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Introducing Israel’s New Front Man for the Right

Avigdor Lieberman: Introducing Israel’s New Front Man for the Right

By Am Johal

When all of you have is a hammer in your hand, every solution starts to look like a nail. That, of course, is the primary strategy that the Israeli right has always had in their playbook and has never hesitated to utilize.

They have their blinders on and they’re heading for a photo finish that doesn’t look pretty. Their version of a solution looks something like settlement expansion, more military force and kicking out the Arabs.

The settlers now have a new best friend that will do their bidding for them. Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party won 11 seats with the help of American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein. The bar bouncer turned politician who was once the top aide to Binyamin Netanyahu is a quintessential immigrant success story.

He recently said, “With so big a minority, more than 20 percent of Israeli Arabs, it's impossible to continue as a Jewish state."

Were the Israeli right not so gifted at being so out of step with the rest of the world, were they not above the constraints of international law in their own muddled thinking, perhaps a coherent strategy could emerge. Lieberman is walking a fine line between legitimate political expression and something verging on hate speech. That such a sizable portion of the electorate would give him such a surge speaks volumes of the distorted Israeli political environment.

As the US and Canada cut off diplomatic ties with Hamas, official statements responding to the rise of Lieberman were hard to find.

"The problem with the Arabs inside Israel must come before the Palestinian problem," Lieberman told a crowd recently during a campaign swing. "Once the state is more homogeneous, it will develop faster."

Under Lieberman’s plan, Israeli Arab towns bordering the West Bank would join the Palestinian Authority. 150,000 would be transferred from having Israeli citizenship to Palestinian as a unilateral final status deal is reached. Lieberman has the support of many of the 1.3 million Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Israel following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Added to this has been his ability to capitalize on the rise of Kadima and the failure of Binyamin Netanyahu to hold supporters of the right.

Lieberman also served as Ariel Sharon’s Transportation Minister until he quit his post over the Gaza withdrawal. The Israeli and international media have not done enough to marginalize him in the public sphere. On the contrary, he has been legitimized as a mainstream political figure due to the size of his support.

The Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab citizens of Israel, released a statement shortly after the election asking the future government not to form a coalition with Lieberman and stated, “A party that openly declares that they are planning to strip the citizenship of 20% of the State's citizens (the Arab minority) is a racist party. And, we strongly suggest that preventative measures should be taken to disallow them from implementing their program of transfer and hate speech against the Arab citizens. We regret that the Central Election Committee did not disqualify them, nor other parties for espousing racist ideology throughout their elections. It is important that any established government should declare their respect for human rights, especially Arab minority rights, and to prevent the implementation of racist transfers of Arab citizens.”

What makes Avigdor Lieberman that different from Joerg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen or David Duke? They are all bigots who promote hate at the end of the day. Populist demagogues need to be knocked off their pedestals.

Lieberman in his more audacious moments has even called for loyalty tests to assess the willingness of the Israeli Arabs to support Israel. He has even advocated stripping the citizenship rights of Israeli Arabs. This form of ethnic transfer is illegal under international law and conventions which Israel has been a signatory.

Is there a reason the Attorney General has not brought charges against Lieberman?


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