Israel's new zealot government might appear to be in a state of confident ascendancy. Yet, its repressive fear of cultural opposition reveals a truer clue to the regime's political and moral insecurity.
This week has seen a deepening set of reactionary curbs on Palestinian civil freedoms, all in a brazen attempt to affirm Israel's ideological sovereignty, particularly as it attempts to entrench control over Jerusalem.
Avigdor Lieberman's parliamentary bill to ban commemoration of the Nakba has now cleared its initial reading and, given Netanyahu's Knesset majority, stands a strong chance of becoming law:
"At Sunday's cabinet meeting, ministers also approved a draft law banning commemoration of the Naqba, or "catastrophe" as it is referred to by Arabs, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. The draft law is scheduled to be submitted for parliamentary approval next week and will propose punishment of up to three years in prison."
Soft and hardline Zionists alike may come to the practical realisation that such an openly illiberal piece of legislation can only further diminish Israel's already collapsing 'place' in the civilised world. Yet, the very consideration and potential passage of such a bill is enough to show the state's fascist trajectory.
Lieberman is also advocating that all Arabs inside Israel swear an obligatory oath of allegiance to the Zionist state, part of the ethnic cleansing agenda passing as Israel's fictional 'democracy for all citizens'.
With similar intent, the notorious Israeli Border Police closed down a Palestinian literary event in East Jerusalem, attended by international writers such as Ahdaf Soueif and Michael Palin. In impressively resistant mood, the group improvised their gathering at the nearby French Cultural Centre. As Soueif aptly put it:
"Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power."
How, one wonders, can the mass of Israeli people remain silent in the face of such fascistic clampdowns? It's a measure of the pervasive indoctrination across Israeli society that the government can even propose such overtly racist laws.
The propagation of this hate-fuelled discrimination is the task of ideological functionaries at Hasbara HQ. It's all so redolent of the Nazi purge on Jewish identity and the encouragement to turn a blind eye. How tragically ironic.
Bombing hospitals, starve-and-surround terror, demolishing homes, humiliating mothers at checkpoints - these are all instruments in the ruthless, relentless effort to break the Palestinians emotionally as well as physically. And the waging of cultural warfare is being conducted in similar brutal style. Netanyahu fronts the aggression, Lieberman directs the bills, Rosenfeld signs the police orders, Regev spins the lies. It's a model of racist, apartheid organisation.
This latest assault on artistic and cultural expression comes alongside the Edinburgh International Film Festival's decision to return money given by the Israeli state towards the travel expenses of Israeli director Shalom Ezer. The IEFF action is another encouraging sign of international awareness and rejection of Israel's military, political and cultural crimes.
Ezer, who has campaigned for Palestinian rights, insists that boycotting Israel will only fuel its sense of persecution, isolation and inward belligerence. Yet, this rearguard argument holds little validity any more in the face of such brutal killing, expansion and indifference to Palestinian suffering. We are now well beyond the point of appeasing the aggressors and appealing to Israeli 'liberal sensibilities'. It's time to take an unequivocal side, to face down the oppressor with whatever peaceful, practical means available. And that should include artists like Shalom Ezer refusing to accept aid from the Israeli state. As director Ken Loach made explicit in relation to the Ezer expenses issue:
"To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival’s taking money from the Israeli state. The call for a boycott of Israeli cultural institutions comes from many Palestinians: writers, artists, journalists, lawyers, academics, trades unionists, teachers. They see it as “a contribution to the struggle to end Israel ’s occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid.” Who are we, that we should not heed their call? Your counter arguments were used against the South African boycott yet that proved eventually to be successful."
Disgracefully, a Times piece by Stuart Macdonald also reproached Ken Loach for "reignit[ing] the funding row", while taking his words out of context and failing to publish the letter exchange in full.
Israel has the power to bomb, maim, terrorise and impose its brutal will on the Palestinian people. It can defy international criticism and ignore war crimes investigations. It can feign regional insecurity and threaten its neighbours with nuclear annihilation. It can refuse to countenance the basics of a two state solution. It can even snub Obama and openly declare its intention to expand the settlements.
Yet none of this military prowess and arrogant defiance can subvert the higher, persistent case for Palestinian human and legal rights. In time, humanity and legality will prevail.
The crude efforts to supplant cultural dissent and legislate 'Zionist citizenship' are the surest signs to date that Israel is sliding towards a crisis of international legitimacy. And sooner or later this unavoidable truth will present itself to a cowed, deceived and self-denying Israeli public. The prospects seem distant, but, politically isolated and morally shunned, they may yet conclude that the 'protection' of an exclusivist Zionist state predicated on militarism and apartheid is no substitute for a purposeful democracy guaranteeing free expression of civil, political and cultural rights for all.
Therein lies the enduring case for a one state solution.