The power that has now been accrued by Lieberman’s party is one of Tuesday’s most stunning outcomes – he appears to be the king or queen-maker. What is more sinister and disturbing is how muted a political effort there has been to draw a red line in front of Lieberman’s racist rhetoric and policies and to place him beyond the coalition pale (for an excellent discussion of the Lieberman phenomenon, see Gershom Gorenberg’s piece at The American Prospect). Yisrael Beiteinu ran on a platform that would have Israeli Arabs needing to pass a loyalty test to Israel in order for their citizenship not to be rescinded. Lieberman is an almost bizarre Israeli twist on the European model of the populist, ethnonationalist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant parties that have done so well in France (Le Pen’s Front National), Austria (Heider’s Freedom Party), Belgium (Vlaams Blok), Switzerland (Blocher’s Swiss People’s Party), and elsewhere. Why the Israeli case is so special does not concern the level support for Lieberman or how hard-line he is but rather lies in the following two aspects: In Lieberman’s case, he himself is an immigrant (hailing from Moldova), and the targets of his invective are the Arab inhabitants whose presence here long preceded his. More importantly, in most other instances, a cordon sanitaire has effectively been erected around the racist right to exclude them from governing coalitions. In Israel, the opposite path is being pursued with Livni and Netanyahu both wooing Lieberman as a potential coalition ally. It’s still possible that Lieberman may be excluded from the coalition and he may even overplay his hand, though it is unlikely.
In a sense, something deeper might be at work here. Israel describes itself as a Jewish democratic state, and the Lieberman phenomenon in part may represent the extent to which Israel in practice has emphasized the Jewish part of that definition over the democratic part. The Israeli political establishment, notably including the Zionist left, has failed to create a more inclusive notion of Israeli-ness or even a political system that confers a real sense of democratic belonging on its non-Jewish, Arab minority. In very real and important ways, the challenge of marrying Jewish and democratic has not been addressed whether that be in terms of budgetary allocations, equality of opportunity, or in Israel’s national narrative. When the peace camp tried to win Jewish majority support for the idea of two states and an end of occupation, it focused on the demographic argument (Israel will only remain Jewish if it leaves the territories). It is not such a long journey from that line of logic to Liebermanism. In this moment of clarity, Israel will then have to decide whether Liebermanism is the Zionist end-game or whether a more inclusive and democratic Israel can flourish. I think Israelis can rise to the challenge and create a more open vision for Israeli society, and that will certainly be one of the issues to address for what is left of the left in Labor and Meretz. The Palestinian Arab minority in Israel and its leaders also need itself to think through how to best contribute to a more inclusivist vision of the future.
The Gorenberg piece he mentioned is here.