Lieberman and me

I abhor his ideas, but he is forcing all of us to sit up and take notice.

Lieberman calm down 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lieberman calm down 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Unlike most of my friends on what remains of the Israeli Left, I do not throw a fit when I hear the name of Avigdor Lieberman, whose party attained such a successful result in our recent election. Although I am diametrically opposed to his policies, I feel compelled to admit that I have quite a lot in common with the Israel Beiteinu leader: I came to Israel from Britain in 1961; he arrived from the Soviet Union 17 years later. When we became citizens of our new country, both he and I had to come to terms with the fact that a significant number of the citizens of our Jewish state were not Jews. I had certainly been aware of the existence of Israel's Arab minority while I was still residing in London. Living in a closed society, Lieberman may have been less informed than I was, but he surely knew that there were Arabs living here. Knowing about a situation, however, is not the same as experiencing it. Viewing a state of affairs from a distance is not the same as encountering it head-on. Facing the reality as newly arrived citizens of Israel, both of us came to the conclusion that we could not ignore it. Both of us rejected the attitude of our fellow Jewish citizens, which was to ignore the Israeli Arab community, to shut their eyes, to block their ears and to pretend they didn't exist. In contrast to them, Lieberman and I both recognized that there was a problem here, which had to be solved. Perhaps because of our different backgrounds, we drew opposite conclusions. Early on, Lieberman decided that Israel should contain as few Arabs as possible. Working as a reporter for The Jerusalem Post in 1984, I interviewed three young Likud party members on how they felt about Meir Kahane, who had just been elected to the Knesset on a platform that included expelling Israel's Arab citizens. Two of them condemned Kahane and lectured me about the liberalism of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Revisionist Movement out of which the Likud had emerged. The third, Avigdor Lieberman, remarked laconically in his strong Russian accent that Kahane was "saying out loud what many of us are thinking." So, with his suggestion of a "loyalty oath" and his proposal to push Tira, Taiba, Umm el-Fahm and other Israeli Arab communities into a Palestinian state, he is remaining loyal to his earlier opinions. My attitude has always been entirely different, but, while supporting equality for our Arab citizens, it took me some time to understand the full implications of my position. When I first heard an Arab friend opine that Israel should be "a state of all its citizens," it sent shivers down my spine. Several years had to pass before I realized that a democratic state must be just that. After living in Israel for more than four decades, I cannot envisage this country without Arabs. My love for Israel includes its landscape, with its Jewish and Arab towns and villages, with its numerous cultures: Jewish and Arab, religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, Muslim, Druze and Circassian. I relish the mixture of Ethiopian immigrants, foreign workers, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arabs, Russians, Moroccans, Kurds, Filipinos and others. So, although there is no way that Israel can be anything other than multicultural, I think that there is a specific Jewish-Arab problem which we must not go on ignoring. It won't go away; it must be solved. By this I do not mean a one-time clear-cut resolution, but a genuine drive toward equality and a determined initiative toward a continuous process of conciliation between Jews and Arabs - and all of the other communities living here. We also have to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum, of course, and this should be accomplished in tandem with our internal problems. In a certain sense I even applaud Avigdor Lieberman. I abhor his ideas, but at least he is proposing to deal with the situation and forcing all of us to sit up and take notice. For that he deserves credit. I look forward to a time when all of us Israelis - Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, Druze, Circassians and others - will look back and thank this Russian immigrant politician for daring to shout out his opinion in his crude, straightforward manner, awakening us from our irresponsible slumbers and compelling us to take a stand against him and in favor of decency. The writer, a former Jerusalem Post staffer, is a Jerusalem author whose latest book is Holy Land Mosaic.