Published: April 6, 2009
JERUSALEM – The right-wing coalition of the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not bode well for Palestinians in Israel. With the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister, the extremists are going after the indigenous population and threatening us with loyalty tests and the possibility of “transfer” into an area nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu”s intransigence vis-í -vis Palestinians in the occupied territories is certainly cause for concern. No less concerning is what the Netanyahu-Lieberman combination may mean to Palestinian citizens of Israel.
This government, particularly with Lieberman as foreign minister, should be boycotted by the international community, just as it once boycotted Jí¶rg Haider, the late Austrian far-right politician who won global notoriety for his anti-immigrant views.
Lieberman, in one of many outrageous comments, declared in May 2004 that 90 percent of Israel”s Palestinian citizens “have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost.”
But my family and I were on this land centuries before Lieberman arrived here in 1978 from Moldova. We are among the minority who managed to remain when some 700,000 Palestinians were forced out by Israel in 1948.
Today, Lieberman stokes anti-Palestinian sentiment with his threat of “transfer” – a euphemism for renewed ethnic cleansing. Henry Kissinger, too, has called for a territorial swap, and Lieberman cites Kissinger to give his noxious idea a more sophisticated sheen. Lieberman and Kissinger envision exchanging a portion of Israel for a portion of the occupied West Bank seized illegally by Jewish settlers.
But Israel has no legal right to any of the occupied Palestinian territories. And Lieberman has no right to offer the land my home is on in exchange for incorporating Jewish settlers into newly defined Israeli state borders. We are citizens of the state of Israel and do not want to exchange our second-class citizenship in our homeland – subject as we are to numerous laws that discriminate against us – for life in a Palestinian Bantustan.
We take our citizenship seriously and struggle daily to improve our lot and overcome discriminatory laws and practices.
We face discrimination in all fields of life. Arab citizens are 20 percent of the population, but only 6 percent of the employees in the public sector. Not one Arab employee is working in the central bank of Israel. Imagine if there was not one African-American citizen employed in the central bank of the United States.
Israel is simultaneously running three systems of government. The first is full democracy toward its Jewish citizens – ethnocracy. The second is racial discrimination toward the Palestinian minority – creeping Jim Crowism. And the third is occupation of the Palestinian territories with one set of laws for Palestinians and another for Jewish settlers – apartheid.
A few weeks ago, Lieberman”s Yisrael Beiteinu Party led the charge in the Israeli Knesset to ban my party – the Arab Movement for Renewal – from participating in the elections. Netanyahu”s Likud also supported the action. The Supreme Court overturned the maneuvers of the politicians. But their attempt to ban our participation should expose Israel”s democracy to the world as fraudulent.
Lieberman”s inveighing against Palestinian citizens of Israel is not new. Less than three years ago, he called for my death and the death of some of my Palestinian Knesset colleagues for daring to meet with democratically elected Palestinian leaders. Speaking before the Knesset plenum, Lieberman stated: “World War II ended with the Nuremberg trials. The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in this house.” Lieberman now has the power to put his vile views into practice.
We call for more attention from the Obama administration toward the Palestinian minority in Israel. It is a repressed minority suffering from inadequately shared state resources. The enormous annual American aid package to Israel fails almost entirely to reach our community.
Between Netanyahu and Lieberman, the Obama administration will have its hands full. Make no mistake that Netanyahu and Lieberman will press the new administration hard to accept Israeli actions in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – as well as discriminatory anti-Palestinian actions in Israel itself. Settlements will grow and discrimination deepen. American backbone will be crucial in the months ahead.
Ahmad Tibi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of the Knesset, Israel”s Parliament.