Fisk Misses the Target

The great British journalist Robert Fisk wrote a few days ago: Why Avigdor Lieberman is the worst thing that could happen to the Middle East. Much as we like Fisk, he was mistaken; he’s got carried away by this popular pastime of Lieberman-bashing: there is a worse thing that happens in the Middle East right now, and that is Ehud Barak, the Labour Party leader, as a Defence Minister in Netanyahu government. While a narrow right-wing government of Netanyahu and Lieberman would be a world pariah, isolated and hesitant, the same government with Ehud Barak at a top slot will be fully accepted by the international community. It appears that Barak will force his decimated party to join the coalition, and will stay as the Defence Minister, with disastrous consequences for the region.

Ehud Barak is the man who just a few months ago attacked Gaza; he is fully responsible for the atrocities committed there. While Avigdor Lieberman’s talk is certainly irresponsible and panders to the worst instincts of Israelis, his bark is considerably worse than his bite. Ehud Barak heaped scorn on Lieberman for never having actually shot anyone. He never squeezed trigger in anger, quipped Barak, while he did.

Indeed, Barak, Livni and Netanyahu are united by their past: all three were (are?) professional assassins. Livni, as we had learned just before the Election Day, served in the Kidon, the Mossad assassination unit. She was a professional killer, and allegedly poisoned an Arab scientist at a Paris lunch. Barak made his name renown when he murdered an unarmed civilian, a Palestinian poet Kamal Nasir in Beirut. Netanyahu served in Sayeret Matkal, the Tsahal assassination unit.

Naturally Lieberman has to be much more violent in his talk in order to compete with these murderers for the public attention. But he still killed nobody. All his threats were just so much of hot air aimed for internal consumption.

You do not have to rely upon my opinion: the ex-chairman of Meretz, Mr Yossi Beilin revealed that the PNA strongman Mohammed Dahlan told him: “there are two people the Israeli peace camp doesn’t understand and is missing out on big time: Aryeh Deri and Avigdor Lieberman. These two could be the key to peace, but instead of drawing them closer, you are pushing them away.” Indeed, the Moroccans under Deri and the Russians under Lieberman could come to peace with Palestinians, if the ruling minority, white Ashkenazi old-timers’ elite would ever consider peace a real option. An important task for free media is to unmask the real obstacle to peace and to avoid falling into the trap of scapegoating an outsider, Lieberman.

Meanwhile, it is Barak (rather than Lieberman or Netanyahu) presents the great and immediate danger to the region. Clear-sighted Hebrew poet Yitzhak Laor reminded in Haaretz:

“It was only during Netanyahu’s term as prime minister that Israel did not embark on any operation of razing villages and towns, including killing civilians, like Operation Accountability (1993), Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996), the Second Lebanon War (2006) and Operation Cast Lead – all wars by center-left governments.

Benjamin Netanyahu is always reminded of one sin: opening the Western Wall Tunnel in 1996. On the other hand, he is never reminded that the violent confrontation did not deteriorate into a bloodbath …it did not become another operation that resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of people handicapped and a multitude of refugees.

Four years after the Western Wall Tunnel incident in the fall of 2000, Ehud Barak, the angel of peace who rose to power with the left’s overwhelming support in order to get rid of the “warmongering Netanyahu,” took advantage of Ariel Sharon’s provocation at the Temple Mount. Barak ordered the army to pull out one of its pre-prepared plans and suppress what turned into the second intifada.

The half a million rounds during the first months of the intifada, even before the suicide bombings started, were fired on orders of a government of the left. And the leftists – in the street, in academia and in the literary world – continued to support Barak and his war.”

Far from being a fascist, Lieberman carries out a secular-liberal agenda. Shahar Ilan of Haaretz advised the leftist Meretz to turn to “the secular public of the middle class, those for whom the separation of religion and state, religious coercion, the discrimination along bloodlines, and the Haredi extortion trouble it no less than the peace process… those who voted for Nir Barkat, those who conquered Jerusalem with a bang and swept away Haredi rule in the city… The list of the oppressed of Israeli society includes 300,000 who are not affiliated with any religion, cannot marry here and whose path to Judaism is blocked by the rabbinical establishment. It includes hundreds of thousands of couples who divorce and are forced to endure a humiliating process in the rabbinical courts.”

These people did not go to Meretz – they went to Lieberman and to his secular-liberal banner. This is not a value judgment: secularism can be cruel enough, as it was under Lenin and Ataturk. Nir Barkat, the new secular-liberal Mayor of Jerusalem, began his term by destroying Arab houses in Silwan.

Lieberman is rather a comic figure. His stunt of demanding that Palestinians swear loyalty to the Jewish state was lifted wholesale from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. “All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers.” This proposal of Lieberman had no chance to succeed, bit it gave Lieberman a hefty share of Advertising.

Why an experienced reporter Fisk made these mistakes of judgment? He had heard Lieberman refers to Chechnya as to a positive example, and understood it as a threat: “behave, or we shall do to you what the Russians did to Chechens”. Mistake again: the Palestinians would love to find themselves in the position of the Chechens.

The bloody and cruel Moscow’s campaign against Chechnya separatists should not obscure the advantages of the Chechens: they are citizens of Russia; they are free to move all over Russia and go abroad and come back. There are Chechens in many top spots in Russia, including the ex-Parliament Speaker. The majority of Palestinians has no citizenship of Israel and can’t move or work, or even travel abroad. Among others, Israel is preventing the director general of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, from travelling to the Netherlands to accept a prize. The Supreme Court confirmed the Shin Bet’s decision. The Chechens travel freely; Chechnya is not a Bantustan; the Chechens enjoy support of the West, as opposed to the Palestinians.

Fisk compares Lieberman with the Yugoslav Serb leaders. Again, a hollow comparison. Many accusations against the Yugoslav Serbs were debunked by marvelous Diana Johnstone, while the crimes committed in the Balkans by the British, German and American bombers became well known. Fisk calls Lieberman “a Russian nationalist”, but this shows only the eternal British suspicion of Russians.

Lieberman is not a dreamboat; but he is not an ogre as presented by the Israeli elites. We should fear mainstream Israeli politicians, first of all Ehud Barak, who is likely to attack Iran in order to stay in power.

Israel Shamir

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.