The Fantasies of Avigdor Lieberman

THE HOUR

By Leonard Fein

Published October 20, 2006, issue of October 20, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Some people going through a reasonably civilized divorce confess to an unsettling fantasy. While they do not wish their partner ill, it would be nice if somehow that partner would just disappear. Cease to exist. Be utterly pulverized (albeit painlessly, to be sure). See the lightning storm up ahead? Maybe you’ll get lucky and the next bolt will dispose of your burden. Presto.

There are ways in which the very troubled common law marriage of Israel’s Jews and Israel’s Arabs (they do, after all, share common citizenship and the family name “Israeli”) generates the same kind of fantasy. They already sleep in separate rooms and even see other people. (The Jews, for example, prefer non-Jews from Russia — who account for a great many of newcomers from Russia in recent years admitted under Israel’s Law of Return — to their Arab mates, and the Arabs, for their part, often feel more intimately connected to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.)

The widely publicized “separation fence” that now mars Israel’s landscape and blights its humanscape is arguably a tangible expression of the same fantasy. Yes, there are immediate security considerations at stake: The principal purpose of the fence, we’re told, is not to separate Israel’s Jews from Israel’s Arabs, but to separate Israelis from non-Israeli Palestinians — more specifically, to deter would-be suicide bombers from entering Israel. As some people see it, the trouble with the fence (aside from its questionable legality and its sometime intrusion on the land holdings of Palestinians who have the misfortune to live and farm where it is situated) is that it is inadequate to the separationists’ agenda; it leaves too many Arabs on this side (i.e., the Jewish state’s side) of the ersatz boundary.

Enter Avigdor Lieberman, head of Israel’s Yisrael Beiteinu political party and quite possibly the chief beneficiary of Israel’s bloody summer war in Lebanon.

Lieberman is, roughly, the Jean-Marie Le Pen of Israel — minus, of course, the French National Front leader’s antisemitism. Lieberman is 48 years old, came to Israel from Russia when he was 20 and has long since replaced Natan Sharansky as the most prominent Russia political leader in Israel. He was, for a time, a senior aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, and he was both minister of infrastructure and minister of transportation under Ariel Sharon.

In the recent Knesset elections his party won 12 seats, and there was, for a time, talk about Lieberman and his party joining the coalition government. But back then — just months ago, even though it now seems a different era — Prime Minister Olmert was focused on achieving his goal of a withdrawal from the West Bank, which led him to turn leftward to Labor rather than lurching rightward toward Lieberman.

Rightward? Lieberman makes Bibi Netanyahu appear moderate. In an address to the Knesset five months ago, he unblushingly had this to say to Arab members of Israel’s parliament: “World War II ended with the Nuremberg trials and the leaders of the Nazi regime were executed; not just them, but also their collaborators. Just as [Pierre] Laval in France was executed, I hope that this will be the fate of the collaborators in this house [the Knesset]. Just as they knew to mete out justice to Laval, thus should justice be meted out to you, in precisely the same way.”

His grand proposal is to slice off of Israel an area of dense Arab population, trading it for parts of the West Bank where Jews have settled. The idea of stripping a fifth of your citizens of their citizenship, in effect exiling them without requiring them to move (never mind that it would be a clear violation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a document of constitutional status), has a populist appeal. Lieberman is bright, clever, even charming; where the late Meir Kahane was a bothersome carbuncle, Lieberman is a bad dream on its way to becoming a malignant nightmare. While there’s debate about whether he can fairly be classified a fascist, there’s no debating his demagoguery. A fantasy is only a fantasy, no? So what if Lieberman wants a divorce from Israel’s Arabs? Most Israeli Jews, even the moderates among them, might wish the same. But in the end, they know the difference between idle wishes and public policy.

What really matters here is not Lieberman, it’s Olmert. Prime Minister Olmert, whose popularity in Israel is… well, let’s put it this way: It isn’t. In an effort to slow his free-fall, he now seeks to entice Lieberman into joining the governing coalition, perhaps as minister for strategic affairs.

Olmert, five months ago, was the new Olmert, the one-time civilized right-winger who had allegedly seen the error of his ways and had realized that moderation and negotiation are Israel’s only sustaining alternative. But as it turns out, while Olmert’s voice was the voice of a statesman, his hands were and now are again the hands of a conniver, an unprincipled political cheat.

The Palestinians doubtless harbor the same fantasy of disappearance, wishing the Israeli Jews would simply cease to exist. Altogether too many of them seek to help that disappearance along, cause it to happen not through magic but through menace and murder. But the issue here is not who walks the moral high ground, who the low. The issue is that both sides have to grow up and disavow magical thinking, whether its content be benign or malignant. History has tricked Arabs and Jews, in Israel and across its nebulous boundaries, into cohabitation. That, for better or worse, is their common destiny. Lieberman’s denial and Olmert’s mendacity are simply efforts to evade that destiny. Inevitably, they prolong the conflict. Magic can be a pleasant diversion from reality, but in the hands of charlatans, it is a clear and present danger.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.