On Sunday, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced the passing of Professor Zeev Sternhell, a world-renowned expert on fascism and nationalism and Emeritus Professor at HU’s Political Science Department. He was 85 years old and is survived by his wife Ziva and two daughters, Tali and Yael.
Sternhell viewed the Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as a danger to “Israel’s ability to develop as a free and open society,” and accused them of valuing their nationalistic ideology over social and liberal aims values. But his own idioms betrayed a willingness to employ fascistic means to repress the people he loathed, as he wrote in the daily Davar in 1988: “Fascism cannot be stopped on rational grounds. This can only stopped by force, and with a willingness to risk a civil war. At the moment of decision, we will have to deal forcefully with the settlers in Ofra or Elon Moreh. Only those who are ready to mount Ofra with tanks will be able to stem the fascist drift that threatens to drown Israeli democracy.”
In a 2001 op-ed in Haaretz, Sternhell advised Israel’s enemies: “The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements, avoid harming women and children and strictly refrain from firing on Gilo, Nahal Oz or Sderot; it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line. By adopting such an approach, the Palestinians would be sketching the profile of a solution that is the only inevitable one: The amended Green Line will be an international border and territory will be handed over to compensate the Palestinians for land that has already been or will be annexed to Israel.”
In 2018, Sternhell wrote in Haaretz that “growing before our eyes is not just Israeli fascism, but racism close to Nazism in its early stages. Like any ideology, Nazi racial theory had also undergone developmental stages, and in the beginning it merely deprived Jews of their human and civil rights. If it had not been for World War II, the ‘Jewish problem’ might have ended in their ‘voluntary’ expulsion from the Reich. After all, the vast majority of Jews were able to leave Germany and Austria. It may very well be the future of the Palestinians.”
On September 25, 2008, Sternhell was the victim of a pipe bomb attack at his home, and was injured in the leg and hospitalized. In October 2009, Israel police arrested Jack Teitel, a Florida-born religious Jew, for the attack on Sternhell. Teitel, who acted alone, confessed.
Prof. Asher Cohen, president of HU, said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the news of Zeev Sternhell’s passing. He was a leading researcher in political thought and his innovative research changed the way our scientific community perceives of ideological movements, in general, and radical movements, in particular. He was an honest man, one who tirelessly pursued peace and justice.”