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Red Rag weekly column
By: Gideon Spiro
24 September 2010 (English translation posted 30 September)

Can a fascist be idealistic?

During a visit to Germany where I participated in a colloquium about Jewish-German relations and lessons from the Nazi period, one of the questions that was raised was whether there had been some idealistic Nazis, people who were motivated by an intellectual ideal that they believed in. The disagreements on the subject were interesting. Against those who claimed that Nazism and idealism are two parallel lines that cannot meet were others who believed that it was indeed possible, that is to say, there were Nazis, especially in the 1930s before the “Final Solution,” who were not seeking jobs in the party or government apparati, were not part of the masses who toed the line and were not following the fashion of Jew-hatred, but simply believed wholeheartedly in the racial theory that not all peoples are equal, that the Nordic race was superior to the others, and that accordingly there was also a hierarchy of rights and that there are the superior and the inferior, and that the superior and the inferior should not be mixed.

The same phenomenon could also be observed in South Africa during the Apartheid period. There were Whites who believed that the Blacks were inferior, that it was genetic, and the religious among them also found backing in the holy scriptures. In other words, islands of idealism existed within the evil and the criminality that are built into racism. Distorted idealism, to be sure, from the point of view of proponents of human rights, but there were people who believed in the intellectual dimension of their being part of the “elect” and superior to others.

These words are not intended as a theoretical rumination; the subject has relevance to our situation. Are there idealistic settlers? After all, they are not all “hilltop youths” [1] and their ilk who uproot Palestinian olive trees and sow terror by shooting at water tanks and burning cars in villages near the settlements. I assume that the idealistic settlers have never raised a hand against any Palestinian. They believe wholeheartedly that the land on which they are living belongs to them, that the Divine promise that appears in the Bible is still valid today, and so they have no pangs of conscience about living on private Palestinian land; for they are its owners, after all.

They believe with their whole being that Palestinians should not be given rights as individuals or as a people, because Jewish law answers all questions about the inferior position of the Palestinians, and that is the way things should be. They do not see the regime that accords privileges to them as apartheid or racism in the modern sense, but as the realization of the Divine will. They have not yet come to terms with the problem of the Palestinians who do not recognize the superiority of their Jewish neighbours, and so in their minds there is no avoiding the iron fist and the outstretched arm. But with God’s help, as they put it, the time will come when they recognize their inferior status, and no evil will befall them.

When that racist idealism (a somewhat problematic expression) is backed by the avaricious and colonialist might of the State, everything looks easy and simple to implement. Even for an idealistic settler.

There is no doubt that settler idealism has proved itself to be a powerful motivating force that can draw many people in the government and the media in its wake. It does not recognize the word “occupation,” which it sees as a leftist term of abuse. Forty-three years of sitting in the Occupied Territories, which began with no settlers, who today number half a million (including the neighbourhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line), are its great accomplishment. The idealistic settlers proved their superiority by sacrifice and stubbornness in the face of the idealists of the Left who advocate democracy and human rights – values which are unwanted merchandise in today’s Israel.

Islamophobia is conquering Europe

The plague of the neo-Nazi Right has reached Sweden. In the recent parliamentary elections there, the extreme right-wing party that has adopted the pretentious name “Swedish Democracy” managed to enter Parliament for the first time. Sweden thereby joined the ranks of states in which the extreme Right is represented in their parliaments. They include Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Germany (in several regional legislatures), and the hand is stretched out still. [2]

The Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden says that the party has neo-Nazi roots. But this raises a problem. The party, like most of its sister neo-Nazi parties in the continent that are riding a wave of opposition to Muslim immigration, sees Israel as virtually a spiritual father that is on the front-lines in the struggle against extremist Islam. The Jewish establishments in most countries in Europe understand that support for the extreme Right in Israel can turn into anti-Semitism with the brandishing of a salute. So what do they do? There are places where Jews who are close to the Establishment have joined in the Islamophobia and there are places where they are hesitant, but mainly they are confused.

The government of Israel too is riding on an anti-Muslim platform. Unlike the situation in the European continent, where the extreme Right is still far from having governmental decision-making power, in Israel the extreme Right has attained senior government positions: foreign minister, minister of the interior, police minister. Israel is in the vanguard and is setting an example for Europe.

I do not stick my head in the sand. There is no doubt that Muslim immigration has created conflicts with the host societies. The differences in ways of life and in cultural and social codes are clearly visible. Add in the centres of poverty, unemployment and crime in the areas where the immigrants are concentrated, all against the background of the global struggle against extremist Islam, and you get an explosive mixture. If democratic Europe cannot find the antibodies to defeat Islamophobia, then the prognosis is bleak. Whoever thinks that it is good for Israel is indulging in short-term thinking. Xenophobia will also hurt Jews and Israelis in the end.

Shabak State [3]

If the State of Israel does not get rid of the Occupation, it will turn into a Shabak state. That statement is attributed to the late Professor Yeshayahu Liebowitz, shortly after the beginning of the Occupation in 1967.

That scenario has been fully realized, not only in the Occupied Territories, where Shabak rules over the lives of every Palestinian without restraints down to the last detail, such as getting a permit to move to an apartment on the other side of the street, but also in Israel within the Green Line, which is supposed to be “Jewish and democratic.” Every day another chunk of Israeli life is added to the purview of Shabak. Nearly all applicants for positions in the public sector have to undergo what is called a “security check,” administered by Shabak. If Shabak does not sign off on the application, the applicant is rejected. That is how Shabak has come to be responsible for the appointment of judges, teachers, civil servants, police and employees of public companies like the electricity company, the Ports Authority and industrial facilities that produce for the army. And that is a partial list.

This whole business of security checks is reminiscent of totalitarian states. Shabak has personal files on a substantial proportion of the citizens of the State, and in certain regards its omnipresence and its control over people’s lives in Israel is reminiscent of its counterpart in East Germany – the Stasi of notorious memory. (The security police in the “German Democratic Republic” – a Communist version of “Jewish and Democratic”)

And the whole business of security checks is also, of course, completely superfluous, because it has nothing to do with any security problems, but rather with exploitation of the sacred cow called “Security” for the purpose of political screening. Not a single person who has participated in demonstrations against the war in Gaza or against the settlers’ invasions of the homes of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah could pass Shabak’s security check today, not because they constitute a security risk, but because they are citizens who think outside the box – critical, independent humanistic and democratic thought. That is enough to disqualify a person from a government job. It is no coincidence that not a single judge in Israel belongs to the radical Left, whereas there are loads of judges from the radical Right.

Of course, there is never 100% success. So now and then somebody is discovered who managed to bypass the screening, like a school principal who turns out to be an opponent of the Occupation and the tortures that Shabak administers to its interrogees. Then calls for his dismissal are heard from all across the right-wing spectrum.

Recently Shabak has been seeking to expand its purview to include the banks. All in the name of security, of course. The heads of the banking system – among whom there is not a single member of the radical Left, or even one who has demonstrated against the Occupation, all of them are members of the governmental and financial establishments – stood on their hind legs, and said “enough is enough!” They understood that if Shabak gains access to the banks’ computer systems, that would spell the end of banking secrecy, or what remains of it, and thousands of clients will close their accounts and transfer them abroad. Who wants the details of their accounts and business transactions to be under the supervision of Shabak? It looks like Shabak has gone a step too far here, at least for the moment. The Shabak-style efforts at “friendly persuasion” may very well break the bank managers as well. But for the moment they are standing firm.

An Israeli story

Several years ago I was asked to write an article about the influence of the army on Israeli society. Among other things I pointed out that in Israel there is no need for a military coup, because the generals continue to rule over us even after their separation from the army. They are deployed in all sectors of society: in the government, in the municipal administrations, in the economy, in commerce. Whichever way you spit, as the popular saying goes, you will hit a general or colonel who yesterday ruled over us by means of the army and today by means of the civilian establishments.

In Israel we have had two presidents who were generals, as well as three prime ministers and many ministers. In the current government alone there are two chiefs-of-staff, two generals, a brigadier and a police commissioner (equivalent to general).

Yiftah Ron-Tal is one of the generals who passed from the army to senior civilian positions in government companies. The prime minister and minister of finance decided to appoint him to the position of chairman of the board of the Israeli electric company. That is a job that with the passage of years paves the way to the millionaire class. It’s the Israeli holy trinity of Money, Government and Army.

Ron-Tal’s path from the army to civilian life was full of mishaps. He was the first settler general, he lived for years in a house in that he owned in the settlement of Ofra, which was established on the private lands of Palestinians. He was a settler, a general and a party to the theft of lands. But in Israel people are not punished for that. Among positions he has held was brigade commander in the Occupied Territories during the suppression of the First Intifada. Nor are people punished for that in Israel. On the contrary, a person who killed Palestinians, violated human rights and defended war crimes (the settlements), marches “with strength and heroism” Israeli-style towards the springboard to advancement. And indeed, Ron-Tal was promoted to the rank of general.

Despite all that, Ron-Tal was effectively expelled from the army in 2006. Not because of war crimes or theft of Palestinian lands, but because he was caught illicitly receiving money from the army. In less delicate terms, the man stole. During his interrogation by the military police he was caught in contradictions and untruths. In less delicate terms, he lied. In his opinion, the chief military prosecutor wrote that Ron-Tal was not fit for service in the army. Nevertheless the prosecutor let him off easily, he was not put on trial and he retained his rank.

Far be it from me to play down the seriousness of the crime of stealing money. Those who steal from the public purse should go to jail. But in Israel everything is turned on its head. That same chief military prosecutor, General Avihai Mandelblit, who closed files on the killings of Palestinians on a wholesale basis, and in other instances of killings of Palestinians did not even open an investigation, shows himself to be a moral person in the case of Ron-Tal. He is operating within the framework of a “moral criminal army” in the style of the “Jewish and democratic” state.

For Ron-Tal the story had a happy ending in spite of everything. It turns out that in the eyes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz, stealing money from the army is no reason to deny the general the prestigious and lucrative post of chairman of the electricity company. It’s not every day that a right-wing general who is also a settler falls into their lap, and that outweighs all the crimes.

Another interesting point. I learned these factual details from the journalist Nahum Barnea, winner of the Israel Prize for journalism, who published an article on the subject in the newspaper in Israel’s bestselling newspaper, Yediot Aharonot (24 September 2010). As befits the holder of a state honour, Barnea endeavours to take the middle course and not to antagonize anybody involved in the affair, the men of Money, Government and Army. So he concludes his article with the words: “There is no doubt that Ron-Tal received a sum of money that he was not entitled to, and there is no doubt that he got tripped up in the interrogation. But there is doubt as to the extent to which he deviated from the accepted norms of the army.” What is the honoured journalist telling us? That everybody in the army steals money occasionally, and as several years have passed since the theft, he adds, there is no point in going particularly hard on Ron-Tal, who is fit for his position.

That’s how it is when a person gets an Israel Prize and continues to work in his profession. The few feathers he has left are plucked out and he sinks deeper into the stinking swamp of the national consensus.

Criminals

The commission of inquiry convened by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to investigate the events around the Turkish flotilla to Gaza submitted a 56-page report. The commission questioned over a hundred witnesses from among the participants in the flotilla and pathologists who examined the bodies of those who were killed. Israel refused to cooperate with the commission. The report includes very serious accusations against Israel. Among the accusations: one of the passengers who was killed was shot in the head at point-blank range, wounded people were shot, and in the cases of six of the nine who were killed there was no justification for shooting; so it was basically extra-judicial execution. The commission determined that the soldiers of Flotilla 13 treated the passengers with cruelty and that the seizure of the ship in international waters was a violation of international law.

The response of most of the Israeli media was to repeat the foreign ministry’s propaganda: “blood-libel.” A loaded concept in Jewish history. That is a lot easier than dealing with accusations that are supported by evidence.

I do not discount the Israeli allegation that the Human United Nations Human Rights Council includes states like Algeria, Yemen or Egypt, for whom human rights are not exactly their strong suit, and in less diplomatic language, where violations of human rights are an everyday occurrence, like Israel in the Occupied Territories.

But the point is that members of the commission of inquiry did not come from those states. Members of the commission, respected judges, one of them British, also investigated the war crimes in Bosnia, and no one in Israel questioned their fairness then.

Israel is not in outer space and it is not immune from criticism. Not blood libels, but the excessive spilling of blood for which Israel is responsible, and the criminals who spilled it, should be punished.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent


Translator’s notes

1. Young extremist Jewish settlers who got their name from their habit of establishing settlement outposts on top of hills in the West Bank – outposts that even the Israeli government has sometimes labelled illegal. They have a reputation for violence.

2. “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 5:25.

3. Shabak is the Hebrew acronym for the Israel Security Agency, Israel’s internal security police and intelligence agency. Not to be confused with the other intelligence agency the Mossad, which operates outside Israel and the Occupied Territories

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