Michael Brull
ABC News (Opinion)
October 13, 2010 - 12:00am

Shortly after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza, one of Israel’s most brilliant intellectuals, Yeshayahu Leibowitz called for an immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories.

In Occupation and Terror, he also issued a prophecy about Israel “endeavouring to impose colonial rule on the territory of a foreign people”, and its “internal implications”. This “colonising situation will lead to the establishment of a political structure combining the horrors of Lebanon with those of Rhodesia - the state of a people possessing a common national heritage will turn into a system of imposed rule over two peoples, one ruling and the other ruled... It is unlikely that human rights and civil freedoms can exist even in the Jewish sector.” Every “day of continued occupation increases the... hatred along with their inevitable consequences. Corruption of state, society, and people is continually exacerbated.”This policy will lead to “self-destruction of the Jewish state, and of relations with the Arabs based on perpetual terror. There is no way out of this situation except withdrawal from the territories.”

Eight long years ago, one of Israel’s most eminent sociologists, Baruch Kimmerling declared that Ariel Sharon’s cruel war on the Palestinians showed that “Leibowitz was right - the occupation has ruined every good part and destroyed the moral infrastructure upon which Israeli society exists. Let's stop this march of fools and build society anew, clean of militarism and oppression and exploitation of other people, if not worse.”

Yet the occupation continued, along with the erosion of democracy within Israel. It is not hard to think of how far Israel has drifted from its earlier days, when it was at least more liberal towards Jews. Hannah Arendt and Isaac Deutscher undoubtedly had heretical views on the Israeli government, among other matters. Yet in their essays, they could write about their conversational disagreements with prime ministers Golda Meir, and David Ben-Gurion.

Today, Israel bars entry to prominent Jewish intellectuals like Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk. The other day, it quietly deported Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire. Other than Gideon Levy’s brave voice of dissent, it largely passed here, and there, unnoticed - like when Israel’s occupation soldiers shot her at a non-violent protest.

With the outbreak of the Second Intifada, and the rejection of the Camp David offer, the Israeli public shifted further to the right. After the election of Hamas, the Israeli public has steadily drifted further rightwards, with all of the major political parties offering only two solutions to all of Israel’s problems: force and better explanations of Israel’s actions to the world.

In the last Israeli election, the major new force was Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. Even Martin Peretz thinks of him as a “neo-fascist” in the style of Jorg Haider. During the election campaign, Lieberman’s party came up with the slogan “No loyalty, no citizenship”. Israelis would have to pledge loyalty “to the State of Israel, to the flag, to the national anthem, to the Declaration of Independence, and to Israel being a Jewish and Zionist country. In addition, you commit to perform military service or alternative [national] service."

It being understood that Israeli Palestinians are not Zionists, they are not allowed to serve in the military, and the political parties which gain most of their votes want Israel to be a state for all its citizens. This would effectively mean disfranchising Palestinians inside Green Line Israel. His interview in the liberal daily Ha’aretz continued

Your proposal is completely undemocratic. It denies Israeli citizens not only their rights, but also their citizenship.

"Even the Geneva Initiative allows for the revocation of citizenship. One can revoke citizenship as well as moving a population and expelling people."

Are you recommending transfer, Mr. Lieberman?

"First of all, there is a line equating citizenship and loyalty. The second equation is between national security and national service. But there is also a third component. Just as they have the audacity to demand the right of return, there must also be the right of expulsion. For instigators."

This was followed by Yisrael Beiteinu becoming the third largest party in the Israeli Knesset. The leader of the biggest centre-left party gained almost as many seats, with Ehud Barak’s principled criticisms of Lieberman:

"He's big on words, not action. Judging by his words, he has already destroyed Tehran and the Aswan Dam... But I don't know how often, if at all, he held a gun and shot somebody.”

Within Israel, Lieberman is not abashed about his values, nor are his followers. Lieberman explained that when “there is a contradiction between democratic and Jewish values, the Jewish and Zionist values are more important." He is particularly popular among Israeli teens, with his party sweeping school mock elections. His followers learn his message, and respond with the chant “Death to the Arabs”.

Yet it is not just Lieberman’s chauvinism that is taking over Israeli society. There has been the demonisation of civil rights groups within Israel, the attempt to bully groups like the New Israel Fund and Breaking the Silence for their perceived input into the Goldstone Report by neo-McCarthyist Im Tirtzu. There has been the passing of laws to more closely monitor their activities. “Centrist” Kadima pushed a bill to “outlaw any Israeli non-profit associations or other organisations that give information to foreign authorities and work toward prosecuting Israeli politicians or military officers for war crimes.” There has been a campaign to purge the universities of those with unacceptably unorthodox political views. Meanwhile, in August, Israel demolished a Bedouin village, within its Green line borders, destroying the homes of 300 people.

There is more, such as Israel’s increasing intolerance of refugees, and other discriminatory legislation. Also notable is the proposed Nakba Law, which would criminalise public mourning of the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from 1947-1979. A total of 230 Israeli academics signed a petition saying they would resist this, and Lieberman’s proposed loyalty test.

When the Israeli Cabinet voted to support the loyalty bill - and we know what it entails - 100 Israelis protested. This is indicative of current Israeli politics - small bastions of liberalism, in an overflowing tide of chauvinist nationalism.

Israel’s prime minister explained his support for the draft law:

“Democracy is the soul of Israel and we cannot do without it. No-one can preach democracy or enlightenment to us... Zionism established an exemplary national state, a state that balances between the national needs of our people and the individual rights or every citizen in the country.”

Currently, only non-Jews would have to pledge loyalty under the law proposed. Israel’s justice minister wants this law also to apply to Jews. Plainly, it is not only Arabs in Israel who can be traitors. As deputy prime minister, and religious extremist Eli Yishai explained, “Anyone who betrays the state” should lose their citizenship. One can predict that supporters of boycotting Israel - like Neve Gordon - will be next.

Labor’s Isaac Herzog warned that “fascism was devouring the margins of society”. Yet Labor joined a government coalition with this party, knowing what it stood for. As Ha’aretz editorialised, these were “Ideas that no-one would have dared let cross their lips 10 or 20 years ago, lest they be thought utter fascists”. The loyalty bill is plainly directed against “both Israel’s Arab citizenry, whom Avigdor Lieberman is alienating and insulting almost every day, and Palestinians who want to gain Israeli citizenship”, according to liberal Israeli blogger, Carlo Strenger. The rise of Liebermanism is a rise of a “right-wing anti-liberal coalition united by an instinctive hatred against the idea that there are universal standards of rationality and of morality.”

Strenger poses the poignant question, “Israel is now facing a fateful question: will it remain a liberal democracy, or is it on the way to becoming a totalitarian ethnocracy?”

I am neither patriotic nor nationalistic, and wish Israel treated the Palestinians like human beings, because I think they are human beings.

Some of those who claim to support Israel have responded to Lieberman by defending him. Like AIJAC (“Is that much different than the oath new citizens of Australia and other countries must take when granted citizenship?”).

However, those who love Israel, and wish it to be a liberal and recognisably humane place, must be appalled by these developments. They must raise their voices. They must say the Israel they love is going in the wrong direction.

And they must recognise - as Yeshayahu Leibowitz did so many years ago - that Israel’s colonial rule is corroding its society. Israel cannot be free until the Palestinians are too.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017