I claim that Israeli society has been sliding towards authoritarianism. That is, in the hybrid construction of the Israeli regime, the authoritarian components are on rise, while the democratic ones are in descent. This is not surprising, because all states involved in protracted and bloody conflict are predestined to the same process. A look at ongoing intractable conflicts easily indicates that Russia, fighting in Chechnya and Ukraine, Turkey involved in the Kurdish conflict, India in its Kashmir conflict, the Sri Lankan conflict between Tamils and Singhalese, or Rwanda with its conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, have all moved in the same direction of authoritarianism. All these conflicts involve bloody engagement over sacred goals, have lasted for over 40 years, require great investment and no peace-making process is in sight. One of the major explanations for the development of authoritarian regimes is based on their context of intractable conflict that dictates governing directions. Obviously, additional factors also play a role.
Penetration of authoritarianism into a societal fabric
Conflicts require ideological justification, defense, resources, a legal system, and more. Society has to adapt to conflict conditions, to accommodate, to contain, to deal with, to live with the evolving context of prolonged conflict. But not all effects are intended- many of them are unintended and even undesirable. Nevertheless, they become part of the dynamic processes of societal change. Of importance for the understanding of the effects, we need to remember, that societies carry out violent immoral acts that lead to reactions and counter-reactions. These acts of violence, including terror, often have a profound effect on the societies engaged in conflict in many areas of personal and collective life. They cause losses and various types of physical and psychological harm that leave open wounds in the society and need to be taken care of. These lines of action must always leave their marks on collective life, marks that may not appear overnight, but will gradually penetrate the societies involved in intractable conflict and change their nature. In addition, use of violence requires numerous steps to provide security for the involved societies. These, in turn, also have an impact on the life of individuals and the whole collective.
This means that when a society violates the fundamental principles of justice, morality, and human rights during an intractable conflict, it is condemned to deterioration and decline, at least in regard to its democratic, humane and moral qualities, and this also leads to a corresponding political downturn. Societies engaged in violent and vicious conflict become accustomed to mistreating the rival population. This penetrates into the norms, values, beliefs and attitudes of the societies and culture.
Prolonged conflicts require many different activities by both societies in many different domains. Each society initiates a well-planned and an unplanned series of acts, beginning with the military sphere, but also in the legal, political, economic, and other arenas– and they in turn trigger new developments that lead to intended or unintended effects. New goals, interests, needs, and trends appear at all levels of society. New dogmas arise to justify the continuing conflict; new interest groups emerge, new norms, language and moral standards develop to support the conflict; conflict-supporting economic investments are made. A new political culture evolves to maintain the conflict; new security needs and new military strategies are developed; new trade markets appear. New laws have to be legislated; the legal system always has to be involved in adapting new codes to the conflict situation. Sometimes groups emerge that object to the conflict and carry out a political struggle against it, reflecting the evolving socio-political polarization.
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In general, the themes of conflict culture are central in public debates and agendas, policy-making and courses of action. They are hegemonic in the public repertoire and have great influence on individual and collective decision-making as, for example, in selecting leaders, or voting in elections. In addition, they influence the functioning of various societal institutions in different realms. They affect set policies, legislation, decision making and courses of actions as, for example, they influence national budget allocations, approval of educational curricula, and even rulings in the courts.
For example, the massive delegitimization of the rival frequently leads to atrocities, and other immoral behaviors, including genocide, without feelings of guilt or shame. It becomes a major justification for the violations of moral standards. This means that eventually the immoral behavior is not only performed towards the rival, but also reaches the intra-societal system when society members generalize their behaviors and overstep boundaries to commit immoral acts against their co-patriots and their own institutions. All this leads to the weakening of democratic principles. Societies that engage in an intractable conflict for a long time have great difficulty in maintaining democratic values and principles because the essence of the conflict demands their transgression.
Consequences of the lasting bloody conflict
Focusing on the context of intractable conflict, the involved states have a number of critical challenges that require immediate solutions. The most important of these is mobilization of society members (of Russia, Turkey, Israel, Sri Lanka or Rwanda) to participate in their conflict not only attitudinally by supporting it, but also actively by recruitment to the military in order to fight the enemy. Each of these states requires mandatory military service and some, like Israel, also have reserve duty. The goal is to win the conflict militarily as in Sri Lanka, Chechnya, and Rwanda, but the least that must be done is to withstand the enemy (Kurds, Palestinians, Muslims in Kashmir or Turkish Cypriots). However, even if one side wins militarily, as in the case of Russia, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka, the state has to be on constant alert to maintain deterrence with control of the rival group.
It was noted that interethnic conflicts are “written in blood” as described by Stephen Worchel, because it is extremely difficult for a state to win bloody conflicts with a population that experiences significant deprivation, discrimination, exploitation, and violation of basic human rights, along with denial of collective rights. With these contentions the ethnic groups live with suffering, frustration, fear, anger and hatred, searching for a possibility to rebel. And indeed, many ethnic groups have successfully raised the flag of resistance and satisfied their collective needs, following a violent struggle for independence or autonomy that lasted decades and even centuries.
In turn, the dominating society, sovereign in the state, must always remain on guard, with mobilized society members to prevent these outcomes by controlling the rival society. This control always comes with violent struggle that involves individuals, groups, organizations and even at times the whole society. In order to succeed in this mission, the society that desires to safeguard the occupation, domination, subjugation, or discrimination must maintain continuous mobilization of fighters with their readiness to fight and even sacrifice their lives on behalf of the society. This literally means mandatory recruitment to the military forces with the motivation to fight.
The motivation to fight actively and effectively against the rival depends on the psychological state of the society members. They must believe the threats of the rival as well as the leadership of their own group. In addition, the motivation to mobilize depends on the construction of persuasive, well-justified, narratives that elaborate on the justness of the conflict and the goals that must be achieved. Finally, the narratives supporting the conflict include delegitimizing the rival, self-collective glorification, sense of self-collective victimhood and well-required patriotism. These narratives have to be imparted and maintained continuously in society, for as long as the conflict lasts. Furthermore, to be effective, they must be hegemonically held by the majority of society members and preserved by state institutions. In order to achieve this aim, the state uses an obvious range of means, also used by other societies engaged in intractable conflicts.
Limitations of freedom of expression
In most conflicts, a minority also appears in the state, proposing an alternative narrative which supports ending the conflict by compromise, and presents the rival in a humanized and legitimized way with the benefits of peace. Individuals and organizations representing this minority collect information about atrocities and violations of human rights committed by the institutions and the military forces of their own society. In turn, the government tries to block these messages in order to retain the support of the society members in the continuing conflict. Thus, organs and institutions of society try to eliminate the flow of information by imposing a variety of restrictions on these organizations. If these practices last for many years, they influence the political culture of the society – its openness, freedom of expression, level of tolerance, reflective thinking, and critical thinking. Societies that engage in a long period of violent conflict develop dogmatic closure, blind patriotism, and monopolization of patriotism with all their implication. This must affect practices of the mass media and the educational system which prepares the younger generation to participate in the conflict.
In times of intractable conflict, the mass media are often mobilized by the authorities and may also voluntarily marshal themselves for the group goals to provide information that is in line with the themes of the conflict-supporting narrative. In some countries, autonomous journalists are fired from their jobs and there have even been cases of killing independent ones. Some journalists practice self-censorship; others join the propaganda of the regime. The regime recruits cooperative journalists who are in agreement with the hegemonic conflict-supporting narratives, and social media, often activated by the regime, becomes dominant in supporting these narratives.
The Israeli media, for example, do not openly discuss questions of whether there is a relationship between acts of terror and the occupation or whether some activities of the Israeli army in the occupied territories may be considered terrorism, or whether there is similarity between acts of terror carried out by Jews during the British mandate against Arabs and British, and the terror of Palestinians. It does not discuss the unnecessary Israeli wars during which many hundreds of human lives were lost, such as in the 1956 war in Sinai, the 1000-day war of attrition at the Suez Canal, and the Lebanese wars. In general, it avoids presenting the daily life of the Palestinians, their suffering and the existing apartheid, focusing on their violence and terror attacks, presenting them as a result of blind evil. The educational system often not only provides a one-sided narrative but also indoctrinates students, prevents openness, and inhibits critical thinking. These practices have effects beyond the conflict-related themes, affecting the overall way of thinking, deliberation, and information processing.
Obviously, these acts limit the scope of democracy because one of the key principles of a democratic regime is freedom of information. But the governments of societies involved in intractable conflicts, such as Israel, Morocco, Sudan, Turkey, or Rwanda, direct the mass media and social media to provide information in line with governmental policies and practices regarding the conflict. Moreover, formal institutions discredit and limit individuals and organizations that oppose governmental policies in the conflict context. Every year Reporters Without Borders publishes the World Press Freedom Index, evaluating freedom of journalism in every state. We find Israel in 86th place among 180 states, place, Rwanda in 136th place, Sri Lanka in 147th place, Turkey in 149th and India in 150th. None of these countries can take pride in their press freedom.
Thus, all these societies have to create conditions for support of the continuation of the conflict and obstruct alternative messages that oppose the conflict-supporting narrative. By the nature of these two missions, states involved in intractable conflict move to the authoritarian side of the democratic-authoritarian axis.
Treatment of the rival group
Saying this, I have still not touched upon one key point that relates to the democratic deterioration of these states, namely, the violation of another key principle of democracy—equality. All states engaged in violent longstanding conflict with a minority discriminate against it, violate its human rights, persecute, and conduct acts of violence along with many other transgressions. Each of the noted states—whether Israel, Russia, Turkey, or India, initiate these practices against the rival ethnic minority. On every indicator, it is possible to find disparity between the majority group and the minority group. In Turkey, there is persistent discrimination against Kurds. For example, the Kurdish language cannot be used in private and public schools,
The Turkish army displaces Kurds from their villages, Kurdish villages were destroyed in the 1990s, and in the early 2000s, Kurdish political parties were banned. Human rights courts and organizations have blamed Turkey for systematic violations of Kurdish human rights. In the case of Russia, it installed a pro-Russian dictatorial regime in Chechnya, that, with Russian help, has conducted abductions and arbitrary detentions and arrests. Human rights are violated systematically, with allegations of torture and executions.
In India, the ruling Hindu nationalist government under the leadership of Narendra Modi conducts policies and enacts legislation ensuring Hindu supremacy, especially against the Muslim minority, viewed as the enemy. The Hindu leaders often openly incite against Muslims and this rhetoric leads to violent attacks by Hindu mobs and even by police. A number of laws have been passed specifically to discriminate against and harm Muslims. For example, the government passed the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which made religion a basis for granting citizenship. This led to fears that millions of Indian Muslims, including many families who have lived in the country for generations, could be stripped of their citizenship rights and disenfranchised. In addition, Modi has enacted a law which criminalized inter-faith marriage.
Israel, as this is clearly attested, also practices discriminatory regulations and laws against Palestinians. The occupation serves as a sacred ground for appropriating Palestinian land, settling Jews in the occupied territories, surveilling every aspect of Palestinian life, consistently violating their human rights, preventing every sign of resistance, and eventually building a political-legal-military system that institutionalizes the superiority of Jews over the Palestinians, which could be termed apartheid. Israel together with Morocco are the only two states that occupied territories against the will of the occupied population and did not give equal rights to the occupying population over 55 years.
It is possible to indicate events that signal that Israel has moved into nationalistic-religious-racist spheres. One example is the “March of Flags” on May 29, 2022, with many thousands of participants, of mainly religious nationalistic youth through the Muslim quarter of old Jerusalem, with the approval of the Israeli prime minister and other ministers, chanting “death to Arabs”. This recalls similar marches expressing hate for Jews less than a hundred years ago in Europe. Finally, with the many violent events during the march, mostly Jews attacking Palestinians, the Israeli police arrested about 60 Palestinians and only 2 Jews.
In sum, the inevitable societal processes of authoritarianism plague every society that is engaged in intractable conflict because of its demanding features. Without hesitation, it can be stated that the occupation and the violent longstanding conflict have had a major influence on Israeli Jewish society. It has moved it into the realm of authoritarianism which had already appeared with the establishment of the state in 1948 when the bloody conflict with Arabs states broke out. With the passage of time, the interstate conflicts deescalated and even the possibility of peacemaking with the Palestinians appeared. But the constitutive obstructive events seriously undermined this direction and the communal conflict is focused on relations with Palestinians with the outlook of living by the sword for rest of our lives. In such a context the described inter-societal processes may lead Israel to a totalitarian abyss.
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