What Ivan Knows That Bill Doesn’t

The man whose administration lost Russia to renewed authoritarianism is the last person entitled to pit Russian olim against veteran Israelis.

311_hippie lieberman (cartoon) (photo credit: Channon Bar)
311_hippie lieberman (cartoon)
(photo credit: Channon Bar)
IN 1986, YASUHIRO NAKASONE the current prime minister of Japan offered an explanation about Japan’s economic ascendancy over the United States: “Our average [educational] score is much higher than those of countries like the US. There are many blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in America. In consequence the average score over there is exceedingly low,” he said sparking an almighty outcry against the ethnic tenor of his remarks.
I don’t expect American Jews to react to former president Bill Clinton’s gratuitous comments about Israelis who emigrated from the former Soviet Union with the same vehemence displayed by the aggrieved minorities and the American political establishment to Nakasone. Clinton has blamed the settlers and the Russian immigrants for the growing Israeli skepticism against peace-processing. The immigrants, offered the same savant who once predicted that the fax machine would irrevocably alter Chinese politics, could not get over their Sovietingrained fixation with territory and therefore opposed concessions. Clinton’s honorary title as America’s first black president may have been upstaged by Barack Obama, but, with regard to the Jewish people, thanks to daughter Chelsea’s recent marriage, he probably presumes himself a mehutan, actual kith and kin, and thus allows himself greater liberties.
His shallow analysis runs into an immediate contradiction. These same “territorially fixated” immigrants twice put Labor and the “peace camp” into power. The first time was in 1992, when they propelled Yitzhak Rabin’s election and ushered in the disaster of Oslo; the second time was in 1999, when they elected Ehud Barak who, save for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s intransigence, would have jeopardized Israel’s very existence with his profligate concessions at Camp David. It could reasonably be expected that the opposition to territorial concessions as a result of lingering Soviet influence would manifest itself most strongly when the immigrants were just off the plane and attenuate as they increasingly acculturated themselves into Israeli society. The reverse has occurred, as the immigrants, like veteran Israelis, were mugged by reality.
Clinton, instead of dissing immigrants for resisting his sales pitch, should seriously ponder whether their experience is more relevant to our region than his failed policies. Perhaps after Arafat launched the second intifada and ordered Hamas to begin the suicide bombing offensive, Clinton, instead of prodding Barak for further concessions, should have demonstrated to Arafat that he should pay for his perfidy. History has taught the immigrants that those who launch aggressive wars are made to pay. That is why the former German Koenigsberg is now Russian Kaliningrad and the German Danzig is now Polish Gdansk. No responsible German politician talks of a German “right of return” or a refugee problem. This makes far better sense than the no-fault insurance that Clinton and other peace processors extend to the Palestinians. The latter know that the same deal or an even better one will always be available to them no matter what they do.
Our immigrants also know that govorit pryamo, straight talk, is occasionally preferable to diplomatic sweet talk. Their paramount representative, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, illustrated this approach in his recent UN address where he lambasted the illusion of an imminent peace deal.
Robert Mackey, the anti-Israel blogger of The New York Times, performed a “Balaam,” (highlighting the merits of what he intended to denounce), when reviewing Lieberman’s General Assembly address in late September. He argued that the equivalent of Lieberman’s comments was a hypothetical statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that “the Obama Administration’s policy of imposing sanctions on Iran was useless and military strikes would be a better idea.” Mackey wanted to make Lieberman and the Netanyahu government look ridiculous, but his parallel is self-revealing and redounds to Lieberman’s credit. The current “peace process” has as genuine a prospect of success (unless it is predefined as Israeli self-assisted suicide) as the sieve-like sanctions regime has to deny Iran the bomb. Somebody has to call a sham a sham.
Likewise, Lieberman’s proposal for an exchange of territory and populations is the most effective way of realizing Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. The Arabs harbor expectations that once they have carved a second state from the original Palestine Mandate they can proceed with their strategy of dismantling Israel in stages by employing the Arab minority as an irredentist springboard. If the size of the Arab minority living under Jewish sovereignty is significantly downsized without expelling anyone, as the Lieberman proposal entails, this threat appreciably recedes.
If Clinton believes that the pre-Six Day War boundaries are actually secure and defensible, he should argue the case on its merits. He, for example, should take on the security experts who authored the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs recent monograph on Israel’s need for defensible borders. None of them are settlers or Russian immigrants. Most are actually Israeli-born Sabras, who, according to Clinton, are the most likely to subscribe to his peace vision. The man whose administration lost Russia to renewed authoritarianism is the last person entitled to pit Russian olim against veteran Israelis. 

Contributing editor Amiel Ungar is a columnist for the Makor Rishon daily and the national religious monthly Nekuda.