A few hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to Israel on another diplomatic mission, she hastened to meet with Strategic Threats Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Rice met Lieberman two days after the chairwoman of his Yisrael Beiteinu faction, MK Esterina Tartman, made crudely racist statements against the appointment (which has meanwhile been postponed) of MK Raleb Majadele as the first Arab minister in the country's history.
Tartman said that Majadele's appointment was like "swinging an ax at the tree called Judaism," and that "we need to uproot this terrible evil from among us." Lieberman did not explicitly object to these statements, although he said that the problem is not the appointment of an Arab minister, but Amir Peretz's introduction of party considerations into a governmental arena.
Rice's meeting with Lieberman was like giving a stamp of approval to the racist positions he and his party have adopted. It is not clear why the secretary of state saw a need to hold this meeting, which is not part of the standard protocol for her visits to Israel. Her meeting with Lieberman thus constituted a kind of American recognition of his status and his stances. Instead of the United States denouncing his racist positions, it has given them support, in the form of a well-publicized and unnecessary meeting. Rice, who came to the region to "strengthen the moderate forces," thereby in fact lent her hand to strengthening the extremists, at least on the Israeli side. And what message did she send to the moderate forces on the Palestinian side by meeting with Lieberman?
But Tartman's remarks are first and foremost an internal Israeli problem. The appointment of an Arab minister has been urgently necessary for years. Those who want Israeli Arabs to integrate into the country should have aspired for this long since. The fact that about one fifth of Israel's citizens have never had a representative at the cabinet table attests to how the state relates to its Arab citizens. The appointment of an Arab minister is meant to correct this historic injustice. Even if the appointment stemmed from internal party considerations - as, in effect, every ministerial appointment does - this does not lessen its importance. The fact that the chairwoman of an important coalition faction allowed herself to make racist statements against this appointment is therefore intolerable. It is not hard to guess how Israel would react if a European politician had made similar statements about a Jew becoming a member of any European government.
MK Tartman deserves to be denounced and ostracized for her remarks. They recall dark memories that in Israel, of all places, should never be forgotten. The prime minister should have hastened to reject both the statements and the speaker with revulsion. The Labor Party should also not allow these statements to pass quietly; it should demand that the prime minister issue an explicit condemnation. If Israel expects loyalty from its Arab citizens, it must demonstrate loyalty to them and protect them from racist assaults. The fact that it is ignoring these statements, and not making any effort to uproot this evil, therefore stains the entire government with a serious moral blemish.
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