Israel’s Justice Minister Sprays Herself With ‘Fascism’ Perfume in Provocative Campaign Ad
A Perfume Called Fascism
When an Israeli minister sprays herself in Fascism to make her rightist party more popular, you know that words have achieved weightlessness.
by Roger Cohen
Let’s talk Fascism, the perfume I mean.
Israel has an election on April 9. The right-wing justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, who has sought to curb the powers of the Supreme Court and portray it as a kind of liberal-elite supergovernment, has a campaign ad. It’s an interesting exercise in branding and the unbearable lightness of our times.
A piano tinkles. A flacon of Fascism appears. Shaked looks sultry, running a hand through her hair, affixing an earring, draping a white jacket on her shoulders, caressing a banister as she descends the stairs. The narration in Hebrew runs through her “judiciary revolution,” her “reducing activism” and her “restraining of the Supreme Court” in a tone of soft sensuality.
At last, she grabs her Fascism, sprays the perfume, and in a good no-nonsense gravelly Israeli tone that breaks with what has preceded it, proclaims: “Smells like democracy to me.”
O.K., I’m writing about this, so it’s effective marketing. People talk about the ad, and that could benefit her New Right party. Her point, I think, is this: You Israeli liberals label me a fascist, but there’s nothing undemocratic about lambasting the Supreme Court’s powers, vowing to dismantle its oversight of the Knesset or accusing it of a “coup” against democracy.
Shaked is playing with fire. Perfumes are seductive. That’s the point of them. You sniff them and swoon. You become captive to them. What she’s intimating, even as she dismisses it, is that she’s a little fascist on the side and that’s a turn-on.
Certainly, Europe swooned to fascism once upon a time. This led to the death of six million Jews. Let’s be careful with words. They have meaning. Let’s be careful with facts. They have weight. Let’s not turn the stench of the Nazi crematories into a come-hither scent.
It may be too late.
When an Israeli minister sprays herself in Fascism to make her rightist party more popular, you know that words have achieved weightlessness. Truth has no meaning any longer. It’s gone.
After all, tens of millions of Americans consider Donald Trump to be the most honest president ever because he “tells it like it is” and, as his move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem illustrates, does what he says he will do.
Representative democracy, mediated through institutions created to uphold the rule of law and protect civic discourse, is giving way to a form of social-media-driven direct democracy where the premium is on hatefulness. It’s open season on any democratic institution like the Israeli Supreme Court, or indeed a free press (a.k.a. “enemy of the people”) that is seen as standing between genuine folk outside of “elites” and their desires.
Brexit is many things, among them a train wreck caused by the clash of parliamentary democracy (which is what Britain was last time I checked) and plebiscitary democracy driven by lies or so-called fake news, which is where the world seems to be headed.
An outright disaster may be required before this wave is checked.
Smells like democracy, Shaked says. Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking a fifth term as Israeli prime minister, facing indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, is campaigning for his political survival and, beyond that, his personal freedom. Let’s do a little imagining.
Imagine that Netanyahu wins. Imagine that for parties joining his coalition he sets a condition that they support passing a law in the Knesset that would prohibit the prosecution of an elected official — like the prime minister, for example. Imagine that he offers various blandishments to rightist parties like Shaked’s to secure this allegiance — annexation of part of the West Bank, for example. Imagine that the Supreme Court’s power to declare such a move unconstitutional is overturned as part of Shaked’s push to delegitimize and eviscerate one of the most important foundations of Israeli democratic life.
Smells like democracy? You tell me if the independent judiciary in Nazi Germany did not fold to Hitler, one step at a time.
But I don’t want to sound alarmist. We’re talking only about a perfume.
Let me offer a word about Trump in conclusion. The obsessive focus on him tends to obscure the fact that he may not represent the antithesis of American values but be more representative of them than people think. What if, as the former ambassador Peter Mulrean, who quit the State Department after Trump was elected, put it to me, Trump “is just an extreme version of what we’ve become, our society’s ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’?” And, Mulrean added, “I mean all of us, not just those who voted for him.”
I find that a provocative thought — and the resemblance between Trump and Netanyahu in their hold on their societies’ imaginations is striking.
We have succumbed to the weightlessness of words. Doesn’t Ivanka Trump have a line of perfumes and big political ambitions?
Ayelet Shaked (born 7 May 1976) is an Israeli politician, activist, and computer engineer. She has served as a member of the Knesset for The Jewish Home since 2013, and as Minister of Justice since 2015. Although until 2018 representing a religious party, Shaked identifies as a secular politician, and was the only secular woman in her party. She began her career in the Tel Aviv high-tech industry, working as an engineer at Texas Instruments. In 2010 she established the My Israel extra-parliamentary movement with Naftali Bennett and led it until May 2012. In 2019, she established the New Right together with Bennett.
She is considered one of Israel’s most active and influential legislators, and initiated and drafted laws including Israel’s 2016 NGO law, its comprehensive law against terrorism, a version of the basic law proposal on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, as well as a law limiting the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court. Widely viewed as a potential future Prime Minister, in the opinion of Haaretz, “she is poised to be Israel’s most successful female Israeli politician since Golda Meir”.
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