In times of upheaval – when we all begin to fear that the world no longer works the way we thought it did – we are prone to choose scary men as our protectors. Avigdor Lieberman is one of these scary men, and now he holds a frighteningly powerful position in one of the most vulnerable Israeli governments in the country’s history.
The fact that he will most probably gain more power and prominence in the coming months and years – unless the corruption charges currently being investigated by Israeli authorities stick – should make Israelis and Diaspora Jews worry.
Lieberman is a right-wing nut, a religious fanatic and an unabashed xenophobe whose political ideas could very well help to destroy Israel. Had it been accepted, his 2004 proposed plan to swap with the Palestinian Authority areas of Israel that are heavily populated by Arabs in exchange for sovereignty in the settlements would have been horribly injurious to the security of the Jewish state. Politically, the Lieberman Plan would have added fuel to the fire of “Israeli apartheid” activists, and militarily, it would have turned Israeli Arabs, most of whom pose no security threat to Israel at present, against the state.
Lieberman proposed to force Israeli citizens to pledge allegiance to their homeland at the risk of losing their voting privileges – a scheme, quite obviously, that’s part of his larger plan to rid Israel of Arabs. But what about left-wing, fifth-generation Israelis – people who have sweated and fought for the Israel’s survival, yet nonetheless, rightfully, have a problem with being forced to swear unequivocally to support every decision of the Israeli government? Would they also lose their right to vote?
The Lieberman Plan stinks no matter which way you answer that question. It puts a price on the kinds of freedom of thought, belief and expression that all humans should expect to receive for free. Israel is not Saudi Arabia or Cuba, places where one’s ability to survive depends on saying the right thing to the right person at the right time. It is a democracy, where anyone can say anything at any time without fear of punishment. The Lieberman Plan suits the former category, not the latter.
At this dangerous time in the history of Israel and the Jewish people, Lieberman is the wrong kind of leader. When campuses around the world have become the main stage for anti-Zionists and anti-Semites trying to portray us as violent Muslim-haters (which most of us are not), a man who would evict Arabs from Israel must not be our mouthpiece. When the continued support of Israel’s main allies is no longer a sure thing, we must put our best political foot forward and remind the world that our democracy in a sea of tyranny and religious hierarchy is worth preserving.
How is it that at a moment of great danger, Israelis have empowered a dangerous man? The answer, as it has been throughout history, is fear. When your enemies seem to be closing in, the most comforting words often harbour the most insular ideas. And this narrow-mindedness ultimately can bring tragedy.
The people of Israel did not vote in anywhere near majority numbers for Lieberman, yet he became a kingmaker in the recent election and is now one of the most powerful decision-makers in the government. This will not do. Israelis must show their inner strength and evict this dangerous man from the ranks of their leaders before he does the country any serious harm.