Strange Bedfellows

On the most important issue facing Israel in the years to come - the integration of the country's Arab minority into society - there is an unbridgeable gulf between Lieberman's views and Likud's.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

Politics makes strange bedfellows. The decision by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to have their parties appear on a joint ticket in the upcoming election is a reminder that this aphorism holds true in Israel today. It was a decision enthusiastically acclaimed at the Likud Central Committee meeting, while Lieberman needed no central committee (does Yisrael Beiteinu have any institutions? ) to approve the decision - his approval was sufficient.

Some people say there is nothing strange about this combination. After all, wasn't Lieberman once a Likud member? Not just a member, but Likud director general? So big deal, he's just one of so many Israeli politicians who have made a habit of moving from one party to another. We should have gotten used to that by now.

And didn't he declare the other night that he, just like Netanyahu, is a follower of Jabotinsky's ideology? So is there really no difference between Likud and Lieberman? Is he no more than a Russian version of Likud? And if so, isn't it right that these two parties should run in the coming election together, putting before the electorate a large bloc rather than two medium-sized parties?

Isn't this a step in the right direction - toward three or four large parties competing in the election, rather than a collection of splinter parties that differ from each other in small details or can't unite because of their leaders' egos? A step toward better governance, Lieberman calls it.

Superficially, these two parties might seem like birds of a feather. Their approach to Israel's problems on the international stage is certainly similar - the same sober realistic approach to friend and foe alike. Lieberman is usually a little more brusque and direct than the prime minister can allow himself to be.

But that's where the similarity ends. On the most important issue facing Israel in the years to come - the integration of the country's Arab minority into society - there is an unbridgeable gulf between Lieberman's views and Likud's. Lieberman doesn't miss an opportunity to offend Israel's Arab citizens, making it clear that he would like to rid Israel of as many of them as possible. In any future agreement with the Palestinians, he proposes that we strip the Arab residents of Umm al-Fahm of their Israeli citizenship and move the town lock stock and barrel into Palestinian territory.

The fewer Arabs the better is what he is implying, a slogan that resonates with the Israeli public's xenophobic fringe. If he thinks this reflects Jabotinsky's teachings, he better read Jabotinsky's writings on the status of the Arab minority in a Jewish state. This isn't Likud - nowhere near it.

Likud in recent years has done far too little to advance the integration of Israel's Arab citizens into society. That goal, of supreme importance to Israel's future, has appeared too low on the priority list of Likud governments. But it remains an integral part of Likud's ideology and is completely inconsistent with Lieberman's views. Therefore running in the next election on a joint slate with Lieberman is an anomaly that strikes a dissonant note in the hearts of many Likud supporters and is bound to negatively affect the results of the joint list in the coming election.

It is also incongruous that Likud, which for years has set an example of democracy in its internal election, should link up with what is essentially a one-man party, where Lieberman will be number two and his appointees will fill every third spot on the combined Knesset slate. This isn't a step in the direction of better governance in Israel. It's a step backward.



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