The Israeli State has chalked up a unique and golden milestone. It has appointed a kosher fascist, paid-up racist as well as small-time thug to be its next Foreign Minister.
Of course this is not the views of everyone. Russian-Israeli-Swedish anti-Semite, Israel Shamir, whom Gilad Atzmon once described to me [e-mail 12.6.05] as ‘an extremely charming man and rather entertaining… a unique and advanced thinker.’ [this correspondence has been omitted in Atzmon’s edited version of a correspondence we had, and also in what Atzmon calls the ‘unabridged version’.
Shamir criticises Saree Makdisi's The Rise of Israel's Avigdor Lieberman for his claim in 2006 that "Avigdor Lieberman, leader of YB, is the real winner of the Israeli elections and a potential kingmaker". Shamir argued that ‘the reality is very different: Lieberman’s party has a great difficulty to enter any coalition, neither it is sought by Olmert or Peretz, the leaders of the biggest Israeli parties. Far from being "a potential kingmaker", Lieberman is an outsider…’
In fact Lieberman joined Olmert’s coalition in October 2006 as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Threats. Apparently Makdisi’s claim that YB is a "racist party" was nothing less than ‘weird’ because ‘YB is the least Jewish nationalist party in the Knesset outside the Arab block, as it is the party of the Russian, heavily non-Jewish community in Israel.’ Apparently Russian Christians claiming to be Jews are somehow not racist whereas the opposite is the case. Their being white Europeans is why they were in effect fasttracked into being Israeli Jews. Liberman’s meteoric rise, and the willingness of the shameless Israeli Labour Party to sit in a coalition with him, which Histadrut’s Chairman, Ofer Eini , urged [surely the death of any idea that ‘Labour’ = ‘socialist’ or even progressive?] is another watershed for Zionism.
In fact, contrary to Shamir's crazy views (a case of one racist defending another) Lieberman was a member of the youth wing of Meir Kahane's Kach Party, an openly Jewish Nazi party that called for the criminalisation of sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. Such is the background to Israel's Foreign Minister.
Neve Gordon 26 March 2009
Thanks to Binyamin Netanyahu`s overweening ambition, Israel is to be saddled with a foreign minister who is a national disgrace.Imagine a country that appoints someone who has been found guilty of striking a 12-year-old boy to be its foreign minister. The person in question is also under investigation for money-laundering, fraud and breach of trust; in addition, he was a bona fide member of an outlawed racist party and currently leads a political party that espouses fascist ideas. On top of all this, he does not even reside in the country he has been chosen to represent.
Even though such a portrayal may appear completely outlandish, Israel`s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, actually fits the above depiction to the letter.• In 2001, following his own confession, Lieberman was found guilty of beating a 12-year-old boy. As part of a plea bargain, Lieberman was fined 17,500 shekels and had to promise never to hit young children again.• In 2004, Lieberman`s 21-year-old daughter Michal set up a consulting firm, which received 11m shekels from anonymous overseas sources. Lieberman, according to the police, received more than a 2.1m-shekel salary from the company for two years of employment. In addition, according to an investigation by Haaretz, he allegedly received additional severance pay – amounting to hundreds of thousands of shekels – in 2006 and 2007, while he was minister of strategic affairs and deputy prime minister. According to Israeli law, this is illegal.•
Lieberman is an ex-member of Meir Kahane`s party, Kach, which was outlawed due to its blatantly racist platform. Moreover, his views towards Arabs do not appear to have changed over the years. In 2003, when reacting to a commitment made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to give amnesty to approximately 350 Palestinian prisoners, Lieberman declared that, as minister of transport, he would be more than happy to provide buses to take the prisoners to the sea and drown them there.•
In January 2009, during Israel`s war on Gaza, Lieberman argued that Israel `must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in the second world war. Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary.` He was referring to the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.•
Lieberman does not live in Israel according to its internationally recognised borders, but rather in an illegal settlement called Nokdim. Legally speaking, this would be like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton residing in Mexico and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband living on the Canary Islands.And yet, despite these egregious transgressions, newly-elected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has no qualms about appointing Lieberman to represent Israel in the international arena. Netanyahu`s lust for power has led him to choose a man who actually poses a serious threat to Israel. Both Lieberman`s message and style are not only violent, but have clear proto-fascist elements; and, as Israeli commentators have already intimated, he is extremely dangerous.
Politics being politics, most western leaders will no doubt adopt a conciliatory position towards Lieberman, and agree to meet and discuss issues relating to foreign policy with him. Such a position can certainly be justified on the basis of Lieberman`s democratic election; however much one may dislike his views, he is now the representative of the Israeli people. Those who decide to meet him can also claim that ongoing diplomacy and dialogue lead to the internalisation of international norms and thus moderate extremism.These justifications carry weight.
However, western leaders will also have to take into account that the decision to meet Lieberman will immediately be associated with the ban on Hamas, at least among people in the Middle East. In January 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in elections that were no less democratic than the recent elections in Israel. While Hamas is, in many respects, an extremist political party that espouses violence, its politicians are representatives of the Palestinian people and are seen as struggling for liberation and self-determination.If western leaders want to be conceived as credible, they must change their policy and meet with Hamas as well. Otherwise, their decision to meet Lieberman will be rightly perceived as hypocritical and duplicitous, and the pervasive perception in the region – that the United States and Europe are biased in Israel`s favour – will only be strengthened.
Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).