of thousands of Protestants in the Salzburg area (now part of Austria) were persecuted by their Catholic ruler, the King of Prussia invited them to his land. They came with their families and possessions in a mass foot march to East Prussia, traversing the full length of Germany. When the French Huguenots (Protestants) were slaughtered by their Catholic kings, the survivors were invited to Prussia and settled in Berlin, where they contributed greatly to the development of the country. Jews, too, were allowed to settle in Prussia in order to contribute to its prosperity, and the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn became one of the leading lights of the Prussian intelligentsia.

When Poland was divided in 1771 between Russia, Austria and Prussia, the Prussian state acquired a national minority problem. In the new territory there lived a large Polish population that stuck to its national identity and language. The Prussian response was a massive settlement campaign in these areas. This was a highly organized effort, planned right down to the minutest detail. The German settlers got a plot of land and many financial benefits. The Polish minority was oppressed and discriminated against in every possible way. The Prussian kings wanted to “Germanize” their acquired areas, much as the Israeli government wants to “Judaize” their occupied territories.

This Prussian effort had a direct impact on the Jewish colonization of Palestine. It served as an example for the father of Zionist settlement, Arthur Ruppin, and not by accident – he was born and grew up in the Polish area of Prussia.

IT IS impossible to exaggerate the influence of the Prussian model on the Zionist movement in almost all spheres of life.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of the movement, was born in Budapest and lived most of his life in Vienna. He admired the new German Reich that was founded in 1871, when he was 11 years old. The King of Prussia – which constituted about half of the area of the Reich – was crowned as German emperor, and Prussia formed the new empire in its image. Herzl’s diaries are full of admiration for the German state. He courted Wilhelm II, King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany, who obliged by receiving him in a tent before the gate of Jerusalem. He wanted the Kaiser to become the patron of the Zionist enterprise, but Wilhelm remarked that, while Zionism itself was an excellent idea, it “could not be realized with Jews”.

Herzl was not the only one to imprint a Prussian-German pattern on the Zionist enterprise. In this he was overshadowed by Ruppin, who is known today to Israeli children mainly as a street name. But Ruppin had an immense impact on the Zionist enterprise, more than any other single person. He was the real leader of the Zionist immigrants in Palestine in their formative period, the years of the second and third Aliyah (immigration wave) in the first quarter of the 20th century. He was the spiritual father of Berl Katznelson, David Ben-Gurion and their generation, the founders of the Zionist Labor movement that became dominant in the Jewish society in Palestine, and later in Israel. It was he who practically invented the Kibbutz and the Moshav (cooperative settlement).

If so, why has he been almost eradicated from official memory? Because some sides of Ruppin are best forgotten. Before becoming a Zionist, he was an extreme Prussian-German nationalist. He was one of the fathers of the “scientific” racist creed and believed in the superiority of the Aryan race. Up to the end he occupied himself with measuring skulls and noses in order to provide support for assorted racist ideas. His partners and friends created the “science” that inspired Adolf Hitler and his disciples.

The Zionist movement would have been impossible were it not for the work of Heinrich Graetz, the historian who created the historical image of the Jews which we all learned at school. Graetz, who was also born in the Polish area of Prussia, was a pupil of the Prussian-German historians who “invented” the German nation, much as he “invented” the Jewish nation.

Perhaps the most important thing we inherited from Prussia was the sacred notion of the “State” (Medina in Hebrew) – an idea that dominates our entire life. Most countries are officially a “Republic” (France, for example), a “Kingdom” (Britain) or a “Federation” (Russia). The official name “State of Israel” is essentially Prussian.

WHEN I first brought up the similarity between Prussia and Israel (in a chapter dedicated to this theme in the Hebrew and German editions of my 1967 book, “Israel Without Zionists”) it might have looked like a baseless comparison. Today, the picture is clearer. Not only does the senior officers corps occupy a central place in all the spheres of our life, and not only is the huge military budget beyond any discussion, but our daily news is full of typically “Prussian” items. For example: it transpires that the salary of the Army Chief of Staff is double that of the Prime Minister. The Minister of Education has announced that henceforth schools will be assessed by the number of their pupils who volunteer for army combat units. That sounds familiar – in German.

After the fall of the Third Reich, the four occupying powers decided to break up Prussia and divide its territories between several German federal states, Poland and the USSR. That happened in February 1947 – only 15 months before the founding of the State of Israel.

Those who believe in the transmigration of souls can draw their own conclusions. It is certainly food for thought.

Uri Avnery on fascism in Israel

Uri Avnery
18.4.09

A Little Red Light

PERHAPS Avigdor Lieberman is only a passing episode in the annals of the State of Israel. Perhaps the fire he is trying to ignite will flicker briefly and go out by itself. Or perhaps the police investigations into the grave corruption affair of which he is suspected will lead to his removal from the public sphere.

But the opposite is also possible. Last week he promised his acolytes that the next elections would bring him to power.

Perhaps Lieberman will prove to be an “Israbluff”’ (a term he himself likes to use), and be revealed, behind the frightful façade, as nothing more than a run of the mill impostor.

Perhaps this Lieberman will indeed disappear, to be replaced by another, even worse Lieberman.

Either way, we should candidly confront the phenomenon he represents. If one believes that his utterances sound fascist, one has to ask oneself: is there a possibility that a fascist regime might come to power in Israel?

THE INITITIAL gut-feeling is a resounding NO. In Israel? In the Jewish State? After the Holocaust which Nazi fascism brought upon us? Can one even imagine that Israelis would become something like the Nazis?

When Yeshayahu Leibowitz coined, many years ago, the term “Judeo-Nazis”, the entire country blew up. Even many of his admirers thought that this time the turbulent professor had gone too far.

But Lieberman’s slogans do justify him in retrospect.

Some would dismiss Lieberman’s achievement in the recent elections. After all, his “Israel is Our Home” party is not the first one to appear from nowhere and win an impressive 15 seats. Exactly the same number that was won by the Dash party of General Yigael Yadin in 1977 and the Shinui party of Tommy Lapid in 2003 – and both disappeared soon after without leaving a trace.

But Lieberman’s voters are not like those of Yadin and Lapid, who were ordinary citizens fed up with some particular aspects of Israeli life. Many of his voters are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who look upon their “Ivett”, an immigrant from the ex-Soviet land of Moldova, as a representative of their “sector”. Although many of them brought with them from their former homeland a right-wing, anti-democratic and even racist world view, they do not pose by themselves a danger to Israeli democracy.

But the additional power that turned Lieberman’s party into the third-largest faction in the new Knesset came from another sort of voter: Israeli-born youngsters, many of whom had recently taken part in the Gaza War. They voted for him because they believed that he would kick the Arab citizens out of Israel, and the Palestinians out of the entire historical country.

These are not marginal people, fanatical or underprivileged, but normal youngsters who finished high-school and served in the army, who dance in the discotheques and intend to found families. If such people are voting en masse for a declared racist with a pungent fascist odor, the phenomenon cannot be ignored.

FIFTY YEARS ago I wrote a book called ”The Swastika”, in which I described how the Nazis took over Germany. I was helped by my childhood memories. I was 9 years old when the Nazis came to power. I witnessed the agonies of German democracy and the first steps of the new regime before my parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to escape and settle in Palestine.

I wrote the book on the eve of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, after realizing that the young generation in Israel knew a lot about the Holocaust but next to nothing about the people who brought it about. What occupied me more than anything else was the question: how could such a monstrous party succeed in coming to power democratically in one of the most civilized countries in the world?

The last chapter of my book was called “It Can Happen Here”. That was a paraphrase of the title of a book by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here”, in which he described precisely how it could happen in the United States.

I argued in the book that Nazism was not a specifically German disease, that in certain circumstances any country in the world could be infected by this virus – including our own state. In order to avoid this danger, one had to understand the underlying causes for the development of the disease.

To the assertion that I am “obsessed” by this matter, that I see this danger lurking in every corner, I answer: not true. For years I have avoided dealing with this subject. But it is true that I carry in my head a little red light that comes on when I sense the danger.

This light is now blinking.

WHAT CAUSED the Nazi disease to break out in the past? Why did it break out at a certain time and not at another? Why in Germany and not in another country suffering from similar problems?

The answer is that fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an “extreme Right”, an extension of “nationalist” or “conservative” attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation.

Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a “superior nation”, the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality. All these attributes together create the phenomenon, which has no agreed scientific definition.

How did this happen?

Hundreds of books have been written about it, dozens of theories have been put forward, and none of them is satisfying. In all humility I propose a theory of my own, without claiming more validity than any of the others.

According to my perception, a fascist revolution breaks out when a very special personality meets with a very special national situation.

ON THE personality of Adolf Hitler, too, innumerable books have been written. Every phase in his life has been examined under the microscope, each of his actions has been debated relentlessly. There are no secrets about Hitler, yet Hitler has remained an enigma.

One of his most obvious traits was his pathological anti-Semitism, which went far beyond any logic. It remained with him to the very last hour of his life, when he dictated his testament and committed suicide. At the most desperate moments of his war, when his soldiers at the front were crying out for reinforcements and supplies, precious trains were diverted to transport Jews to the death camps. When the Wehrmacht was suffering from a grievous lack of practically everything, Jewish workers were taken from essential factories to be sent to their death.

Many explanations for this pathological anti-Semitism have been suggested, and all of them have been debunked. Did Hitler want to take revenge on a Jew who was suspected of being his real grandfather? Did he hate the Jewish doctor who treated his beloved mother before she died? Was it a punishment for the Jewish director of the Art school who failed to recognize his genius? Did he hate the poor Jews he came across when he was homeless in Vienna? All of this has been examined and found lacking. The enigma remains.

The same is true for his other personal views and attributes. How did he attain the power to hypnotize the masses? What did he have that made so many people, from all walks of life, identify with him? Whence sprang his unbridled lust for power?

We don’t know. There is no full and satisfying explanation. We only know that from among the millions of Germans and Austrians who were living at that time, and the thousands who grew up in similar circumstances, there was (as far as we know) only one Hitler, a unique person. To borrow a term from biology: he was a one-time mutation.

But the unique Hitler would not have become a historic personality if he had not met with Germany in unique circumstances.

GERMANY AT the end of the Weimar republic has also been the subject of many books. What made the German people adopt Nazism? Historical causes, rooted in the terrible catastrophe of the Thirty-year War or even earlier events? The sense of humiliation after the defeat in World War I? The anger at the victors, who ground Germany into the dust and imposed huge indemnities? The terrible inflation of 1923, which wiped out the savings of entire classes? The Great Depression of 1929, which threw millions of decent and diligent Germans into the street?

This question, too, has found no satisfying answer. Other people have also been humiliated. Other people have lost wars. The Great Depression hit dozens of countries. In the US and the UK, too, millions were laid off. Why did fascism not seize power in those countries (except in Italy, of course)?

In my opinion, the fatal spark was ignited at a fateful moment when a people ready for fascism met the man with the attributes of a fascist leader.

What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been killed in a road accident in the autumn of 1932? Perhaps another Nazi leader would have come to power – but the Holocaust would not have happened, and neither, probably, World War II. His likely replacements – Gregor Strasser, who was No. 2, or Hermann Goering, the flying ace with a morphine addiction – were indeed Nazis, but neither of them was a second Hitler. They lacked his demonic personality.

And what would have happened if Germany had not fallen into the depth of despair? The Western powers could have sensed the danger in time and helped in the reconstruction of the German economy and the reduction of unemployment. They could have abrogated the infamous Versailles Treaty, imposed by the victors after World War I, and allowed Germans to regain their self-respect. The German republic could have been saved, the moral leaders, of which Germany had aplenty, could have regained their leadership role.

What would have happened then? Adolf Hitler, whom the widely adored President of the Reich, a Field Marshall, had contemptuously called “the Bohemian lance-corporal”, would have remained a little demagogue on the lunatic fringe. The 20th century would have looked quite different. Tens of millions of casualties of war and six million Jews would have remained alive, without ever knowing what could have happened.

But Hitler did not die early and the German people were not saved from their fate. At the crucial moment they met, and a spark was struck, lighting the fuse that led to the historic explosion.

SUCH A fateful meeting is not, of course, limited to fascism. It has occurred in history in other circumstances and to other persons.

Winston Churchill, for example. His statues dot the British landscape, and he is considered one of the greatest British leaders of all times.

Yet until the late 1930s, Churchill was a political failure. Few admired him, and even fewer liked him. Many of his colleagues detested him with all their hearts. He was considered an egomaniac, an arrogant demagogue, an erratic drunk. But in a moment of existential danger, Britons found in him their mouthpiece and the leader who took their destiny in his hands. It seemed as if during all the first 65 years of his life, Churchill had been preparing for this one moment, and as if Britain had been waiting for precisely this one man.

Would history have looked different if Churchill had died the previous year of coronary thrombosis, lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, and Neville Chamberlain had remained in power? We now know that he and his colleagues, including the influential foreign minister, Lord Halifax, seriously considered accepting Hitler’s 1940 peace offer, based on the partition of the world between the German and the British empires.

Or Lenin. If the imperial German general staff had not provided the famous sealed train to take him from Zurich to Sweden, from where he proceeded St. Petersburg, would the Bolshevik revolution, which changed the face of the 20th century, have taken place at all? True, Trotsky was in town before him, and so was Stalin. But neither of the two was a Lenin, and without Lenin it would quite possibly not have happened, and certainly not the way it did.

Perhaps one could add to this list Barack Obama. A very special person, of unique origin and character, who had a fateful meeting with the American people at an important moment of their destiny, when they were suffering from two crises at once – the economic and the political one – which cast their shadow on the entire world.

BACK TO US. Is the State of Israel approaching an existential crisis – moral, political, economic – that could leave it an endangered nation? Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini?

In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel’s Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. The democratic regime is in a never-ending crisis. The economic situation may descend into chaos, so that the masses will long for a “strongman”. And the belief that we are a “chosen people” is already deeply rooted.

These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster. Absolutely not. History is full of nations in crisis that recovered and returned to normalcy. Besides the real Hitler, who rose to historic heights, there were probably hundreds of other Hitlers, no less crazy and no less talented, who ended their life as bank tellers or frustrated writers, because they did not meet a historic opportunity.

I have a strong faith in the resilience of Israeli society and Israeli democracy. I believe that we have hidden strengths that will come to the fore in an hour of need.

Nothing “must” happen. But anything “can” happen. And the little red light won’t stop blinking.

Published with the permission of Uri Avnery.