What are they afraid of? The truth. The same truth that every sensible person outside Israel—and many people in Israel—has already known for years. That the ideas, the values and the ideological infrastructure of the nationalistic Right, which are rooted in the Greater Land of Israel perception, are living on borrowed time. They are futile. They are even dying.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, Miri Regev and their partners are well aware of the fact that behind the celebrations, the declarations and the patriotic dress they exhibited in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, reality bites. It won’t let go of their conscience, and they are losing sleep over it.
They have realized that their ideology failed. And they are afraid, because it’s just a matter of time before the people sober up and realize the same thing themselves. Because the settlement enterprise—this government’s raison d'etre—has failed to take root as a legitimate idea, both in Israel and in the world. Israel’s “enemies,” like former US President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, are not the only ones who have said it. Our new friend, President Donald Trump, made it clear himself when he decided to leave the US embassy in Tel Aviv. Sovereignty, like tango, takes two. And there is probably not a single country in the world that would agree to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. It hasn’t happened so far because it will never happen.
This same recognition has generated the anxiety that produced the paranoia we are witnessing, which seeks to put an end to any criticism against the occupation, as minor and insignificant as it may be. Only regimes that have confidence in their institutions, values and idea are undeterred by criticism. In the ecclesia of ancient Athens—the popular assembly—not only did they allow multiple conflicting and critical opinions, they even demanded them; Britain of the 18th and 19th centuries served as an asylum for exiled revolutionists like Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx—even though they attacked Britain as well; and the same applies to the modern United States, which apart from a temporary loss of self-control (the McCarthyism, for example) keeps expanding the limits of freedom of speech. And they all did it not because they were weak, but quite the opposite: They were so sure of themselves, that they allowed ideas to speak for themselves. When ideology is sufficiently strong, moral and convincing, it needs no academic ethical code or cultural commissars. It is capable of defending itself.
But as a government loses ethical and ideological legitimacy, its ideological infrastructure turns into a house of cards: Every critical gust of wind threatens to bring it down, which is why it must defend itself through radical measures like censorship and persecution. Because only when you can no longer defend your actions with words, you are forced to take action to silence the words.
Dr. Yoav Fromer teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University.