Remembering the Madness and Mayhem of McCarthyism: A Primer for Israel

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.

—Edward R. Murrow

The State of Israel has just passed a “loyalty oath” required of all prospective citizens living in Israel illegally to swear allegiance to a “Jewish democratic state.” Concurrently, “an academic backlash has erupted in Israel over proposed new laws, backed by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, to criminalise a handful of Israeli professors who openly support a campaign against the continuing occupation of the West Bank. ((Guardian, 11 July 10.))

It would appear that Israel is in need of a lesson on the virtues of democracy as they are anathema to tyrannical rule. Harry S. Truman vetoed the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 with this observation: “In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have.” To impose a “loyalty oath” and to criminalize professors who support actions against the government of Israel is to force compliance in thought and act, behavior more of a tyrannical state than a democratic one.

Consider that the Israeli Shin Bet recently interrogated the conscientious objector, Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli Air Force pilot, who penned the “pilot’s letter” of 2003, continuing a harassment of a man for his dissenting opinions of the State of Israel. Salem-News on July 11 carried an article about another conscientious objector, Shir Regev, who has been given a third prison term for contending “I believe it is my personal duty to refuse and defect from an army whose main purpose is to serve as an occupation police for maintaining ‘Israeli order’ and imposing it on defenseless Palestinians who are denied citizenship.”

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” Murrow writes; nor must we confuse pseudo-democracy with democracy. Israel is not a democratic state; let’s be clear about that. Its citizenship exists solely for those who are members of a religion with one exception, those Palestinians who remained in Israeli controlled land areas after the cessation of hostilities in 1948 and the Declaration of the State of Israel by the Jewish Agency. These Arab Israelis as they are called, to obfuscate the reality of their Palestinian heritage, do not have equality before the law nor do they have access to all the benefits of their fellow citizens who are members of the Judaic faith; they have a passport and a country and even that can be denied if they ride in a Turkish Aid boat to visit their brothers and sisters in Gaza. For all those indigenous to the area of Palestine, accepted as a group by the United Nations and its members, the Palestinians, who live in land occupied by Israel and claimed by Israel, there is no citizenship, thus no equality in concept or in fact. Israel has no constitution; it operates under civic and religious law, especially in matters pertaining to marriage, retaining thereby control of the citizenry, and in land ownership which is essentially available only to Jews. This alone negates the concept of democracy as applicable to the Israeli State. If Israel is anything distinct as a country, it is in its theocratic nature not its democratic nature.

As Israel moves ever closer to a siege mentality by blowing wind on the coals of victimhood, the explosive vapors of Hamas’ determination to drive Israelis into the sea aided and abetted by surrounding Arab neighbors intent on destroying the Jewish State, it desperately grasps for means to control its citizens and force compliance with its policies, hence the “loyalty oath” characterized as early as 1663 by Samuel Butler in Hudibras as “Oaths are but words, and words but wind.” This is the act of a despot desperate to protect self at the expense of his subjects; it is the act of a failed State that resorts to the impossible, to impose the logic of its acts regardless of sense on all its subjects; it is the despair reflected in Macbeth, “Who can be wise, amazed, temperate, and furious, loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.” No mind perceives the same as another, no heart responds the same, no soul accepts being the same; that fact is the power behind democracy, the uniqueness of each requiring of each respect for all others. Democracy is a concept united in its applicability to provide equity for all its citizens. Loyalty to injustice negates democracy; fidelity to one faith without tolerance for all faiths destroys equality for those excluded; truth determined by the despot or the tyrannical government cannot be truth for all; honor demanded of a citizen against his or her innate principles of belief dishonors that citizen; trustworthiness and faithfulness imposed by an oath undermines the conscience of the citizen forcing compliance regardless of the behavior required. A citizen who swears to an oath of absolute allegiance to any authority has destroyed self by that act and thereby has become but chattel, a beast serving the will of another. So much for the Israeli “loyalty oath.”

America has been there, indeed I have been there. Years ago I took a menial position in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and witnessed first hand the betrayal of democracy by a demagogue and his followers who set fear before the American citizenry by losing faith in the American people. Year after year this pall of fear lay on the American landscape as citizen turned against fellow citizen, neighbors rose in anger and resentment against artists, entertainers, professors, educators, union members, and even the military as McCarthy lashed his venom at all who opposed his witch hunt or refused to comply with his belief that Communists had infiltrated American society. He did not understand that dissent is not disloyalty; he knew nothing of tolerance of another’s belief; he failed to comprehend that equity necessitates respect and democracy means equity. Margaret Chase Smith spoke before the Senate of the United States in 1950 in a speech titled “Declaration of Conscience,” and noted “some of the basic principles of Americanism: the right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; the right of independent thought.” These are the rights Israel would deny to Yonatan Shapira and Shir Regev and the university professors as well as to prospective citizens.

What has brought Israel to this sick state of affairs? Based on the research I have done through the seized documents taken by Richard Catling (Sir Richard C. Catling) when he was Deputy Head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Mandate Police in the 1940s, in files he saved and marked as Top Secret, it is evident in the words of the leaders of the Jewish Agency, the Zionist leaders of the Consultancy as Ilan Pappe notes, that they intended to impose an atmosphere of fear on the new immigrants to unite them in their (the High Command of the Consultancy) intent to cleanse Palestine of its indigenous people necessitating protecting themselves against the Arabs who were out to destroy the Jewish state. That intent exists to this day. Add to this reality the need to grow the Jewish population to offset Palestinian growth, thus bringing to Israel the fanatical sects of Jews who live by a far right orthodoxy of “chosenness” and animosity against gentiles, especially those from Russia.

This group and others of similar persuasion have grown in strength even to the point where no government can exist without their presence. This has been true since Ariel Sharon held office. Their beliefs control government policy much as AIPAC controls our Congress. They believe that their g-d gave them the land of greater Israel and they have done and will do everything in their power to regain what g-d gave to them centuries ago regardless of historical realities or international law.

Jews of other persuasion, secular and reformed, True Torah Jews, Jews for Peace in Palestine and all others who understand the horrendous crimes being imposed on the Palestinians in their own land by those who have suffered under the brutal Nazi regime, recognize that there festers in the State of Israel a cancer that is spreading beyond its borders, those it has legitimately through the UN partition plan of 1947 and those it has acquired illegally and forcefully, that is destroying the Judaic faith and the principles it has stood for these many centuries. The country is being torn by a minority fanatical group that it cannot control, one that is pushing through legislation that corrodes any semblance of democracy as it pushes to a greater state of theocracy both of imposed behavior and imposed belief.

Creating such a state does nothing to advance democracy in the Middle East, it crushes it. The citizens of such a state become but puppets of those who have garnered power, used by them as wooden soldiers in their youth, as molders of their young tutoring them in the intolerant beliefs of ancient tribal men, and subservient elders that spout the party line in their Knesset. But there is a consequence to such behavior and such imposed control. There is a responsibility they assume when they shackle their people to acts that destroy, maim and kill innocent people as they march their way to their greater Israel; there is the reality that international law uses as precedent, the trial that brought King Charles I to his death, and has been used now for the trials of Pinochet and Milosevic, the “universal right to punish a tyrant who denies democracy and civil and religious liberty to his people.” Charles was brought to trial by John Cooke who penned the words of indictment and his words continue today. That is a reality that Sharon, Olmert, Livni, Barak, and now Netanyahu and Lieberman face as they attempt to justify what is not justifiable and impose what is not legal not only on the people of Israel but on peoples of all nations that seek redress of the outrages the Israeli government has taken against its neighbors, most especially the Palestinians.

One need only mark the power of the peoples’ flotillas into Gaza. This is not the action of the governments of America or England or any single nation, this is a peoples’ action against tyranny; it is the equivalent of America’s Civil Rights Movement that had the people take to the streets, united in purpose and demands, against their government, state and federal, to right the wrong of segregation. It took time and many died in the quest for justice. But over time as more and more people understood that their government was the criminal, they grew in number and force until the government capitulated to their demands and granted justice to the African American and all who had been denied their civil rights.

The flotillas have grown in number over the months. They have made it known to the government of Israel and America, its puppet, that they will not stop until justice is achieved. This fall a flotilla of 50 to 60 boats from many countries will leave for Gaza. Now the Israeli government, its militarized government not its democratic one, will have to stop multitudes of boats with individuals from many countries and many nationalities all saying the same thing. “Freedom now, freedom now, the people of the world demand freedom now.” The people of the world demand that laws be obeyed, just laws, not laws made by the occupier for the oppressed. Accusation is not proof, guilt by association is not evidence, military might is not what is right for the people. Actions taken out of fear are actions removed from reason—fear erodes reason. “Let us not walk in fear, one of another,” as Murrow says, let us honor each other, recognize dignity in each other, respect each other, and thus treat all with equity, fulfilling the very concept of democracy by our actions.

William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. He edited The Plight of the Palestinians: A Long History of Destruction (2010). He can be reached at: Read other articles by William, or visit William's website.