Thursday, November 2, 2006

The rise of the rightwinger who takes his cue from Putin

The return to power of Avigdor Lieberman and his anti-Arab racism is a mark of the point Israeli politics has now reached

Jonathan Steele in Jerusalem
Thursday November 2, 2006
The Guardian

"Tibi was furious. In other parts of the world a man like Lieberman - "a very dangerous and sophisticated politician who has won his support through race hatred" - would be shunned, he fulminated. In Israel he was given a top job.

Tibi was not worried that the government "would become more brutal" because of Lieberman's presence in cabinet. After all, the mushrooming of roadblocks in the West Bank, the assassinations in Gaza and the war on Lebanon happened without him. "Our problem is with Israeli society," said Tibi. "The appointment of this racist and fascist sends a message to me as an Arab and a human being."

Sitting in the cafeteria alongside Tibi, Zehava Galon, who leads the parliamentary wing of Meretz, Israel's small leftwing party, was equally appalled. Her anger was directed at the Labour party ministers in Olmert's coalition for failing to resign in protest. This was bound to lower politicians' public respect by several more notches, she said. She had written a letter to the Labour caucus arguing that Lieberman was worse than Austria's Jörg Haider or France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. But only one minister chose to leave the government.

"Lieberman's appointment will influence the whole atmosphere of Israeli society," said Galon. "Ministers are only interested in keeping their chairs ... Politicians are already seen as cynical, with no values, no ideology, no principles. This will make it worse. There is no leftwing camp in Israel now. If the Labour party thinks it's legitimate to be allied with Lieberman, I can no longer consider them left, liberal or democratic. This appointment is a terrorist attack on democracy."

As her gloom and anger mounted, the man himself carried on lunching, pausing only to take a few questions from the Guardian. In a mixture of Russian and English, he told me that his priorities in government would be "to establish a proper process of decision-making" and push through "a strategic vision for the final solution of how Israel will look in 20 or 25 years' time ... It's not only an issue of territory and borders but of the character of the state - will it be a Zionist state, a Jewish state, or a state like others? I want it to be a Jewish state.""

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