The roots of Israeli fascism

The roots of Israeli fascism

Rick Perlstein writes:

In 1928, a prominent [Zionist] Revisionist named Abba Ahimeir published a series of articles entitled “From the Diary of a Fascist.” They refer to the founder of their movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky (his adopted first name is Hebrew for “wolf”), as “il duce.” In 1935, his comrade Hen Merhavia wrote that Revisionists were doing what Mussolini did: “establish a nucleus of an exemplary life of morality and purity. Like us, the Italian fascists look back to their historical heritage. We seek to return to the kingdom of the House of David; they want to return to the glory of the Roman Empire.” They even opened a maritime academy in Italy, under Mussolini’s sponsorship, for the navy they hoped to build in their new Israeli state. “[T]he views and the political and social inclinations of the Revisionists,” an Italian magazine reported, “are absolutely in accordance with the fascist doctrine … as our students they will bring the Italian and fascist culture to Palestine.”

Like all fascists, Revisionists believed the most exemplary lives were lived in violence, in pursuit of return to a racially pure arcadia. Their rivals, the Labor Zionists, who beat out the Revisionists in the political battle to establish the Jewish state in their own image, hardly shrank from violence, of course. But they saw it as a necessary evil—and defensive. Revisionists believed in violence, offensive violence, as a positive good. “Now it is not enough to learn how to shoot,” Jabotinsky’s successor as Revisionist leader put it in 1945, five years after Jabotinsky’s death. “In the name of historical justice, in the name of life’s instinct, in the name of truth—we must shoot.”

And like all fascisms, it expressed an overwhelming ethnic chauvinism. One of the kookiest things I learned from [Eran] Kaplan’s book [The Jewish Radical Right: Revisionist Zionism and Its Ideological Legacy] was that Jabotinsky believed “the Semitic sounds of Arabic were but a series of noises without distinction or character,” with which Hebrew had little in common. Hebrew was actually a Mediterranean language, Jabotinsky believed. Recovering the non-guttural sound of real Hebrew “would evoke in the nation’s youth the true national characteristics that had all but disappeared in the Diaspora.”

“Revisionism was, first and foremost,” Kaplan writes, “an attack on modernity … an attempt to revise the course of Jewish history and release it from the hands of the champions of such ideals as progress, rationality, and universal rights.”

You might imagine, if you had a typical American education like mine, this doctrine could never get far among Jews, of all people, who introduced the world to those ideals. “Western civilization,” as my high school world history teacher said, “walks on two legs: Jerusalem and Athens.” Dancing in circles, kibbutzim, wars only because hostile neighbors forced them on us: That was what the typical American Jewish education taught us Israel was all about.

Only if you were more sophisticated in such matters would you know that in 1977, the very same young Revisionist who praised killing “in the name of life’s instinct, in the name of truth” became Israel’s prime minister. As a commander in Israel’s War of Independence, Menachem Begin wrote a telegram to his forces who had just massacred over a hundred Arabs before razing their village: “Continue thus until victory. As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, thou has chosen us for conquest.” [Continue reading…]

In an episode of ‘Hapatriotim’ on Channel 14 broadcast in March, Israeli singer Kobi Peretz faced questioning from panel member Moshe Cohen regarding his song “may your village burn” and why he continues to perform it around soldiers.


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