Rattling the Cage: Israel is their home, too

What message is Ehud Olmert sending to Israeli Arabs by inviting a bigot to join his government?

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
While the Israeli head has moved toward the Left over the last few years, I'm afraid the Israeli heart, or the Israeli gut, has moved far over to the Right. The Jews of this country are much more ready to give up territory to the Palestinians than ever before, but they also seem to have become more intolerant of Arabs - all Arabs - than ever before, too. Purely racist, mob-mentality ideas that used to be limited to the likes of Kach now have tremendous appeal at the ballot box. Worst of all, they've just been legitimized at the highest level of all - by the prime minister. Ehud Olmert wants Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) in his government. Lieberman has been a cabinet minister before, but he never spelled out his plans for Israel's Arab minority as emphatically as he did in this last election. What he wants to do is kick out a few hundred thousand Arab citizens from this country by giving the Wadi Ara region to the Palestinians in the adjacent West Bank. His aim is not to deport terrorists or traitors. No, his goal is to deport Arab citizens, no matter whether they're law-abiders or criminals, whether they're construction workers or doctors or housewives or newborn babies, for no other reason than that they are Arabs. And Olmert wants to make this guy, with this platform, a minister in the government. There's not a lot to discuss here. Either you understand that that this is beyond the pale, or you don't. The fact that Israel's prime minister doesn't understand it just shows, like I said, that the most piggish anti-Arab sentiments have become acceptable in this country, no matter how "moderate" and "pragmatic" we've supposedly become. Lieberman also wants to require the 1.3 million Arabs to take a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state in order to hold onto their citizenship. Just imagine if a major American political leader insisted that American Jews take a loyalty oath to the United States as a Christian country, on pain of losing their citizenship. It's no more despicable an idea than Lieberman's. And he doesn't want to be just any minister - he insists on being appointed minister of internal security, which is a fancy name for minister of police. Brilliant. The police have been investigating Lieberman for years over his reputed financial and political connections with Russian mafia figures. He has publicly described Israel as a "police state" under the tyranny of the Supreme Court, the State Attorney's Office, the Finance Ministry and, of course, Israel Police. AND DURING the IDF raid last month on the Jericho prison, which ended successfully with little Palestinian bloodshed, he publicly urged that Israel settle its score with the wanted men inside by bombing the prison to a bloody rubble. Lieberman could very well become Israel's next police minister. Sound crazy? It sounds crazy that the prime minister is welcoming him into the government at all, but it's true nevertheless. After that, anything is possible. I hope Jews abroad will point out to Olmert that by taking this Arab-bashing strongman into his government, he is not only shaming them, he's endangering them: If the Jewish state is free to abuse its gentile minority, any gentile country will be that much freer to abuse its Jewish minority. Beyond that, I hope the Labor Party, which promised in its campaign not to sit in a government with Yisrael Beitenu, will keep that promise. Amir Peretz has already disillusioned Labor supporters, myself included, with his morally and tactically idiotic attempt to form a government with National Union, which wants to drive Palestinians out of the West Bank. If Labor now actually joins a government with a party that wants to expel Arab citizens from Israel, then Labor will have finally touched bottom. There will be no further for it to fall. Israeli Arabs are not a threat to this country and never have been. In the 58 years since Independence, they've sinned against the Jewish state much, much less than the Jewish state has sinned against them. But it's gotten so that Israelis can only see the bad in Arabs, whether they're Palestinians, or citizens of Arab states, or Arab citizens of the West, or Arab citizens of Israel. They're all the same, according to the popular view, all of them just waiting for the chance to kill us. I realize that this attitude didn't come out of nowhere; I, too, have basically given up on the hope of Israel and the Palestinians making friends, and I, too, think the Arab-Islamic world, on the whole, is up to its neck in violence and fanaticism. But you have to be willing to see distinctions within that world, to see that lots and lots of Arabs don't want to hurt anyone, that just because they're not Zionists doesn't mean they're terrorists. Many if not most Israelis aren't willing to see this, and their unwillingness amounts to bigotry. This bigotry is what enables Israel's systematic discrimination against Arab citizens to continue, and it's what enables a bigot like Avigdor Lieberman to win 11 Knesset seats and be invited by the prime minister to sit at the cabinet table, maybe even as minister of police. Israel's long encounter with the Arab Middle East, especially this last, failed attempt to make peace with the Palestinians, has hardened its heart. The Jewish national goal now is to become, in Ehud Barak's depressingly eager words, a "villa in the jungle." We're building more fences and walls between ourselves and the Palestinians, and I'm afraid that until further notice, these barriers are a practical necessity. But we don't have to build fences and walls, physical or metaphorical, against the peaceable, if not to say intimidated, Arab citizens of this country; these are barriers we're building by choice. They reflect a new Israeli determination to disengage not only from the Palestinians, but from everybody and everything Arab. This has nothing to do with pragmatism, and it's about as far from moderation as an ostensibly democratic country can get.