Thursday, February 12, 2009

Israel Beitenu's rise to power

What to make of Israel Beitenu's rise to power in this last election?

Their most controversial election platform was the suggestion that all Israeli citizen's, Arabs should take a loyalty test. In their own words:
Israel Beiteinu does not ask Israeli-Arabs to renounce their Arab identity. However, it does ask that they recognize this country as a Jewish state. If they wish to live here as citizens with full rights and benefits, they must contribute to its success and not apply their efforts toward its destruction.
Jonathan Freedland didn't like it, and asked several members of the party
if they could name a single democracy anywhere that had removed citizenship from those who already had it. I asked what they would make of demanding that, say, British Jews, swear an oath of loyalty to Britain as a Christian country on pain of losing their right to vote.
They are interesting questions - but not entirely fair.

For starters, there a plenty of cases of discrimination against ethnic minorities who reside in a society which their home country is at war with. Japanese farmers in America had their land confiscated in WW2, loyal or not. Is it far fetched to say that Germans demonstrating proudly in support of the Third Reich during the blitz would have got treated any better in Britain? I doubt it. And to be honest, I don't think I would have a problem being asked to display some form of loyalty to Britain as a Christian country, so long as my rights (including religious rights as a Jew) remained secure. Asking the Jews to display loyalty on pain of losing their right to vote would be be justified if the Jews were out there offending most British people's sensibilities during times of war.

Do these examples mean discrimination is OK? Of course not. But an article asking Israel "to take a long look at itself" should at least have made the point that after 60 years of living as an ethnic minority in Israel, the country's Arabs are becoming increasingly radicalized. It is no secret that when Israeli Arabs voice open support for enemies of Israel, they are perceived by most Israeli Jews as a fifth column. His article doesn't mention that.

I don't like Lieberman's politics. I despise the way he responds to Arab politicians and I don't feel proud to see him as a leader here. But as a Likud voting friend of mine recently pointed out, Lieberman is only saying what most Israelis want to hear. Haim Watzman puts it well:
The great majority of people who voted for Lieberman are not ideologues. They voted him not because of his political philosophy, but because he knows how to appeal to their most basic fears. Lieberman’s voters are scared stiff—they fear war and terror, they fear Muslims and Arabs, and they have felt horribly insecure under a government that has talked a lot about peace agreements but which has actually led the country into two wars.
and he continues
The best friends of totalitarianism, whether of the right or the left, are fear and instability. When people fear for their lives and don’t know whether they’ll have a job tomorrow, they grasp at what straws they can, and a glib populist can exploit them.
I do think Lieberman is a glib populist. He is, as Freedland points out, a Moldovan immigrant telling a native Palestinian what to do. I also think a sizeable portion of Israeli Jews (including myself) would refuse to take the oath, on grounds that it is the wrong way to deal with the problem. There has always been an unspoken understanding for Arab feelings towards the Jewish State - that's why Israeli Arabs are not required to serve in the army or perform national service when they reach 18, like Israeli Jews are. But these last few years have seen an increasingly emboldened Israeli Arab electorate behave in increasingly threatening manner towards Israeli Jews. Israel Beitenu is the unfortunate response.

1 comment:

Avram said...

What I find odd is that no one mentions that the 'loyalty' law also applies to Haredim. A racist and anti-semite! Golly!