It is by now almost a cliché to restate the famous saying by Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it;" but sometimes, historical repetitions are begging us to remember this keen observation.
It happens to be 61 years since February 9, 1950, the day on which US Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a nationwide crusade against the "enemies from within," and while this is viewed as a dark chapter of American history, similar chapters are currently being written onto the fresh pages of Israeli history. Finding the enemies from within that are out to destroy the nation has made a comeback.
Last week in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset House Committee finalized the details of two separate but related parliamentary committees of inquiry, to be headed by MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu) and MK Danny Danon (Likud). These committees are intended to investigate Israeli civil society organizations, and their proponents hardly conceal the fact that their real purpose is the persecution of anyone who voices criticism of Israeli policies. Even the Knesset's very own Legal Adviser, Eyal Yinon, stated in his legal opinion that:
"The parliamentary committees discussed here are the first-ever to deal with clearly ideological matters and from only one side of the political map (...) The establishment of such committees creates an atmosphere that harms basic democratic rights."
And yet the witch-hunt continues. The final vote on establishing these McCarthyist committees is expected in the Knesset's plenum later this month.
On the same day in the Knesset, there was yet another meeting. The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened to discuss the details of yet another anti-democratic bill making its way through the corridors of democracy. On the table: the Acceptance to Communities Bill. From the name of this bill, one might get a whiff of its true meaning. Acceptance? This bill is about officially accepting segregation into Israeli legislation, by making it legal - through the decisions of "acceptance committees" headed by private citizens - to reject certain individuals from certain communal villages in Israel. Who will these "certain individuals" be? Mostly Arabs, and also: new immigrants, single parents, same-sex couples, people with disabilities. Anyone who is the "other." Anyone who is from the most vulnerable groups of Israeli society.
As the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), I participated in these Knesset meetings. Some moments from these sessions stay with you. Here's one: the Chairperson of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Daviv Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu), does not allow MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) to speak. MK Tibi is outraged, and eventually is removed from the room. On his way out, Tibi articulates: "I will return." MK Danon (Likud), the soon-to-be chairperson of one of the two (yet to be finally approved) McCarthyist parliamentary inquiry committees, replies: "You may be able to return, if you pass our acceptance committee." Laughter all around. If you didn't get the "joke", it's worth mentioning that MK Tibi is an Arab citizen of Israel.
Racism, McCarthyism. It's all personal, and it's right in one's face.
Despite that roar of laughter in the Knesset, all of this is of course no laughing matter. There it is, the epicenter of the new ideology gradually aiming to replace universal democratic principles with a limited subset: "If you pass our acceptance committee." Who will pass the scrutiny of such a committee?
The answer might be found in a comment made by the second chairperson of a soon-to-be parliamentary inquiry committee, MK Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu), during a tour of Israel's southern border last week, with her colleagues from the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. The environment was certainly one of witch-hunting. That day's primary scapegoats were refugees and asylum seekers, "infiltrating" through the southern border. But there were additional witches to burn: human rights groups, funded by foreign powers of course, striving to join in on that shared goal - "the destruction of the State of the Jews." Noticing her Yisrael Beitenu party peer, MK Hamed Amar, who happens to be Druze and not Jewish, Kirshenbaum was quick to correct herself: not a state of just the Jews, but "the Jews and the loyals."
Sixty-one years later, Joseph McCarthy, the ideological grandfather of this contemporary vision, must be smiling. A state of the Jews and the loyals? McCarthy would have been proud.
This is the English version of a Hebrew op-ed originally published earlier in Israel on Haokets.