In recent months, Israel’s political leaders and Israel’s stateside supporters have been railing against the so-called delegitimization movement. It’s debatable whether such a movement exists but even to the extent that it does, the effect it has had in tarnishing Israel’s image is minuscule in comparison to Israel’s own unintentional delegitimization efforts.
The latest examples came this month in a new campaign to guard Jewish racial purity. A letter signed by the wives and daughters of prominent rabbis, urges Jewish women not to date or even work with Arab men. It was preceded by a letter signed by hundreds of rabbis calling on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs. The letters are part of a “racist tidal wave” sweeping across Israel, says defense minister, Ehud Barak.
In this context, the American Jewish diaspora is becoming acutely uncomfortable. The more transparent Israeli racism becomes, the harder it is for Americans — Jewish or non-Jewish — to support Israel; the more obvious it is that Israel’s Jewish identity is being defended at the expense of its democratic identity.
Strange then, that the editors of the liberal The Forward, seem to imagine that getting rid of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister would significantly help Israel.
In an editorial, the paper says:
Lieberman’s tenure in such a prominent position has been dismissed as an embarrassing annoyance by most Diaspora leaders, a necessary burden to ensure that his Yisrael Beiteinu party remains in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Besides, the inner workings of Netanyahu’s government are arguably not our right to influence, no more than Israelis should have a say in who is U.S. Attorney General or mayor of New York.
But if Netanyahu persists in keeping Lieberman, both men should know this: The obligation we assume as Diaspora Jews to support Israel and combat delegitimization becomes much harder, more distasteful and less effective every time the foreign minister opens his mouth. It betrays our Judaic and civic values to stand by while such a man advocates for the transfer of Arab citizens of Israel, for a discriminatory loyalty oath, for an endless postponement of peace negotiations that are the only — the only — way to ensure that Israel remains Jewish and democratic.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an editorial December 28 excoriating the foreign minister, arguing that “Lieberman and his pronouncements only provide vindication to Israel’s adversaries.” For that reason, the paper declared, he must go.
And if Lieberman goes, Israel will change?
No doubt its liberal supporters would welcome a more respectable face such as could be provided by a Likud-Kadima coalition (which isn’t in the offing), but Lieberman is no different from Rabbi Meir Kahane who said, in reference to Israel’s Arab-hating population: “I say what they think.”
As more and more Israelis openly declare their unwillingness to live alongside Arabs, what appears to be changing is not that Israel is becoming more racist but that its underlying racism is being expressed more freely.
Kahane said: “I want Democracy for Jews but I don’t want Democracy for Arabs because otherwise there won’t be a Jewish State!” He was dubbed an extremist and an aberration, but the veil is now being lifted.
Who can be so naive as to imagine that an Israel without Lieberman as its foreign minister would become a more tolerant, democratic society? Or are these calls for his departure nothing more than an appeal for cosmetic changes necessary for making the indefensible, defensible?
Kahane had it right: Israel is a “democracy” for Jews, which is to say that it grants rights to Jews that it withholds from others, and as that unpalatable truth becomes increasingly evident to the whole world, the liberal Jewish diaspora will need to abandon the illusion that Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state. It can only be one or the other.