Eli Yishai Is Just Jean-Marie Le Pen With a Beard

Israel's deputy prime minister is also the leader of a male chauvinist party.

Nineteen years after his murder, Meir Kahane's spirit is alive and kicking. Not only in the lunatic fringes of the radical right and the settlers, not only in the shameful graffiti smeared on every corner. We're dealing with an established political party, whose leader is deputy prime minister and Israel's interior minister. Eli Yishai is the ultimate Israeli xenophobe, Jean-Marie Le Pen with a beard, Jorg Heider in a skullcap, a mizrahi Kahane.

They, however, are notorious, while Yishai is seen as an acceptable legitimate statesman whom no one thinks of ostracizing. A member of the security cabinet, he is also one of the major decision-makers, a senior statesman.

Yishai's legitimacy is a mark of disgrace on Israeli society and politics. Had anyone like him served as a deputy prime minister in a European state, Israel would have severed diplomatic ties with it abruptly.

Yishai gives Kahanism a bad name. While the racist rabbi from America made do with nefarious incitement against the Arabs, Yishai has extended racism and hatred to all foreigners. Yishai is an internationalist - all non-Jews are equal in his eyes and their sentence is one.

The man who said only seven years ago in an interview with Haaretz: "Israelis are displaying buds of xenophobia ... I don't want under any circumstances to see in Haaretz a picture of a woman with a baby in her arms crying while policemen deport her," has become the head of the deportation army's thugs, heading the ugly front against foreign workers. Their 1,200 wretched children, who have no other country or tongue, are to him no less than a "demographic threat," an "assimilation danger" and an "infringement on the state's Jewish identity." In Germany such statements would be taken as sheer racism. But in this complacent, indifferent country they were uttered by a respectable statesman.

Had Shas espoused racial purity and xenophobia as its causes, maybe it would be treated differently. But Shas is Kahane in disguise, the "National Front" in a mask. It ostensibly champions social causes, while inflaming dark emotions under that deceitful banner.

It's hard to believe: A movement that pretends to speak for the needy and downtrodden is leading the incitement and instigation against the most needy and downtrodden of all - the foreign workers and the Palestinians. Yishai calls to deport the former and brutally attack the latter.

The Goldstone report cites Yishai, and for good reason, saying "we should bombard thousands of houses in Gaza, destroy Gaza. As simple as that." If a deputy prime minister talks like that, and nobody thinks of firing him for incitement to war crimes, why should we think the IDF did not act in his spirit?

Once, when the shadow of his charismatic predecessor Aryeh Deri still hovered over him, Yishai spoke differently. He said "yes to Oslo, yes to evacuating Hebron and yes to Arafat." But since he found that inciting his voters against foreigners and Arabs - the weakest and most oppressed - is a sure recipe for electoral success, he has cynically become more extreme.

Yishai's attitude is not restricted to strangers. He reveals his appallingly dark inner world in his treatment of another group of Jews: gays. This is another winning card used by all the racist movements in the world. But it is doubtful whether any of Europe's racists would dare go so far as to say,"Gays and lesbians are sick people. It's definitely a disease. They haven't invented a cure for it yet, but I hope they will."

Israel's deputy prime minister, don't forget, is also the leader of a male chauvinist party.

Kahane is preferable. True, he proposed that only a member of the Jewish people may be an Israeli citizen, just like Yishai would probably want. But we ostracized Kahane, the Knesset plenum used to empty when he gave his hate speeches and nobody thought of interviewing him. This is true even though Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is now considering holding a session in his memory, calling his opinions "legitimate."

Unlike Kahane, Yishai managed to penetrate the heart of the consensus and is wreaking havoc. He is poisoning generations of Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern descent) and young ultra-Orthodox, inflaming hatred of the foreigner and the other, and encouraging open racism and nationalism while enjoying his lofty status. That says much more about us than about him.