Without censure, a growing current in Israeli politics is calling for the outright killing of Palestinians, writes Khalid Amayreh in occupied East Jerusalem
A vandalised Israeli Labour billboard in the build-up to the 10 February elections showing Labour leader Barak, Likud leader Netanyahu, with Kadima leader Livni’s face painted over, presumably as public displays of the female form and face are frowned upon by Ultra Orthodox Jews
His name is Avigdor Lieberman and he is widely expected to be the main surprise of the Israeli elections, slated to take place 10 February.
Many Israeli intellectuals dub Lieberman as the secular equivalent of Meir Kahana, the slain founder of the Kach terrorist group who advocated genocidal ethnic cleansing of non-Jews in Israel-Palestine. Kahana was assassinated in Manhattan, New York, in 1990 shortly after giving a speech in which he called for the annihilation and expulsion of Palestinians from “the Land of Israel”.
According to most opinion polls, Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, or “Israel is our Home”, is projected to win 16-17 Knesset seats out of 120 making up the Israeli parliament. This would allow Yisrael Beiteinu to overtake the Labour Party, led by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, to become the third largest party in the Israeli political system, after the Likud and Kadima parties. Lieberman’s party will likely be a chief coalition partner in the next Israeli government.
Yisrael Beiteinu is not a party of marginal or pariah politicians. A few months ago, several high-profile politicians joined the party, including former Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon and Uzi Landau, a former Israeli cabinet minister and prominent Likud figure for many years.
Some observers expect the Obama administration and international Jewish circles to press Benyamin Netanyahu, who is widely expected to form the next Israeli government, to exclude Lieberman from government in order to avoid negative ramifications with regards to relations with the United States and European Union. However, it is uncertain that Netanyahu would cave in to such pressure, given his rapport with Lieberman. Lieberman was the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office when Netanyahu was premier in 1996-1998. He later assumed key portfolios, including deputy prime minister, minister of strategic affairs and minister of national infrastructure.
Lieberman was born in Moldova in the former Soviet Union in 1958. In 1978, at the age of 20, he immigrated to Israel and received automatic citizenship under Israel’s law of return. He now lives in the settlement of Nokdi in the West Bank. A nightclub bouncer-turned-politician, Lieberman formed the Yisrael Beiteinu Party in 1999 when he was first elected to the Knesset. Without controversy, Lieberman’s political and social ideas can be described as racist, even genocidal. In recent weeks, he was quoted as suggesting that Israel should use nuclear weapons against the Gaza Strip.
In 2002, Lieberman called on the Israeli government, under Ariel Sharon, to blanket-bomb Palestinian population centres in order to force Palestinians to flee to Jordan. The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted Lieberman as saying during a cabinet meeting that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum: “At 8am we’ll bomb all the commercial centres… at noon we’ll bomb their gas stations… at 2pm we’ll bomb their banks… while keeping the bridges open.”
In 1998, Lieberman called for flooding Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam. In 2001, as minister of national infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons. In 2003, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide buses to take them there.
Further, Lieberman has proposed that a “loyalty test” be applied to those “Arabs” who desire to remain in Israel. Those committed to making Israel a state of all its citizens, including the Palestinian minority, would be stripped of their voting rights. In April 2002, Lieberman stated that there was “nothing undemocratic about transfer”.
In May 2004, Lieberman said that 90 per cent of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost.”
In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of the Israeli parliament who meet with members of the then Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
In recent months, Lieberman urged that Tehran be levelled if Iran went ahead with its alleged nuclear weapons programme. He reportedly told listeners of Israel’s Radio Persian Service that “you will pay a high price; you, the good Iranian citizens, will pay for your leaders’ actions.”
According to Israeli journalist Gideon Samet, the rising star of Lieberman in Israel shouldn’t be dismissed as an anomalous development, saying that “Lieberman’s ideas [are] penetrating deeply in the Israeli society.” Samet opined that the political class in Israel was expected to adapt to Lieberman’s reality.
“Netanyahu will not say openly he won’t sit down with Lieberman in government. After all, both Kadima and Labour had sat down with him in previous governments,” Samet wrote in Maariv.
In recent weeks, a large number of Israeli intellectuals, including ostensible leftists, have spoken in favour of the idea of waging a genocidal war against the Palestinians. Left-leaning television personality Yaron London surprised many during the recent blitz on Gaza by urging a “no-holds-barred” campaign against Palestinian civilians. London outlined his views in an article in Yediot Aharonot and then elaborated on them in a series of interviews published in the Hebrew media.
“The time has come to shock the Gaza population with actions that until now have nauseated us — actions such as killing the political leadership, causing hunger and thirst in Gaza, blocking off energy sources, causing widespread destruction, and being less discriminating in the killing of civilians. There is no other choice,” he wrote.
Responding to questions, London further argued that murdering civilians was a justified act. “I am referring to both the population and their leadership; they are the same, because the population voted for Hamas. I can’t separate between one who voted for Hamas and a Hamas leader.”
This clearly criminal mindset is not going unchallenged, but is gaining in popularity. Former TV anchorman Haim Yavin has warned against including Lieberman and his ilk in the next Israeli government. “Kahana may have died, but Kahanism is alive and well; there is too much ‘death to the Arabs’ and hatred for Arabs,” Yavin said in an interview with Haaretz this week.
Alarmingly, Yavin represents a dwindling minority in a society that is drifting fast towards fascism.