Dear Mr. Netanyahu,
As a secular Jew and an ambivalent Zionist, it is harrowing to think about what is happening in Israel today and its connection to our history. Writing about it publicly felt difficult. But Israel is less likely to change course if the majority of the Jewish diaspora remains silent. So be it.
While you’re forming a new government in Israel, Judge Gross in Germany is completing “the last global criminal trial related to Nazi-era crimes.” Survivors of the Stutthof concentration camp bravely shared their harrowing stories of atrocities. Commander’s secretary Irmguard Furchner, 97, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit 10,500 murders. She carried out orders for the Holocaust from her desk, with a view of the death camps from her window. She was 19 at the time. According to her lawyer, while she does not deny that the crimes took place in Stutthof, she does not accept any responsibility herself.
I’ve never heard anyone who helped carry out the massacres in the gas chambers talk about their experiences. Maybe it’s just too hard to get over their shame. Maybe they came to believe that those murdered were just collateral damage in pursuit of their Aryan dreams. A large number of their victims are not human. They are not themselves.
Most historians agree that the humiliation and economic decline caused by reparations after World War I set the stage for the election of the Nazi Party. The German people willingly absorbed the false pride and face-saving of ultra-nationalism, fueled by Jewish hatred and scapegoating propaganda.
Stories of World War II
Today, the rise of the far right in the United States and Europe is frightening. Marine Le Pen won 41% of the vote in the French presidential runoff. The Italian Brotherhood, which originated with Mussolini, won the last election. Just two years ago, 74 million people voted for Donald Trump’s brand of hate. Even Sweden has elected a far-right populist government. Parties of extreme nationalism and cultural intolerance are winning people’s votes.
Scapegoats are useful, especially in tough economic times. It’s so much easier to fear, hate and murder other people — people we choose not to know or understand. People in other groups can even appear inhuman in order to protect ourselves and our group. You are with us, or you are against us. It’s a powerful combination of fear combined with the security and strength of believing that our group is righteous. But these toxic behaviors are not inevitable, they are choices people make.
In your case, you have chosen convicted racist Itamar Ben-Gvir as your coalition partner to run Israel. As leader of the Jewish Power Party, he was a charismatic purveyor of the false pride of Israel’s ultranationalism. A protégé of Meir Kahane, he once advocated the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and is listed as a terrorist in both the United States and Israel. At the recent memorial service for Kahane’s death, Ben-Gvir paid tribute to his mentor: “I think the main characteristic of Rabbi Kahane was love,” he said. “The love of Israel without compromise or any other consideration.” Ben-Gvir seemed ready to sacrifice Israel’s potential for Arabs and peace to pursue his Zionist dream.
Under your leadership, Ben-Gvir will become Israel’s Minister of State Security with greater powers over the police, despite being barred from the military because of his extremist views. Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right religious Zionist party, will take control of settlements in the occupied West Bank. He has previously advocated a shoot-to-kill policy against stone-throwing Palestinians. His Ukrainian ancestors at different times were persecuted under similar policies.
If these folks have their way, crawl annexation could turn into full-scale annexation. However, Palestinians’ longing for a homeland will not disappear. The feeling of humiliation won’t go away. Ultimately, this land conflict will require a dignified compromise between reasonable parties to reach a peaceful resolution. Yet many young Israelis voted for extremist Ben-Gvir. In your opinion, Israel is sanctioning fascists, what is wrong with that? What are your responsibilities?
Palestine and Israel: A Bloody Saga
We have a long history of persecution. This is a powerful spark created by Israel. I worry that how we choose to deal with the Holocaust intellectually and emotionally may be the catalyst for its destruction. In a translation by Zionist founder Theodore Herzl: “Everyone shall be as free and undisturbed with respect to belief or non-belief as he is to his nationality. If other beliefs and People of different nationalities came to live among us, and we owe them honorable protection and equality before the law. We learned tolerance in Europe. This is no irony. Today’s anti-Semitism can only be seen in very few places Old religious intolerance. It’s very much a movement among civilized nations trying to cast away the ghosts of their past.” I hope I live to see Israel face up to its demons.
Now is at least the time to increase funding for trauma-informed education programs on addressing conflict, prejudice, and discrimination. Obviously not. Instead, you let Avi Maoz, the son of a Holocaust survivor, increase the school’s prejudice. More than 200 Israeli principals recently signed a petition warning that Maoz’s “racist, homophobic, regressive and extremist views are divisive, offensive to the entire community, and damaging to the broad identity of Israeli society.” We must not Forget, in the Holocaust, the inverted pink triangle sits alongside the Star of David.
This chilling new era in Israeli politics is creating dramatic changes within the nation’s legal sphere. Your coalition partners want increased segregation of women, restrictions on definitions of family and religious beliefs, and laws that sanction corporations for deciding who they serve based on gender, religion, creed, or race. Religious prejudice is becoming mainstream.
I find it hard to believe that you want your legacy to be the consolidation of a theocracy. Yet you appear to have given Smotrich control over immigration and settlement under a new Ministry of National Mission that could redefine what it means to be Jewish. A few years ago, he said he wanted to “restore the Torah justice system.” They want to bring the country back to biblical times, and they don’t want the Supreme Court to stop them.
Constitutional lawyers have sounded the alarm over proposals to weaken the Supreme Court. It can also help you avoid liability for alleged bribery and fraud against you, as has been widely reported. But after 15 years as prime minister, you must also be concerned about the future of democracies. You know these institutions cement Israel’s credibility in the West and reassure international investors. This isn’t just a debate between left and right.
Perhaps ironically, this shift toward religiously biased political extremes may drive more effective communal and political cooperation for the soul of the Israeli state. It could spark more peaceful activism within the Israeli religious community. It could prompt real international pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation. The heightened risk to Palestinians, many of whom identify as Sunni Muslims, could give Gulf states pause in considering economic cooperation. Maybe in the next few months, your partner will cross a red line in the middle of the night that you can’t ignore. You might even choose to quit your job for what you believe in, not to mention your legacy. But I doubt it.
Today, I share the despair and shame of millions in Israel and the Jewish diaspora. I want all those who want a democratic country to create a unified vision for the future. In my view, a plan to achieve this must include a gradual withdrawal from occupied land and investment in Palestinian youth. No matter how difficult it may be for all, the more bloodshed in the endless cycle from persecutor to persecutor, the worse the more likely choice.
At the end of World War II, no one would have believed that a Jewish state would openly embrace fascist ideology 77 years later. You, Mr. Netanyahu, idealize the leaders who can stop the catastrophic persecution of the Jews. How will history judge you?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.