Israel Juan Cole Voting

The Rise of Israeli Fascism as the Swing Vote in Parliament, and the Project of Ethnic Cleansing

The flag of Israel in Yad LaShiryon, Latrun, Israel. Dr. Zachi Evenor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Despite Israeli propaganda about being a democracy that shares values with the liberal West, the country has for some time gone down a much darker path. Exit polling done by the major Israeli television channels in Tuesday’s election suggests that Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party, in a joint slate with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), will win between 13 and 15 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament or Knesset.

Many members of Religious Zionist Party coalition came out of the violent and racist Kahanist movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahanist organizations such as the Kach Party came to be outlawed as terrorists by both Israel and the United States, but former members of the younger generation such as Itamar Ben-Gvir have reinvented themselves through other extremist parties such as Otzmah Yehudit that have coalesced with the Religious Zionist Party.

A decade ago, such figures were too toxic for mainstream Israeli politicians to have anything to do with them. Now, the far right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, has formally allied with the Religious Zionist Party.

Ben-Gvir once pulled a gun on Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah. He was once convicted in Israel of incitement to racism for his anti-Palestinian threats. He advocates stripping Israeli citizenship from any of the 1.5 million Israelis of Palestinian heritage whom he perceives to be in any way disloyal to Israel, and expelling them. This is a form of ethnic cleansing. He considers Palestinian-Israeli members of parliament to be a fifth column. He even wants to set up a ministry charged with “encouraging” Palestinian-Israelis to “emigrate.” No doubt he will do his best to find a final solution to this problem of impurities in the Israeli body politic.

Ben-Gvir, however, is only a symptom of the rot that has set into Israeli politics. He wants to simply annex the West Bank, or at least the 62% of it in Area C, which would be a war crime. But that position is no longer the monopoly of the fringe far, far-right. Such an annexation was broached by Likud leader Netanyahu during his last tenure as prime minister. Avigdor Lieberman, the secular leader of the Russian bloc in Israel, who disdains religious Zionism, has also urged expulsion of Israelis of Palestinian heritage if they will not sign a loyalty oath.

To see how monstrous these positions are, just transpose them to an American setting. American Indians are our indigenous population, as Palestinians are Israel’s. Palestinians have lived on their land for millennia, just as have American Indians.*

Deb Haaland, our Secretary of the Interior, is an American Indian. What if a clique of politicians in the United States stood up on the floor of the House and demanded that she be fired because she belongs to a “fifth column” and is disloyal to the United States?

What if today’s politicians routinely spoke about the need to strip citizenship from and expel the Navajo from New Mexico and Arizona into Mexico and to annex the Navajo Reservation, the 27,000-square-mile area that stretches across four states in the Southwest? What if all 7 million American Indians were branded terrorists by some politicians in Washington?

Of course, politicians in earlier centuries did all those things to American Indians here, but those actions are now widely recognized as having been injustices. If someone insisted nowadays that the Trail of Tears had been a great good thing, we would know immediately that that person is a horrible racist.


*Putting aside ancient history, most Israelis can’t trace their families’ residence in Israel back further than the early twentieth century. Ancient history doesn’t count or else France and Spain would have to surrender to Italy, the Roman successor state, and dissolve themselves.

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Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.


  1. Thanks, Juan, for continuing to fight. I’m 80, and too tired to do anything but read. As we get older, we tend to ‘retire’. My heart is with you.

  2. According to scholarly Arab Palestinian history, it’s all straightforward, just as it is with indigenous Americans’ history.
    One small problem, history is not only written by the victors, it is interpreted by them.
    Both American and Israeli histories are grounded in myths, It’s the winners interpretive tales that until this pivotal point in time, have always prevailed.
    “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
    Soren Kierkegaard (1813 -1855)

  3. Look Israel is no different than the Third Reich in its treatment of Palestinians. Let’s face the truth.
    My daughter would call me anti-semitic, but I am not. I love both the Israeli People and Palestinians as they are a part of my human family as are all races and countries. That aside, the government and its policies are evil. They replicate policies and procedures very similar to theThird Reich and the comparison is very valid. When you call them out on this they go ballistic, as any evil empire would. They don’t practice the virtues of the Old Testament or Torah, they do practice the tenets of the Articles of Zionism whether you believe this to be a valid document or not. The evidence is clear, so to minimize what they are doing by splitting hairs is nonsense. Just look at how the US has gone into Venezuela and interfered with its elections. Total insanity, and a part of the global move to rule the world with Israel in tow. Lets end this once and for al by exposing the corruption and sickness, psychoses etc.

  4. @Edward William Case
    You seem to be very ignorant of history , both recent and more remote.
    Jews in the third Reich could not practice most professions, study, mingle with Aryans (this for the few “fortunate “ones which did not end up in extermination camps. Arabs in Israel are members of parliament, judges, policemen, officers in the army, doctors, university professors etc. etc. and fully participate in the economic, social and political life.
    In extoling the virtues of Old Testament /Torah you join the people that the author of this article calls fascists who have as one of their tenets the exclusive use of Jewish law in Israel, instead of the laws adopted by the Knesset.
    There is not such a think as Articles of Zionism and the fundament of the law in Israel is the Declaration of Independence which states that the State of Israel “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

    1. The Nazi leadership were hanged for doing no more than what the Zionist Jews who occupy Palestine have done. The only distinction is that the Nazis committed their vile crimes on an industrial scale apparently unprecedented in world history. and arguably before it all became the world’s greatest crime, the Crime Against Peace.

      The Zionist leadership in Occupied Palestine deserves no less than to be hanged as the Nazis were, and for the same reason. It is a pity only that so many of the most guilty, such as ben Gurion, Begin, et al. have escaped the noose through peaceful death.

  5. The author is right that the rhetoric of the far right in Israel is repulsive and that their rise in the Israeli politics is a tragedy. The only hope is that their bark is worse than their bite and that they will be restrained by saner and more pragmatic members of the future governing coalition. It is ironic that Netanyahu is supposed now to be the “responsible adult” and be the exponent of sanity and restraint!
    “Putting aside ancient history, most Israelis can’t trace their families’ residence in Israel back further than the early twentieth century. Ancient history doesn’t count or else France and Spain would have to surrender to Italy, the Roman successor state, and dissolve themselves.”

    This is a rather ridiculous claim for a Professor of History ! Ancient history counts both for Jews and Arabs (who by the way are partially new comers from the 19th and 20th centuries.
    The reasons for which Jews have not been present in greater numbers in the Land of Israel are repeated waves of persecutions and ethnic cleansing and notwithstanding those Jews have returned to Israel during all periods of history as they have considered it as their rightful land. Even Saladin after his victories against the Crusaders invited the Jews to return to Jerusalem!
    I would like to point out that also many Americans do not have USA roots earlier than the 20th century (even the current Vice President) and it does not seem to be a problem!
    And the honorable Professor of History seems to be ignorant that the French and Spaniards do not trace their statal origins to the Roman Empire but to the native tribes that fought and resisted the Romans ( Nos Ancetres Les Gaulois) !

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