Sunday, February 08, 2009

Israeli Arabs fear a Gaza backlash as far right prepares for power role.

I cannot be the only person who finds what's happening in Israeli politics at the moment to be scary.

On Tuesday, if all the polls are right, Lieberman will emerge as the most significant beneficiary of an Israeli general election campaign played out against the bloody background of the three-week assault on Gaza in which more than 1,300 Palestinians died, many of them civilians.

The rightwing Likud party of Benyamin Netanyahu will probably emerge as the winner ahead of the Kadima party of Tzipi Livni. But most Israelis also recognise the wider significance of the moment: these elections are likely to mark the emergence of a far-right force, with a racist anti-Arab agenda, as the country's power broker.

Lieberman is currently running his campaign under the slogan, “No Loyalty, No Citizenship”, and wants to introduce a law forcing 1.2m Palestinians with an Israeli passport to choose: either they swear an oath of allegiance to the Israeli state and serve in the military – or commit to alternative national service – or they lose their citizenship.

He wants to demand that Israel's Arab population agree to actions like the recent attacks on Gaza, which were the subject of almost worldwide condemnation, or simply cease to be citizens. That's almost textbook fascism and yet, astonishingly, his party, Israel Beitenu, look at the moment as if they are about to take almost 15% of the vote, placing Lieberman in a very strong negotiating position in a country which decides elections by proportional representation.

I was appalled when Olmert invited him to join his cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister, a position which Lieberman resigned from under protest that Israel were prepared to have any negotiations with the Palestinians. I was also appalled at the time that the Bush administration, which had lots to say about Arab extremism, was utterly silent whilst a man who held such appalling views was made Israel's Deputy Prime Minister.
The party mostly emphasizes a secular nationalist vision and demands that all citizens must demonstrate their loyalty to the principle of a "Jewish and democratic state" before they can enjoy the benefits of citizenship. Israel Beitenu's TV commercials boast that "only Lieberman speaks Arabic"—that is, he is the only candidate who understands how to deal with the problem of disloyalty he attributes to many members of the Israeli Arab minority.
I find that terrifying. Lieberman is insisting that it is disloyal for Israel's Arab population to have views which differ from the views of the state, which is a simply astonishing claim for anyone to make within a democracy.

Even Ariel Sharon, who no-one could accuse of being left wing, found the views of Lieberman to be too much and Sharon insisted that, "We regard Israeli Arabs as part of the State of Israel." Sharon went on to dismiss Lieberman from the cabinet.

And yet, if the polls are correct, Avigdor Lieberman could very well find himself in a real position of power after the next Israeli election.

Here are some of the things he has said:

Following nine Palestinian attacks on Israelis during a two day period in March 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman's proposal for an ultimatum to the Palestinians to halt all terror activity or face wide-ranging attacks on commercial centers: "if it were up to me I would notify the Palestinian Authority that tomorrow at ten in the morning we would bomb all their places of business in Ramallah, for example." This led Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to respond that excessive military measures could lead to accusations of war crimes.

In July 2003, reacting to a commitment made by Ariel Sharon to the US, where amnesty could be given to approximately 350 Palestinian prisoners including members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lieberman rejected a chance to participate in the related committee and said "It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that's the lowest point in the world," Liebreman continued, according to Galei Tzahal ('Israel Army Radio'), stating his willingness, as Minister of Transport, to supply buses to take the prisoners there.

This man is a far right extremist by any possible measurement and yet it looks as if he, with views which were rejected as too extreme even by Ariel Sharon, is now going to emerge as a sort of power broker in Israeli politics.

I find that terrifying, and Obama's task of finding a way to establish a state of Palestine will get a whole lot harder if someone like Lieberman has any real influence in Israel. Netanyahu is terrifying enough, but Lieberman is a whole different ball game.

Related Articles:

Israeli elections: Be afraid. Be very afraid

Click title for full article.

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