There are two kinds of countries or societies or places to live. In the first kind, decent, fair, kind, and respectful treatment of every person takes precedent over anyone’s preferences for how a culture changes or how much effort is expended trying to slow the change of a culture, or which cultures mix with each other, or which groups intermarry. In this first type of society — admittedly a nonexistent ideal — people identify with humanity and welcome any member of humanity into their group of associates, their neighborhood, and their family. Desire to keep some corner of the globe inhabited by people with a particular skin color or language isn’t just slightly outweighed by diligent observance of individuals’ rights. Instead, such sectarian or tribal desire doesn’t exist. And its absence leaves room for concern over war, environmental destruction, hunger, poor healthcare, illiteracy, and all sorts of problems not involving the exclusion of some people from a group.
In the second kind of society, importance is placed on creating or maintaining a population that is exclusively or predominantly of a particular appearance or background, religion or ethnicity. Such a society strays, mildly or moderately or extremely, from democracy, as its demographic project conflicts with people’s rights to immigrate, marry, practice or abandon religion, and speak and behave as they choose. Valuing some types of people over others leads toward anti-democratic positions and leaves a society open to easy manipulation through fear and prejudice, distracting energy away from real problems that might appear harder to solve. In extreme cases, this type of society becomes fascist. Hatred and violence become admirable. Lynchings and apartheid and Jim Crow and mass incarceration and sadistic punishment follow.
The nation of Israel claims to be both a democracy and a Jewish state. It can’t be. Similarly, the United States cannot be a Christian nation or a white nation and a democracy. A poll in Israel in 2012 asked, “Israel is defined as both a Jewish and democratic state. Which is more important to you?” 34% said Jewish, while 22% said democratic, but 42% said that both were equally important. People in that 42% misunderstand the necessity to choose, as they no doubt do choose every day. The same poll asked, “Speakers should be prohibited from harshly criticizing the State of Israel in public … ,” and 20% agreed, while another 29% strongly agreed. Hmmm, is that the democracy or the Jewish state talking?
Max Blumenthal’s new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, is 400 pages of fascistic horrors, a dystopian vision of where the United States or most any other country could go and where Israel has gone. Of course, Israel uses World War II to justify its outrages, just as the United States uses World War II to justify its military presence in 177 other nations. The United States arms Israel and protects it from legal consequences for crimes. U.S. companies and individuals and universities and churches fund and take part in Israel’s brutality. U.S. Congress members listen to Israeli war propaganda as attentively as do Knesset members. So, there are perhaps extra reasons for those of us in the U.S. to pay particular attention to Israel’s fascistic tendencies.
And what do these consist of? Well, permanent war, permanent crisis, fear-mongering, racism, legal and popularly imposed segregation and harassment. False beliefs about past and current crimes of the Israeli military are so openly willful that Israel has a contest show on television for amateur propagandists. Crimes by soldiers or civilians go unpunished or lightly punished when the victims are non-Jews. These crimes include lynchings, assaults, torture, harassment, humiliation, eviction, home destruction, job discrimination, and constant traumatization. Soldiers always nearby. Drones always buzzing overhead. Artificial sewage called Skunk sprayed through open windows of homes. The star of David painted on homes and businesses destroyed to intimidate non-Jews. Crowds gathered on a hill to watch and cheer for the bombing of Gaza like Washingtonians picnicking in Manassas to watch a civil war slaughter. Israeli soldiers openly describing themselves as fascists. Trials with pre-determined outcomes. Incarceration of masses of people in concentration camps.
Blumenthal’s portrait of Israel is a partial one to be sure, but a terrifying one nonetheless. He contrasts the relentless hatred and abuse he documents with brief moments of imagining something else. At a restaurant in Haifa, writes Blumenthal, “seated at a long table in Fatoush’s outdoor garden, listening to a mélange of English, Arabic, and Hebrew amid a crowd of Palestinians, Jews, and internationals, it is sometimes possible to imagine the kind of place Israel could be if it ever managed to shed its settler-colonial armor.”
That place is not a Jewish democracy or a white democracy or a European democracy. That place is a democracy, and a democracy is a place where you’re happy for your son or daughter to get married because they’re in love, not because of the ethnicity of their beloved.