Partners for Progressive Israel notes with great sadness the increasing similarities between Israel and the ruling right-wing nationalists of countries from which Jews in the modern period have fled. In Israel today, as in Viktor Orban’s Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Poland, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and Recep Erdogan’s Turkey, championing civil rights makes organizations a target of government-inspired attacks. In Israel today, as in those countries, NGO’s are equated with foreign agents, school book lists are purged for unpatriotic themes, and “leftists” subjected to ceaseless denunciations by state and state-affiliated media. Constitutional Courts, which only two decades ago helped to liberalize these societies, are now under attack, being packed by regime-friendly appointees committed to undermining their own calling.
In addition to Netanyahu himself, the Likud Party and its allies have thrown up figures like Ayelet Shaked, Miri Regev, Tzipi Hotoveli and others whose racist rants are now being augmented with denunciation of “cosmopolitan” intellectuals like David Grossman, Amos Oz and others. In a chilling and ironic parallel, efforts are now underway in Poland to withdraw an honor previously accorded Jan Gross, a Polish-Jewish historian, author of Neighbors, the internationally-recognized examination of the murder of Jews by antisemitic Poles in the village of Jedwabne as the German invasion of Soviet-occupied East Poland began in June 1941, and Fear, a study of early postwar Polish antisemitism. Scholarly study of Turkish-Armenian relations is now virtually impossible in Turkey; Hungary’s role in central Europe is being effectively rewritten to comport with Magyar ideology; and Israeli NGO’s that attempt to commemorate the Nakba which accompanied Israel’s founding, after years of making serious strides, are threatened by the government
What unites these assaults on liberal democracy is not simply the nature of the repressive measures they have generated. They are united by a systematic provincialization of their countries, a withdrawal from the community of liberal democratic societies, a de-liberalization justified as the democratic will of the people. Right-wing nationalists win an election and consider that carte blanche for undermining framework institutions. In the case of Poland and Hungary, leaders proudly proclaim the establishment of “illiberal democracy.” In Israel, we are told, it’s Jewish first, democratic second. Once that happens, the historic Zionist aspiration for a liberal, democratic, modern Jewish homeland will be but a pale memory.