Purging Israel of Dissent

I have received a lot of curses in my lifetime, and here and there some compliments, too. But I have never received a compliment like this one: an important party, represented in the Knesset, has mentioned my name in its official election platform.

Under the heading “Legislation and strict supervision of organizations and activists of the extreme left”, the National Union party’s program says:

“We shall anchor in legislation more severe measures, including the cancellation of citizenship, against people like URI AVNERY, Leah Tsemel and refuseniks of all kinds, who are defaming the country abroad.”

I don’t know whether to be proud, laugh or be angry.

To be proud, because my name is used to symbolize the whole peace camp. And also because I appear side by side with Leah Tsemel, the valiant lawyer who defends Palestinian prisoners, and the refuseniks, who represent the conscience of Israel.

To laugh, considering the abysmal chutzpa of this sentence. The leader of the National Union party is Avigdor (Ivette) Liberman, a person brought up in the Bolshevik education system of Stalin and who has absorbed–as we can see–the racist and power-hungry attitudes of the red tyrant. He has come here when everything was ready, to a state that we have created (literally) with our blood, and now demands, no more no less, to cancel our citizenship.

To be angry, because Liberman, together with National Religious leader Effi Eytam and some of the Likud leaders, is in the vanguard of the dirty column that is besieging Israeli democracy. Last week they succeeded in inducing the majority of the politicians in the General Election Committee to disqualify two Arab Knesset-members (Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara) and an Arab election list (Balad) from participating in the elections, expelling in practice 20% of Israel’s citizens from the political arena.

If some people still entertain the illusion that this attack is directed solely against the Arab citizens (a totally unacceptable act by itself), they should be reminded of one of the most important sayings of the 20th century, the murderous century of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.

The saying belongs to Martin Niemoeller, a German U-Boat commander in WWI who later became a Protestant pastor and pacifist. The Nazis threw him into a concentration camp. After miraculously surviving, he coined the following unforgettable sentences:

“When the Nazis took the communists away, I was silent; after all, I was no communist.

“When they put the social-democrats in prison, I was silent; after all, I was no social-democrat.

“When they took the trade-unionists away, I did not protest; after all, I was no trade-unionist.

“When they took me away, there was nobody left to protest.”

Liberman’s program shows clearly that something similar is happening now in our country. They started with the incitement against the Arab citizens and their expulsion from the political system. Now they speak of eliminating the “extreme left”. Is there any doubt, that in the next stage they will demand the elimination of all the left, “moderate” and “patriotic” as they may be? And then, following the historic precedents, it will be the turn of the “liberal” Likud members.

An apocalyptic vision? Not really. The President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, this week compared our situation with Nazi Germany. In the presence of the President of Israel, the Chief Justice, himself a Holocaust survivor, said that “if it has happened in the country of Kant and Beethoven, it can happen everywhere. If we do not defend democracy, democracy will not defend us!” (It will be interesting to see how he will conduct himself next week, when he will have to decide on the Tibi-Beshara expulsion case.)

In Israel, we don’t like to make comparisons with the dark regimes. The memories are too fresh, and nobody in Israel advocates genocide. But undoubtedly, parties and leaders who openly advocate “transfer”, would have been called anywhere else in the world Neo-Fascists (even if the term “Neo-Bolsheviks” would be more appropriate, since it was Stalin who used to transfer whole peoples in the Soviet Union.)

Joerg Haider does not propose to cancel the Austrian citizenship of people who disagree with his obnoxious views, nor does Jean-Marie Le-Pen propose to expel from the National Assembly every deputy who is not of pure French blood.

For 54 years, the State of Israel has prided itself of being “the only democracy in the Middle East”. All Israeli propaganda abroad, and especially in the United States, is based on this slogan. Now Liberman and the Libermen come and try to destroy Israeli democracy, our creation, and to set up a kind of Fascistan, somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If somebody is “defaming our country abroad”, it is surely this person.


URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.