Zeev Sternhell, leading voice of Israeli left, dies at 85

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Zeev Sternhell, a leading Israeli expert in the study of fascism and a prominent voice in a fading Israeli left-wing which he lamented was too weak to overcome ultra-nationalism, died on Sunday. He was 85.

Sternhell, a Holocaust survivor and a political science professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which announced his death, long opposed Israeli settlement-building on occupied land Palestinians seek for a state.

He cautioned that Israeli democracy was being put at risk by pro-settlement government policies towards the Palestinians.

"The left is no longer capable of overcoming the toxic ultra-nationalism that has evolved here, the kind whose European strain almost wiped out a majority of the Jewish people," Sternhell wrote in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper in 2018.

In 2008, the year he won the prestigious Israel Prize, Sternhell was slightly wounded by a pipe bomb planted at his Jerusalem home by an ultra-nationalist.

Born in Poland, Sternhell survived the Nazi Holocaust by living under an assumed identity as a Catholic. After World War Two, he lived in France and immigrated to Israel in 1951 at the age of 16.

In his 1989 book, "The Birth of Fascist Ideology", Sternhell said fascism had deep roots in European civilisation.

In "The Founding Myths of Israel", published in 1995, he wrote that socialist principles espoused by the state's founders as key to creating a just society were consistently subverted by a real agenda of nationalist political goals.

Sternhell warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank would mean "the establishment of a new apartheid state."

Netanyahu has said Palestinians in areas that fall under Israeli sovereignty will not be granted Israeli citizenship.

Palestinians and international critics have expressed alarm annexation could kill any remaining hopes of Palestinian statehood. Israel disputes the view, held by most countries, that its settlements, in occupied territory, are illegal.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Timothy Heritage)