Colin Rubenstein makes a lot of claims in his article in reply to my piece on the rise and rise of Avigdor Lieberman, the Kishinev krusher. The largest is that Israel does not have a form of apartheid in place. The two key features of apartheid are separate legal statuses and structurally unequal economic and physical separation.

There’s no question that apartheid’s the case when the stateless, subject bantustans of the West Bank are taken into consideration. But even within the 1967 borders, the term applies. The Law of Return is an obvious example, allowing Israeli Jews to bring in their relatives, denying that to Israeli Arabs — including since 2003 denying citizenship to territories Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens.

In terms of separate and unequal economic development, Arabs are not eligible to lease the 15% of Israeli land owned by quasi-state agency the Jewish National Fund, and Arab and Jewish towns have vastly different levels of servicing. Ten years ago, an Arab Israeli petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the discrimination directed against him, when he and his family tried to move into a Jewish town. The Supreme Court ruled in favour, but successive governments have failed to take the action (ordered by the court) to overcome this entrenched separate treatment.

And that is not to mention the routine separate treatment caused by the fact that IDs de facto distinguish between Jews and Arabs.

So, yes, within the Green Line, the apartheid is fuzzy, partial, rough and ready and explicitly rejected by parts of the state — but enforced by others and a real thing nevertheless.

Secondly, Rubenstein argues that Avigdor Lieberman’s call for a loyalty oath in which all citizens would have to affirm that Israel is and would be “a Jewish state” (or lose full citizenship) is fair because universally applied. But what is universally applied would be a particular judgement — one in which people are asked to declare their own second-class status. A small number of anti-Zionist “Herida” Jews would also be caught in a dicey situation, as would any number of dissenters — but none of them would be asked to simultaneously marginalise themselves in swearing loyalty to the state they happen to live in.

Thirdly, Lieberman wants border exchanges that would make “settled” areas of the West Bank part of Israel, while Israeli Arab villages become part of the territories. He contemplates this as occurring prior to a Palestinian state being established, in that respect it is a transfer to a stateless entity. Furthermore the type of Palestinian “state” Lieberman envisages is a non-contiguous entity, indefensible and eternally subject to Israel. The very nature of the “swop” would entrench that fundamental inequality. If Rubenstein is arguing that this is a continuity with the 1947 plan whereby the UN proposed to give away half of an indigenous people’s land to European colonialists, I am happy to agree with him.

As to minor points on Gaza — the recent suspension of the Israeli inquiry into military conduct there has clearly occurred because they fear it will put on record sufficient evidence of war crimes to make an international prosecution possible. The Israel lobby can quibble about this killing and that killing and blah blah — but the whole Gaza operation was a wanton and indiscriminate attack, its timing aligned to the US presidential political cycle. It was a punitive decimation, sold to the world as a response to “an existential threat”. The disgust with which it was greeted by a global public far beyond the left or the Muslim world was a response to its combination of cynicism, cold lethal precision and whiny poor-me victimhood, used to dress-up swaggering military superiority deployed against a civilian populace as defence.

Been there done that got the T-shirt — and the T-shirt features an old Arab woman in the gunsights, with the legend “got two” beneath it. Finally, the experimental “new weapon” I mentioned was white phosphorus. Yes, it’s an old weapon, but it is being experimented with as a counterinsurgency strategy — in Iraq most recently and now in Gaza. Clearly, the IDF felt that Gaza was of such a size that the overall usefulness of what is known by the US as a “shake and bake” strategy could be tested.

Nevertheless I welcome Colin Rubenstein’s intervention. I know that when the Australian oath of citizenship specifying that we are “a Christian country” is introduced, he will lead the AIPAC membership en masse to intone their own marginal status, hands-on-hearts.

If he’s still in the job. A couple of years ago we had Colonel Teddy Lapkin in these pages, AIPAC’s PR director, revealing his basic ignorance of the history of the ’46-’48 war. Now we have AIPAC’s director endorsing Avigdor Lieberman as a kinda okay guy. Before his elevation to power, the Kishinev krusher was famous for pleading guilty to assault against a 12 year old child. The boy had got into a spat with Lieberman’s son. Lieberman slapped him round then went to his house and told his parents that he’d beat him to a pulp if he did it again.

Yes, what a wonderful human being to represent Israel to the world. Still, he’s hardly alone. A recent ex-President is up on r-pe charges, the last PM quit as anti-corruption pincers moved in, the head of the IDF used the 2006 Lebanon invasion to hedge his stock portfolio … A lot of people have stopped believing in Israel. Is it possible that Israel’s political-military elite is among them?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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