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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Israel as Another Rightist Reactionary Phenomena in the Middle East

Orthodox Israel
Ultra-Orthodox Jews inspect an etrog citrus fruit used during the celebration of Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles, in the Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on October 1, 2020. Photo: Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

Majed Kayali

Today, Israel doesn’t seem like the same state that attempted to establish itself more than six decades ago. At that time, Israel wanted to be an “Oasis” of modernity and democracy in the “Desert” of the ancient, reactionary, and totalitarian Middle East.

Over the past decades, Israel promoted itself being an “Oasis” that is distinctive from the prevailing Arab regimes. These regimes originated back then either from tribal relations (Monarchies) or from the military institution (Republics). Both of these regimes were remarkably featured by hostility against democracy, authoritarianism, and oppressing freedoms. Moreover, they worked on marginalizing communities and obstructing the development of the economy, society, and state.

The fact that Israel’s political system is distinguished by liberal democracy (as per its Jewish citizens) granted it a surplus of power in its confrontation with its hostile surroundings. This factor should be taken into account with other factors of power that enabled Israel to attain stability and development. It helped this state to prevail over the Arab situation. The list also includes military and economic factors, besides Israel’s relation with the West.

This situation made it easier for Israel to attract to it Jews from all over the world. Moreover, it made it easier for Israel to create its people. Thanks to the “melting pot” strategy, the Israeli people became represented by the collective institutions. Those include the army, the kibbutz, the Moshav, the Histadrut, the Jewish National Fund, schools, universities, and state institutions.

Thanks to its diverse, liberal, pluralistic political system, Israel succeeded in what the Arab countries failed in. These countries arose almost simultaneously with Israel. Nevertheless, they failed because of their undeveloped, stagnant, authoritarian political system. Moreover, the Arab countries did not succeed in establishing collective institutions or creating national groups. They were also unable to transform the social segments in it into a nation in the full sense of the word. Rather, they remained in the realm of tribal, sectarian, and ethnic affiliations. As a result, this weakened the state and society.

This contradictory situation had positive repercussions for the benefit of Israel, which, as a state and as a society, seemed to be stronger and more immune to external challenges. In turn, this situation had very negative repercussions on the Arab countries. They seemed fragile, weak, and exposed in the face of this kind of challenge, let alone that Israel was for these countries a challenge when it came to security aspects. The same thing applies to the political and economic aspects.

Internationally, the liberal democratic system has greatly benefited Israel in terms of strengthening its relationship with the West. Israel considered itself as a part of the West and an extension of it in this region. This approach came in line with the following saying: “There is no better West in the East than the West itself.” That meant, in fact, Israel. Indeed, the Western world has sympathized with Israel. It strengthened support and protection for Israel considering that this state is an extension of the West in the region. Unfortunately, this protection came to the point that the West turned a blind eye to Israel’s confiscation of the rights of the Palestinians. It took no action against Israel’s occupation of the lands of other Arab countries. By doing this, the West affirms a custom based on “Entitling democratic countries to do what others are not entitled to!” This silence encouraged Israel to adopt colonial and racist practices against the Palestinians and to tighten control over them using brute force.

However, this Israel, over time, has not been able to obliterate the contradictions nested in it since its establishment. For example, Israel is a modernist state that considers its rise as a result of a “divine” will. Moreover, Israel is a secular state while it is in reality a religious one. Another contradiction is its status as a democratic state and its nature as a racist-Jewish state. These contradictions continued to appear from time to time, either in a calm or in a very tense form.

As a result of all this, Israel appears more than any time before as a colonial, racist, and religious state. This can be seen in its foreign and domestic policies and legislation. The same applies to its ideology and symbols. Israel currently appears as a theocratic state whose orientations are dominated by rabbis, religious parties, and extremist nationalism. Meanwhile, the rest of the secular, liberal, and leftist parties have become extremely weak and fragile. A recent B’Tselem report indicated this situation. The Israeli thinker Ilan Pappé did the same. In his book “The Biggest Prison on Earth”, Pappé did not consider Israel as a colonial racist state due to a certain event. Rather, he indicated that Israel is so by its composition and components.

We have recently witnessed an increasing orientation in Israel towards enacting legislation that restricts the liberal nature of the Supreme Court. Other legislations limit the freedom of journalists, weaken the role of civil society organizations. The same applies to legislations that degrade the status of women and affirm Israel as a Jewish state, not as a civil state. This means that the racism of Israel, its colonial spirit, and the declaration of its religious identity externally, have a reflection internally as well. This identity is especially apparent when it comes to Palestinians and Israel’s request to be recognized exclusively as a Jewish state. The racism of Israel is manifested in weakening the pluralistic democratic and liberal component in its culture, political system, and internal relations. This was also apparent in the law that Israel issued to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. The law that was approved by the Knesset in the summer of 2018 casts Palestinians out of the circle of citizenship in Israel.

Besides, Israel has another problem. This state is moving in such a direction while the world pushes nowadays towards generalizing the values of modernity. Such values include rationality, liberalism, democracy, in addition to rejecting fundamentalism, religious extremism, and authoritarianism. The world moves towards consolidating the existence of states of equal citizens. Consequently, Israel is moving against this path of global history. It is something that is being paid for by the so-called delegitimization path, which is nourished by the strength of civil societies in the world. Here, it should be noted that that the weight of these civil societies is increasing. They are currently involved in deciding the path of their countries’ foreign policies and in upholding values over interests.

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written by
Mohammed Abdullatif
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