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MAY 2009


Hostage to Israel’s

far right

FANG LIJUN – Revolution (1999)

In praise of revolution

Following the Israeli elections the far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman has become foreign minister and deputy prime minister. His views on the Arab-Israeli conflict have provoked a clash with President Obama. And he is calling the Israeli Palestinians’ citizenship into question, even

talking of eventual ‘transfer’



Two hundred and twenty years may have passed since 1789, but there’s still life in the French Revolution. During the bicentenary commemorations, though, François Mitterrand had extended an invitation to Margaret Thatcher and Joseph Mobutu to check it was dead and buried. The anniversary year also saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, prompting Francis Fukuyama to announce the “end of history”; in other words, the neoliberal domination of the world would last forever, the so-called revolutionary parenthesis opened in 1789 had closed for good.

But the current crisis in capitalism is now challenging the legitimacy of ruling oligarchies. The air has become lighter – or heavier, depending on your viewpoint. Le Figaro, for example, referred to “these intellectuals and artists who call for revolt” and lamented: “François Furet [the French historian] seems to have been mistaken: the French revolution isn’t over” (1).

Like many others, however, Furet had spared no effort to dispel the memory of it. In the past, the Revolution was taken to be the expression of a historical necessity (Marx), of a “new era of history” (Goethe) or of an epic which began with the soldiers of the Year II celebrated in a poem by Victor Hugo: “magnificent barefoot men marching on a dazzled world”. All we are allowed to see now is the blood on the Revolution’s hands. From Rousseau to Mao, an egalitarian, terrorist, virtuous utopia is said to have trampled on individual liberties and given birth to the cold monster of the totalitarian state. And then “democracy” got its act together and won the day: cheerful, peaceful, free-market. It too is the heir of revolutions, but of a different sort – English or American style, more political than social, decaffeinated (2).

A king was beheaded across the Channel too, of course. But the English aristocracy put up less resistance than in France, so the bourgeoisie there felt no need to make an alliance with the people to establish its domination. Among the privileged classes, a model without the barefoot or sans-culottes had more appeal and seemed less dangerous than the alternative. So Laurence Parisot, head of the French employers’ union, wasn’t betraying the trust of her members in telling the Financial Times: “I love French history, but I don’t like the Revolution very much. It was an act of extreme violence from which we are still suffering. It forced each one of us to be in a camp.” She added: “We don’t practise [democracy] as successfully as in England” (3).

The polarisation of society inherent in the notion of “being in a camp” is unwelcome because instead we all ought to be showing our solidarity with our employer, our boss or his brand – while still knowing our place. For in the eyes of those who aren’t among its fans, the main charge against the revolution isn’t its violence – sadly an all too common phenomenon in history – but something infinitely rarer: the upheaval of the social order which occurs when the proletariat and the affluent go to war.

In 1988, George H W Bush, looking for a knockout argument to floor his Democrat opponent, Michael Dukakis, came up with this: “We’re not going to be divided by class. You see, I think that’s for European democracies or something else. It isn’t for the United States of America.” Class. Just think how horrifying such an accusation must be in the US! To the extent that 20 years later, at the moment when the US economy seems to be imposing sacrifices as inequitable as the profits that preceded

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Forgotten: Bedouin of the Naqab or Arabs of the Negev? page 2 Ukraine’s workers refuse to bow to the economic downturn page 4 Kenya: human rights are still a distant dream for many page 8

May dossier: protests forewarned of economic trouble ahead page 11 May dossier: situations differ but the dream of change is back page 12 Wikipedia: expertise is alive and well and on your screen page 14 Afghanistan: lessons from Vietnam, questions for Obama page 16

David Rotem’s leitmotif is allegiance to the state, but he never spells it out. So much so that, before leaving, we put it to him: “Imagine yourself in Nazi Germany. Where would your loyalty lie?” “To the state,” he replied, without blinking an eye. That retort, given in the Knesset building in Jerusalem, left us stunned, particularly since he went on to tell us how his father left Germany when Hitler came to power.

Rotem is a lawyer, former deputy speaker of the Knesset, prospective director of the new Law Commission and close confidant of Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party (Israel is Our Home). He rehashes his recent election speeches. “Whether he’s a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian, a citizen must demonstrate his loyalty to the state. If he does not, he’s not a citizen,” he says. The same tirade castigates Rabbi Meyer Hirsh for having met Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (1), and those Arab parliamentarians who dared to protest against the recent Gaza massacres.

The party’s stance is that every Israeli should swear an oath of allegiance to the flag (which includes the Shield of David, the symbol of Judaism), sing the national anthem (which evokes the “Jewish soul”) and do military service (Arabs, apart from the Druze and some Bedouin, are exempt along with ultraorthodox Jews).

Yisrael Beiteinu’s electoral slogan leaves no doubts: “Only Lieberman speaks Arabic”. The historian Shlomo Sand quipped: “In his native Moldova he was a night-club bouncer. Now it’s the Arabs who get bounced”. This joke does, however, ignore one fact about the “Russian” party (2): its official line is not to expel Palestinians (3) – as in 1948 – but to form a future Palestinian state around the areas where they are most populous, particularly Umm al-Fahm and the northern Triangle. In exchange, Israel would annex parts of the West Bank settled by Jews, starting with those who surround East Jerusalem.

For, unlike Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu formally embraces the two-state solution. “We accept the 1947 principal of partition,” Rotem emphasised. “Palestinians want a judenrein (4) state, Israelis a 100% Jewish state, not one which is open to all citizens. An international agreement must redraw frontiers in this spirit.”

Joseph Algazy is a journalist based in Tel Aviv and creator of the website

Why is there such fury against Israel’s one-and-ahalf million Arabs? The three Arab political parties represented in the Knesset have similar views on the subject, but all the same there are certain nuances.

The charismatic 29-year-old Hanin Zoabi – the first female parliamentarian from an Arab party – helped “save” the electoral chances of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), whose founder, Azmi Bishara, fled the country after being accused of treason. Strangely she sees Lieberman’s position as offering a sort of quid pro quo – “I withdraw from the occupied territories so I must have your loyalty”. As a consequence, she says, one must “remind Israeli Palestinians that they live in a Jewish state and should accept it as such”. Benjamin Netanyahu “has no need to insist on Israel’s Jewish nature because he is not in favour of two separate states”.

‘Only justice heals wounds’ In his Nazareth office, the lawyer Tawfiq Abu Ahmed claimed to represent the Islamist movement, part of the United Arab List/Arab Movement for Renewal (Ra’am/Ta’al). For him, the far right takes an antiArab stance to “show to Israeli Jews that it protects their interests”, creating “an internal enemy to fight and so reinforce its own popularity”. Instead of trying to demand loyalty among Israeli Arabs as a condition of citizenship, the lawyer suggested, “the establishment should understand that the opposite works: only real citizenship, that’s to say equal rights, can guarantee loyalty. As one of our proverbs says, only justice heals wounds.”

The long-serving mayor of Eilaboun in Galilee, Hanna Swaid, is second on the Communist ethnically mixed Hadash list, and one of four Knesset members. Without ignoring Yisrael Beiteinu’s electoral impact he is worried about specifics: “Making military service compulsory would aggravate every kind of anti-Arab discrimination” (5). “Above all,” he added, “these themes benefit from popular support and risk provoking tensions between Jews and Arabs which threaten their very coexistence, already strained by the shootings of October 2000 and the Acre pogrom of October 2008 (6). The ‘Lieberman era’ has been ushered in by clashes, particularly in towns with mixed populations.”

“Everything stems from the setback when former prime minister Ariel Sharon invented the politics of

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