"We Are All Lieberman"

March 16, 2015

In Blog News

To see how racist Israel has become, look to the left

The new levels of Arab-hatred being displayed are shocking, and so are the Israeli public’s acceptance of them.

By Gideon Levy | Mar. 15, 2015 | 6:20 AM
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

 Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo by Emil Salman

Israel’s “chocolate flight” — the political equivalent of the recent incident, a video of which went viral, in which Israeli passengers cursed out and threatened a flight attendant for refusing to sell them duty-free chocolate ahead of other passengers — lands on Tuesday, the cabin messier and filthier than ever. There have been dirtier and more violent election seasons here, but none so ultranationalist and racist. The curse of racism spread far beyond the far right: Note what was said (and unsaid) by the left and the center.

We must start, of course, with that great language polluter Avigdor Lieberman. His Hebrew is broken, his English a farce, his expressions repellent in any language. Even worse than his vicious excoriations, which have reached a new nadir, is Israelis’ apathy to them.

The foreign minister said “Those who are against us … we need to pick up an axe and cut off his head,” aiming his ax at Arab Israelis. Such a remark would end the career and guarantee lifetime ostracism of any Western statesman. Only superannuated African dictators speak of axes and beheading — and the leaders of Islamic State, of course. But such is the intellectual, cultural and moral world of Israel’s foreign minister, a bully who was once convicted of physically assaulting a child. The world can’t understand how Lieberman’s remark was accepted with such equanimity in Israel, where some highly-regarded commentators still believe this cynical, repellent politician is a serious, reasonable statesman.

No less repugnant was his savaging, in a televised debate, of Joint List leader Iman Odeh, whom he called a “fifth column” and told, “you’re not wanted here,” “go to Gaza.” None of the other party heads taking part, including those of leftist and centrist slates, leader in the debate, stepped in to stop Lieberman’s tirade. (Zehava Galon of Meretz denounced it later.) Silence is tantamount to an admission of guilt. We are all Lieberman. On this flight, there is neither shaming nor a sense of shame.

The racism of the campaign season has been planted well beyond the rotten, stinking gardens of Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel. It is almost everywhere. Our cities have recently been contaminated by posters whose evil messages are nearly on a par with the slogans “Kahane was right” and “death to Arabs.”

“With BibiBennett, we’ll be stuck with the Palestinians forever,” threaten the posters plastered on every overpass and hoarding, on behalf of the Peace and Security Association of National Security Experts. It is impossible to know their level of expertise on matters of peace and security, but they are clearly experts in incitement. The message and its signatories are considered center-left, but it too spreads hate and racism.

“We’ll be stuck with the Palestinians forever”? Yes. The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. Even if a Palestinian state is established, some of them will remain in Israel. What are the country’s Arabs supposed to feel when they see such hateful ads directed against them? And what’s so bad about being “stuck” with them? Are they infected with some disease? Being stuck with Lieberman is much worse.

Such is the state of public discourse in Israel. Yair Lapid and “the Zoabis,” in reference to Haneen Zoabi, Moshe Kahlon who says he won’t sit in a government coalition “with the Arabs,” Isaac Herzog who will conduct coalition negotiations with all the parties with the exception of the Arab ones, Tzipi Livni and her obsession with her Jewish — and also nationalistic and ugly — state. Even the dear and beloved (to me) Amos Oz, who in Haaretz (“Dreams Israel should abandon — fast,” March 13)called for a “fair divorce” from the Palestinians. He has the right not to believe in the prospects for a shared life, we must call for their liberation, but to call for a divorce without asking the Palestinians what they want rings with a rejection of them. And what about Israel’s Arab citizens? How are they supposed to feel when one of the most important intellectuals of Israel’s peace camp says he wants a divorce? Are they to remain among us as lepers?

Because that’s how it is on chocolate flights. The bullies riot and the other passengers remain silent, whether from fear or assent, until they become a single voice, the voice of the bully.