The other face of fascism
Lieberman's ascent to power is not only a dilemma for Arabs and the US, but also for the Jewish lobby, writes Muqtedar Khan*
"American Jews... are dismayed by Lieberman, mostly because he represents values that we abhor" -- Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism
A foreign minister is to the rest of the world the face of the nation he or she represents. They epitomise the values and politics of the nation and personify its culture, identity and values. Israel has a new face now and that face is the ugly visage of fascism. Currently it travels under the name Avigdor Lieberman.
Let me introduce Mr Lieberman to you. He is under investigation for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He was convicted of beating a 12-year-old child in the face. The audiences who come to his campaign events chant "death to Arabs". He has called for drowning thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the sea and the assassination of Arab parliamentarians. He has advocated a plan to ethnically cleanse Israel of all Arabs. In brief, he is a potentially corrupt, a hate filled and violent demagogue apt to confuse incitement for campaigning. The man thinks that, "minorities are the biggest problem in the world".
A day after becoming foreign minister, Lieberman declared that Israel was not bound by the Annapolis conclusions and their proposal for a two-state solution. His first task was to undermine and reject all the diplomatic efforts made by the US in the past two years. His advocates are using his support for a now defunct pre-Annapolis "roadmap" as proof that contrary to what he says, he really supports a two-state solution.
Lieberman is not alone in being against peace in the current Israeli government. Netanyahu failed to bring the Kadima Party into his ruling coalition because he refused to comply with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's demand that he support the creation of a Palestinian state.
The US, Europe and Israel have excluded Hamas from the peace process because it refuses to meet three demands: accept the two-state solution; accept past treaties and agreements; and renounce violence. Now Israel under Netanyahu and Lieberman also: does not accept the two state solution; Lieberman refuses to accept Israel's past commitments; and Israel has never renounced violence -- indeed use of overwhelming violence is its signature.
Israel under Netanyahu and Lieberman mirrors Hamas's politics. Will Israel now become just as unacceptable as Hamas to Europe and the US?
Lieberman and Netanyahu are going to lead Israel into a head-on collision with President Obama who wishes to see significant progress towards a two- state solution and soon. President Obama is working hard to improve relations with the wider Muslim world to reduce the global epidemic of anti- Americanism, avoid expensive wars that drain American blood and treasure, and seek Muslim cooperation in combating extremism and terrorism. The key to Obama's and America's success ultimately will depend on progress in establishing a Palestinian state. Lieberman, with his fascist proclivities, appears set to become the biggest barrier to US foreign policy and national security.
This will make it awkward for Jewish groups in the US to continue to support Israel and demand that the US continues with its current policy of unlimited and uncritical support for Israel. According to J-Street, a pro-Israel Jewish lobbying group, Lieberman presents a terrible dilemma to Jewish groups in the country. While they support Israel, they cannot support Lieberman who does not represent either their values, which are fundamentally pro-democracy and pro-peace, nor does he represent their politics, which is strongly in favour of a two-state solution.
For decades, Israel's security has depended on the relentless and bottomless economic, military, technological and diplomatic support of the US. Today, Israel is a major power with a first world GDP, overwhelming conventional military superiority over any combination of Arab armies and a regional monopoly on weapons of mass destruction. It owes much of this to US policy in the region.
Meanwhile, today, the US is economically weaker, militarily exhausted and diplomatically diminished. It needs Israel to pursue sensible policy decisions in spite of provocations from Hamas. The US has been an incredible friend to Israel. Will Israel prove its friendship to the US, or will its current flirtation with fascism undermine this long-standing alliance?
US support for Israel is based on shared values and not shared strategic interests; in fact in the opinion of many scholars Israel is a strategic burden. Will Israel abandon Lieberman and his entrenched fascism or will Israeli supporters insist that America embrace even fascism?
* The writer is director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.