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Usaid Siddiqui

The Israeli Right is more dangerous than Lieberman

Lieberman is only one in a list of many extremist Israeli authority figures [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 June, 2016

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Comment: Western media condemn Netanyahu's appointment of Lieberman, but Israeli politics and society lurched to the far-right much earlier; a shift many failed to notice, writes Usaid Saddiqui

On May 23, a New York Times editorial expressed bafflement over the ruling coalition's offer for former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel - Avigdor Lieberman - to take up the role of Minister of Defense. The move came after his predecessor Moshe Ya'alon's increasing differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led him to resign.

Lieberman, who is the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu - an ultra-right wing nationalist party - is known for his extreme views on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Arabs. In 2015 during his tenure as Israeli Foreign Minister, Lieberman proposed decapitating Arabs who were 'disloyal' to the state of Israel, in just one example of the shocking statements he has made in the past.

While shock over his appointment is logical, Lieberman is only one in a long list of current and former Israeli politicians who have openly confessed their disregard for the peace process and their hatred of Palestinians, many of whom today are present in the incumbent cabinet.

Not only Lieberman

The outgoing Minister Ya'alon, who the NYT described as "tough" but "pragmatic", partly because he established a working relationship with the Obama administration, is no stranger to taking hardline positions on defense and foreign policy issues.

In 2002 Ya'alon said the Palestinians constituted a "cancer like threat" which had to be dealt with. Ya'alon who was then the Israeli Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was also critical of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, perceiving the move as a show of weakness which the Palestinians would allegedly exploit.

As Defense Minister, Ya'alon proposed in October 2014 a segregation policy that would bar Palestinians from riding buses with Israeli Jews to the West Bank; a throwback to the American south in the mid-20th century when the infamous Jim Crow laws legislated the separation of blacks and whites on buses.

While shock over his appointment is logical, Lieberman is only one in a long list of current and former Israeli politicians who have openly confessed their disregard for the peace process and their hatred of Palestinians

Ya'alon defended the proposal as a "security measure" while the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin said it would go "against the very foundations of the state of Israel and impact upon our very ability to establish here a Jewish and democratic state". Israelis human rights activist Yariv Oppenheimer of the human rights group Peace Now, said of the proposed legislation that "When something looks like apartheid and smells like apartheid, then it's apartheid."

In addition to Ya'alon and Lieberman, Netanyahu's other cabinet ministers, who now constitute the most right-wing coalition in Israeli political history, have not shied away from uttering their deep resentment of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories or inside Israel.

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party said in an interview with the Guardian: "I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That's the equation." Bennett has been unequivocally opposed to any resolution that would hand over the West Bank to the Palestinians, seeing it as a "disaster".

Aside from maintaining some of the most deplorable attitudes on the 68-year-old conflict, Netanyahu's allies have openly incited hatred against Palestinians. In one notable instance, Ayelet Shaked, the current Minister of Justice once called for the genocide of the Palestinian people in a now deleted Facebook post. She has also called for Palestinian mothers be killed as she deemed them responsible for raising "snakes". Deputy Minister of Defense Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan has called Palestinian "beasts" and insinuated that Jews have "higher souls" than Palestinians.

Years in the making

While the western media roundly condemns Netanyahu's selection, what many have missed is the shift of the Israeli political spectrum and society to the far right, long before the current ruling coalition came to power.

In 2011, a survey conducted by a German foundation found that 70 percent of 15 to 18-year-old Israeli teenagers felt that national security should come before democratic values, and 60 percent said "strong leaders" were more important than the rule of law.

Netanyahu's other cabinet ministers have not shied away from uttering their deep resentment of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories or inside Israel

Highlighted in the same survey, researchers found that in 1998, just over 18 percent of the Israeli Jewish youth supported Israel's identity as a Jewish state, while the figure jumped to an astronomical 33.2 percent in 2010.

As the occupation of the West Bank has become to look permanent, escalating since the turn of the century under successive Israeli governments, these results are unsurprising.

In his book titled, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, journalist Max Blumenthal has shown comprehensively how this swing to the far right in Israeli society has taken place over the past few years.

Blumenthal who wrote the book beginning in 2009 (and published it in 2013) when Netanyahu's right wing Likud was elected to power, provides a disturbing account of Israel's descent into fascism in recent years, illustrated by the racist and segregationist policies of its government in every aspect of Israeli life.

According to Blumenthal, this is largely a result of a decades old problem of maintaining a Jewish majority in Palestine, an issue that, he writes, Israeli politicians have grappled with since its inception in 1948.

Predictably, the book was shunned in mainstream US media, including the NYT. This had not been the case with Blumenthal's previous book (which garnered numerous appearances in the media), that highlighted the rise of the fringe-right in the US Republican party, showcasing the extreme sensitivity with which the media in the US treats Israel.

it is refreshing to see an editorial in the NYT finally giving its readers a glimpse of how far to the right Israel's politics has lurched

"Many brave journalists have tried to warn us about Netanyahu, but the mainstream press under the influence of the Israel lobby has blocked that understanding" said Phillip Weiss, editor and co-founder of Mondoweiss, an online news publication on Israel-Palestine.

Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see an editorial in the NYT finally giving its readers a glimpse of how far to the right Israel's politics has lurched. Hopefully this will encourage its US audience in the future to question its own government that has not only remained silent in the face of Israel's increasingly belligerent right-wing policies, but has helped solidify the current status quo, to the detriment of Palestinians.


Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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