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Lieberman and the sock it to 'em school

2006-11-02

By Yitzhak Laor

Avigdor Lieberman is the successor to Meir Kahane, Rehavam Ze'evi and the settlers' faction in the Knesset. They have all promoted and are promoting racist politics, whether explicit (transfer) or in an implicit manner (Israel's right to the territories), under the aegis of Israeli democracy.

Kahane used to exploit what he called "the forced conversion of the Jews" by the Zionist left, which he compared to a pig. He also based his propaganda on religious texts. Ze'evi used the writings of Zionist leaders Berl Katznelson and David Ben-Gurion to validate his politics. He also used his military halo, and when the question arose of the legitimacy of his appointment as director of the Eretz Israel Museum, in light of his ideology, our reservist generals - both left and right - stood up and defended his "right." The Israeli sensitivity to "sociology" - who is "one of ours" and who is not - created the most important divide between Kahane and Ze'evi.

Ze'evi was a sabra but he, too, like the immigrant Kahane, knew that it is impossible to succeed without a little old-time religion in the Israel reality after 1967: Anyone who wants to undermine the rights of the Palestinians must transfer us to a new conceptual sphere, not a "halakhic state" (based on Jewish law) but a kind of mixture of "security" and "divine promise."

Lieberman is the huge pumpkin that grew in this melon patch. Although most of the MKs on his slate are immigrants, it is also adorned by representatives of "security": senior Shin Bet security service chief Yisrael Hasson, and former deputy police commander Yitzhak Aharonovich. It's not the names that are important, but the emphasis Lieberman understood and placed on the combination of God's promise to Abraham and the discourse of power. That is the shared background of the rise of those who challenge the law-abiding state in the name of the "divine promise," which "the law-abiding state has no right to restrict."

They all came to power after military failures. Kahane was elected to the Knesset in 1984, at the height of the Lebanon fiasco. His "security discourse" was saturated with what Israelis, in any case, had absorbed with their mother's milk for decades: "Let's sock it to 'em and get this over with." But because the Israeli "socking it to 'em" hasn't led to "getting this over with" for a long time, Kahane spoke a great deal about fear. The defeat in Lebanon actually gave him an advantage: He did not represent the defense establishment, but a higher security authority, the God of Israel.

Ze'evi did not come from the margins, but he was elected to the Knesset at the height of the first intifada. And Lieberman is a product of the second intifada. His grotesque appointment could not have taken place without the present fiasco in Lebanon - after which there is no longer such a thing as "Mr. Security." The quasi-mystical belief that there is someone on whom to rely received its coup de grace in Lebanon, with the assistance of Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz. This belief (shared by the so-called left and right) finally proved bankrupt after several decades during which it has been clear that there is no military solution to Israel's "security" problems. It is precisely this vacuum that is covered over by the Kahane-Ze'evi-Lieberman discourse: "We'll expel the Arabs, and everything will be solved." A divine "let's sock it to 'em and get this over with."

And so we arrive at the settlement enterprise of Gush Emunim (the settlers' movement) - the swamp from which these politics are hatched. Although this enterprise was fueled by the foolhardiness of the Alignment (Labor) government after 1967, only after the 1973 Yom Kippur War did the members of the movement dare to implement the "divine promise of security," contrary to all the democratic rules of the game. That was when they first challenged the ability of the army to understand "what's good for Israel" and the sovereignty of the State of Israel as a law-abiding country. From this time forward the platform of "what we will do to the Arabs" drew its strength from a mixture of disdain for the army and disdain for democracy, not because the army represented democracy, God forbid, but because the settlers challenged the relative pragmatism of the generals.

Things would not have reached the point of Lieberman's being appointed minister for strategic threats had we not undergone many years during which the defense establishment itself was swept up in this political whirlpool of using force against the Arabs in the name of "our forefathers." Examples? The deliberations of former chief of staff Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, or alternatively, of the head of the Israel Defense Forces Personnel Directorate, Major General Elazar Stern. In other words: Anyone who thinks that in order to defeat Kahanism, the army has to win a little more should recall that the IDF fights wars that cannot be won.

Lieberman is more dangerous than his predecessors. He speaks to a huge public of immigrants, secular Jews, and he speaks of a "strong man," a new addition to the religion-security mix. Anyone who does not grasp that this is another stage in Israel's decline can adopt the cynicism of Olmert and Peretz. Education Minister Yuli Tamir can always wave her alibi: There was once a movement called Peace Now, and Tamir used to go to its meetings.


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