There's been a seismic struggle underway for the heart of Israel between the faction of Israelis who yearn for a liberal democracy and the more powerful, dominant group determined to turn Israel into an expansionist, illiberal, closed society. The latter group has at its head none other than Benjamin Netanyahu aided by the ultra-right, ultra-nationalist ultra-Zionist group, Im Tirtzu.
Does it matter? Sure it does. We maintain the delusion that Canada is supporting a liberal democratic Israel, not the Israel of today. From Haaretz:
The current battle in Israel is no longer between left and right. Israel’s current political right has mutated from the time it truly identified with liberal democratic values under Menachem Begin. With a few exceptions, like Benny Begin and President Reuven Rivlin, the new generation of rightists, under the aegis of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wants far more than continuing the settlement project and taking over the West Bank.
The long-term goal of Israel’s new political right is to turn Israel into an illiberal, closed society. Their tactic was already described by George Orwell long ago: To take control of language, distorting it for their interest, thus shaping the public discourse.
Their first great achievement has been to make “right” synonymous with “Zionist and patriotic” and “left” synonymous with “anti-Zionist, self-hating Jews.” You can see their success in the panicky attempts of all the larger Jewish parties to avoid being labeled as left-wing, using “Zionism” in every second sentence and creating an almost comic competition for the label of “centrist.”
Israel is still an open society in which dissent is not officially persecuted, and this is a real pain in the neck for the new brand of Israeli rightists who strive toward an illiberal society. They want to shut down critical voices, and Im Tirtzu plays an important role in finding out how to do this. While not officially associated with any party, it serves as a testing ground for Israel’s illiberal forces for how far they can go toward totalitarianism by defaming their opponents and distorting reality. Im Tirtzu is, therefore, an important indicator of where Israel’s new rightists are really headed.
In an illiberal or totalitarian regime – whether of the communist left or the ultranationalist right – the state becomes the arbiter of truth and cultural value. Academia teaches what supports the regime; culture must express the regime’s values; the judiciary serves political power; and the media becomes an instrument of propaganda rather than a watchdog surveilling and reporting on power.
Illiberalism is the agenda behind Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s attempts to gain control over cultural production; behind Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s attempts to wrest control of the Council for Higher Education, a body explicitly created in David Ben-Gurion’s time to keep academia independent of political interference; and it’s also behind Netanyahu’s repeated attempts to close down Channel 10 television, which is critical of him. Meanwhile, he has a foreign donor bankrolling Israel Hayom, a newspaper that’s dedicated to nothing but supporting him.
What, then, is to be done? In the foreseeable future, there is no realistic scenario for a government committed to the two-state solution – which is the only coherent way to safeguard Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jews. This is the elephant in the room that the new rightists try to cover up with their obfuscation of political language and distortion of reality, and one of the central reasons why they want an illiberal political system.
Is Israel drifting into totalitarianism? The Haaretz contributor - and many others - will tell you it plainly is. Should Canada be lending moral support by backing Netanyahu? That depends on what your notion of Canada is.