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.

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