Ominous signs

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (June 15, 2017) – Israel is a wonderful country and I deem it a privilege to live here. I’m convinced that without this our Jewish state there wouldn’t be much of Judaism or Jewry today. Therefore, it pains me greatly to have to write that the country seems to be sliding toward fascism. Though the main culprit is Naftali Bennett, the minister of education and leader of the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, he’s not alone. His party colleagues, Ayelet Shaked, the minister of justice, and Miri Regev, the minister of culture, run his errands with a vengeance.

There’re ministers in Netanyahu’s own party who seem to be of a similar persuasion. The prime minister himself must, therefore, take the blame for allowing the extremists to dominate as their price for allowing him to stay at the helm. How he really feels is difficult to ascertain, but the fact that he goes on diplomatic missions at the slightest excuse seems to suggest that he’s more comfortable being abroad than being at home.

The latest of many attempts at repression is Bennett commissioning an Israeli academic, Asa Kasher, to write a code for universities that seeks to ban expressions of political commitment. Professor Avi Sagi of Bar Ilan University and the Shalom Hartman Institute (a kippa – wearing observant Jew) has challenged the Bennett-Kasher effort by telling readers in today’s Ha’aretz that if the code is accepted, Jews will have no right to blame academics during the Hitler period in Germany for having remained silent in the face of the Nazi atrocities. He deems the Israeli version to be of the same ilk.

Israel is very vulnerable to what its citizens, in the name of Jewish history and the love of the land, may do to destroy it.

The fact that it may reflect a trend in the Western world is no consolation. Timothy Snyder, the distinguished American historian of the Nazi period, has just published a little book, On Tyranny, in which he unashamedly compares the populism that has brought Donald Trump to power to the populism that allowed Adolf Hitler to rule. The fact that both were elected democratically doesn’t seem to be enough to guarantee freedom for all citizens.

Not surprisingly, Bennett is said to be an enthusiastic supporter of Trump believing that the president of the United States will make it possible for Israel to put an end to the so-called two-state option and annex the territories. (Does it sound familiar to students of European history of the 1930?)

Of course, the antics and tactics of Bennett & Co. are dressed up as patriotism and the need to defend the country from its many enemies – also the enemies from within. (Does it sound familiar? Do your remember Senator McCarthy?) The current efforts here to introduce legislation aimed at preventing dissident organizations from receiving funds from abroad is part of the campaign.

Though Israel is robust in its efforts to defend itself from enemies without it’s also very vulnerable to what its citizens, in the name of Jewish history and the love of the land, may do to destroy it. That’s was the cause, according to our prophets and sages, for the earlier calamities. How do we make sure that it doesn’t happen again?

That has become the challenge of all progressive forces in Israel today. They’re being curtailed in many ways. The Bennett-Kasher so-called code of ethics for universities is the latest onslaught. We must hope that the forces for good will prevail, but that isn’t likely to happen without a liberal government replacing this one.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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