Ze’ev Sternhell Warnings on the Growth of Israeli Fascism
It Can Happen Here
By URI AVNERY
The German name Sternhell means bright as the stars. The name fits: the positions of Professor Ze’ev Sternhell indeed stand out sharply against the darkness of the sky. He warns against Israeli fascism. This week, Israeli fascists laid a pipe-bomb at the entrance of his apartment and he was lightly injured.
The choice of victim seems surprising at first. But the perpetrators knew what they were doing.
They did not attack the activists who demonstrate every week against the Separation Wall in Bil’in and Na’alin. They did not attack the leftists who mobilize every year – this year, too – to help the Palestinians pick their olives near the most dangerous settlements. They did not attack the “Women in Black” who demonstrate every Friday, or the women of “Machsom Watch”, who keep an eye on events at the army checkpoints. They attacked a person whose entire activity is in the academic field.
The struggles on the ground are essential. But their main purpose is to influence public opinion. That is the main battlefield, and there the man of letters has an important part to play.
On this battlefield, two visions confront each other, two visions that are as far apart as the West is from the East. On the one side: An enlightened Israel, modern, secular, liberal and democratic, living in peace and partnership with Palestine as an integral part of the region. On the other side: a fanatical Israel, religious, fascist, cut off from the region and civilized humanity, a people that “dwells alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers, 23:9), where “the sword will devour for ever” (2 Samuel 2:26).
Ze’ev Sternhell is one of the outstanding guides of the enlightened vision. His positions are bright as the stars, resolute and incisive. Not a surprising target for the Neo-Nazi pipe-dreamers and pipe-bombers.
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THE FIELD of Sternhell’s academic expertise is the origins of Fascism, a subject that has occupied me all my life. The reasons for our interest are similar: Nazism left an indelible stamp on our childhood and fate. As a child, I witnessed the rise of Nazism in Germany. As a child, Sternhell saw it in Poland, when, after the death of his father, he lost his mother and sister in the Holocaust.
“He who has been scalded by boiling water is cautious even with cold water,” a Hebrew adage goes. Those who experienced Fascism bursting into their lives in childhood are sensitive to the slightest symptom of the outbreak of this disease. In 1961 I wrote a book called “The Swastika” (which exists only in Hebrew), in which I tried to crack the code of the roots of Nazism. At the end of the book I posed the question: Can it happen here? My unequivocal answer was: Yes, indeed.
Because of this, I am sensitive to every warning sign in our society. As a journalist and magazine editor, I shone the searchlight on all such signs. As a political activist, I fought against them in the Knesset and in the street.
Sternhell, on his part, after a military career, is a pure academic. He uses the instruments of academia: research, teaching and publication. He strives for exact definitions, without seeking popularity or avoiding provocation. In one of his articles years ago he asserted that the violent response of the Palestinians to the settlements is quite natural. By this he attracted the lasting wrath of the settlers and the extreme Right, which made an effort to prevent him from receiving the Israel Prize, Israel’s highest distinction.
Now the pipe-bombs are speaking.
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WHO LAID the bomb? A lone individual? A group? A new underground? The terrorists from the settlements? That’s for the police and the Shin-Bet to find out.
From the public point of view, the matter is much more simple: it is quite clear in which flowerbed these poisonous weeds grow, which ideology serves as fertilizer, and who is spreading it.
Israeli Fascism is alive and kicking. It is growing in the flowerbed that produced the various religious-nationalist underground groups of the past: the group that tried to bomb the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount, the underground that tried to assassinate the Palestinian mayors, the “Kach” gang, the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre Baruch Goldstein, the murderer of peace activist Emil Gruenzweig, the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin and all the underground groups that were uncovered at an early stage before their deeds could bring them to public notice.
These acts cannot simply be attributed to individuals or “rogue groups”. There exists a definite fascist fringe at the margin of Israel’s political society. Its ideology is religious-nationalist, and its spiritual leaders are mostly “Rabbis”, who formulate its world view and the practical application. These Jewish idolaters do not work in secret. On the contrary, they offer their wares on the open market.
This sector is