Yes, it can happen there: Artists envision "Israeli fascism"
Avigdor Lieberman as "Dear Leader"
(Turn Right at the End - all other images from
Haaretz and Jerusalem Post)
We’ve all heard the claim before: Israel is a “fascist state,” whether it’s applied to its treatment of the Palestinians or its single-minded determination to maintain its ethnic/religious purity. Such statements, when uttered by foreigners, are designed to sting. After all, what could be more hurtful than to place the eternally imperiled Jewish state (“the only democracy in the Middle East”) on the same level as its historical oppressors? But when the claim comes from an Israeli – let alone from two – it can be downright painful to behold.
In July, two Israeli art students unveiled art exhibitions painting a gloomy future for their home country – this time in living color. Last April, Yosi Even Kama, a student at the Shenkar College of Engineering & Design in Ramat Gan, was shocked to read a report on Israeli attitudes about dissent. The survey of 500 adult Jewish Israelis, commissioned by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, revealed that "more than half of Jewish Israelis think human rights organizations that expose immoral behavior by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, and think there is too much freedom of expression here.” Moreover, “57.6 percent of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely. Slightly more than half agreed that ‘there is too much freedom of expression’ in Israel. The poll also found that most of the respondents favor punishing Israeli citizens who support sanctioning or boycotting the country, and support punishing journalists who report news that reflects badly on the actions of the defense establishment.”
In response, Kama created an art project - recently featured in Haaretz - consisting of four pillars displaying images and political posters that one might expect to see on the streets of Tel Aviv during and after a far-right coup between 2020 and 2023. In the fascist “State of Judea,” freedom of expression is banned, gender equality is eliminated, Jewish religious law reigns supreme, and dissidents are sent either packing or to the gallows. The fascist revolution’s symbol: a black Star of David inside a white circle on a red background.
The State of Judea exhibition
Kama sees the politics of division running wild -
"They are NOT our brothers"
"Let's destroy democracy"
"Join the rebel forces"
"Killing heretics is a religious obligation"
"Shutting up the leftists"
"A fertile womb is the future of Judea"
Many Israelis are outraged by Kama's vision of a totalitarian Israel. “I understand that people call it art,” one critic told journalists, “but in my view, it is targeted to the most primitive feelings of the public. It raises fear and hate toward people who are different from you.” But even Kama agrees that he may have gotten a little carried away: the exhibit includes fake quotes from real rabbis calling for non-observant Jews to be exterminated. He has since apologised for the quotes, but not for the exhibit.
A few days later, Sivan Hurvitz of the Holon Institute of Technology exhibited a set of cartoon-like images entitled “Turn Right at the End of the World: The Future of a Country that Gave up on Democracy.” Her pictures depict everyday scenes in a fascist Israeli state. In this near-future dystopia, homosexuality is banned, abortion is criminalized, contraceptives are available only on the black market, dissent is punished by prison, and human rights groups are outlawed. In the introduction to her exhibit, Hurvitz writes:
Recently, it would seem as if Israeli citizens and their political representatives have decided that democracy is not so important -- and is sometimes even an annoyance. Every other day a racist bill is presented to the Knesset, or there is an incident of army or police brutality, or political activists are persecuted. … I used to think that people who don't live here cannot possibly understand what it's really like. But when I was out of the country, I was surprised to find that these people were not ignorant at all -- in fact, they proved to be very knowledgeable. … There is a huge paradox that lies at the heart of the Israeli state, its designation as “Jewish and democratic.” Which is paramount? Judaism or democracy? Before I am a woman, or Jewish, or Israeli, I am human. And I believe that rights should be based on our humanity, not on whether we are Jewish or not, or how Jewish we are or aren’t.
Call them prescient, alarmist, or simply bad taste - Kama's and Hurvitz's images get under our skin and provide us with a vivid reminder of how thin the membrane between heartless words and cruel actions can be, and that fascism really can happen anywhere, any time, including - but by no means limited to - the State of Israel.
A young lesbian is forcibly taken to the "Center for
Treatment of Sexual Perversions"
In the new anti-abortion Israel, condoms are exchanged
beneath the table - under the eyes of informants
Passing out human rights leaflets is banned...
...as is "subversive" literature
Greater Israel becomes a reality
I already covered some of this territory in my recent essay "His crime: Having sex while gentile."