Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obstacles to Peace: More on the recent Israeli elections

Netanyahu has recently been charged with the task of forming the new Israeli government and Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, which favours tightening the Israeli blockade on Gaza, opposes the dismantlement of settlements in the West Bank, and supports policies widely regarded as anti-Arab, has given his support to Netanyahu. While President Shimon Peres' appointment of Netanyahu is troubling in itself because he does not support the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in which Palestinians would control their borders, airspace, and have the ability to form an army (which every sovereign nation has the right to establish), a partnership with Lieberman is even more so.

To further illustrate the danger that this alliance poses to the peace process, I would like to underscore Lieberman's membership in Kahane's Kach Party. Kahane was declared a racist party by the Israeli government and was banned from the Knesset. Kahane encouraged the settlement movement and declared that a Jewish state should include all of Biblical Jewish land, including land that is currently part of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq!:

"Let me tell you what the minimal borders are, and which the rabbis agree upon, according to the description given in the Bible. The southern border goes up to El Arish, which takes in all of northern Sinai, including Yamit. To the east, the frontier runs along the western part of the East Bank of the Jordan River, hence part of what is now Jordan. Eretz Israel [the land of Israel] also includes part of Lebanon and certain parts of Syria, and part of Iraq, all the way to the Tigris River."

These racist sentiments which also constitute obstruction to the peace process are widely supported in Israeli society. Gideon Levy argues that while Kach was banned in the 1980s, Yisrael Beiteinu is embraced by Israeli politics and society even though they bear striking similarities. Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist who's career is inspired by his desire to raise awareness within Israeli society concerning immoral policies directed at the Palestinian population and during the elections, Levy was particularly concerned about Yisrael Beiteinu (which ended up becoming the third largest party in the Knesset beating Labour). I am posting the article he wrote below. Even though it was written before the results of the election became known, it is still a powerful article that puts the burden of rampant racism within Israeli politics on the members of Israeli society:

Kahane Won by Gideon Levy:

Rabbi Meir Kahane can rest in peace: His doctrine has won. Twenty years after his Knesset list was disqualified and 18 years after he was murdered, Kahanism has become legitimate in public discourse. If there is something that typifies Israel's current murky, hollow election campaign, which ends the day after tomorrow, it is the transformation of racism and nationalism into accepted values.

If Kahane were alive and running for the 18th Knesset, not only would his list not be banned, it would win many votes, as Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to do. The prohibited has become permitted, the ostracized is now accepted, the destestable has become the talented - that's the slippery slope down which Israeli society has skidded over the past two decades.

There's no need to refer to Haaretz's startling revelation that Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was a member of Kahane's Kach party in his youth: This campaign's dark horse was and is a Kahanist. The differences between Kach and Yisrael Beiteinu are minuscule, not fundamental and certainly not a matter of morality. The differences are in tactical nuances: Lieberman calls for a fascist "test of loyalty" as a condition for granting citizenship to Israel's Arabs, while Kahane called for the unconditional annulment of their citizenship. One racist (Lieberman) calls for their transfer to the Palestinian state, the other (Kahane) called for their deportation.

Now the instigator of the new Israeli racism will apparently become the leader of a large party once again in the government. Benjamin Netanyahu has already pledged that Lieberman will be an "important minister" in his government. If someone like Lieberman were to join a government in Europe, Israel would sever ties with it. If anyone had predicted in Kahane's day that a pledge to turn his successor into an important minister would one day be considered an electoral asset here, they would have been told they were having a nightmare.

But the nightmare is here and now. Kahane is alive and kicking - is he ever - in the person of his thuggish successor. This is not just a matter of disqualifying Yisrael Beiteinu; it is not even a matter of this party's growing strength to terrifying proportions, becoming the fulcrum that will decide who becomes prime minister. This is a matter of legitimization. All society bears responsibility for it.

Kahane was ostracized; Lieberman is a welcome guest in every living room and television studio. Imagine: Ehud Barak does not rule out a coalition with him; Uzi Landau, considered a "democrat," is now Lieberman's number two; a former senior ambassador and a retired police major general also adorn the list. Did we know that Israel was being represented in Washington by an avowed racist in the person of Daniel Ayalon? Did we know that former Border Police chief and deputy police commissioner Yitzhak Aharonovich was one, too? They have come out of the closet, these racists, breaking out of the heart of the establishment to the despicable right, and the attitude toward them has not changed a bit.

Lieberman and his soldiers are borne on the tides of hatred for Arabs, hatred of democracy and the rule of law, and the stink of nationalism, racism and bloodthirstiness. These have turned, horrifically, into the hottest electoral assets on the market. Like all others of his political ilk, he cynically fans these base urges, particularly among the weaker classes, the rejected, the poor and the immigrants. But not just there. Many young people, among them brainwashed soldiers, will give him their vote, and no one ostracizes them. He chose an easy, relatively weak target, Israel's Arabs, and sets his supporters on them. But his doctrine has seeped in much deeper than that.

Lieberman is the voice of the mob, and the mob craves hatred, vengeance and bloodshed. A useless war in which hundreds of children were killed was received here sympathetically, if not happily. The parties from the right and center have tried to disqualify the Arab parties; these lists are also excluded ahead of time in every political calculation. And Arab students cannot rent an apartment.

When the intifada of Israel's Arabs breaks out here one day, we will know whom to blame - those who criminally incited against them and, no less, those who turned this incitement into something acceptable and legitimate. This cancerous growth has spread to all parts of society; it remains only to issue a desperate last call: Keep away from this abomination. Anything but Yisrael Beiteinu, lest it really become Israel, our home.


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