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November 17, 2017 3:29 pm

Israel a Fascist State? So Says GWU Professor Shira Robinson

avatar by Mara Schiffren

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The campus of George Washington University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

According to George Washington University history professor Shira Robinson, Israel has “abandoned democracy,” and is rapidly descending into a fascist state.

Robinson recently delivered this dire verdict at New York University, during a lecture titled, “Past as Present: Reflections on the 70th Anniversary of 1948.”

In her introduction to the lecture, Helga Tawil-Souri — the director of NYU’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies — set the tone for the event, bemoaning the “Nakbatization” that has supposedly afflicted the Palestinians for the last 70 years. The term is a play on Nakba, the Arabic word for disaster — or how many Arabs refer to Israel’s founding in 1948.

This contrived passivity was at the core of Robinson’s depiction of the Palestinians as a people with little historical agency. The Israelis and “the Arab states that went to war” deprived the Palestinians of a state, she said. Omitting Palestinian intransigence and terrorism, she portrayed the Palestinians merely as Israel’s victims in the aftermath of a war that has “never ended.”

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Robinson argued that Israel is experiencing not only “creeping fascistization,” but that the Jewish state has never been a democracy: “For Jews, the increasingly racist, far-right turn of the state is fueling … an existential debate of sorts over whether the current moment represents a tragic perversion of the Zionist dream or its ultimate realization.” She left no doubt that she believes the latter.

Robinson maintained that Israel’s “anti-democratic tendencies” were always present, even during what she skeptically referred to as the “golden age of Zionism.” But her evidence was unconvincing.

“The country’s tiny anti-Zionist Jewish left,” she noted, “have [sic] long rejected the idea that Israel functions as a meaningful democracy.” Claiming that “systematic racism and inequality have long been in place,” she asserted that the difference now is that the government is less careful about hiding its “racism.” But for anti-Israel activists like Robinson, labeling a nation as racist isn’t a conclusion reached after rigorous research, but a smear based on ingrained biases.

As proof, she pointed to an interview with white supremacist Richard B. Spencer on Israeli television, in which he exhorted Israelis to “respect” him because he’s akin to a “white Zionist.” Predictably, Israelis rejected his cynical attempt at solidarity, yet Robinson insisted that the Jewish state has been infiltrated by “a foreign ideology of hate.” Not only is Israel “on the verge of apartheid,” she said, but it has embraced “naked ultra-nationalism and xenophobia.”

Robinson’s fact-free assertions continued: “Why are academics leaving Israel?” she asked. “Some are seeking to get out because of the ultra-right turn, which makes them feel sick to their stomachs.” When challenged by an audience member to produce supporting data, Robinson backed down, claiming that “the Israeli academic market is really, really tight.” Pressed further, she admitted “maybe you know better.”

According to Robinson, “Palestinian citizens of Israel … are facing what is arguably the greatest threat to their civil and religious status at any time since the 1948 war.” Yet she later contradicted this assessment by acknowledging the growing Arab-Israeli middle class: “Due to their social and economic boost … more Palestinian citizens are going to university, becoming attorneys, academics, political activists.”

In contrast, she noted with a wolfish grin, Zionism was “collapsing under the weight of its many contradictions.” With equal delight, Robinson elsewhere cited a Haaretz headline portraying Israel’s educational standards as “Third World.” The audience laughed derisively.

Mara Schiffren, a Campus Watch Fellow, holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Study of Religion.

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