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Lieberman: Israel careening to the right


Throughout much of the Middle East, repressive and corrupt regimes are guarded and protected by the specter of even worse government. Don't say "It could be worse" - it will be. The semi-police state with sham elections or no elections is protected by the threat of a much worse Islamist regime in far too many countries. Israel may soon blend into the political scenery of the Middle East. What's worse than a Benjamin Netanyahu administration? A second Benjamin Netanyahu administration. And what's worse than that? Avigdor Lieberman. Polls predict as many as 31 Knesset seats for the right wing Likud party, but they also predict 16-21 seats for Lieberman's "Yisrael Beiteynu" ("Israel is our home") party. Israeli opinion surveys generally under-rate right wing parties.

Israel's march to the right is not quite as extreme or sudden as some may think (see The alarming rise of radical nationalism in Israel. Look at it from the Israeli point of view, from the point of view of people who have to schedule their lives around color red alerts.

The Israeli turn to the right really happened a long time ago. When Israelis voted for Ariel Sharon in 2001, they had every reason to believe he was just as reckless and radical as Avigdor Lieberman. Sharon was elected by the violence of the Second Intifada, when the peace platform of Ehud Barak almost literally blew up in his face. Israelis wanted to elect an 800 pound gorilla, and they thought Sharon was it. Sharon swore that Gaza settlements were as precious to him as Tel Aviv and Negba, but then changed his mind and rammed through the disengagement plan, leaving the supporters of the right in a vacuum. The disengagement plan in turn, blew up in the faces of the Kadima party. Now Israelis are frustrated by the rise of the Hamas in Gaza. They are also frightened by the evident inability or unwillingness of the Israeli government and the world to do more about the threat of nuclear destruction posed by Iran than to equivocate, temporize, speechify and gesticulate.

The gut reaction to lunacy is more lunacy. Israelis want a 1,600 pound gorilla. Someone who will be as sure footed, unpredictable, brutal, ruthless and unprincipled as Mr Ahmadinejad or Mr Khaled Meshaal - an Israeli Hassan Nasrallah if you will. Urbane, oily, comfortable, probably corrupt and certainly slick Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't quite fit the image. And why should the world be alarmed by the rise of right wing radicalism in Israel? "The world" doesn't seem to be alarmed by the rise of right wing radicalism in Gaza. They say it is democracy. "The world" says that Hamas is a fact and there is no choice but to deal with it. If Lieberman ever becomes Prime Minister, Israeli Fascism will be a fact too, but one doubts that it will be viewed with the same equanimity for some reason. That's not logical. After, compared to Khaled Meshaal, even compared to so-called Hamas moderates, Lieberman is a bleeding heart wishy washy liberal. Lieberman hasn't thrown any of his opponents off the roofs of buildings. Not that we know of anyhow. Not yet.

Israel should be alarmed by the rise of Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu. The Yisrael Beiteinu campaign, like all successful political campaigns, is built around a single slogan: "No citizenship without loyalty." It is aimed at equal and opposite demagogeury of Israeli Arab parties. The best election propaganda of Yisrael Beiteinu is produced by Arab knesset members and proudly quoted by them at their Web site:

...Balad representative Awad Abed Al-Patah declared, "The elections are one of the means at our disposal for battling Zionism within its home. "
The director of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, Mansur Abbas said, "Participating in the elections does not legitimate the State but allows us to operate from within."...

...Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on the Arab parties' appeal of their ban from the upcoming elections, MK Ahmad Tibi said, " This is our land, not yours."...

... MK and chair of the Arab Ram-Tal Party... e-mailed propaganda that not only equated Zionism with Nazism, but claimed that the former was worse than the latter.. He concludes by saying that Israelís crimes surpass those of Nazi Germany. [The propaganda, mailed at taxpayers' expense, included the illustration below]

A symmetrical situation: The right of the Arab parties to express their views that are obnoxious and repugnant to Lieberman and many others, versus the right of Lieberman and his party to express their views that are obnoxious and repugnant to others. A dilemma that, depending on your point of view, echoes that of the Weimar Republic or the McCarthy era in the United States: how does democracy deal with parties whose goal is to wreck democracy or wreck the state?

But the Yisrael Beiteinu party cannot be dismissed as a collection of demagogues, louts and hooligans or the primitive expression of a gut reaction. It has attracted some personalities whom we would otherwise consider to be able, serious persons of integrity, whatever we think of their political views, including Uzi Landau and Danny Ayalon. These are louts and hooligans with a pedigree. Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu are not just a reaction to an external threat. They are an expression of a crisis in Israeli society and political values.

Israel was built by the Labor Zionist movement, the Israel Labor party its predecessors and its satellites. David Ben Gurion, who founded and headed Mapai, which preceded the labor party, was Mr. Zionism and Mr. Israel. The institutions of the Israel Labor party were central institutions of the state in the making, and of the state for many years. The kibbutz movement spearheaded the economy and led the military, as well as providing ideological and cultural leadership. In the wake of the Six Dar War however, the Israeli left became disillusioned with nationalism, which was coopted by religious and nationalist extremists. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War the Israeli public became disillusioned with the Labor party, which had become tired of governing. This opened the way for the rise of the Likud and the election of Menachem Begin, once the object of derision as severe as that now directed at Lieberman, if not worse. Begin and the Likud had the image and reputation of Fascists and warmongers. Many on the left were relieved when the Begin did not actually jail opponents and outlaw other parties, and actually made peace with Egypt. The radical right was not so terrible after all. Nobody hardly that Yitzhak Shamir was a mature version of Avigdor Lieberman. In fact, Shamir's exploits in the right wing underground make Lieberman look like a mild mannered nerd. But the rise of the Likud changed the basis of political power. Those who insisted that the Labor party had not been loyal to the Israeli workers were right, but none of them realized the extent to which the enemy of the bad is the much worse. The rise of the Likud swept away the last strongholds of the left, turned the education system over to the religious right, and allowed the settler movement and the Greater Israel movement to substitute their institutions for those of the Israel labor movement. A whole generation grew up with a different culture. They were taught that Ben Gurion was a "Leftist," Rabin was a traitor and Begin liberated Jerusalem. The soldiers who once went to battle with copies of Das Kapital and songs of Rachel, now go to battle with a book of Tehilim beneath their helmets. The Palamchiks who told tall stories around a camp fire have been replaced by Yeshiva students who pray in between the tanks. In a sense, the real story of these elections may be the disintegration of the Israel Labor party, which may actually get less votes than Lieberman's party and become a fringe faction.

But the Second Intifada, which destroyed the Israeli peace movement also destroyed the greater Israel movement. The understanding that Israel cannot rule another people, once the exclusive intellectual property of the Meretz party, is now accepted openly by Kadima, and somewhat more furtively and reluctantly by the Likud and even Yisrael Beiteinu. Where it is not driven by decency, it is driven by pragmatism or racism. The Arabs will soon outnumber the Jews between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. Even within the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel, Arabs may one day be a majority. Zionism insists on a democratic Jewish state. A state with a majority of Arabs cannot be both democratic and Jewish. Sooner or later, if Israel is to remain democratic, it must in one way or the other divest itself of the West Bank and of its responsibility for Gaza. The solution of the left and center is to make peace and form two states. The solution of the extreme right is to doctor the demographic figures to make it look like there are less Arabs, or to insist on a state that will not be democratic, as Moshe Feiglin proposes. The solution of the Likud is to temporize. An idea that was revived recently is to give the West Bank over to Jordanian rule and Gaza to the Egyptians. The problem is that the Egyptians do not want Gaza and the Jordanians do not want the West Bank. Yisrael Beiteinu's solution is to trade away Israeli Arabs to a Palestinian state, whether they like it or not, and to grant citizenship on the basis of loyalty.

But the Yisrael Beiteinu loyalty oath is just a gimmick, and his program of drafting everyone to military or national service is a fanciful election promise. Like most loyalty oaths, Lieberman's will harm only principled individuals. Liars will have no problem. And what about Jews who are anti-Zionist or non-Zionist, including ultra-orthodox? Is Lieberman going to take away their citizenship? Is he really going to draft all these people into the army or national service? Does he really want to give them guns? What will an army of ultraorthodox, non-Zionist Yeshiva students and anti-Zionist Arabs do in case of an actual war? What sort of useful national service could they do? If no government in recent years could succeed in drafting Yeshiva students, how will Lieberman get support for this measure?

However, those who think that the oath and the draft program are all Yisrael Beiteinu offers are gravely underestimating it. Israel is a tough country. For those who have a choice, and most Israelis do, it is not possible to live here without a vision, without believing in the society we are building. The Israel Labor party no longer offers a vision that it really believes in. Kadima never really developed such a vision. The Likud vision of Greater Israel turned out to be a delusion. The religious Zionists are not going to attract the majority of secular Israelis, and certainly not the secular Russian immigrants who form the base of the Yisrael Beiteinu constituency. For those seeking a new vision of Zionism. Lieberman-compatible Zionism 2.0 is Zionism in which liberal democratic or socialist values are removed and replaced by Putinism or Stalinism: a limited democracy in which everyone is free to believe as Lieberman and Landau believe. If Lieberman ever comes to power, the world will have to like it or lump it. But for many Israelis, this vision is a nightmare.

As bad as Lieberman is, it could be worse. A specter is haunting over Israeli politics. It is the specter of Feiglinism. Whereas Yisrael Beiteinu at least pays lip service to democracy, Feiglin's vision is more direct. Arabs will be ruled as second class citizens in a single state from the Jordan to the sea. Not only Arabs, but secular Jews will be targeted in a non-democratic, non-Zionist regime run by Jewish Ayatollahs. Feiglin doesn't have a separate party. His strategy is to take over the Likud.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000746.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 3 comments

According to the New York Times, Avigor Lieberman stands to win big in the soon to be held Israeli elections:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/09/world/middleeast/09israel.html?ref=world&pagewanted=printAvigdor Lieberman is one of those refuge-ed "victims" of Soviet Communism that seems to have had done quite alright under it. Indeed, his old "Commie" acquaintances reportedly get him private sessions, to this day, with the likes of Communist President Voronin of Moldova-- also a former Soviet Party hack-- and together the two are reported to have shared how humorous it is that America elected "a monkey" for president. This story may or may not be apocryphal, but it goes well with a lot of the racist remarks about the kind of Israel Lieberman wants, racist comments for which Lieberman is notorious. The point is that he is not part of some mythical Semitic "lost tribe" from among "God's Chosen People," but might well be a decedent of the long ago East European converts that "adapted" through fraud and guile in order to survive-- and survive they did. Like many others, I see him as one of many East European who rightly objected to the way they were treated by fellow East Europeans, so they moved to Palestine to mistreat indigenous Arabs EXACTLY as they were mistreated by their fellow East Europeans. Indeed, many such East Europeans aligned with the Likud Party started by Jabotinsky-- a party that then admired Hitler, despite his unfortunate dislike of Jews, because "he was very good for the German people." History has spoke, but Jabotinsky did not live to see its final judgment on Hitler. But I would point out that for every Lieberman, I can site ten Jews who are outraged by everything he stands for. As examples I offer my Jewish mentors, friends of my parents, scholars all, who tutored me through our long refuge West. For them, the likes of Lieberman and Eichmann, were only distinguishable by circumcision and by Communist vs. Nazi distinction. The thesis on racial superiority is not distinguishable even if in any way different. One got to Israel, kidnapped by Mossad, the other as an alleged "victim" of Soviet anti-Semitsm at US taxpayer's expense. But it must be said that Lieberman's personal perspective, his ideology, his racism and his crooked deals, all blurring any distinction between him and the people who supposedly persecuted him with their anti-Semitism (he certainly didn't do too badly under his alleged oppressors) seems besides the point. What really matters is evident and to the point when we recall that, in response to the election of HAMAS to lead Gaza-- fair and square-- the Israelis cut off and starved the Palestinians, engaging in "targeted assassinations" against them at will. And so, if the Israelis choose Mr. Lieberman for their government, my reaction is: THAT'S JUST FINE. We have no choice but to accept the will of the people as "democratically" expressed at the ballot box. But then, remembering what we did with Gaza after the Palestinian election of HAMAS, perhaps the perfect answer is: you chose him, now it's the end....We are broke and can't afford $14 billions a year for Israel with our people out of jobs. So, the best to you Israel-- YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN! No more war toys used in "war crimes" fashion in a replay of the Warsaw Ghetto against innocent Palestinians in Gaza on the receiving end. No more dollars to engorge a $placenta for illegal settlements, expanding Israel by a lebensraum thesis like Hitler's done through ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. No more supporting the worthless shekel with dollars loans, a debt that Congress later quietly "forgives." Yes, yes, yes, as PM Sharon once said: "Israel is not Czechoslovakia" and as a sovereign state can do as it pleases. But the United States of America also a sovereign state and is also a broke nation that can't afford to lavishly support a nation that behaves in the worst ways of any East European nation in history. Israel can do, and MUST be allowed to do, as it wants. But if it elects Lieberman, the United States of America's President Obama has a duty not to associate America with Lieberman's brand of racism and criminality. It is not worth supporting his kind of Israel-- and if he is elected, it means that Israelis want his kind of Israel. So, as in the case of HAMAS, we must simply turn our backs to it. My concern is not for Israel but for the Diaspora Jews that chose NOT to make the "Great Aliyah," moving to the "Jewish state." American Jews are as American as apple pie and are in grave danger in an economically and militarily declining America where many people looking for scapegoats for their personal dire predicaments. Already the rumor that Madoff hides his money in Israel for favored investors to pick it up has been spread all through the Internet. News reports of his crimes had been appearing on TV news right after (not even with a commercial break) news of the massacre of Gazans by the Israeli forces. Whatever the rights or wrongs of both stories, it should be recalled that Madoff's victims were mostly OUR fellow American Jews. Unfortunately, desperate people, as in post WW I Germany, are more likely to be looking for scapegoats and conveniently forget distinguishing facts as they look for someone else to blame for their "shop until you drop" excesses called for by Bush as the "patriotic" response to 9/11. To my reckoning we are at 10 to Midnight on the Krystalnacht clock in a crashing America. Our government's primary duty is to our Americans-- protecting our Jews included-- and more so that, in light of the propensity to anti-Semitsm if people discover the "lobby" pressures on Congress to give Israel $14 billions a year-- while the US is broke-- so it can perpetrate its lebensraum thesis a la Lieberman. President Obama must cut our ties with a Lieberman Israel, just as we cut off our ties with a HAMAS led Gaza. Our Jews are us and we should never suspect them of dual loyalty. It must be recalled that though the neocons slandered Obama with their "Negro problem," about the same proportion of American Jews voted for Obama as Black Americans. I suspect that with Lieberman as a leader in the government of Israel after the election, few American Jews will want to be his kind of Zionists. So, we can let Israel decide what's best for Israel-- we never did differently; yet, Americans in turn, must decide what's best for America...and I don't think Americans will want anything to do with a Lieberman Israel, just as they decided that they don't want anything to do with a HAMAS Palestine. Daniel E. Teodoru

Posted by DE Teodoru @ 02/09/2009 08:22 AM CST

Maybe he should just give the loyalty oath to all the palestinian refugees, and they could all become citizens and have a country worth being loyal to? Ah, pipe dreams....

Posted by Avak @ 02/13/2009 01:26 PM CST

The Arabs have perfected the art of projecting on their enemy their own beliefs and actions. These propagandistic misrepresentations of fact are historically, accurately, honestly, morally, ethically and intellectually dishonest.Israeli Arabs have more rights then their brethren in the Arab world. Yes, some Israeli's harbor negative feelings about Israeli Arabs but the Arabs have a long history of hating Jews. The Israeli's are reacting to provocations by it's Arab, ;during war. What is Liebermans "racism"? His loyalty oath is no different then the oath every American schoolchild recites every morning. African Americans severed in the US military, fought with valor and some made the ultimate sacrafice for a country that denied then the right to vote, and live in a segregated world were blacks has separate schools, theaters, public seating, water fountains, etc. Abbas recently declared no Jew will be allowed to own land or property in Palestine. That is the racism we in the US fought against under the leadership of MLK. Israeli Arabs condemn taking an oath yo the State of Israel yet the PLO Charter of 1964 Article 27 and the amended Charter article 31 both state the organization shall have a Flag, oath and national anthem. In 1964 there was no call for a state rather an entity. Article 24 explicitly declares that it exercises no claim of sovereignty over the West Bank or Gaza strip. Lieberman is a racist because he wants to swap land with Arab populations for land with Jewish populations. That was the basis of the 1947 UN Partition plan. Who are the racists? The father of Arab nationalism was a fascist who incited riots against Jews based on lies. Jews and Arabs lived in relative harmony, both prospering under the Zionist created economic boom. Arabs of Palestine had the highest wages, standard of living, reduction of infant mortality rates. All documented by the Brits , the Red Cross, etc. These are Fascist racists out to destroy Arab? There land know as Palestine was first officially so designated by the British in 1920. Previously it was the southern area of Syria Bilad ash-Sham. The Brits did not want to grant the despised Jews a Homeland anywhere. The fought the Mandate that they swore to honor and ensure. When Amin Al Husseini returned from Smyrna where he served in the Turkish Army in 1917. The Jew hater saw how the economic development of the Jews had brought over a million Syrians and Egyptians. When the Young Turks overthrew the government in Istanbul their facist nationalism called for the cleansing of Anatolia. This focused hate served as the whipping boy and Roman games for the control of the masses. Al-Husseini believed in a Pan Arab Islamic Empire. He began political activism in 1918-1919 and incited his first riot in 1920. Most aeabs both Muslim and arab considered Jerusalem and Palestine the sacred Land of The Israelites. Mohamed has his followers pray toward their Sacred Land Mecca as the Jews have always prayed toward their sacred land and Jerusalem. Sura V:12, 20-21 mentions the Holy Land divinely assigned. Christian Arabs have the New Testament which only refers to The Holy Land of Israel. The Brits were impressed with al-Husseini that they made him the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and then Chair of the Muslim Council. He eventually became a Nazi and made antisemitism and fascism essential elements os Arab Nationalism. He mentored the Egyptian Yasser Arafat and the Iraqi Saddam Husein. Naser was head of Young Egypt based on Hitler Youth whose motto One Nation, One Land, One Party may sound familiar. The first Chair and author of it's Charter, Ahmed Shukairy at the direction of the Arab League the previous Muslim Council. He as Grand Mufti did not fight for a Palestinian state rather the reunification of greater Syria, Shukairy was born in Lebanon and as a member of the Syrian UN delegation he coined the expression drive the Jews into the sea. He also declared in May 1953 to the UN security council that everyone knows Palestine is Southern Syria. He also criticized the Arab League for encouraging the Arabs to leave Palestine broadcasting the Jews would kill them all because they intended to exterminate the Jews. Why keep our fellow Arabs who you encouraged to evacuate the lands and homes and not resettle them in Palestine or other Arab States? 76% of Palestine, eastern Palestine was renamed Trans Jordan and given exclusively to the Arabs, driving Jews west of the Jordan and making it illegal for Jews to own land or property. Jordan is an Arab state in Palestine. The PLO is denying Judaism and any relation to Palestine or Jerusalem and they say they are the true Jews, Antisemitic Nazi propaganda is taught in schools, is part of the culture and media. The UK banes a movie criticizing Islam from the UK while it promotes an antisemitic play in London. Germany banes the display of the Israeli flag and approves banners calling Jews Nazi's and mass murderers. Who are the racists? At Durban II the Arab league will introduce a resolution making it a crimonal offense to criticize Islam.

Posted by DAVID J FEIGER @ 02/22/2009 03:28 PM CST

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