I’ve been reporting on Israel here for two decades. I’ve been through wars and even what I thought might be the outbreak of an inter-ethnic civil war in 2021. But the current crisis is different. It is a deep fissure among the Israeli Jewish ruling elite (with peripheral involvement of the Israeli Palestinian minority).
The new fascist government is hellbent on “reforms” that in many cases, echo the Nuremberg Laws. They would hobble the judiciary, destroying the only branch of government which may offer restraint against the overreach of the legislative-executive branch. They would eventually turn Israel into a police state in which officers become enforcers on behalf of the far-right ruling class. Protest would be suppressed. Peaceful demonstrators would be violently arrested and imprisoned. At an advanced stage, they may be treated like Palestinian security prisoners and placed under draconian administrative detention orders.
Opposition leaders would be charged with treason and arrested as well. Generals or police chiefs who refused to obey orders would be cashiered, perhaps even arrested for insubordination. Even now, Israeli protesters are calling on the police to defy the orders of the fascist police minister, Itamar Ben Gvir to arrest those protesting lawfully and peacefully.
Opposition leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid have urged resistance and warned of civil war. Speaking of the plan to essentially dismantle the Supreme Court, Gantz said:
“If you continue on the path you are on, you will be responsible for civil war in Israeli society.”…Urging the public to lawfully take to the streets, he added, “It’s time to go out en masse and demonstrate; it’s time to make the country tremble.”
…Opposition Leader Yair Lapid warned that “this is extreme regime change” and that the reforms are “eliminating democracy.”…Speaking at the start of his…faction meeting, [he] promised to keeping fighting in the streets in what he called “a war over our home.”
Bibi’s Good Nazis and Bad Nazis
Protesters have waved placards calling the ministers Nazis. This has enraged Netanyahu and his fellow hoodlum-ministers. The prime minister called the statements of the Opposition:
“A call to sedition from with the Knesset. When someone does not condemn the comparison of the justice minister to a Nazi and of the government of Israel to the Third Reich, he is the one planting the seeds of disaster. I call on you, Benny Gantz, take it back, immediately,” Netanyahu added.
Oh the delicious irony! It was none other than Netanyahu himself who basked in the Nazi smears against Yitzhak Rabin in the weeks leading up to his assassination. It was Netanyahu who incited the crowd to a paroxysm of rage with a Mussolini-like speech from a balcony overlooking Jerusalem’s Zion Square. Now, he gets a taste of his own medicine. The main difference of course between then and now is that there are overwhelmingly more far-right Israeli extremists willing to kill their enemies than there are centrist Israelis willing to kill. In fact, Israeli far-right discourse is steeped in mass violence and homicidal rage. There is so parallel for it among other factions in Israeli society. It’s far more likely supporters of this government will attempt to kill Gantz or Lapid than the reverse.
Smotrich: Would-Be Bomber Turned Statesman
Bezalel Smotrich, the new West Bank gauleiter who will run the West Bank on behalf of the settler colonists made comments not only shot through with irony, but filled with lies:
Smotrich said “it is doubly sad when harsh words and threats of civil war come from the highest echelons.”
Speaking at the outset of his far-right Religious Zionism party’s faction meeting, Smotrich urged that “everyone cease the inflammatory and inciting discourse at once.”
“From time immemorial, then and now, the nationalist camp has said no to civil war,” he added.
This is the very same Bezalel Smotrich detained by the Shin Bet with a bomb in his car intended to detonate in a terror attack against the Sharon government’s withdrawal from Gaza. He spent three weeks in prison after that episode. He is the very same one the IDF wouldn’t let near a gun for fear how he might use it. Instead, he spent a few months delivering mail and serving coffee (I exaggerate, but only slightly) to the generals at the IDF’s Kiryah HQ. That constituted his “military service.”
The nationalist camp said no to civil war? Then why did it smuggle its own weapons into Yishuv-era Palestine aboard the Altalena? Why have far-right extremists: mounted a failed 1950s attempt to bomb the Knesset (Union of Zealots); attempted twice to assassinate Uri Avnery; murdered prime minister (Rabin); the Jewish Agency’s Hungarian Holocaust representative (Kastner); Yishuv leader (Arlosoroff); and co-founder of Peace Now (Grunzweig)? No Likud or far-right leader has ever been murderered by an Israeli political opponent. Ever.
Israel’s Rogues’ Gallery
Israel’s new government is a rogue’s gallery of fascists, thugs and terrorists. Andy Warhol famously said that everyone deserves 20 minutes of fame. In Israel’s case, every lunatic in the new government deserves their 20 minutes of infamy. Yesterday, it was Amichai Chikli. Tonight it will be Deputy minister Almog Cohen and MK Zvika Fogel. I’ve linked them because both offered an outrageous threat on TV to arrest the leaders of the Opposition, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid for sedition.
This comes on the heels of a demonstration by 30,000 opponents of the fascist government. Though neither Gantz nor Lapid were anywhere near the rally, they are nevertheless guilty (apparently) of fomenting rebellion.
Accuser Number One is Almog Cohen, whose rise to power was fueled by his association with Itamar Ben Gvir, for whom he serves as a mini-Me. Ben Gvir secured him his very own sinecure as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. I actually don’t even know what that title means. There have never been ministers within the PMO. My guess is that Cohen is such a loose cannon, that Bibi wants to keep an eye on him. Giving him his own independent ministry would be asking for trouble.
Cohen’s chief claim to infamy is that during the election campaign, he published an image of an Israeli Bedouin family being beaten to a pulp by Border Police goons. The father and his two sons had come to protest government evictions of their Bedouin clan from their ancestral lands. For their troubles, they were brutally assaulted and imprisoned. Cohen bragged that he had been among the thugs who did this. He added that he had pissed on them as well. But the photographer who shot the image in question said Cohen was not pictured. In an attempt to puff up his chest and brag of committing a war crime, he lied. It’s rare for a criminal to boast of a crime and lie in doing so.
Earlier this week, Louis Fishman tweeted Cohen’s video threat to arrest Gantz and Lapid and put them in handcuffs:
Netanyahu’s Deputy Minister in PM office also threatens the opposition leaders with arrest. “If Lapid and Gantz do not stop with the incitement, the incitement and the desire to shed blood on the streets of Israel – they will be arrested with handcuffs.” Absolute fascist bonkers. https://t.co/W4QySTsQf0
— Louis Fishman لوي فيشمان לואי פישמן (@Istanbultelaviv) January 10, 2023
Another irony: apparently it’s not enough with this bunch that you were a war criminal who bragged about reducing Gaza to a Stone Age ruin (as Gantz did). You have to march through Tel Avi with 10,000 Palestinian foreskins on pikes.
Accuser Number Two is IDF Brig, Gen. (ret.) Zvika Fogel. He’s another prince among men. Not a week goes by without him pronouncing a bon mot that breaks the bounds of social discourse. Last week, he called for a Gog and Magog war to the death against the Palestinians. Roll the tape:
“It’s time to subdue them (the Palestinians) once and for all, and to make it the final war” – Zvika Fogel a member of the Knesset and the ruling coalition, from the “Jewish Power” party, interviewed on Channel 12, a mainstream Israeli TV channel.
This is Judeo-Nazism. pic.twitter.com/azvyupRG5U
— Barak Mayer (@ireallyhateyou) January 3, 2023
For his next trick, he confuses rhetorical speech–such as declaring the new government will provoke a “civil war” and calling for supporters to engage in a “war over our home”–with a literal call to armed rebellion. Rightists are never the brightest bulb in the bunch. They tend to take everything literally and never can be bothered with nuance. Complexity is not their strong suit. So goes Fogel, in this case.
The showmen of this government excel at breaking the bounds of social discourse. They say the unthinkable. Which is but one step from doing the unthinkable. The outcome of their “chewing the scenery” political grandstanding (whether intended or not) is not a slippery slope, but a drop into a swirling vortez of fascism and societal violence. The civil war, if it comes, will not originate with the Knesset Opposition, or even the tens of thousands of protesters. It will come from the violence of the government itself against national institutions (the police, judiciary, state prosecutor, etc.) and the populace.
Israeli media must exert extreme caution not to fuel the right-wing outrage machine by giving these charlatans thousands of free hours to promote their harebrained ideas. That’s what US media did with Donald Trump, who never would have been elected president without the cooperation of the media. Trump was good copy. He added spice and color to the news cycle. Everyone wanted to hear the latest outrageous thing he said. But the media should have a rule: not every outrage deserves news coverage. It’s better to let a sleeping dog lie than poke him with a stick and watch him snarl. If Israeli media is not careful they could be feeding a monster whom no one will be able to control.