The Guardian • Issue #2032

Israeli extremists propelled to power alongside Netanyahu, accelerating global neo-fascist trend

Image: SPÖ Presse und Kommunikation – (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It appears likely that the criminally corrupt former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be returning to power, despite being under criminal indictment. Israelis cast their votes in the fifth national election in three years. The more than 4.5 million Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation have no rights and therefore were not able to participate in the elections.

The prospect of yet another Netanyahu-led government might seem like the worst news to come out of the balloting, but perhaps even more dangerous in the long term is the rise of the Religious Zionist Party. Its strong showing suggests the acceleration of the extreme rightward tilt of a significant section of the Israeli electorate.

The Religious Zionist Party is a union of three extremist groupings: The right-wing religious National Union-Tkuma (Revival) Party; the neo-Kahanist, fascist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party; and the anti-LGBTQ Noam (Plesantness) Party. Their fundamentalist and fascist coalition is expected to become the third-largest party in the Israeli Knesset (parliament), and their leaders will likely be given ministerial positions in the next Netanyahu government.

At the centre of the party’s agenda is a speeding-up of annexation of occupied land and opposition to any peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority or any other Palestinian groups.

Some of the other lowlights of the Religious Zionist Party’s platform are execution of Palestinian resistance fighters who throw rocks, the expulsion of Palestinians and Israeli leftists who advocate for the Palestinian cause, the granting of legal immunity to Israeli soldiers for any acts of violence they commit while in uniform, and long-term prison penalties for foreign economic migrants.

There was a time in Israel’s history when these sorts of fascist parties were shunned and even made illegal. In the 1970s, the US-born Meir Kahane, a rabid racist and religious extremist rabbi, formed the Kach (Thus) Party, which advocated for the Israeli legal system to be based on religious law and the mass deportation of Arabs and other non-Jews from Israeli-controlled lands.

In the US, Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in 1968. The JDL marketed itself as a group to combat anti-semitism, but Kahane and other members were convicted of multiple terrorism charges, including the bombing of the Soviet Union’s Mission to the UN in New York in 1975.

After moving to Israel, Kahane got involved in electoral politics; he won a seat in the Knesset in 1984. The continued violence of his JDL – which organised around such slogans as “Gas the Arabs” – eventually got him banned from standing in elections. Kahane and his party were subsequently shunned from mainstream politics. In 1988, the Knesset passed a law aimed at Kahane and his supporters, banning any political party that incites racism from running in elections.

Unfortunately, since 1988, a lot has changed.

Today, the racist, neo-fascist ideas espoused by Kahane and his political descendants have become mainstream among a large segment of Israeli society. The Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party is the current home for his supporters, and along with its extremist allies, it is now on the cusp of being invited to join the Israeli government.

On its own, the rise of the Religious Zionist Party is scary enough. However, when placed in the larger, global context, it becomes truly horrifying. This group’s electoral successes is just the latest example of a trend of rising neo-fascist parties throughout the liberal-democratic capitalist world.

Throughout the “community” of Western-oriented liberal democracies, there is an ever-growing number of examples of fascist parties and their ideas entering mainstream politics and finding electoral success.

A few weeks ago, the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy Party became the largest political party in the Italian parliament. In September, the Swedish Democrats, the party of choice for Swedish neo-Nazis, became the second largest party in Sweden’s parliament. In April, the neo-fascist National Rally party, successor to the fascist National Front party, received over 40 per cent of the vote in France’s second round of presidential elections.

The forces of fascism are clearly on the rise, but the trend is not new.

Right-wing “strongman” Viktor Orban has been in power in Hungary since 2010, pushing xenophobic, homophobic, and ultra-nationalistic policies. Since 2015, the Law and Justice Party, along with its right-wing allies, have steadily ushered Poland down the path of right-wing nationalism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

Narendra Modi and his racist, right-wing Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) Party have been in power in India since early 2014. The same year, a colour revolution in Ukraine installed a right-wing government that was quick to ally itself with neo-Nazi forces and violently suppress opposition.

The United States is not immune to the neo-fascist trend. The Republican Party under former President Donald Trump – and with leaders like Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and others – has clearly embraced fascism and right-wing populism.

Since long before the midterm elections now quickly approaching, the Republican Party has been waging an all-out war on democracy, women’s rights, workers, people of colour, immigrants, and LGBTQ people. On top of this, large swaths of the Democratic Party officialdom have embraced militarism and endless warfare.

The situation may appear bleak, but the past week also provided a reason for optimism. On 30th October, a large front of pro-democracy groups made up of Communists, progressives, labor unions, Indigenous groups, and left-leaning liberals came together to defeat Jair Bolsonaro, the neo-fascist president of Brazil. Despite attempts by Bolsonaro and his allies to illegally influence the elections, the anti-fascist coalition grouped around Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was able to win the presidential race.

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