Israeli President Shimon Peres asked for, and received, a new Israeli government led by the very right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party. Long ago (in February), the voters delivered a Knesset dominated by right-wing and religious ultra-Orthodox parties in a country that was until recently run by the “centrist” Kadima Party and the social democratic Labor Party.
Israel’s political party system historically had two large parties: the socialist, secular Labor Party which founded Israel and ruled it for decades and the religious conservative Likud Party which first entered government in the 1970s. Now the system is extremely fractured after a band of Laborites and Likudniks broke away to form Kadima in 2005; there are no real major parties anymore and about 5 medium sized parties with 7 minor parties.
A new political superstar has arisen from the ashes of Israeli polity to grasp the prize of the foreign ministry, former Moldovan nightclub bouncer Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party beat out the Labor Party to become the third biggest party in Israel (15 seats out of 120) . He demanded the plum job of foreign minister in exchange for supporting Netanyahu for Prime Minister (Likud only has 27 seats out of 120). Lieberman campaigned on virulent anti-Arab racism by claiming that “only [he] speaks Arabic” (i.e. can teach the Arabs a lesson) while utterly rejecting the peace process. He wants all Arabs who are Israeli citizens to sign a loyalty oath, or they will lose their right to vote. Oh yeah, and he plans to “transfer” the Arabs out of Israel into the West Bank to keep Israel more Jewish. Imagine if someone in America said that about African-Americans or Hispanics? Arabs represent about 20% of Israel so this is not a small population he is talking about.
Lieberman started out in politics as a chief of staff for Benjamin Netanyahu, and recently entered government under Ehud Olmert as a security minister. Olmert’s Kadima and the Labor Party had crushed the peace rejectionists in the 2006 elections only to falter and fail after the idiotic invasion of Lebanon and the corruption charges against Olmert. Weakened, Ehud Olmert took Lieberman’s poisonous support and made him a minister, effectively ending any chance for peace. The recent invasion in Gaza was seen as a political ploy to make the Kadima government good before the February elections, and it clearly failed.
In the first day in office, Foreign Minister Lieberman declared that the Annapolis peace meeting did not apply to Israel while on the second and third day he was questioned for bribery and money laundering. Oh, and he has to be nice because last year he told the president of Egypt to “go to hell.” J Street (a pro-Israel/pro-peace Jewish lobby group) has already started a campaign against the foreign minister calling him a racist and who goes against Jewish traditions of fairness and tolerance (while pointing out the prominent role Jewish Americans played in the Civil Rights movement). It seems that Senator Joe Lieberman and other American politicians had warm words for Avigdor Lieberman.
To be fair, Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu may just be the more honest, warmongering, and openly racist face of what has been effectively been Israeli policy all along. Both left-wing and right-wing governments never really moved to establish a viable Palestinian state; the left-wing governments just pay lip service to negotiations and a “peace process.” Now that the government of Israel unequivocally is composed of rejectionists (and the impotent Labor Party), the rest of the world can no longer pretend that Israel is serious about ending the occupation. In the end, it is up to a certain black man in the White House to make sure that the conflict and occupation ends.
Salon.com – “Does Obama have the will to challenge Israel?”
Ha’aretz – “U.S. pro-Israel lobby wages anti-Lieberman campaign“