The rise of Avigdor Lieberman as the kingmaker of Israeli politics is a disaster for American supporters of Israel and for U.S. interests in the region, albeit not entirely a surprise, at least to regular visitors to this space. The circumstance of his entry into the government as minister of foreign affairs or some other key policymaking post will mark the end of the old Labor Zionism and its passage into history as yet another failed experiment in utopian socialism, along with Fourierism, Owenism, and the Icarians. With Lieberman and his party the catalyst as the up-and-coming force in Israeli politics, the Zionist project enters a new post-democratic era.
One recent indication of this were the virtually unanimous calls for outlawing the Arab parties. Not only Lieberman but also Livni and the "Left" chimed in, with Yisrael Beiteinu, the Lieberman outfit, setting the tone. Gideon Levy, writing in Ha’aretz, reminds us where we have seen this kind of thing before:
"If [Rabbi Meir] Kahane were alive and running for the 18th Knesset, not only would his list not be banned, it would win many votes, as Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to do. The prohibited has become permitted, the ostracized is now accepted, the detestable has become the talented that’s the slippery slope down which Israeli society has skidded over the past two decades."
Kahane was the George Lincoln Rockwell of Israeli politics: he advocated expulsion of all Arabs and the immediate launching of an armed struggle to achieve a "Greater Israel." Twenty years ago, his party was disqualified from running for office and banned under the strictures of the election code, which forbids parties that advocate racism and incitement to violence. Today, avers Levy, "his doctrine has won." The formerly forbidden "has become legitimate in public discourse." The signal result of this pivotal election has been "the transformation of racism and nationalism into accepted values."
Not only accepted, but dominant: as Daniel Levy acerbically titles his analysis of the Israeli elections, the country has become "The Israel of the Three Likudniks":
"So here we are in the Israel of the three Likudniks. Allow me to explain: Israel’s three largest parties (together accounting for about 75 of the 110 mandates decided by the Jewish vote) are now all led by Likudniks and by a Likud-derived outlook albeit of slightly different emphases. Kadima was of course birthed by the Likud, its founding father is none other than Ariel Sharon; its current leader Tzipi Livni was a former stalwart Likudnik; and its number two joined the Likud following a career in the military (Shaul Mofaz). Let’s call this Likud-lite. Then one has the brand name version of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Let’s call this traditional Likud. Finally, there is Yisrael Beiteinu (or Israel Our Homeland) led by longtime Likud party functionary and the party’s former director-general, Avigdor Lieberman. His number two, Uzi Landau, was a 22-year Likud Knesset member and led the so-called Likud rebel faction during Sharon’s Gaza disengagement. Lieberman rebranded the Likud for a Russian audience and gave it a nasty and overtly racist edge. Let’s call this Likud gone wild."
Israeli politics has largely become a matter of which brand of nationalistic intransigents will hold the reins of power. In a race to the right, the ultras have the advantage and the momentum. As I warned in this space, the future belongs to Lieberman’s vision of a secularized and Russified Zionism authoritarian, expansionist, and increasingly hostile to U.S. interests and the constraints of the "special relationship."
There isn’t much controversy about what Lieberman represents, even in the ranks of Israel’s most fervid supporters. Marty Peretz, writing in The New Republic, declares Yisrael Beiteinu to be "neo-fascist," a party led by a "certified gangster" who is "the Israeli equivalent of Jorg Haider of Austria (now dead) and Jean-Marie Le Pen, who, with Bridgitte Bardot, is a leader of National Front in France."
While there are some superficial similarities, Lieberman fails to fit into the Euro-rightist mold in two important ways aside from his complete dissimilarity to Bardot, who would undoubtedly object to his pork obsession.
To begin with, Lieberman is no defender of traditional cultural norms and religious values, championed by both Le Pen and Haider. The former bouncer has earned the opprobrium of the religious parties, which denounced him as an agent of Satan for taking on the prohibitions against pork a favored food of his Russian immigrant constituency and for trying to break the Orthodox monopoly on marriage by allowing secular ceremonies. More importantly, the Le Pen and Haider movements are anti-immigrant. That is their major platform plank, whereas Lieberman is himself a Russian immigrant and the leader of a party of recent arrivals. Le Pen, for all his shenanigans, is a Poujadist, not a Vichyite, and Haider’s party was and is very similar: a movement of middle-class burghers who object to the expense of subsidizing recent immigrants with all the accoutrements of the Austrian welfare state.
Lieberman and his party are quite a different breed. Like the German National Socialists, they are avowed enemies of religion and tradition, revolutionaries impatient to sweep away the failed remnants of the old order and root out an internal "fifth column" they claim represents a threat to the nation. As I put it some months ago, what we have in Lieberman is the final proof that we are, indeed, living in Bizarro World, and reality has been turned on its head. Because what we are seeing in Israel today is the rise to power of a Jewish Hitler.
American policymakers, consumed as they are by the possibility that some homicidal maniac will acquire access to nuclear weapons Saddam Hussein, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama bin Laden should ask themselves what will happen if Lieberman gets his hands on them. After all, here is a man who called for bombing Tehran and the Aswan dam! about to become foreign minister of Israel. Is anybody paying attention?
In the nuclear age, "Likud gone wild," as Daniel Levy put it, is a truly frightening prospect. In yet another example of how the principle of "blowback" works, the country we spend billions subsidizing and protecting, backing its leaders and policies to the hilt, is on the verge of becoming a nuclear rogue nation. In which case, I will not join those who call for a preemptive U.S. invasion to eliminate an imminent threat but don’t think I won’t be tempted.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Check out my piece on "Obama as Lincoln: Mask and Mirror," in the current Chronicles magazine, published by the Rockford Institute, available in a print edition and online.