Israel's Racist in Chief

It was unthinkable, when I was based as a
correspondent in Jerusalem two decades ago, that an Israeli politician
who openly advocated ethnically cleansing the Palestinians from
Israeli-controlled territory, as well as forcing Arabs in Israel to
take loyalty oaths or be forcibly relocated to the West Bank, could sit
on the Cabinet. The racist tirades of Jewish proto-fascists like Meir Kahane stood outside the law, were vigorously condemned by most Israelis and were prosecuted accordingly. Kahane's repugnant Kach
Party, labeled by the United States, Canada and the European Union as a
terrorist organization, was outlawed by the Israeli government in 1988
for inciting racism.

Israel has changed. And the racist virus
spread by Kahane, whose thugs were charged with the murders and
beatings of dozens of unarmed Palestinians and whose members held
rallies in Jerusalem where they chanted "Death to Arabs!" has returned
to Israel in the figure of Israel's powerful new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman openly calls for an araberrein Israel-an Israel free of Arabs.

There has been a steady decline from the days of the socialist Labor
Party, which founded Israel in 1948 and held within its ranks many
leaders, such as Yitzhak Rabin, who were serious about peaceful
coexistence with the Palestinians. The moral squalor of Prime Minister
Bibi Netanyahu and Lieberman reflects the country's degeneration.
Labor, like Israel, is a shell of its old self. Lieberman's Yisrael
Beiteinu Party, with 15 seats in the Knesset, is likely to bring down
the Netanyahu government the moment his power base is robust enough to
move him into the prime minister's office. He is the new face of the
Jewish state.

Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer who
was a member of the Kach Party, has the personal and political habits
of the Islamic goons he opposes. He was found guilty in 2001 of beating
a 12-year-old boy and fined by an Israeli court. He is being
investigated for multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering and is
rumored to have close ties with the Russian mafia. He lives, in
defiance of international law, in the Jewish settlement of Nokdim on
occupied Palestinian land.

Lieberman, as did his mentor Kahane, calls
for the eradication of Palestinians from Israel and the territories it
occupies. During the massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza in December
and January he said that Israel should fight Hamas the way the United
States fought the Japanese in World War II. He noted that occupation of
Japan was unnecessary to achieve victory, alluding to the dropping of
atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. When he assumed his position as
foreign minister he announced that the 2007 Annapolis peace agreement
was dead. He said in 2004 that 90 percent of Israel's Palestinian
citizens "have no place here. They can take their bundles and get
lost." This statement was especially galling since Lieberman, unlike
the Palestinian majority who can trace their ancestry in the region
back generations, immigrated to Israel in 1978 from Moldova and retains
a heavy Russian accent.

Lieberman, from the floor of the Knesset,
openly fantasized three years ago about executing the handful of
Palestinian Knesset members.

"We requested that in the government
guidelines it would say explicitly that all the inciters and
collaborators with terrorism that sit in this house should bear the
brunt of the penalty for those actions," Lieberman said from the
Knesset plenum in May of 2006. "All those who continue to meet freely
with Hamas and Hezbollah-who go on monthly visits to Lebanon. Those who
declared Israel's Independence Day to be Nakba [Arabic for catastrophe] Day and raised black flags. ...

"World War Two ended with the Nuremberg
trials. The heads of the Nazi Party went to be executed-but not just
them, also those who collaborated with them. Just like [prime minister
of Vichy France during WWII Pierre] Laval was later executed, I hope
that this is the fate of the collaborators in this house."

He has suggested bombing Egypt's Aswan
Dam, an act that would lead to a massive loss of Egyptian lives. As
Ariel Sharon's minister of transportation he offered to bus several
hundred Palestinian prisoners to the sea and drown them. He recently
told the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, one of Israel's few Arab
allies, to "go to hell." And, along with Netanyahu, he advocates
massive airstrikes on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Hamas, the Iranian government and the
Taliban have been condemned by Washington for advocating policies that
mirror those expressed by Lieberman toward Palestinians. Ahmed Tibi, an
Arab deputy in the Knesset, has called on the international community
to boycott Israel as it did Austria when far-right leader Jorg Haider
joined that country's government. This seems a fair request. But I
expect the hypocrisy and double standards that characterize our
relations with the Middle East, along with our obsequious catering to
the Israel lobby, to prevail. Racism, as long as it is directed toward
Arabs, does little to perturb our conscience or hinder our support of

The Israeli leadership, following the
assassination of Rabin by a Jewish extremist with ties to Kach, never
again sought a viable settlement with the Palestinians. Successive
Israeli prime ministers talked the language of peace and negotiations
largely to placate the international community and Washington while
they vigorously expanded Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, seized
huge tracts of the West Bank, including most of the aquifers, and
imposed a brutal collective punishment on the 1.5 million Palestinians
in Gaza. Palestinians have become, by Israeli design, impoverished,
reduced to a level of bare subsistence and dependent on the United
Nations for food assistance. They live ringed by Israeli troops in a
series of pod-like ghettos in the West Bank and in Gaza, which is a
massive, fetid open-air prison. And when these little Bantustans
become restive, Israel swiftly turns off the delivery of basic food and
supplies or uses F-16 fighter jets or heavy artillery to bomb the
squalid concrete hovels.

The public embrace by a senior Israeli
official of a policy of ethnic cleansing, however, is ominous. It
signals a further evolution of the Israeli state from one that at least
paid lip service to equality to one that increasingly resembles the
former apartheid regime in South Africa. Racism, once practiced in
private and condemned in public, has become to many Israelis

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