Friday, December 21, 2007

Greg Sheridan: Charmed by Israel's "Most Dangerous Politician"

Greg Sheridan is The Australian's Foreign Editor. He is also a recipient of the Zionist Federation of Australia's Jerusalem Prize "for his support for Israel." (The Australian Jewish News, 27/4/07) Currently in Israel, he's been talking to some VIPs - VIPs like Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, dubbed by Hebrew University's Professor Zeev Sternhell, "Israel's leading academic specialist on fascism and totalitarianism...[as] 'perhaps the most dangerous politician in the history of the state of Israel.' " (Extreme right-winger to join Israeli government, The Scotsman, 23/10/06)

Lieberman, who heads a party called Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), was born in Moldova and emigrated to Israel in 1978. As a Jew he became an instant citizen under Israel's Law of Return. This parvenu, whom Sheridan found "charming in a rough, Russian way," (Israeli right-winger redraws the battle lines, The Australian, 17/12/07) has a bellicose bee in his Moldovan bonnet about the indigenous peoples of the area, whether Israeli Arabs (who should be moved out of Israel), inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (who should be treated like the Russians treat the Chechens), or other Arabs, such as Egyptians (whose Aswan dam should be bombed). (Israel must treat Gaza like Russia does Chechnya: hardliner, AFP, 1/11/06)

Sheridan really digs Lieberman, finding him, "...more open to compromise than many Israelis." But what could Sheridan possibly mean here by "compromise"? Does Lieberman believe in ending the 40-year Israeli occupation of the territories, allowing for a contiguous Palestinian state on 22% of historic Palestine? As if! No, Lieberman believes that "as well as territory, Israel should give away people too, in particular its Muslim Arab citizens. He doesn't want to expel them exactly, just redraw some borders so that some Arab towns and villages move into a new Palestinian state nextdoor, thus making Israel a more Jewish state." Seems that in Israel the word 'compromise' is as movable as the word 'borders'.

At first Sheridan seems to recoil from such a Clayton's "compromise": "The idea of excluding people on the basis of their ethnicity or religion is anathema to every liberal principle..." But, where Israel is concerned, "liberal principles" can always be compromised and excuses found: "Yet it conforms to the reality of the Middle East. Hamas extremists are trying to kill, convert or drive into exile the tiny Christian minority in the Gaza Strip. The Jewish minorities have been driven out of virtually every Arab state. And even the logic of objecting to every Jewish settlement in the West Bank can be seen as endorsing the notion that Israel should bequeath the Palestinians a state which contains not a single Jew."

Let us examine these bold but specious assertions. First, that the reality of the Middle East is ethno-religious exclusion. This is certainly the case with Israel, and does not depend on whether or not Lieberman's brand of ethnic cleansing is one day implemented. As a Jewish state, representing not its citizens (one fifth of whom are Arabs), but 'the Jewish people' from Moldova to wherever, Israel privileges Jews over non-Jews. This is true both for its own non-Jewish citizens, who are denied access to land and resources within Israel, and to the stateless Palestinian refugees expelled by Zionist forces in 1948 from their homes and lands in what is now Israel, who are denied the right of return. As American-Palestinian academic Joseph Massad puts it: "...Israeli racism...manifests in its flag, its national anthem, and a bunch of laws that are necessary to safeguard Jewish privilege, including the Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State's Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israeli Lands Administration law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1965), and the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the occupied territories." (Israel's right to be racist, No other Middle Eastern state, whatever their failings, comes anywhere near the Israeli reality of ethno-religious exclusivism.

Second, that Hamas is "trying to kill, convert or drive into exile the tiny Christian minority in the Gaza Strip." One recent source, the Jerusalem Post, no less [Gaza: Christian-Muslim tensions heat up, 25/9/07], reports an attack on an 80 year-old Christian woman by "a masked man" who "demanded her money." This led to an appeal by Palestinian Christians to Hamas "to make an effort to protect Christians." Curious that they should be appealing to a movement allegedly involved in "killing, converting and exiling" Christians. In fact, as Palestinian academic, Khaled Hroub, has written: "In its conduct towards the Palestinian Christians Hamas has shown extraordinary sensitivity...there have been no religious-driven or sectarian friction or riots in Palestine during the lifetime of Hamas that could be linked directly to the movement." (Hamas: A Beginner's Guide, pp. 90-1)

Third, that "The Jewish minorities have been driven out of virtually every Arab state." Pushed or pulled, Mr Sheridan? Consider the following extract from CIA adviser, Wilbur Crane Eveland, who was in Iraq at the time (early fifties): "Just after I arrived in Baghdad, an Israeli citizen had been recognized...his interrogation led to the discovery of 15 arms caches brought into Iraq by the underground Zionist movement...In an attempt to portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews, the Zionists planted bombs in the US Information Service Library and synogogues, and soon leaflets began to appear urging Jews to flee to Israel. Embarrassed, the Iraqi government launched a full-scale investigation, and shared its findings with our Embassy. Iraqi Chief Rabbi Sassoon Khedouri...was urging his people to be calm and remain, remembering that they were native Iraqis first and that Judaism was only their religion, which they could practice freely as always. In spite of our constant reports that the situation in Iraq was exaggerated and artificially inflamed from without, the State Department urged us to intervene with the government to facilitate an air-lift that the Zionists were organizing to 'rescue' Iraqi Jews...Although the Iraqi police later provided our Embassy with evidence to show that the synogogue and the library bombing, as well as the anti-Jewish and anti-American leaflet campaign, had been the work of an underground Zionist organization, most of the world believed that Arab terrorism had motivated the flight of Iraqi Jews, whom the Zionists had 'rescued' really just in order to increase the Israeli Jewish population..." (Ropes of Sand (1980) pp. 48-9)

Fourth, the laughable assertion that "the logic of objecting to every Jewish settlement in the West Bank can be seen as endorsing the notion that Israel should bequeath to the Palestinians a state which contains not a single Jew," is like asserting that, because the French objected to the German occupation of France in WW2, they must have been prejudiced against Germans.

Of course, there's more, much more, but let's fast forward to Sheridan's oh so understanding conclusion: "What [Lieberman's] political rise does show is just how weary people are getting of the failure to solve the conflict and how longingly many Israelis are looking to straightforward notions such as separation as their salvation." What the rise (and rise?) of Lieberman actually reveals is the rising racism at the very heart of the Jewish state. As Palestinian-American academic, Saree Makdisi, has pointed out, the only difference between Lieberman and mainstream Israeli politicians is that while they both "agree that a line of concrete and steel ought to be drawn with Jews on one side and as many Arabs as possible on the other," the latter "argue that it is OK to have a few Arabs on the inside, as long as they behave themselves, and don't contribute too heavily to what Israelis refer to as 'the demographic problem'." (

Partisan journalism doesn't get much better than this.

1 comment:

PaulB said...

Born in Moldova. Uh Huh.