Sliding down the slippery slope to fascism always starts with slight steps. Sometimes they’re so small that they are out of sight and invisible to the public consciousness. Their maturation period can be quite protracted, and they can manage to stay under the radar of public attention and out of the eye of the media, too, even though the media is supposed to be more sensitive.
At some point, after an incubation period, the buds of fascism begin to sprout and push forth from within the soil. From this point on, they can grow quite quickly, sometimes so quickly that it’s hard to stop them from contaminating everyone around them.
We are well beyond the incubation period. The buds have not only thrust down deep roots into the ground of our reality, but have already grown branches that are spreading quickly. Soon, we will be surprised when it becomes clear that the most fundamentally basic element that has enabled the State of Israel to become a strong, stable, credible and beloved country, despite all of our weaknesses that have been exposed, is disappearing from our lives: democracy.
I said that it starts with small things. Like when, for example, the prime minister, his wife and family members steal small amounts of money from the state treasury – because they are known to be morbidly stingy and want to exploit every chance to increase what the state pays them for their public service.
An almost trivial issue embarrassing even to mention – the theft of empty plastic bottles of soft drinks or cleaning liquids – purchased for the prime minister’s house. These were collected and stored by the mistress of the house, who then had them sent with a trusted courier to be redeemed for cash where the public pays for recycling of such bottles. Afterwards, they quietly pocket these hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of shekels.
They don’t return the money they received for recycling the bottles to the public, but instead keep it for themselves as pocket money. Yes, I agree, this sounds so petty, even embarrassing. I mean, for goodness sake, don’t you have anything more important to do than worry about a few thousand shekels? We’re talking about the prime minister, who is giving up his soul to serve the public. He could have earned millions in the private sector, but chooses instead to devote every day and night to taking care of us. Honestly.
In the end, all these little acts of thievery will be forgotten. But then they turn into larger acts. The family wants to eat especially good food, which also happens to be terribly expensive. So, they order it delivered, and to take the money from state coffers, they forge invoices, deceive the gatekeepers and charge the state.
Perhaps some of us would be willing to let this go, too. It’s less embarrassing than turning such a minor detail into a public battle. They might say this is a little greedy. So what? For this we’re willing to fight with a prime minister whose entire being is devoted to state affairs?
And then they call their rich friends and ask for presents. Just like that. After all, it’s permissible to give friends presents and their friends are allowed to receive presents. And when it’s allowed, they take what they can. And when it’s permissible, they ask for what they want. And if it’s possible, they prosecute anyone they can.
It started with just one crate of champagne. But after a while, one crate turns into an entire truck with hundreds of crates, thousands of bottles, hundreds of cigars and expensive gold jewelry. The people who are giving these gifts are not volunteering them – they are being requested to offer them. And in the end, everyone does what they are asked to do.
Slowly, the family achieves immunity, as the public watches these acts taking place, but remains silent. Because they deserve this. Because they are taking care of us. Their status changes. They’ve morphed into a royal family. A family that deserves everything, that is permitted to just take anything they desire. The treasures of the country are open to it.
And that’s just the beginning. It starts here and moves on to the most delusional things that only happen in undemocratic regimes. By now, everything moves quickly, so it all seems natural and unstoppable. Requesting that the country’s secret services track civilians as a way to locate individuals who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 virus is one thing, but it quickly becomes clear this claim is unfounded.
The Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) capabilities are well-known. Gaining this information will not help lower the number of people who become infected with the virus. It could, however, expose citizens to constant monitoring by governmental bodies. Then it would be possible to take advantage of this information for matters that have nothing to do with the COVID-19 epidemic, by identifying citizens who have reason to fear being harassed by the authorities.
Then, of course, there is the police. The Israel Police consists of two divisions. The first is the Investigation Division, which until the next round of appointments to be decided by Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana (Likud), is known in certain circles as the government’s enemy. They are the investigators who come up with cases against the prime minister, his wife, and perhaps in the future also against his son. To these circles, the viewpoint is that hey must be stopped. The dangerous investigators among them, who could be used by opponents of the prime minister, need to be filtered out.
In their place, we (the people who hold this viewpoint) need to bring in people who know how to freeze investigations, who aren’t really interested in submarines, or in how the prime minister earned NIS 16 million in a very short period from an investment he made with money he received from his cousin and then invested in his cousin’s company.
Investigators who won’t hurry to investigate why the prime minister failed to report earnings to the tax authority, or to pay taxes as he’s required to by law, or what is the connection between the company whose shares were “sold” to the prime minister by this cousin and the shipyards that are building submarines, or why and how he violated the instructions that require reporting this activity to the state comptroller.
The role of the second police division, according to the worldview of the current administration, is to silence anyone who takes advantage of their natural right to protest, and wants to make their voice heard and oppose the growing trend of governmental violence. The police officials who work in this division need to break up protests without hesitating. Does anyone remember the days when hundreds of people stood outside the house on Balfour Street and shouted out, “Murderer!” at former prime minister Menachem Begin? Did anybody imagine that police would be sent out then to arrest any of the protesters?
Today it is different. Police officers who are biding their time until the upcoming round of appointments, are arresting protesters who are following all of the rules. They are being handcuffed lest they get violent and dragged away. Soon the protests themselves will be deemed illegal and the protesters will be prosecuted. They will always be able to find reasonable grounds that are based on the need for law and order. They will be considered as protecting the government and maintaining proper leadership that can function under conditions of immunity from any disorder.
We are not at the beginning of this process – it is already well underway.
The highlight, of course, was the debate in the Knesset Finance Committee that was intended to line the prime minister’s bank account with another few hundred thousand or millions of shekels, that will retroactively be taken from tax refunds, following the present prime minister’s claim that he’s being discriminated against compared to his predecessors. This claim is false – those who preceded him never received any benefits whatsoever for the maintenance of their private homes, and therefore were not liable for paying taxes on this.
He’s “economically disabled,” shouted Netanyahu’s supporters, while at the same time he and his coalition counterparts voted against the bill that would have slightly improved the economic situation of the “disabled” people who were harmed and some of whom were left without the means to feed their families due to the mismanagement of the COVID-19 epidemic by the prime minister and his ministers.
The absolute separation between what is good for the prime minister and his family, and what serves his private needs, and what helps the citizens who he is meant to protect, is the crudest and most violent expression of utter disdain of the rules of the game. The norms need to characterize a democratic nation that operates on the basis of equality among all citizens.
In contrast, the norms should be distant from a regime that ignores these rules, which are increasingly eroded by the government through brutal force. And all of this is taking place in an atmosphere of intimidation, threats and silencing that manages to slowly but consistently tire out the opposition. This happens not only through parliamentary means, but also by suppressing many good citizens from expressing their opinions and trying to protect their rights.
This is going to end badly.
It’s about to become the flame that will ignite violence on the streets of Israel. Netanyahu is not as well versed in history as he sometimes claims.
And yet, he knows enough to understand that this unrest is quickly leading to civil unrest, which will end in bloodshed.
As with many crooks who came before him, who were voted into office in democratic elections, Netanyahu is using the power extended to him as the leader to crush anyone who attempts to oppose him. It’s not yet too late to stop the deterioration, but this could be our last chance.
Header: An Israeli border police member jumps during a Palestinian protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the Israeli – ‘occupied’ West Bank, in Kafr Qaddum near Nablus – Reuters.
Original: Ehud Olmert – JPost
The author was the 12th prime minister of Israel.