The big news from Israel is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned away from potential centrist Zionist partners and asked the militant nationalist Avigdor Lieberman to become his Defense Minister, and that the deal with Lieberman’s rightwing party is likely to be in place by the weekend. The news has brought an explosion of condemnation from the Israeli left and from the Haaretz newspaper, but typically the New York Times buries its head in the sand.
Jewish Voice for Peace says it’s alarmed:
The announced deal to include the Yisrael Beiteinu [Israel home] party in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition and the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Defense Minister will make the proposed new Israeli government the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
Americans for Peace Now is also disturbed:
APN Alarmed over serial provocateur & extremist firebrand Avigdor Lieberman's Imminent Appointment as DefMin | https://t.co/KEovFilzF4
— Lara Friedman🔥 (@LaraFriedmanDC) May 19, 2016
Gideon Levy of Haaretz says the deal tears the mask off the face of Israel for the world and that it is enormously dangerous: “The territories will burn like they’ve never burned before.”
For the first time in Israeli history, fascism is a clear and possibly present danger. True, Menachem Begin’s election as prime minister evoked similar fears, as did the appointment of Ariel Sharon as defense minister. But those were other times, when Israeli society still had immune mechanisms, a system of checks and balances. They were eliminated long ago. Now the state is in the hands of someone who could destroy it.
On Wednesday, a process that began nearly 40 years ago was completed. The right rules and Lieberman will soon be defense minister. If it weren’t so dangerous, it would be tempting to shout at the right, “We dare you.” To shout at the center-left: “We dare you to to keep quiet.” And to shout at the world: “Show them all.” Will you keep arming and funding this Israel? Will you continue to view a state in which Lieberman is No. 2 “the only democracy in the Middle East?”. . .
If Lieberman will be Lieberman, we will miss Benjamin Netanyahu. If Lieberman will be Lieberman, the territories will burn like they’ve never burned before. If Lieberman will be Lieberman, all Israeli Arabs will become enemies. If Lieberman will be Lieberman, no one will be able to complain about Maj. Gen. Yair Golan’s comparison with dark times. They will be here and now. However, if Lieberman will be Lieberman, Golan will not be Golan and Israel will not be Israel. If Lieberman will be Lieberman, this op-ed would not even be published.
I was always for tearing off the masks off the face of Israel. On Wednesday, they were torn off finally.
Haaretz‘s editorial expresses the same fears about the occupation, and blasts Netanyahu for “blatant racism.”
Yisrael Beiteinu’s leader has for many years represented a racist position that views Israel’s Arab citizens as a nuisance and their Knesset representatives as traitors. He calls for an aggressive defense policy, the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip and the overthrow of the territory’s Hamas government and the economically destruction of the Palestinian Authority, which in his opinion encourages, incites toward and is responsible for attacks on Israelis.
In recent weeks he has led the political struggle on behalf of Elor Azaria, the soldier who executed a dying Palestinian assailant in Hebron. Lieberman called for Azaria to be released from arrest and not charged with manslaughter.
When he was foreign minister Lieberman did very little, but his ability to cause damage to the state was limited. Now he will be in charge of the army and of the occupation machine in the territories, with an almost unlimited potential to foment crises and to jeopardize the national interest . . . .
At the moment of truth, the prime minister has demonstrated that he is prepared to drag the country into a potentially disastrous military adventure, to remove all moral constraints and to encourage blatant racism, for the sole purpose of staying in power. The high price will be paid by Israel’s citizens and their Palestinian neighbors.
Contrast the orange-level concern from Haaretz with the New York Times‘ coverage of the deal. “Benjamin Netanyahu Seeks Ultranationalists for Coalition in Israel” is the headline, on page A6. Isabel Kershner’s report is straightforward but there is no sense of the gravity of this development. And no editorial in the paper. Gideon Levy wants the mask torn off, but the Times is keeping the mask on. Once again, America’s leading newspaper is trying to hide the ugly face of Israel in the closet.
Daniel Sokatch of the liberal Zionist group New Israel Fund is also anguished and links the news to Lt. Gen. Yair Golan’s speech likening political trends in Israel to currents in Nazi Germany.
Instead of turning to Labor, the Prime Minister offered the Defense Ministry to Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beteinu (“Israel is Our Home”) party, the only far-right wing party currently in the Opposition. Lieberman, who formerly served as Foreign Minister, is a hardliner who has called for the death penalty for terrorists, for Israel to rid itself of parts of the country in which most Arab Israeli citizens reside, and for the beheading of Arab Israeli citizens who are deemed insufficiently loyal to the state. He has also called for the bombing of Egypt’s Aswan Dam, and for the toppling of the Palestinian Authority.
As I write this, it is still unclear whether or not this latest deal will go through. And some pundits have commented that this all may be an elaborate shot across the bow of the IDF, after the current Defense Minister (no liberal himself) defended the right of the IDF top brass to speak their minds about their concerns over growing racism and extremism in Israeli society. Either way, the political landscape in Israel is once again shifting, and yet another voice of extremism, intolerance, and divisiveness seems poised to assume one of the most powerful positions in the land.
Sokatch’s post is titled, “The Hope is Still Here, We Just Have to Make Room for It.” How realistic is that interpretation?