The Unmarried Arab Woman Who Drives Israelis Nuts

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Balad MK Haneen Zoabi in the Knesset.Credit: Knesset Channel

Strangely, even the government's severist critics have accepted that Israel’s foreign minister incites the public like a person posting an anonymous comment online. That’s how it is when you get used to something.

Avigdor Lieberman called for a boycott of Arab businesses that took part in the strike in memory of the Gaza war’s Palestinian victims. He claimed that MK Haneen Zoabi deserved to be punished like the terrorists who kidnapped the yeshiva boys in the West Bank — this came after her “they aren’t terrorists” remark. (And what’s the proper punishment according to Lieberman? Life imprisonment? Death?)

Now comes Lieberman’s latest response after Zoabi compared air force pilots to decapitators from the Islamic State.

“The law must be used to put the terrorist — there is no other word for it — Haneen Zoabi in jail for many years,” Lieberman told Israel Radio. “There is no reason she should be here in Israel or have Israeli citizenship. She should have stayed in Qatar [when she visited over the summer ]. She can also live in Gaza. As a single woman, dressed the way she dresses, she will feel very comfortable in the company of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

For a moment let’s set aside the racist issue, a basic component of Lieberman’s politics. He sees Muslims as one large, dark and primitive bloc that covers its women’s bodies and abuses the unmarried ones.

Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Let’s also set aside the free rein that Lieberman gives to his antidemocratic fantasies, since in a democratic country there is no rational reason for imprisoning Zoabi, even if her statements are infuriating. Let’s also set aside the irony in Lieberman’s turning to “the mills of justice” and “the law-enforcement system” in his remarks.

Let’s focus on the words “a single woman, dressed the way she dresses.” Let’s focus on that because in this case the chauvinism and misogyny surpass the racism — no mean feat for Lieberman.

His abhorrence of Zoabi and his fear of what she is — a fearless Arab woman — are driving him crazy. Lieberman’s reaction in this case deviates from the usual barbs and slanders of a political battle; it even surpasses the other ultranationalist tricks to which Lieberman and Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett resort in their fight for right-wing voters.

Lieberman refers to Zoabi’s appearance, to her personal life, and by implication even to her sexuality. His statement drifts into the physical realm because Zoabi oversteps the boundaries she is expected to accept as an Arab and a woman, at least according to the foreign minister’s criteria. And Lieberman apparently doesn’t like women who overstep boundaries. Ask former Yisrael Beiteinu MK Anastasia Michaeli, whose place of political burial is unknown.

Lieberman likes his women the way he likes his Arabs and political cohorts — obedient and loyal. Without loyalty there is no citizenship and no room in the party or the Knesset. Anyone who is not loyal to Lieberman — excuse me, to the state – cannot exist here, and Zoabi’s existence is a finger in his eye. That’s why Lieberman has to erase her and uproot her dangerous habitat so that no others like her will arise. He has to remove her from the line of sight — to prison, to Gaza or to Qatar.

Regardless of political opinion or agreement or disagreement with the principles of Zoabi’s Balad party, anyone who wants to live in a democratic country with freedom of expression, equal rights and liberal values — first and foremost individual freedom and rights — has to be a defender in this duel over Zoabi.

We can condemn her words, we can criticize her tendency to stoop to inflammatory statements, but we cannot agree to her targeted assassination, especially by the cabinet member responsible for Israel’s foreign policy. That is, when he isn’t writing sarcastic posts on Facebook.

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