The Real Rhinos

By opposing Lieberman's anti-democratic methods, four top Likud figures have emerged as the last representatives of the liberal tradition which Israel's right has long since abandoned.

Opposing Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman's inflammatory populist rhetoric against Arab citizens and human rights organizations, four top Likud figures stood their ground. These were ministers Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

lieberman - Emil Salman - December 14 2010
Emil Salman

The four loyally defend democracy and uphold civil liberties, and they have emerged as the last representatives of the liberal tradition which Israel's right has long since abandoned.

The four took exception to Lieberman's proposal to create a parliamentary investigative committee to examine funding sources of human rights organizations that operate in Israel and in the territories. They opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has jumped on Lieberman's bandwagon of incitement. The foreign minister, however, was not satisfied with his parliamentary victory and the political profit he has reaped from it; he found cause to call the Likud moderates "rhinos."

In fact, they are the ones standing against the theater of the absurd being played out in Israeli politics, refusing to turn into the thick-skinned and intolerant rhinoceroses of the Eugene Ionesco play.

Lieberman's assault goaded them to take steps on behalf of saving Israel's democracy. Speaking to Haaretz's Mazal Mualem, Meridor said "When freedom of expression and the freedom to express an opinion are threatened, then Israeli democracy is also threatened. We have to fight against these phenomena to take care of ourselves so we don't fall into the kind of place I wouldn't want to be in. The bodies that work on behalf of human rights generally do very important and difficult work because they have to operate in times of fighting and tension between peoples, when there is not a great deal of tolerance for human rights."

In a speech to the Knesset, Begin spoke about the "decisive difference between government of the majority and the tyranny of the majority;" Eitan ridiculed Lieberman's ignorance and inflammatory rhetoric; and Rivlin stated "I am stubborn about not changing my views when it comes to the importance of Israel's democracy."

The four showed their associates, starting with Netanyahu, that the real rhinos are those who support Lieberman in order to curry favor with the public. Netanyahu attacked Lieberman, saying his party is not a dictatorship; but the prime minister has not opposed the foreign minister's anti-democratic positions.

Meridor and Begin have pledged to work toward voiding the parliamentary committee via another Knesset vote. Their colleagues should adopt the moderates' position, and scrap this disgraceful committee initiative. That would erase an ugly stain from the Knesset's record.