avigdor lieberman 88.
(photo credit: )
'Here's another clown, another terrorist," said Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, as Ahmed Tibi entered the Supreme Court last week.
The United Arab List-Ta'al MK shot back at Lieberman: "There are fascist immigrants here who want to deprive the Arabs of their right to live and be represented."
Only one of the MKs was telling the truth in this unparliamentary exchange, and it wasn't Lieberman.
Thankfully, the High Court accepted the petition filed by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, against a Knesset Central Elections Committee decision to bar two Arab parties, Balad and the United Arab List-Ta'al, from running in next month's elections on the grounds that they are a danger to the Jewish state. What should give concern is the fact that the committee voted to ban these parties in the first place, with the support not just of Israel Beiteinu and other extreme right-wing parties, but also the votes of Likud, Kadima and, shockingly, Labor representatives.
The issue of Israeli-Arab rights - and let's not forget, almost one out of every five Israelis is an Arab - is a problematic one. In fact, it is so problematic that it is simply ignored most of the time. Very little thought on the Jewish side is given as to how a "Jewish and democratic" state should treat its sizable non-Jewish minority.
This lack of thought was not always the case. In Non-Jews in a Jewish State, a fascinating book recently published (in Hebrew only) concerning the responsa of Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, Israel's first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Herzog makes it absolutely clear that the country will be judged on how it treats its non-Jewish citizens. Writing before the establishment of the state, he said: "The most difficult thing concerning the democratic character of the state... is the question of minority rights."
Herzog was concerned about the clash between modern democracy and Jewish law, in particular the rights of non-Jews living in the Land of Israel to practice their religion freely, buy land or hold public office, all of which is restricted under Halacha.
Herzog squared the circle by arguing that the necessity of establishing a Jewish state overrode these halachic restrictions: "I have said, and I again say, that the United Nations will undoubtedly insist that there will be no discrimination in all political, civilian and legal areas, against the rights of the [non-Jewish] minority."
More than 60 years later, these words still ring true if the country is to remain a member of the international community.
THE POPULARITY of Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party - the polls at the weekend predicted it would get 14 seats and become the fourth-largest party - is truly worrying. And no less worrying is the fact that none of the country's leading politicians seem willing to speak out against Israel Beiteinu's racist attitudes. According to Lieberman, "We need to begin equating loyalty with citizenship. Our bill says that when you go to the Interior Ministry to get an identity card you sign a declaration of loyalty to the State of Israel, to the flag, to the national anthem, to the Declaration of Independence and to Israel being a Jewish and Zionist country."
In other words, if you're an Arab and the words of "Hatikva" ("As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,/With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,/Then our hope - the 2,000-year-old hope - will not be lost:/To be a free people in our land,/The land of Zion and Jerusalem") don't resonate inside you, then despite your being born in this country, to parents who are citizens, and speaking Hebrew just as well as other Israelis (and in the case of MK Tibi, better than most), then you lose your right to live here.
Imagine the outcry here if, say, a Russian parliamentarian demanded that all Russian citizens sign a declaration of loyalty to Russia and to its being a Russian Orthodox country, regardless of the citizen's ethnic or religious origins. The cries of anti-Semitism would not be slow in coming.
It is of course Lieberman's plan to redraw Israel's borders, in which the large settlement blocs in the territories would become part of the country and the three large Arab-populated areas which border the West Bank (parts of Galilee, the Triangle and the Beduin region in the northern Negev) are transferred to a Palestinian state that is the most disturbing. A country that wants to remain part of the civilized world cannot simply decide that it wants to disengage from its minority population, strip them of their rights and expel them to a neighboring country.
Relations between the Jewish majority and Arab minority are deeply troubling. More must be done on the Jewish side to promote equal rights and opportunities for Arab citizens while, at the same time, Arab citizens have to do more to convince the Jewish majority of their commitment to the law of the land, without having to negate the Palestinian side of their identity. Just as more needs to be done to enforce some form of national service for the haredi community, the same is true for Arabs.
Majority-minority relations are not easy in any democracy but as President Barack Obama's recent victory showed, racial chasms can be overcome. It would be a tragedy if voters here ignored the message of hope that Obama's election portrayed, and voted for a party whose hatred of the minority reflects some of the darkest moments of the last century.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.