Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ehud von Olmert

By Uri Avnery

"No, the name of von Papen is remembered only because he paved the way for the Nazis to take over Germany. It was he who advised the President of the Reich, an almost senile Field Marshal, to appoint Hitler as Reichskanzler. Von Papen told him that Hitler was just another demagogue with a big mouth, who, once in power, was sure to moderate his views. And anyhow, for safety's sake, all the important positions - War Minister, Foreign Minister etc. - would be given to non-Nazis. Hitler would be Kanzler in name only, unable to move.

Now there is a danger of Ehud Olmert becoming the Israeli von Papen.

AVIGDOR LIBERMAN is a clever person. It is not easy to nail down his views. They are always formulated in a slick and elusive way. But the rule applies to him: When you see him, you will know.

When he came to Israel from the Soviet Union, he already brought with him a racist outlook. He wants a purely Jewish state, with no Arabs. For this, he is prepared, so he says, even to give up Israeli territory in which a dense Arab population is living. He proposes to get these citizens out of Israel, together with the land they are living on. Not a second Naqba, God forbid: the Arabs will not be driven from their lands, as then, but will be expelled together with their land. In return, Israel will annex the territories on which the settlers, one of whom is Liberman himself, are living.

What's wrong with that? The basic idea is wrong: the turning of Israel into a state "cleansed" of Arabs. In German that would be called "Araber-rein". (Actually, it's an inversion of the Nazi phrase: not Juden-rein, but Rein-für-Juden. That is clearly a racist slogan, which appeals to the most primitive instincts of the masses.

The chances of this actually happening are, of course, nil. But the very voicing of this idea prepares the way for something even worse: the simple expulsion of the masses of Arabs from Israel proper and the occupied territories. Without euphemisms, without exchanges of territory, without any kind of spin. Once the fascist genie gets out of the bottle, no power can stop it before it leads to disaster.

The annexation of the settlements will, of course, put an end to any chance of peace.

But the menace of Liberman lies not only in his acknowledged or unacknowledged views. It is imprinted in his character. Witness: he is the sole leader of his party, which is almost entirely composed of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Like previous waves of immigration, this is a group of people who did not grow up in a democratic society, and tend to have an oversimplified view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the past he has demanded the post of Minister of Defense, or at least Minister of Police (officially "Minister of Interior Defense"). Now he talks about a nebulous title: "Minister in Charge of Long-Range Strategy" (translation: the bombing of Iran). But he does not insist even on that. He is prepared to be a minister without portfolio, not even demanding that two or three of his colleagues also become ministers, as the size of his party would justify.

An offer that cannot be refused. Liberman knows that the title is unimportant. What is important is to get his foot in the door and gain legitimacy as a minister. The rest will come in due course.

When Rome was in danger from the approaching Carthaginian army, the cry went up: "Hannibal ante portas!" We should now raise the cry: "Liberman at the gate!"

Ehud Olmert will be a passing episode in the annals of Israel. In a few years, nobody will remember him. Unless he acquires the status of the Israeli von Papen."

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