Recently the words "fascism" and "fascist" have been used almost casually in political discourse, most notably in the form of the fusion word "Islamofascism" which seeks to conflate Islam with fascist ideology. The use of "fascism" to describe a political phenomenon is one of those convenient conversation stoppers, intended to evoke memories of the Second World War, of dictatorships and police states in Italy and Germany, and of racial laws and death camps as well as other atrocities.
Fascism is generally linked to ultra-right wing politics or attitudes even though 1930s fascists themselves believed that they did not fit into the traditional right-left political spectrum. The word Nazi is, in fact, an acronym for "national socialist," adroitly combining nationalism with socialism. It is generally accepted that a fascist is a totalitarian who supports an all-powerful and centralized state buttressed by the legal argument promulgated by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt that government can do no wrong precisely because it is the government.
Fascism differs from communism in that it accepts a robust private sector economy regulated by the state and it eschews class struggle, believing instead in a national popular consensus that unites behind what has been referred to as the "vanguard" fascist movement. Both Communism and Fascism believe in the destruction of parliamentary democracy, which they regard as decadent and subject to dominance by the bourgeois class. In the 1930s, the concept that the fascist party was the only legitimate representation of the national will enabled leaders like Hitler and Mussolini to ignore constitutional restraints and create one party dictatorships.
One can easily see how linking fascism to Islam is a non-starter unless one accepts the argument made by those who believe that at least some radical Muslims are trying to recreate the Caliphate, a political entity which would be totalitarian in nature. Other than that, Muslim militants do not have any interest in class struggle either pro or con, do not have an economic or foreign policy, and do not operate within and through the mechanism of a nation state. Call al-Qaeda what you will, but it is definitely not a fascist organization.
Defining fascism beyond that point is not easy as it has political, social, and economic elements and it varies considerably in its different forms based on national idiosyncrasies. The fascist parties also contained factions that disagreed on many economic and social policies, but there are common themes that generally surface when one speaks of fascist style states, like Peron's Argentina and also the Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq.
All fascist regimes have an identifiable leader and an assertive ultra-nationalism that frequently feeds off a sense of victimhood, i.e., that Germany was eviscerated by the treaty of Versailles while Italy, a victor in the war, was not rewarded commensurate with how much it had suffered. This need to assert a frequently mythical notion of national power and greatness, often through war or imperial expansion, generally produces a militarization of society as well as a rewriting of history to support the new agenda.
Since fascist governments frequently use emergency decrees to eliminate or restrict parliamentary democracy, they frequently evolve into police states to suppress dissent and maintain the regime. Their economies are generally heavily regulated by the state and the government is often directly involved through state industries and favorable treatment meted out to businesses with links to the bureaucracy. Contemporary fascist regimes are, in summary, authoritarian, nationalist, single-party police states strongly promoting racial or ethnic identities and having economies heavily regulated or even dominated by the government.
Israel obviously has, increasingly, many attributes of fascism, but the melding of policies that have created what amounts to a national security state in both Washington and Tel Aviv has been an obvious consequence of the so-called war on terror, which seeks to establish security through total military dominance. Indeed, Israeli policies and security doctrines have been adopted wholesale by Washington, suggesting that the tiny client has asymmetrically influenced its larger patron. Concurrently, since the 1990s Israel's government has been steadily moving in a rightward direction and the upcoming elections will reportedly continue that trend with the politicians seeking to outflank each other by moving harder and harder to the right.
So to what extent are both Israel and the United States trending towards a fascist model? In some areas the affinity is clear. Both Israel and the United States claim victimhood from terrorism and have used that as an excuse to maintain aggressive foreign policies that emphasize the use of force as a first option. Both spend far more proportionately on "defense" than other developed countries and both are actively engaged in proxy and shooting wars around the world. Israel exploits its alleged victimhood to occupy Palestinian land while the United States does the same to justify its continued presence in Afghanistan and its threats against both Iran and Syria.
The victimhood also feeds resentment that reinforces ultra-nationalism which in turn glorifies militarism. It is not surprising to note that both Israel and the United States have established military courts and tribunals to deal with perceived external threats, lessening the role of the independent civilian judiciary. This has in turn led to "antiterrorist" legislation that has infringed on what most western nations would consider to be fundamental liberties. The Israeli Shin Beth internal security services operates with a relatively free hand against regime critics and potential threats as does the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States under the auspices of the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts, leading many critics to observe that both countries are evolving into national security police states where official accountability is minimal as the respective governments are able to cite state security as a reason to avoid any exposure of illegal activities.
And the ultra-nationalism also leads to the creation of national myths. Israel and the U.S. have at times encouraged the belief that Palestine and North America were empty lands waiting to be developed, a contention that is untrue in both cases. Israeli state sponsored archeology has worked assiduously to document Jewish presence east of the Jordan River while at the same time ignoring or even destroying historic sites demonstrating the persistence of non-Jews in the area.
And then there is the fascist economy, in which state enterprises and favored businesses are nurtured alongside a heavily regulated private sector. Israel is much farther advanced in that respect than is the U.S. and is notable for the manner in which its defense and security sectors feature government and industry working hand-in-hand. Indeed, government officials and senior military officers move freely between the public and private sectors helping Israel to become the eighth largest exporter of weapons in the world. In the United States, the military industrial complex plays a similar role though with far less direct government involvement and direction. Many would describe the whole system of Pentagon contracting for weapons systems that are not needed a form of government welfare for the arms producers who in turn support the politicians voting for the largesse.
And finally there is racism. Overt expressions of racism have gone out of fashion in the United States, though the assertion of "American exceptionalism" certainly contains racial overtones in its presumption that Washington can intervene in the affairs of others overseas. Israelis, many of whom see themselves as God's chosen people with a divine right to all of Palestine, inevitably attribute that right to their racial and cultural superiority, a theme that was played on recently by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. A recent opinion poll reveals that two thirds of Israelis believe that Palestinians should be denied the right to vote if the West Bank were to be annexed while three quarters of Israelis support segregated Jewish-use-only roads. When an Israeli soldier kills a Palestinian he is rarely punished. Justin Raimondo notes how racism has become the leading issue in the upcoming elections. Many Israelis, including recently departed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have long held extreme racist views regarding Arabs and Muslims in general, but in recent months the reaction to African asylum seekers has demonstrated that there is an uglier racism lurking that is being as openly asserted in the political campaign as much as Jim Crow was in the American south in the 1950s and 1960s.
Naftali Bennett, head of Israel's political party Jewish Home, rejects any kind of Palestinian statehood and has called for the immediate expulsion of all Africans to maintain the country's "racial purity," surely an ominous phrase when coming out of the mouth of an Israeli politician. Such demands might well be regarded as eccentric, but Jewish Home is likely to emerge from upcoming elections as the nation's third largest party and is strongly supported by young Israelis. Israel's insistence that it be recognized as a Jewish State and proposed legislation demanding loyalty oaths from Arab citizens should also be seen as part and parcel of a racist agenda, reflecting the all too frequent demands by some politicians to expel all Arabs and occupy the entire West Bank.
The only area in which Israel and the United States are demonstrably not fascist is their avoidance of dictatorship, though even that is not as clear-cut as it might be. The United States has, to be sure, two major parties that alternate in power, but both are wedded to a similar statist agenda, which is particularly evident in the area of foreign policy, where there is a national consensus in support of aggressive militarism. The concept of the unitary executive, embraced by both Democrats and Republicans, is intrinsically dictatorial in nature and there are legitimate concerns that another major terrorist attack inside the United States could well tip the balance to presidential rule by fiat with a complaisant congress, media, and supreme court following along behind. Israel likewise has a number of viable political parties, but the movement politically speaking has been to the right and one might argue that the national consensus is clearly hard right wing with Likud dominant. The only question decided in elections is just who the other players might be in the government coalition and lately they have been even more extreme than Likud.