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Fascism is ‘already there’ in Israel, says Jewish professor of the Holocaust

February 14, 2023 at 12:59 pm

Opposition deputies protest inside the Knesset during a session of the Law Committee as the first stage of controversial judicial reform which restricts the powers of the judiciary and involves transferring critical powers of the Supreme Court to the Assembly, has been approved by the Knesset Law Committee, in Jerusalem on February 13, 2023. [Israeli Parliament (Knesset) – Anadolu Agency]

Israel is hurtling towards fascism, Holocaust historian Daniel Blatman has said in an interview with Haaretz. Blatman is a professor at the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University. His fields of interest are the Holocaust, Nazism, fascism, genocide and East European Jewry during the Holocaust. He is currently involved in establishing the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2025.

Haaretz interviewed Blatman because of an article he had written in 2017 which predicted that Israel was heading for a collision of forces, the conclusion of which would be the end of democracy and the rise of fascism. His prediction has more or less played out exactly as he described six years ago, which is why he was asked to comment on the ongoing turmoil in Israel over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, and far-right politicians dominating the current Israeli government.

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Blatman spoke at length about the wave of populism around the world and said that Netanyahu possessed all the key traits of a populist leader. The radical transformation which has seen neo-Nazi ministers within the Israeli government has been made possible because Israeli society is “ripe” to accept the likes of Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. “Israeli society was ripe to receive the present government. Not because of Likud’s victory, but because the most extreme wing pulled everyone after it,” said the professor. “What was once extreme right is today centre. Ideas that were once on the fringes have become legitimate.”

Alarmed by the rise of fascism in Israel, Blatman went on to say: “As a historian whose field is the Holocaust and Nazism, it’s hard for me to say this, but there are neo-Nazi ministers in the government today. You don’t see that anywhere else – not in Hungary, not in Poland – ministers who, ideologically, are pure racists.”

Populism has been on the ascendency in both Hungary and Poland but, according to Blatman, the drift towards fascism in Israel is unique. He believes that Israeli society has undergone a process of radicalisation.

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“There is a large mass that does not sanctify democratic and liberal values,” he said. Strengthening of religion and demonisation of the Arab enemy were two of the reasons Blatman cited as being the cause of the radicalisation of Israeli society.

“What we are seeing today is a kind of genie that is bursting from the bottle, and I’m not sure it can be stopped,” he warned. “I am not embarrassed to say that I am afraid. I think that a demonstration of 100,000 or 200,000 won’t help. If two million people don’t rise up now and fight for democracy, fight for liberalism, the conclusion must be that Israeli society accepts what’s going on. That it [fascism] is already there.