Why is this night of Passover,2023, different from all other nights?
Because this celebration of the Exodus, a symbol to peoples everywhere—Jews and Christians alike–who’ve won the hard fight for freedom, is being overshadowed in Israel itself by a group of democracy-suppressing, racist, and violent Jews.
Because, after centuries of Seders, of praying for return to a Jewish homeland, Israel and all that it was meant to symbolize is being destroyed—not by the increasingly antisemitic world, but by the Jewish citizens of Israel themselves.
Because the dream of Israel as a light unto the nations, a democratic state embodying the Jewish principle that each of us has an obligation to, and must have compassion for, others—Hillel’s lesson that Jesus took to heart and made a foundation of Christianity—is in danger of being extinguished. It is the principle that evoked the murderous hatred of Hitler whose opposing belief was that the world belongs to those with the power to seize it.
The betrayal of this principle is found in the attempted disempowerment of Israel’s Supreme Court by Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir, momentarily halted by massive opposition. But there is also a terrible threat in the effort to create a policing force to address internal disorder, to be run by Ben-Gvir, the same Ben-Gvir who was convicted in 2006 of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism, the Ben-Gvir who openly advocates shooting demonstrators, expelling Arab citizens, and who has supported settler pogroms.
In this he seems to have taken a page from Hitler’s tactic in the 1930s. after his conviction and imprisonment for a failed coup in Bavaria. To initiate his agenda, Hitler created a paramilitary wing within his Nazi party, to protect its rallies, to disrupt the meetings of the opposition, and intimidate trade unionists and most especially Jews. It was called the Sturmabteilung, also known as the SA, but more informally as the Brownshirts for the color of their uniforms. It was this huge group of thugs that gets the credit for Kristallnacht, when virtually all of Germany’s 200 synagogues were destroyed, along with more than 7,000 Jewish stores, a number of Jews were beaten to death, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and removed to concentration camps.
If Itamar Ben-Gvir were given command of a National Guard, he could and likely would employ it as his own private militia—his own Kahanist/Proud Boys/Oath Keepers/Boogaloo Boys band—fully armed and militarized, but with the sanction of the state—giving him the unbridled ability to attack the Arab minority, and progressive secular Jews as well.
Yesterday, the New York Times reports, the government agreed to move forward with Ben-Gvir’s National Guard, as it was his demand for supporting Netanyahu’s plan to destroy the independent judiciary and abort his trial for corruption.
This night, this Passover, is different from all others, because when it concludes with the ancient cry, “Next year in Jerusalem,” we will need to consider deeply what we might get were that wish granted. .