THE BUSINESS is registered in the name of Binyamin Netanyahu. But the reality is different.
Netanyahu has never been more than a slick patent medicine salesman. That is a type that appears frequently in American Westerns and sells an elixir that is good for everything: against the flu and against tuberculosis, against heart attacks and against lunacy. The main weapon of the vendor is his tongue: his stream of words builds castles in the air, blows up glistening bubbles and silences all doubt.
Since the election almost a year ago, his biggest (literally) achievement has been the setting up of a cabinet: 30 ministers and a bunch of deputies, most of them without any perceptible duties, some of them in charge of ministries for which they are the most unsuited of all possible candidates. From then on his main occupation has been the one in which he is most adept: political survival.
In this governmental zoo, the one really important creature is the Liebarak – a two-headed monster that terrifies all the other animals. This animal is 50% Lieberman, 50% Barak, 0% human.
* * *
WHEN LIEBERMAN first appeared on the stage, many looked on him with disdain. Such a person, they decided, has no chance in Israeli politics.
For ten years, he has been under investigation by the police on suspicion of corruption, receiving money from mysterious foreign sources and more.
Moreover, in the eyes of many Israelis, he is the most un-Israeli figure imaginable. They have tagged him permanently as a “new immigrant”, even though he has been here for over 30 years. They consider his outward appearance, body language and dialect as blatantly “un-Israeli”, belonging to someone who is “not one of us”. How can Israelis vote for such a person?
Lieberman is a settler based in Nokdim, a settlement near Bethlehem, and the settlers are not popular in Israel. He is openly racist, a hater of Arabs who despises peace, a man whose declared aim is to rid Israel of the Arabs. True, there is in Israel (as in any country) a lot of silent racism, partly unconscious, but this racism is denied. Israelis – it was believed – will not vote for an outright racist.
The last elections put an end to this belief. Lieberman’s party won 15 Knesset seats, two more than Barak’s party, and became the third biggest Knesset faction. Not a few “real” Israeli youngsters, Sabras through and through, voted for him. They saw him as a good address for their protest vote.
The establishment was not too upset. OK, so there was a protest vote. In every Israeli election campaign there appears an election list from nowhere that wilts the next day, like the gourd of the prophet Jonah. Where are they all now?
But Lieberman is not General Yigael Yadin, who created the Dash party, or Tommy Lapid, the leader of Shinui. He is a man of brutal power, lacking any scruples, a man ready to appeal – as Joseph Goebbels put it – to the most primitive instincts of the masses.
We may yet see in Israel a coalition of all the malcontents and the angry, as the Bible says about David when he fled from King Saul: “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves around him, and he became a captain over them.” (1 Samuel 22:2). Lieberman’s home turf is the community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have not been absorbed into Israeli society and who live in a spiritual and social ghetto. They may be joined by other sectors: the settlers, the Oriental Jews who feel that the Likud betrayed them, young people who see him as a man who expresses openly what they believe in secret: that the Arabs should be expelled from the state, and from the entire country.
Lieberman’s un-Israeli appearance may yet turn out to be an advantage for him. A person who is so un-Israeli may become the ideal leader of a camp united by its hatred of the “elites”, the Supreme Court, the police, the media and the other pillars of Israeli democracy.
The police investigations, too, may elevate him in the eyes of this public. They believe that he is being persecuted by the hypocritical elites. The dark cloud of suspicion did not deter Netanyahu from giving him control of both the Ministry of Police and the Ministry of Justice, the two ministries charged with upholding the rule of law, which are now under the direction of his lackeys.
This danger should not be underrated. Other historical leaders of his ilk were at first considered clowns and ridiculed, before they came to power and wrought havoc.
* * *
BUT THE second head of the Liebarak is more dangerous than the first. The danger of Lieberman lies in the future. The danger of Ehud Barak is immediate and real.
This week, Barak did something that should turn on a another red light. On the demand of Lieberman, Barak accorded the Settlers’ college in Ariel the status of a university.
Unlike the “foreign” Lieberman, Barak comes from the epicenter of old-time Israel. He grew up in a kibbutz, was a commander in the elite “General Staff commando” and speaks perfect Hebrew with the right intonation. As a former Chief of Staff and a present Minister of Defense, he represents the might of the most formidable sector in Israel: the army.
Lieberman has not yet succeeded in hurting the chances of peace, except by talking. Barak has acted. I once called him a “peace criminal”, in contradistinction to a “war criminal” – though nowadays many would accord him this distinction, too.
The fatal blow dealt by Barak to the chances of peace came after the 2000 Camp David conference. To recount briefly: when he was elected in 1999 with a landslide majority, on the wave of enthusiasm of the peace camp and with the help of clear peace slogans (“Education instead of Settlements!”), he induced Presidents Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat to meet him at a summit conference. In a typical mixture of arrogance and ignorance, he believed that if he offered the Palestinians the chance to found a Palestinian state, they would give up all their other claims. His offers were indeed more far-reaching than those of his predecessors, but still far from the minimum acceptable to Palestinians. The conference failed.
Coming home from Camp David, he did not make the usual announcement (“Much progress has been achieved and negotiations will continue…”), nor an unusual one (“Sorry, I was wrong, I had no idea!”) Rather, he coined a mantra that has since become the center of the national consensus: “I have turned every stone on the way to peace / I have offered the Palestinians everything they could ask for / They have rejected everything / We Have No Partner For Peace.”
This declaration by the leader of the Labor Party, who often calls himself “the head of the peace camp”, dealt a mortal blow to the Israeli peace forces, who had hoped so much from him. The vast majority of the Israelis believe now with all their heart that “we have no partner for peace”. Thereby he opened the way for the ascent to power of Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu.
Throughout his time in office, Barak established and enlarged settlements. On his orders, the Commanding Officer of Central Command issued a permit for a radio station of the settlers (which has lately started to broadcast, after a long delaying fight by Gush Shalom against it.) In this respect, too, he has trumped Lieberman. His decision about the Ariel university fits into this pattern.
* * *
“WAIT A MINUTE!” a sensible person may ask. “What has this to do with Barak? He is the Minister of Defense, isn’t he, and not the Minister of Education!”
Ariel is occupied territory. In the occupied territories, the army is the sovereign power. Barak is in charge of the army. The directive to upgrade the Ariel College was given by Barak to the commanding officer. As Yossi Sarid, a former Minister of Education, pointed out, the “Ariel University Center” is the only civil university in the democratic world set up by the army.
An Israeli academic institution has to go a long way before being accorded university status by the competent authorities. There are many colleges in Israel, far more outstanding than the Ariel College, which aspire to this status. In the occupied territories, a general’s approval is enough.
This fact throws light on the unprecedented Israeli invention: the Eternal Occupation.
An occupation regime is by its nature a temporary situation. It comes into being when one side in a war conquers territory of the other side. The occupying power is supposed to rule it, under detailed international laws, until the end of the war, when a peace agreement must decide the future of the territory.
A war may last some years, at most, and therefore the occupation is a temporary matter. Successive Israeli governments have turned it into a permanent situation.
Why? At the outset of the occupation, the then Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, discovered that the occupation is really an ideal situation. It gives the occupier absolute power without any obligation to accord the inhabitants any citizenship rights whatsoever. If Israel were to annex the territories, it would have to decide what to do with the population. That would create an embarrassing situation. The inhabitants of East Jerusalem, which was formally annexed to Israel in 1967, did not receive citizenship, but only the status of ”residents”. Successive Israeli governments have been afraid that the world would not accept a “democratic” state in which a third of the population have no rights.
A status of occupation solves all these problems. The inhabitants of the occupied territories have, de facto, no rights whatsoever – neither national, nor civil, nor human. The Israel government builds settlements wherever it sees fit, also contrary to international law, and now it is setting up a university, too.
(Lately an original proposal was put forward by Sari Nusseibeh, the president of the Palestinian al-Quds University in annexed East Jerusalem: the Palestinians should demand that Israel annex all the occupied territories, without demanding citizenship. Nusseibeh hopes, so it seems, that in the long run Israel would not be able to withstand international pressure and would be compelled to accord them citizenship, and then the Palestinians would already be the majority in the state and able to do what they want. I appreciate Nusseibeh very, very highly, but feel the gamble would be too risky.)
* * *
THE SPANISH government has already declared a boycott of the Ariel college and cancelled its participation in an international architectural competition run by Spain.
I hope that more governments and academic institutions will follow this example and declare a boycott on this “university”.
True, the Liebarak couldn’t care less. This two-headed monster is indifferent to boycotts. But an academic institution cannot be indifferent to a boycott by its peers around the world. And if the Israeli academic community does not rise up against this prostitution of its ideals by the setting up of a university of the settlers under military auspices – it is inviting a boycott on all Israeli universities.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.