Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent appointment of Avigdor Lieberman to the Ministry of Defence is nothing short of a declaration of war. Lieberman, the leader of the right-wing party, Yisrael Beitenu (Hebrew for ‘Israel is Our Home’), is an unabashed colonist who resides illegally in a colony in the Bethlehem area. Despite hailing from Moldova and having immigrated to Palestine, Lieberman has made, as part of his party’s platform, a condition that Palestinians in Israel should be ethnically cleansed from their homeland. He advocates that Palestinians, who witnessed the destruction of their homeland, who saw their families dispossessed and turned into refugees and who live as second-class citizens in their homeland while foreign invaders are granted superior rights, must be “loyal” to the state that actively seeks their demise or face having their citizenship stripped. And it does not stop there: Lieberman is now seeking passage of a bill to institute the death penalty against Palestinians who resist Israel’s military rule.
This is not to say that the existing Cabinet is not extreme already: It contains individuals who have supported assertions that Palestinian children are “snakes”, another who boasts about the number of Palestinians he has murdered, another who has declared that Palestinians are “beasts, they are not human” and that a “Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile”. Others have called for the formal annexation of the West Bank, while not a single member of the Israeli government believes that Palestinians are entitled to any rights, or to live in freedom.
And this new government reflects Israeli society today — a society that has grown increasingly fascist, that is cracking down on dissent, that seeks to persecute human rights defenders, that is jailing scores of Palestinian activists for things as benign as Facebook posts, and that supports assassination policies against Palestinians. More recently, Israel announced that it would refuse to renew the residency permit of one of the co-founders of the growing Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement, Omar Barghouti. This came on the heels of previous calls for his “civil targeted killing” (code for assassination), simply because Barghouti and others advocate non-violent mechanisms for holding Israel accountable for its continued crimes. This is a society that has prompted lawmakers to institute segregation in schools and that even calls for segregated maternity wards. Israeli society remains largely silent as it continues to oppress millions of Palestinians, and continues to discriminate over more than a million of its citizens.
The rise in Israeli fascism prompted the outgoing minister of defence, Moshe Ya’alon, to agree this week with comparisons by other senior Israeli military officials suggesting that Israel today resembles pre-Holocaust Germany of the 1930s. Ya’alon himself is hardly a dove, though, as he was responsible for killing 13 Palestinians, including eight children, when he had ordered a one-tonne bomb to be dropped on an apartment building in a heavily and densely populated area of the Gaza Strip.
While the recent comparisons with pre-Holocaust Germany are apt, they are not new. For years, Palestinians have asserted that our dispossession, our ongoing displacement, home demolitions and theft of our land, the caging in and besiegement of the Gaza Strip are nothing short of mechanisms designed to erase our very presence from our homeland and to pretend that we never existed. But like oppressed people around the world, we resist, and will continue to resist, this onslaught. We refuse to die in silence or in acquiescence.
Yet, while we refuse to die in silence, much of the international community will appear to prefer that we do just that. For 68 years, as Palestinians have struggled to survive, the international community has largely remained silent. Fearing charges of anti-Semitism, the world’s superpowers prefer to lightly rebuke Israel for its ongoing crimes. Today, the world’s powers have strengthened ties with fascist, apartheid Israel, rather than to boycott it. The world has increased trade with Israel rather than imposing sanctions on it and mealy-mouthed, hypocritical, statements issued by world powers invariably condemn Palestinians for responding to Israeli crimes before casually calling upon Israel to stop its crimes. But if Germany in the 1930s taught the world anything, it is that the racist and fascist remarks, which increasingly are the norm and serve as Lieberman’s very calling card, can, and do, have a way of taking on a diabolical life of their own. The increasing environment of hatred may seem contained but may have repercussions that reverberate far beyond occupied Jerusalem. Unless this downward slide is stopped in its tracks, the unthinkable may happen again.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.