This is the final part of a three-column response to the terrorist attacks against Israel by Hamas and the subsequent reaction of Israel in its attacks on Gaza. My approach over the three columns has been to reject an either/or approach to the conflict and to embrace a both/and approach. In other words, I offer a criticism of the terrorist attack by Hamas and of those who refuse to condemn such an attack, followed by a criticism of the response by Israel’s military. I do not view the actions of Hamas as those of heroic liberators. In fact, I have compared their actions to those of the Einsatzgruppen (German death squads responsible for the mass murder of Jews during World War II). At the same time, I offer a trenchant criticism of the historical treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli government.
In Part One, I began by condemning the vicious, medieval and mind-numbing assaults on innocent Israeli citizens, including the savage torture and murder of men, women and children, by Hamas. There is, in my mind, no justification for Hamas’ vicious, medieval and mind-numbing terrorist assault on October 7. I further condemned Hamas’ charter that advocates for the destruction of Israel and maintained that Israel has a right to defend itself. I emphasised my support for Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, some of whom I was privileged to meet during various visits to Israel over the years. I was raised in a Christian family whose father had a close connection to the Jewish community. My father served in the Royal Canadian Engineers and saw action against the Nazis in the Netherlands, where, after the war, he was billeted in a Jewish home with a family that treated him as their son. I grew up acutely aware of the struggle of the Jewish people throughout history. In Part Two, I shifted focus, aiming my critique on the disproportionate response to the terrorist attack by the Israeli Defense Forces. I also criticised the use of violent religious ideology in fomenting hate by both Israelis and supporters of Hamas.
In this final response, I make a case against fascist ideology that was once believed exiled to history’s annals but that now casts its foreboding silhouette across a panorama of countries such as the US and Israel, where the delicate equilibrium between individual liberties and the collective good teeters perilously on the precipice of religious nationalism. In this dance with darkness, the architects of authoritarianism wield a rhetoric both enchanting and insidious. They shroud their ambitions in the language of patriotism, exploiting the very ideals cherished by the nation. A poetic tableau emerges of two charismatic figures, Trump and Netanyahu, corroded by the malevolent influence of authoritarianism. The judiciary, intended to be an impartial arbiter, is perverted to serve the interests of a singular vision. The vibrant image of democracy begins to fade, replaced by the muted tones of autocracy.
When speaking about fascism, it’s always wise to keep in mind the astute observation made by Federico Finchelstein in the respected journal Foreign Policy about past fascist leaders: a classic technique of fascists is that they always deny what they are and ascribe their own features and totalitarian politics to their enemies. A case in point: the fist-pumping Trump who likes to denounce fascists as a way of deflecting from his plans to humiliate and destroy his political enemies utterly. During an Independence Day event at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota, on July 3, 2020, Trump railed against the spectre of a far-left fascism: ‘In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.’ Here, Trump brings into stunning relief the ‘contradiction between his words denouncing tyrannical invisible forces and his actual dictatorial leanings.’ Finchelstein could not be more accurate when he writes that ‘these are times of confusion when the racist right depicts itself as democratic while falsely presenting fascism as an ideology of the left.’
In his far-right propaganda film Death of a Nation, the political provocateur and potentate of charlatanism, Dinesh D’Souza, famously harnessed his vintage sophistry into the service of projecting his fascist sentiments onto liberals by making the case that fascism is a left-wing movement. In point of fact, the name of Hitler’s political party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, was a clever ploy by Hitler and his circle of evil to deflect from their autocratic rule and to disguise the fact that he sent socialists and communists to die in concentration camps. Appropriating language from exponents of ideas that issued from different political streams only proves that Hitler’s political legerdemain was as clever as it was ruthless. Finchelstein cites the famous historian of fascism, Zeev Sternhell, who warned that ‘fascists have always been on the extreme right. They emerged from a long tradition of anti-Enlightenment thought that developed in reaction to the French and American revolutions and against the notion that universal values such as pluralism, equality and freedom should be defended. Fascism stands as the most radical outcome of this revolt against universal values.’ Fascism, we need to be clear, is an anti-left and anti-liberal counterrevolution. It appropriates the vocabulary of the left and places it at the service of right-wing oppression. It is a global form of political violence and racial and national domination that stands firmly against liberalism, Marxism and democracy.
Finchelstein writes that, for Sternhell,
fascism always had two essential components: 1) a brand of anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois tribal nationalism based on social Darwinism and, often, biological determinism; and 2) a radical, formerly leftist, anti-materialist revision of Marxism. Thus, fascism combined anti-rationalist thinkers like the French Catholic chauvinist Charles Maurras and Georges Sorel – a leftist anti-Marxist philosopher who proposed myth and violence as a road map for revolutionary politics – and reformulated nationalist and social themes in an extreme right-wing form.
Fascism is a form of political extremism that appropriates ideas from both the right and the left. But make no mistake, it is a right-wing political movement. In Sternhell’s view, ‘If the left sought rights for all, fascism wanted no rights for people who were ethnically or racially distinct or who behaved or thought differently. In other words, fascists attacked political and ethnic minorities in the name of the nation and the sacred.’ We can see this in that way that Trump reconnects populism with key elements of fascism through his glorification of violence, his attacks on immigrants, his racism, his mocking of the disabled, his sexism, his photos holding the Bible, his claim to be the ‘chosen one,’ his criminality and the weaponisation of his office against his enemies. Trump is an Al Capone character: a criminal, an overlord, a narcissist, a grifter and an egomaniac. He has pulled the wool over the eyes of an electorate that sorely needs a critical education and a moral compass. Trump and his followers could use some remedial reading on democracy and social justice. Finchelstein writes:
At Mount Rushmore, Trump argued that ‘the radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But, in truth, it would demolish both justice and society. It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance, and it would turn our free and inclusive society into a place of repression, domination and exclusion.’ Trump’s sense of emergency and claims of an imminent threat to the nation – as he narrowly conceives of it – represent the closest he has ever come to a fascist form of argumentation. Contrary to what he proclaimed at Mount Rushmore, it is Trump who is constantly undermining democracy and inclusion – and his nativist populism is anchored in the fascist past.
Three years after his Mount Rushmore speech, Trump set a new watermark for fascist rhetoric. The then ex-president attacked his opponents and critics in a Veterans Day post on Truth Social and a campaign rally speech in New Hampshire, using language redolent of the ravings of Hitler and Mussolini, a language designed to dehumanise his enemies:
‘We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,’ Trump said, dredging up lies about his 2020 election loss that fuelled the January 6 insurrection. ‘They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.’
Steven Cheung, one of Trump’s campaign spokesmen, derided those who tried to compare Trump’s rhetoric to that of Hitler or Mussolini with the following bone-chilling warning: ‘Those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.’
Republicans in the United States have threatened to dismantle the country’s Department of Education. If Trump decides it’s more efficacious to keep it, should he be re-elected, perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, and appoint somebody like former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who famously defended his proclamation that ‘If you wanted to reduce crime you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every Black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.’ Not long ago, Donald Trump laid out his plan to deal with the ‘major problem’ facing America today: ‘[W]e have pink-haired communists teaching our kids.’
Trump argued that the Founders intended to protect teaching schoolchildren religion, and the intention of the Constitution was to mix religion, politics and education: ‘The Marxism being preached in our schools is also totally hostile to Judeo-Christian teachings, and, in many ways, it’s resembling an established new religion. We can’t let that happen. For this reason, my administration will aggressively pursue intentional violations of the establishment clause and the free exercise clause of the Constitution.’ Trump is playing to the current moral panic about schooling and left-wing ideological capture, including ‘forcible conformity engendered by DEI, CRT and the like.’ To date, twenty-eight states have passed at least 71 bills controlling what teachers and students can say and do at school. School libraries have been purged of books, subject-matter restrictions have been put in place, and teachers face potential legal threats from parents. While Republicans are riding the wave of white outrage against Critical Race Theory and critical pedagogy, very few members of the American electorate seem to care. Thom Hartmann offers this quotation from the annual PRRI American Values Survey that found:
Americans overwhelmingly favour teaching children history that includes both the good and bad aspects of our history so that they can learn from the past, versus refraining from teaching aspects of history that could make them feel uncomfortable or guilty about what their ancestors did in the past (92% vs. 5%).
There are no substantial partisan differences, though Republicans favour excluding aspects of history slightly more (7%) than Democrats and Independents (both 4%). There are few differences across religious traditions or demographics. This consensus holds up across different levels of exposure to critical race theory: 92% of those who have heard a lot about critical race theory, 94% of those who have heard a little, and 93% of those who have heard nothing about it state that we should teach children the good and bad of history.
Nonetheless, they note: ‘[A] majority of Republicans (54%), compared with 27% of independents and only 7% of Democrats, believe that teachers and librarians are indoctrinating children.’
Hartmann is correct that the United States is heading towards a separate but equal educational system. Florida and several other Red states are now offering vouchers that can be used at private or religious schools to every student in the state. What champions of the vouchers don’t tell you is that ‘69 per cent is unaccredited, 58 per cent are religious and nearly one-third are for-profit.’ Hartmann points out that students use the vouchers to flee underfunded public schools, which sink deeper and deeper into financial trouble and are less able to attract good teachers. But here is the rub, according to Hartmann:
Because the vouchers never cover the full cost of private school tuition (typically they pay for half to two-thirds), the truly poor can’t use them: the result is the public school system becomes ghettoised, leading to even more flight by middle- and upper-class (white) people. Once the public schools are dead and the state has transitioned entirely to private schools, the state will claim budget problems and begin to dial back the amounts available for vouchers…. This will widen the relationship between the educational and wealth divides; the racial and class cleavage will become so great that the state will have effectively gone back to a ‘separate but equal’ educational system. Which, of course, is the GOP’s goal.
Fascists, like current factions of the Republican Party, fear that an educated public may turn against them. It is in their best interests to keep them ignorant. But fascism is not simply a threat to the US. It is a threat to the entire world. At present, we are seeing fascist politics playing out in Israel’s crackdown on anti-war expression in Israel, and the consequences of this crackdown on the country’s minority Arab population that effectively criminalises expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinians. Israeli protesters are displaying serious concerns about the possibility that Israel is planning to conquer Gaza and annex a large part of the West Bank. Israeli protesters, let it be said, are supporting Palestinians and not conflating them with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, the philosophy of which is rooted in a radical antisemitism that is at the foundation of Islamism. Its goal is the destruction of Israel. ‘Islamism’ developed in the 1930s and 1940s in Egypt and Palestine, and it offers a selectively interpreted Islam, claiming that the core of Islam is anti-Jewish. Islamists claim that the Koran supports their radical antisemitic views. Hamas is a fascist organisation that can be traced to the historical offspring of a political alliance forged among Third Reich leaders, Arab nationalists and Muslim religious authorities during World War II. Their mission has been to destroy ‘Zionist invaders,’ and they have ideological links to the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in the 1948 war and the 1968 attacks on Israel when terrorist organisations began to establish bases on the southwestern slopes of Mount Hermon, on the border between Syria and Lebanon (in the Bible it is the place where the Watcher class of fallen angels descended to Earth).
Both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have a history of courting fascist dictators. Trump has spoken highly of dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s president, Viktor Orbán, while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone out of his way to forge alliances with ethno-nationalist leaders from countries that in the past have enacted anti-Jewish legislation and played a role in the genocide of Jews during World War II. Netanyahu, leader of the far-right Likud Party, is counting on his ability to integrate his country into the nationalist, racist and anti-Semitic Eastern European bloc, which remains extremely hostile to Islam. Ian Buruma writes that ‘In today’s political environment … being pro-Israel and anti-Semitic is not a contradiction. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the even more radical members of his cabinet have a great deal in common with the right-wing nationalist figures in Europe and the United States with whom they have aligned.’
Israel has turned to Cyprus, Greece and Romania for joint military exercises. In so doing, Israel seeks a counterweight inside the European Union by reaching out to eastern European states that express a significant anti-Muslim sentiment and do not condemn Israel for its activities in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu has chosen to collaborate with anti-Semitic neo-Nazi movements across the world. He has forged a relationship with Geert Wilders, leader of the largest party in the Dutch parliament, who holds strident anti-Muslim views, which is his trademark. Orbán, for his part, has cited Israel and Hungary as ‘models of successful conservative communities.’ But he has also said that Hungarians ‘do not want to become peoples of mixed race.’
Despite their practised denial, Israeli politicians are actively seeking to establish relationships with fascist governments. Anshel Pfeffer writes:
The Israeli government has warm relations with the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government in Hungary despite the anti-Semites within these parties’ ranks and despite the systematic way in which both governments have downplayed the collaboration of local populations with the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. Israel justifies the close ties by the fact that Hungary and Poland support it within the European Union and that, officially, the local authorities and security forces protect the Jewish communities from any real anti-Semitic violence. But Israel is playing with fire. The wave of xenophobia in Europe may not yet be targeting Jews, but history has shown that it is always but a matter of time.
Because Israel is a strong ethno-nationalist, anti-migration state, far-right countries seek to establish stronger relations with it, some of them to prove they are not antisemitic. In 2016, Benjamin Netanyahu sounded very much like Trump when he remarked: ‘In our neighbourhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts,’ referring to Palestinians. And not unlike radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who likened co-existence with Palestinians to ‘co-existence with cancer.’ The far right in Israel does little to hide its ethno-nationalism and its aversion to the cosmopolitanism of the Jews of the diaspora, which it associates with multiculturalism, interculturality and multiethnicity.
Alberto Toscano reports that, ‘[i]n a collective statement, the Birzeit University Union of Professors and Employees has spoken of “colonial fascism” and of the “pornographic call to death of Arabs by settler Zionist politicians across the political lines.”’ Toscano writes of the mounting awareness in the public discourse throughout Israel of the insipient right-wing fascism in the latest Netanyahu government and Israeli society at large, especially in the wake of protests against the recent judicial reforms ‘aimed at eviscerating the vaunted autonomy of Israel’s Supreme Court.’ Toscano is worth quoting at length:
Four days before the Hamas attack, the newspaper Ha’aretz published an editorial under the heading ‘Israeli Neo-Fascism Threatens Israelis and Palestinians Alike.’ One month earlier, 200 Israeli high school students declared their refusal to be conscripted thus: ‘We decided that we cannot, in good faith, serve a bunch of fascist settlers that are in control of the government right now.’ In May, a Ha’aretz editorial opined that the ‘sixth Netanyahu government is beginning to look like a totalitarian caricature. There is almost no move associated with totalitarianism that has not been proposed by one of its extremist members and adopted by the rest of the incompetents it comprises in their competition to see who can be more fully full fascist,’ while one of its editorialists described an ‘Israeli fascist revolution’ ticking off all items in the checklist, from virulent racism to a contempt for weakness, from a lust for violence to anti-intellectualism.
Netanyahu and the Israeli far-right seek international recognition for their occupation of Palestinian lands, and far-right countries and ‘fellow sovereign’ constituencies are more likely to provide cover for Israel’s occupation and exclusionary nationalism, including right-wing Christian evangelical groups. The ideological convergence between extremist neo-fascist countries and Israel is meant to braid together the international discourse of the far right and to slicken a common defensive line against both Islam and the European and US left who, for the most part, support fair treatment of refugees, immigrants and minorities. The idea of ‘the threat of Islam’ is the common denominator that allows far-right countries to cooperate across national borders, while their leaders advertise themselves as defenders of the Judeo-Christian West and do not hide their hostility to the Palestinian national project. It should come as no surprise that Israel is the second largest arms exporter to India (a country run by Narendra Modi, head of the ruling far-right Hindu Nationalist Party) after Russia. That the anti-Enlightenment policy of fascism does not belong in an egalitarian country is precisely Netanyahu’s point, which explains his willingness to cooperate with the xenophobic European far-right. Yet what is at stake in these feral arrangements is democracy itself.
It is important to remember that while Zionists first sought to establish a Jewish homeland,
it was never intended to be exclusive to Jews. The Jews who arrived in Israel and made it their home were not native to the land, and only Orthodox religious Jews believed that it was given to them by God. Kahane, who certainly believed that, was actually born in Brooklyn, New York (and in 1990 was assassinated in Manhattan). His view is largely shared by evangelical Christians in the US who believe that Jews are doomed unless they embrace Christianity when the Apocalypse finally strikes.
In Part Two, I spoke about the prophetic pronouncements in Biblical narratives and how they have been manipulated to oppress others. The current Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, ‘laid out the theological bases for his genocidal intent to “abort” any Palestinian hopes for nationhood and repeat the Nakba’ when he declared in an interview:
When Joshua ben Nun [the biblical prophet] entered the land, he sent three messages to its inhabitants: those who want to accept [our rule] will accept; those who want to leave will leave; those who want to fight will fight. The basis of his strategy was: We are here, we have come, this is ours. Now, too, three doors will be open, there is no fourth door. Those who want to leave – and there will be those who leave – I will help them. When they have no hope and no vision, they will go. As they did in 1948. […] Those who do not go will either accept the rule of the Jewish state, in which case they can remain, and, as for those who do not, we will fight them and defeat them. […] Either I will shoot him, or I will jail him, or I will expel him.
Mention of the Book of Joshua is notable as it also served as an ideological reference for the secular David Ben-Gurion in the early years of the State of Israel. The Old Testament paean to destruction echoes disturbingly today: ‘So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded. And Joshua smote them from Kadesh-Barnea even unto Gaza’ (Joshua 10:40-41).
I began this three-part series with a salute to the peacemakers and the educators. The illiberal governments exemplified by the far-right extremists in the Republican Party and the far-right factions in Israel exhibit similar reasons for supporting the establishment of a fascist state, but their geopolitical specificity mandates different approaches to making that happen. The Biden administration has remained shamefully silent on Israel’s shift towards extremism and has all but ignored the current debates in Israel surrounding fascism. Biden needs to understand that fascism is not the personality trait of one leader but an ideology that traffics in violence, racism, xenophobia and hatred of the other. It is what drives Netanyahu and other far-right Israeli politicians to want to create a Jewish state dominating both sides of the Jordan River, even if it means supporting fascist-religious parties Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism. It is embedded in the violent religious anti-Zionism and antisemitism of Hamas, cruelly evident in its Al Aqsa Flood October 7 torture and massacre of Israeli families. It is what drives Trump to desire reelection for the sake of self-aggrandisement, personal vanity and political vengeance. Post-truth anti-intellectualism, the neo-fascist wing of the Republican Party, a social media enterprise that functions on emotionality, rage and outrage, the conflation of socialism and the ‘state capitalist’ communism of the Stalinist era, vicious attacks on the teaching profession and LGBTQQIP2SAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit [2S], androgynous and asexual) communities, climate change denial, the cultivation of an ethno-nationalist-America-First-and-Make-America-Great-Again-zeitgeist that translates into little more than Make Fascism Respectable Again, is simply serving the greed, avarice and militarism of the so-called ‘free enterprise system’ that powers the engines of US democracy. We need the educators and the peacemakers before the world is set on fire.
The best we can hope for when pondering the future of fascism is that it rots before it can do more harm and that its legacy gets exhumed, once and for all, like dictator Franco’s decomposing body, removed from its resting place beneath a three-thousand-pound slab of granite inside its grand prison-labour-built monument, a neoclassical basilica built of granite, festooned with fascist insignia, set eight hundred feet into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, in a valley of pines on the outskirts of Madrid known as the Valley of the Fallen – and then dumped in a municipal cemetery. We don’t want to end up like the good people who failed to stop another monstrous dictatorship. Franco kept the mummified right hand of St. Teresa of Avila at his bedside as a talisman, under the coverlet of his pillow, next to the alarm clock. Can you imagine the frail Generalissimo, in his final hours, frantically waving his hand at encroaching demons, ready to carry off his soul?
Could the conflagration that besets Israel and Palestine finally bring us to realise that ecumenism is an existential necessity for both survival and transcendence? We are counterintuitively confronted by abstractions pertaining to knowledge about God, whether we are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or belong to other religious affiliations. Perhaps at this historical inflection point, where the world teeters on atomic algorithms of mutual self-destruction, we don’t so much need to find the light of God, but, rather, we need to enter more deeply and fully into God’s darkness. As Denys Turner contends, following in the steps of Thomas Aquinas, arguments for the existence of God don’t help us understand what God is, since we can only know God by what God is not. The God that reason can prove to exist is always already contained within the limits of the reason that constructs the proof of God. A God of the proofs is simply not God at all. And reason invariably leads us to such a conclusion. A God that can be proved rationally is no God. Reason, in this sense, is not a finite circle but a spiral, perhaps even a double helix, but without a beginning or end. Reason opens up the incomprehensible, and it is that incomprehensible something that we know to be God. Insofar as reason breaks into the mystery of the Godhead, it can point where God is present in its absence.
In this way, God becomes an absent presence, unavailable to reason yet not entirely without attributes. If we can know God better by faith than reason, then that is at least something that we can attribute to God. We are irrevocably calibrated to our environment, to our ecosystem, to a particular ecology of meaning, or epistemic habitat or logos – a recursive, structured reflection – and that presents limits on what we can or cannot know in relation to God. Perhaps the only way to know something about God is to participate in the mystery of God, to discover various manners of knowing God. But, ultimately, we are confronting a mystery. As Turner notes:
The French Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel once said that one should never confuse a mystery with a problem. A problem asks for a solution, a solution that resolves the problem; and if you are bright enough, or conduct enough research, or consult those who know, you will find the solution to it, like the solution to a quadratic equation: once solved, the problem is laid to rest. But mysteries do not yield to investigation, argument, proof or categorisation. Mysteries can never be solved. They cannot be gotten to go away. Indeed, the deeper you enter into a mystery, the deeper the mystery gets. The gap between where you are with it and where the mystery lies never decreases, it only ever increases; nor can you think your way out of a mystery, for to do so is to reduce the mystery to the standing of a problem. But if you cannot think your way out of a mystery you can pray your way into one. Indeed, prayer is the only way there is into a mystery. Before a true mystery, the mind can only give way. You can’t crack it, you can only surrender to it, and the mind boggles – you bow before it and you say, humbly, ‘Amen.’
How various peoples who have been antagonists for so many years will live in peace is not a formula that is to be arrived at by politicians or diplomats. It is to enter into an everyday dance with the darkness of God and surrender to its mystery without assuming that surrender is some kind of epistemic cowardice or a disobedience to a commitment to truth. Religious triumphalism can only lead to worldly desire, to an epistemic intolerance of others, to our desire for the desire of the Other. It is only in our humility before the darkness of God that we hear the whispers of a different narrative, an ecumenical narrative that speaks of unity in our differences, one embodying resilience, freedom and the pursuit of a more perfect union. One that can re-humanise the global commons. One that can stretch across the centuries.