The Jerusalem Post (Editorial)
March 31, 2011 - 12:00am

The term “fascist” has been bandied about quite freely by parliamentarians and public figures on the Left recently. MK Isaac Herzog, a candidate to lead Labor in the next elections, used the term during a conference organized by Peace Now in Tel Aviv last Friday to describe a series of legislative initiatives promoted primarily by Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu Party. Other prominent left-wing intellectuals, journalists and artists have lamented “reactionary” trends overtaking our society and being given expression in the Knesset. Unfortunately, hyperbolic, ideological, polarized and shallow declarations have avoided an in-depth discourse of the issues.

“Fascist” was a title infamously hard-earned by Brown Shirts in places like Germany, Italy and Bosnia, where racial laws were passed and genocides were carried out.

Using it to describe our present government is cheap demagoguery that not only belittles the term’s true meaning, but also stifles attempts to articulate intelligent, legitimate criticism.

UNDENIABLY, THERE has been a significant shift in public opinion toward the Right, particularly among young Israelis, as illustrated in a survey released this week by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Macro Center for Political Economics. In June and July of 2010, Dahaf Institute pollsters canvassed two large representative samples of 800 Israelis (600 Jewish and 200 Arab), one aged 15 to 18 and the other aged 21 to 24. The margin of error was 4.2 percent for Jews and 7% for Arabs.

Fifty-seven percent of Jewish teenagers aged 15 to 18 defined themselves as moderately right-wing to rightwing as did 64% of those aged 21 to 24. Those who defined themselves as moderately left-wing or left-wing made up just 13% and 10% respectively. The overall average for both age groups who defined themselves as moderately right-wing or right-wing rose from 48% 12 years ago to 62%, while the Left shrank from 32% to just 12%.

The authors of the survey interpreted their findings as evidence of “a strengthening of Jewish-nationalist beliefs among Jewish youths, and a clear weakening of the importance given to the state’s liberal-democratic base.”

The main piece of evidence given to support this claim was the sharp increase in the number of respondents who cited defining Israel as a Jewish state as the most important goal for the country – from 18% in 1998 to 33% – while in parallel, there was a drop in the number of respondents who supported Israel’s democratic identity as most important – from 26% in 1998 to just 14%.

Also, young Jewish Israelis said they preferred “strong” leaders to the rule of law, and that in cases where state security and democratic values conflicted, security should come first.

The solution, according to Dr. Roby Nathanson, director- general of the Macro Center, was for Israel to spend more money educating its youth about democracy. Perhaps.

Many on the Left would benefit from understanding the difference between fascism and a constant attempt to balance Israel’s Jewish and democratic ideals.

However, Nathanson’s conclusion ignores some of the survey’s truly worrying findings. For instance, when asked if they felt their personal security was threatened, two-thirds of young Jews answered in the affirmative from “pretty low” to “very much so.” Just a quarter of Arab Israelis felt threatened at all. Also, about two-thirds of young Israeli Jews agreed with the claim that the majority of Arabs have not reconciled themselves to the existence of the State of Israel and would destroy it if they could. Forty percent of Arabs agreed.

In the face of Arab hostility and very real existential threats – particularly in the last decade or so – many Jewish Israelis have emphasized the Jewish aspects of their identity that provide them with the feeling of meaning and collective purpose needed to meet the many challenges they face.

Other surveys have indicated, remarkably, that although many Israelis share the feeling that there is no real partner on the Palestinian side, they nevertheless support a two-state solution, with all the pain it would involve of dismantling settlements and ceding parts of their historic homeland, if it were to bring peace. In this poll, achieving peace was ranked second in importance as a national goal by all respondents after the need to ensure that the state of Israel remains Jewish. Ranked a close third was the need to keep Israel democratic.

With all its flaws and unfortunate discrimination of the Arab minority, the state of Israel’s democracy can’t be all that bad. When asked what they thought their chances were of realizing their most important aspirations, two thirds of Arab Israelis responded “pretty good” to “very good,” and well over half said they were optimistic about the future, a higher finding than among their Jewish fellow citizens. Not bad for a state supposedly run by a bunch of fascists.


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