When Silence Is Deceit

Ehud Olmert's announcement Monday that the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction, Avigdor Lieberman, will be a minister in the government is astounding.

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Ehud Olmert's announcement Monday that the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction, Avigdor Lieberman, will be a minister in the government is astounding. Moreover, the silence of Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz - who heard about the future appointment while conducting covert negotiations with Olmert - is strange. This silence is akin to consent, and it is outrageous. Before the elections, Peretz explicitly stated that he would not agree to sit in a government with Lieberman. Now a few days after he failed in his confused and misguided attempt to establish a right-wing coalition, with National Union as its spine and the settlement rabbis as its enthusiastic supporters, he appears to be someone whose desire to govern spurs him to turn his back on all his principles.

If Peretz agrees to sit in the same government as Lieberman, he will thereby be signaling to his voters that they were justified in their suspicion this week that the leader of the new social-democratic left, who forged a clean and uncompromising ideological path, is capitulating in the face of the benefits of being in government. Peretz must know that the voters who hung such large hopes on him - especially those who believed that he was presenting a serious, even revolutionary, alternative to right-wing policies - will no longer see him as a leader, but as a power-hungry go-getter.

The disappointment in Peretz's case will be a strong boomerang of the kind that Labor leaders once knew all about. Those leaders never pretended to speak in the name of pure ideology, but were characterized by pragmatism and flexibility, traits that have certain advantages but gave Labor a bad name.

As for Olmert, it is not clear why he is turning to Lieberman in the first place. Were it not for Olmert's ability to form a coalition without him, one could have found weak excuses for the request that Lieberman join the government. In the current situation, with Labor a sure partner, along with Shas, the Pensioners and United Torah Judaism, the only message for the Arab citizens of Israel in this request is that their exclusion will not only continue, but will get worse. Lieberman will certainly demand the public security portfolio, and giving him this ministry will be a cynical and dangerous act.

Olmert may think that the invitation extended to Lieberman will be interpreted as an embrace of the Russian immigrant population. He is mistaken. It is destructive to accept the sectorial voting of some immigrants while ignoring the racist and belligerent platform in order to pay a visit to a political "home." Denouncing Lieberman's platform does not mean ignoring immigrants. On the contrary, it is a call to this extensive population to give up on sectorial voting. Such a call, if accompanied by improved treatment of immigrants based on their needs, is liable to break open sectorial voting in the future.

Lieberman, therefore, has no place in the government. What is right for Olmert to do is 10 times more right for Peretz to do. If these two establish an all-inclusive coalition that completely ignores the will of the voter, that government will be forlorn and its days may be numbered.



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