FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Rise of Israel’s Avigdor Lieberman

by SAREE MAKDISI

Everyone is talking about the successful-albeit lackluster-performance of Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party in Tuesday’s Israeli elections. Kadima won a marginal victory, gaining 28 seats in the Knesset, and giving Olmert the opportunity to form a government.

But in a sense the real winner of the elections was Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, which pushed past Likud to become one of Israel’s major parties-turning Lieberman into a potential kingmaker. This is a remarkable development because Lieberman’s party stands for one thing: an Israel finally cleansed of the remainder of the indigenous Palestinian population.

Lieberman was born in Moldova in 1958. In 1978, he moved to Israel. Since he is Jewish, he was eligible for instant citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return.

It was evidently not enough for Lieberman that, as a Russian-speaking immigrant fresh off the plane, he was instantaneously granted rights and privileges denied to Palestinians born in the very country to which he had just moved (not to mention those expelled in during the creation of Israel in 1948). The very presence of an indigenous non-Jewish population in Israel was, in effect, unacceptable to him.

In 1999, he formed a party called Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel our Home”), made up largely of other Russian immigrants for whom the presence of Palestinians is also unacceptable.

Lieberman’s party believes what all Israelis believe: that Israel is a Jewish state. Unlike the more respectable Israeli parties, however, Lieberman’s party is willing to add that since Israel is a Jewish state, non-Jews are not welcome. Even if they were born there.

Since Israel has-somewhat conveniently-never declared its own borders, Lieberman proposes that the state’s borders be drawn in such a way that Jews are placed on one side of it, and as many Arabs as possible on the other. Ethnic purity is the operative ideal. The mainstream Israeli parties, and even right wing politicians like Moshe Arens, denounce what they regard as Lieberman’s racism.

The difference between Lieberman and mainstream Israeli politicians, however, is not that they believe in cultural heterogeneity and he does not: for they are as committed to Israel’s Jewishness as he is.

The difference, rather, is one of degree. Mainstream Israeli politicians agree that a line of concrete and steel ought to be drawn with Jews on one side of it and as many Arabs as possible on the other. But they argue that it is OK to have a few Arabs on the inside, as long as they behave themselves, and don’t contribute too heavily to what Israelis refer to ominously as “the demographic problem.”

Contending themselves with the platitude that Israel is a democracy, mainstream Israeli politicians ignore the fact that, in matters of access to land, questions of marriage and family unification, and many of the other normal rights and duties associated with citizenship, Israel’s Palestinian minority faces forms of discrimination not faced by Jewish citizens of the state.

This is hardly surprising. As the state of the Jewish people, Israel is, after all, the only country in the world that expressly claims not to be the state of its actual citizens (one fifth of whom are non-Jews), let alone that of the people whom it governs (half of whom are Palestinian).

Non-Jews have always been, at best, an impediment to Israel’s Jewishness. The only question has been what to do about them. Lieberman’s suggestion is hardly novel. Until he was assassinated, the Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi used to refer to Palestinians as “lice,” and compared them to a “cancer” destroying Israel from the inside. He thought that Palestinians should simply be expelled. Lieberman’s solution to “the demographic problem” may seem a little less inhumane, but it is just as racist.

The point, however, is that-as the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy points out-Ze’evi and Lieberman are no more racist than mainstream politicians like Ehud Olmert. The difference is simply one of modalities. “Lieberman wants to distance [Palestinians] from our borders,” writes Levy; “Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from our consciousness.” Racism, Levy concludes, is the real winner of the 2006 elections.

The question is whether this represents some new development, or merely a sign that Israeli politics are becoming truer to the nature of Israel itself-a reminder that the quest for ethnic purity, no matter how it’s dressed up, is inherently ugly.

SAREE MAKDISI, a professor of English at UCLA, is the author of Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s (University of Chicago Press, 2003). He can be reached through his blog or at: makdisi@humnet.ucla.edu

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

July 26, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind
Pete Dolack
Trump’s Re-Negotiation Proposal Will Make NAFTA Worse
George Capaccio
“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen
Ramzy Baroud
Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syrian War?
John McMurtry
Brexit Counter-Revolution Still in Motion
Ted Rall
The Democrats Are A Lost Cause
Tom Gill
Is Macron Already Faltering?
Ed Kemmick
Empty Charges Erode Trust in Montana Elections
Rev. William Alberts
Fake News? Or Fake Faith?
James Heddle
The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California
Binoy Kampmark
Slaying in Minneapolis: Justine Damond, Shooting Cultures and Race
Jeff Berg
Jonesing for Real Change
Jesse Jackson
The ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission Itself is Fraudulent
July 25, 2017
Paul Street
A Suggestion for Bernie: On Crimes Detectable and Not
David W. Pear
Venezuela on the Edge of Civil War
John Grant
Uruguay Tells US Drug War to Take a Hike
Charles Pierson
Like Climate Change? You’ll Love the Langevin Amendment
Linda Ford
Feminism Co-opted
Andrew Stewart
Any Regrets About Not Supporting Clinton Last Summer?
Aidan O'Brien
Painting the Irish Titanic Pink
Rob Seimetz
Attitudes Towards Pets vs Attitudes Towards the Natural World
Medea Benjamin
A Global Movement to Confront Drone Warfare
Norman Solomon
When Barbara Lee Doesn’t Speak for Me
William Hawes
What Divides America From the World (and Each Other)
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Was the “Russian Hack” an Inside Job?
Chandra Muzaffar
The Bilateral Relationship that Matters
Binoy Kampmark
John McCain: Cancer as Combatant
July 24, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Robert Hunziker
Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Ron Jacobs
Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Dan Glazebrook
Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Ellen Brown
Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
Richard Hardigan
The Media is Misleading the Public on the Al-Asqa Mosque Situation
Matthew Stevenson
Travels in Trump’s America: Memphis, Little Rock, Fayetteville and Bentonville
Ruth Fowler
Fire at Grenfell
Ezra Kronfeld
The Rights of Sex Workers: Where is the Movement to Legalize Prostitution
Mark Weisbrot
What Venezuela Needs: Negotiation Not Regime Change
Binoy Kampmark
From Spicy to the Mooch: A Farewell to Sean Spicer
Wim Laven
Progress Report, Donald Trump: Failing
Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail