Whose Goons Are These?

‘Help!’ he shrieked shrilly in a voice strangling in its own emotion, as the policemen carried him to the open doors in the rear of the ambulance and threw him inside. ‘Police! Help! Police!’ The doors were shut and bolted, and the ambulance raced away. There was a humorless irony in the ludicrous panic of the man screaming for help to the police while policemen were all around him. Yossarian smiled wryly at the futile and ridiculous cry for aid, then saw with a start that the words were ambiguous, realized with alarm that they were not perhaps, intended as a call for police but as a heroic warning from the grave by a doomed friend to everyone who was not a policeman with a club and gun and a mob of other policemen with clubs and guns to back him up. ‘Help! Police!’ the man had cried, and he could have been shouting of danger.

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

The image above was screen-captured from a cellphone video, which depicts goons from La Familia, a group of pro-Netanyahu goons with ties to the infamous soccer team Beitar Yerushalayim, attacking anti-Netanyahu protester Sedi Ben Shitreet and a Ha’aretz journalist, but you could be forgiven for mistaking them for actual cops. The image below, also from cellphone footage, depicts the Israeli police beating up 71-year-old protester Ami Dayan for no reason whatsoever.

Looking at these horrific images takes me back to 2014, when I visited Israel and first experienced the phenomenon of right-wing goons following peaceful left-wing protesters home and beating them up under the cover of night. There’s something especially vile about this–it triggers my cultural Jewish imagination and takes it to darker times of pogroms and extinctions–and, of course, it creates strong feelings of kinship and compassion with the horrors that BLM protesters experience at the hand of goons like Kyle Rittenhouse and so many of his ilk.

There’s not a lot new to say about this beyond the obvious, but I will contribute this thought: One of the scariest things about fascist regimes is the deliberate blurring of boundaries between government goons and private goons. It’s a two-way process: governmental encouragement and empowerment of private goons, supporting their policies in ways that legitimize them as the executers of oppressive state policy, and obscuring the visibility of government agents as such to appear as private entities and shirk responsibility for violence and abuses of power.

This boundary blur is merely a reflection of corrupt governments in both countries, in which the state is captured by people who pillage and exploit everything for their sole, selfish benefit and care nothing for the public good. It is only natural that the lack of distinction between their private interests and their government goals will manifest in their choice of goons, in the ways oppressive state-sponsored thuggery is performed in the streets, and in the difficulty their victims face in identifying the responsible parties for violence and bloodshed.