OpinionIsrael News

A last ‘Mapai WASP’ grasp?

Protest leaders in Israel are revving up mobs by convincing them that the elected leadership of the country is a group of fascistic thugs that will turn the country into Iran or Nazi Germany.

Israelis block the Ayalon Highway during a protest in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Israelis block the Ayalon Highway during a protest in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Yisrael Medad
Yisrael Medad is a researcher, analyst and opinion commentator on political, cultural and media issues.

The sociological acronym term “WASP” to describe a one-time dominant group—a hegemonic “Establishment” of American society, culture and politics—first appeared in the New York Amsterdam News on April 17, 1948, with author Stetson Kennedy, himself a descendant of signers of the Declaration of Independence, writing: “In America, we find the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) ganging up … on whatever minority group happens to be handy—whether Negro, Catholic, Jewish, Japanese or whatnot.”

Here in Israel, it has been used in various forms such as “White Ashkenazi Socialist with Protektsia.” My suggestion is “White Ashkenazi Secular Protektsia-Privileged.” Several pundits have seen in the anti-judicial reform protests “a secular middle class fighting to preserve Israel’s essential character,” a “secular uprising.” On March 12, I focused on what I saw as “a cultural class hegemonic conflict over issues of tradition, identity norms and values—all based on the restoration of social order.”

Ehud Barak seemed to confirm this sociological analysis when, on March 28, he was interviewed at Chatham House in London. He spoke of a certain type of people that would oppose the Netanyahu government. For him, “solidity” was their defining characteristic, and they would almost all be from the military. That has an eerie echo, unfortunately, of another time period in the post-1918 Weimar era.

Barak has been free in his remarks. He termed Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog a “Chamberlain.” Back in February, he made a public call for nonviolent civil disobedience (a call he made earlier in November even before the government was formed). And thanks to a May 9 podcast Amir Oren conducted with Gilad Sher, we now know that already in mid-December, before the judicial reform was announced, a meeting took place at Yossi Kutchik’s office.

The former director general of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Office was joined by, among others, Gilad Sher, Dina Zilber, Yigal Shiloah, Dan Halutz, Orni Petruschka, Shikma Bressler, Amos Malka, Yehuda Adar and Eran Shwartz. A smaller meeting had already been convened a few days earlier on Dec. 14. Others who joined a WhatsApp group of protest leaders include Ehud Olmert, Moshe Ya’alon, Roi Neumann, Moshe Radman and Yishai Hadas. All fit the definition of a Mapai WASP.

A few days prior to Yariv Levin introducing his judicial reform program on Jan. 4, Barak said on Dec. 30: “The new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu [was] working to bring down Israeli democracy … it bore ‘the signs of fascism’.” Moreover, he added, “Israel’s citizens [might] have to stage “a non-violent revolt” to bring it down … [it] was sworn in legally but is clearly acting illegitimately.” The protests did not originate with judicial reform.

A key to understanding the ferocity of the protests and the extreme rhetoric on the precipice of encouraging violence is, as Barak has done, to claim that reform is aimed to “change the system of government” Ha’aretz, July 7). Yet the actual change was made back in the early 1990s by Aharon Barak. A second is defining the coalition as the camp of “fascism” that seeks a “dictatorship.” That mumble jumble of a glossary permits laying siege at government ministers’ homes, blocking major intercity highways and transportation systems, burning tires, employing dangerous high-decibel noisemakers and seeking to destroy Israel’s economy.

As the Jabotinsky Revisionist movement was castigated as fascist from the late 1920s, so, too, is today’s governing coalition. The coterie of protest managers employs PR marketing techniques of shallow sloganery with scare graphics. They appear to seek to guarantee the shedding of blood on the streets, as when former Knesset member Miki Rosenthal warned in a Channel 13 interview on July 6 that policemen acting aggressively might get beaten up.

In their words and posters, the protest leaders are revving up mobs by convincing them that the elected leadership of the country is a group of fascistic thugs that will turn the country into Iran or Nazi Germany. The law must be in their own hands, lest Israel lose its democracy. Sadly, too many people take this demagoguery seriously, and worse, there have been no police investigations into sedition and incitement to violence by the government’s policy opponents.

The anti-reformers demand that non-elected bureaucrats in government service, such as the current Attorney General of Israel, be free to champion a loyalty to, above all, a professional, ethnic, social class and an ideology of values. This approach came to the fore with the democratic empowerment of “Second Israel,” the classification Shlomo Avineri introduced in his 1973 “Israel: Two Nations?” It became popular after 1977, that is, when the Mizrahi, haredi, and national-religious Jews marginalized by the Mapai apparatus, the “First Israel” (and partially later joined by Russian and Ethiopian immigrants) dislodged the Mapai WASP demographic base. 

The demand by the government’s reform critics that they alone can redefine democracy so as to justify their anti-democratic machinations is what truly approaches fascism. Israel’s WASPs seek support and justification in the words of Aharon Barak, that those who get to make decisions of authority in Israel are the “enlightened community.”

Already in his 1996 “The ‘Enlightened Public’: Jewish and Democratic or Liberal and Democratic?” Dan Avnon pointed out that the concept, “expresses a liberal worldview … [and as] the ‘enlightened community’ test will necessarily be received within the wider community as an expression of a subjective worldview, [it’ll be] acceptable [only] to parts of the Jewish public in Israel.”

Avnon is correct. Will the Mapai WASPs, however, be true liberals and yield to the democratic choice the electorate made? Will they be loyal to the state or to class? Or will they continue to grasp?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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