As any fan of suspense film will tell you, the real fear generated by the cinematic experience comes not from what’s happening on screen at the moment, but from the thought of what dreadful occurrence might be coming next.
A similar fear possessed me this week as I was sifting through the reams of coverage regarding Israel’s proposed new “Loyalty Oath”. Because what really made me shiver, more than one particular piece of objectionable legislation, were the ominous words issued to the Israeli Cabinet by the bill’s moving spirit, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party:
“Clearly,” Lieberman foreboded, “this will not be the final word on loyalty and citizenship.”
In other words, worse is yet to come. What further steps does Lieberman have in mind?
Before going any further, let me review for those who don’t drink down the latest news from Israel with their morning cup of coffee. This past Sunday, the Netanyahu Cabinet voted overwhelmingly to promote a change to Israel’s loyalty oath, which would add the words, “as a Jewish and democratic state” to the current, “I swear to respect the laws of the state of Israel”.
The bill, as currently drafted, would not apply to Jews immigrating to Israel, only to non-Jews who wish to do so. In the meantime, it would not affect any current citizens.
Two proposed amendments to the bill – one that would make it apply to Jewish immigrants, too; and another, proposed by Labor leader Ehud Barak, which would add “in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence” to the text – are soon to be debated by a Ministerial Committee, which could bring a redrafted version back to the Cabinet.
But even if the current draft is slightly diluted; and even if it is eventually defeated in Knesset, should enough Likud backbenchers be convinced to block it, Lieberman will have scored a victory: Yisrael Beiteinu-style anti-Arab discrimination has already taken another giant step toward legitimacy in Israel. And Lieberman has climbed another rung on the ladder leading toward the Prime Minister’s Office.
- Lieberman’s full loyalty oath plan goes far beyond new immigrants to include all citizens, including anyone born in Israel.
Translation: The current, limited bill is merely a foot in the legislative door. A more expansive bill awaits.
- Lieberman would strip citizenship rights from those unwilling to sign his oath of loyalty. “Whoever refuses,” the party’s website warns, “[will lose] the right to vote and be elected to the Knesset”.
Translation: The loyalty oath idea is nothing more than an exploitation of Zionist sentiment that would be used to disenfranchise the country’s Arab minority.
- Lieberman and his party state clearly that Jews and Arabs cannot co-exist in Israel. As a result, his party’s platform looks forward to a unilingual, uni-ethnic, uni-religious Israel, effected via a so-called “population exchange” with the Palestinians.
Translation: Since Lieberman doesn’t believe in a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon, do we really trust him to put off his plans for “exchange” indefinitely? Or would he act unilaterally in favor of “transfer”?
For those who think that a party platform is a sterile, irrelevant document, Lieberman’s recent pronouncement predicting mass disloyalty by Israel’s Arab minority should serve as a wake-up call.
“Israeli Arabs will agitate against Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state …, and will use violence to try and establish autonomous areas around the country,” Lieberman recently announced, according to his party’s website. Lieberman, of course, has a ready-made ‘solution’ for dealing with a ‘disloyal’ minority, whose ties to the State of Israel he seems intent on severing.
And if all this still seems too hypothetical, Israel Radio reported last Friday that the Israeli security establishment (the Israel Prisons Service, the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police and the Home Front Command) had conducted a very real large-scale drill to prepare for the possibility of ethnic transfer. Available in full on YouTube in Hebrew, the report noted chillingly:
“The drill simulate[d] extreme scenarios, including that the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will include transfer of Israeli Arab citizens that will bring about a wave of riots in the Arab sector, and large-scale arrests amongst the Arab population. For taking in the detainees, a detention camp for Israeli Arabs will be erected at Golani Junction [in the Galilee].”
With the aid and support of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and with the acquiescence of Ehud Barak’s Labor Party, Avigdor Lieberman is leading Israel to a situation that is dark and dangerous. Dare we continue to believe that this is only a nightmare from which we, and Israel, will soon awake?
Earlier this year, following the initial attack against the New Israel Fund by the Im Tirtzu group, Meretz chair, Haim Oron, reflected upon the real possibility of Israel becoming a fascist state. His words sound even more relevant following the events of the past week:
A society does not lose its sanity in an instant. It does not turn from democratic to fascistic overnight. As history shows, these processes occur in a string of small events. Some of these occur because the establishment is not standing guard over democracy, and some are at the initiative of the establishment itself. Each one of them is a small, almost imperceptible, step, and when it is allowed to pass without anyone taking notice, the boundaries are stretched a bit further. And further. And further.
Until one day, the society wakes up to discover that it’s somewhere that, not long ago, we wouldn’t have believed we could be. Usually that’s too late, and the awakening comes only after the catastrophe that rouses people from their slumber. “Have the courage to change before troubles strike,” Yitzhak Ben-Aharon once said. Well the troubles are at our doorstep, and we’re desperately in need of courage.