Jeff Barak does not like Avigdor Lieberman. In fact, as his opening remarks in his most recent column make clear, he finds Ahmed Tibi's invective about "fascist immigrants" right on the mark. Let us leave aside expressions of righteous anger about Barak's use of terms like racist and fascist, for such name calling distracts us from the real issues at hand: Firstly, can we have an open discussion about the problems of a radicalized Israeli-Arab population, and secondly, do we have the courage to do something about it?
While Operation Cast Lead enjoyed the broad support of Jewish Israelis, in many Arab towns, there were rallies in support of Hamas, which in case we needed reminding is a terrorist organization whose charter seeks the destruction of the "Zionist entity".
In a large rally in Sakhnin, the town's mayor, Ibrahim Zabidat, incited the crowd with thinly veiled calls for suicide bombings, "The Israeli killing machine must stop. I call from here to the people in Gaza and say: Don't be afraid, don't give up, block them with your blood in order to build the state of Palestine, whose capital is Jerusalem... Long live Palestine, whose capital is Jerusalem, and long live the shahids [martyrs]." Zabidat receives his salary from the government, yet he has no qualms about calling for its obliteration.
To quote Lieberman, "If this was not so serious, it would be funny." Why is it that an Arab politician can get away with such inflammatory remarks, which clearly fall beyond the protection of free speech, and yet when Avigdor Lieberman speaks of the need for loyalty to the State of Israel he is pilloried for being a racist? We have a case of political correctness gone mad, which is stifling healthy debate on an urgent issue.
In fact, after all the smoke generated by Jeff Barak's slurs has cleared, one finds that he and Lieberman agree on much of the solution to this problem. The government needs to do more to win over the Arab population.
LIEBERMAN IS not shy about pointing out the disastrous mistakes that the government has made in the past that have only served to further alienate Arabs. When Ehud Barak withdrew the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000, he did not allow the Israeli trained and funded South Lebanon Army any time to prepare. Many were subsequently killed or captured by Hizbullah.
Ehud Barak left the SLA in the lurch despite a previous prime minister's (Binyamin Netanyahu) assertion that Israel "is morally and politically committed to the safety and security of the soldiers of the South Lebanon Army and the civil administration officials who worked alongside Israel for many years to protect the southern Lebanese population from the encroachment of terrorist organizations." Israel's shabby treatment of the SLA produced a high degree of resentment among Arabs in the North. Instead of strengthening the moderates, we ended up creating an opportunity for extremists to rouse their people against us.
Within our own borders, we have to do more to embrace the Druse community, who have been loyal from the start. They should have equal access to education, health care and job opportunities. To this end, Israel Beiteinu's Hamad Amer, a pillar of the Druse community, has pledged to do his utmost for his people when elected to the Knesset. If we treat those minority populations with the fairness they deserve, we would send the message that loyalty pays and we would help stem the tide of radicalism.
At the same time as we do more to promote loyalty, we have to have the courage to be unapologetically patriotic. What is at stake is our ability to defend our country from a threat from within and to confer on our children an unambiguous sense of pride as Jews living in a land that is rightfully theirs.
Israel Beiteinu does not ask Israeli-Arabs to renounce their Arab identity. However, it does ask that they recognize this country as a Jewish state. If they wish to live here as citizens with full rights and benefits, they must contribute to its success and not apply their efforts toward its destruction.
That is not racism. It is the courage to set fair and safe standards in a world where political correctness is sometimes valued more than the protection of life.
The writer is the editor of Israel Beiteinu's English Web site, www.beytenu.org.