Even at the height of the Oslo process in the 1990s, Israelis remained suspicious of Palestinian intentions, and especially suspicious of “Mr. Palestinian”, Yassir Arafat. So when Mr. Arafat would make speeches in Washington or London about peace, many Israelis would typically counter with: “It’s what he says to his people in Arabic that matters, not what he tells the Americans [or Brits] in English.” The point was that, in his speeches for domestic consumption, Arafat was never as dainty.
I was reminded of that argument this week, after I read Avigdor Lieberman’s attempt to portray himself as an A-1 moderate in an op-ed in the New York Jewish Week.
Here is just one of Lieberman’s gems: “Yisrael Beiteinu has no objection to the nonviolent expression of opinion. It is violent speech that forms a clear and present danger that we refuse to tolerate.”
But what, pray tell, does the man say in Hebrew? Here’s just one snippet from the party’s platform. Try and find where the party is only opposing “violent speech”:
“An important section of Israel’s security as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic [sic] state is a law that makes the citizenship contingent on a declaration of loyalty to the State as a Jewish State, to its symbols, to its sovereignty, and to its declaration of independence, and to accepting the obligation to serve the State in military or alternative non-military service. Only he who signs the declaration will be a citizen entitled to full rights and obligations. Whoever refuses will be entitled to the full rights of a permanent resident, without the right to vote or be elected to the Knesset.”
Not a word about “violent speech” or even violence as a criterion for anything. If you don’t believe me, here’s the item in its original Hebrew:
נדבך חשוב לביטחון ישראל כמדינה יהודית, ציונית ודמוקרטית הוא חוק, המתנה קבלת אזרחות בהצהרת נאמנות למדינה כמדינה יהודית, לסמליה, לריבונותה, ולמגילת העצמאות, וקבלת החובה לשרת את המדינה בשירות צבאי או אזרחי חלופי. רק מי שיחתום על ההצהרה יהיה אזרח הזכאי למלוא הזכויות והחובות. מי שיסרב יהיה זכאי למלוא הזכויות של תושב קבע, ללא הזכות לבחור ולהיבחר לכנסת.
Even David Harris of the American Jewish Committee seems embarrassed by Lieberman’s sad attempt to dress up in sheep’s clothing. In a so-called “rebuttal op-ed” that the Jewish Week prudently ran (although I don’t agree with giving Lieberman a legitimate platform in the first place), here’s what Harris had to say:
“[H]is essay does not own up to the views he has expressed elsewhere, or, no less important, to the ugly words he has chosen to express them.”
In other words, even the AJC – no bastion of progressive Zionism – realizes just how pathetically hollow Lieberman’s op-ed is.
(Unfortunately, Harris refuses to condemn Lieberman outright as an irreparable danger to Israeli democracy. Instead, he feels obliged to help whitewash Lieberman (using phrases such as, “Avigdor Lieberman has a point” and suggesting that Lieberman’s campaign was just populist politicking) – just like other mainstream American Jewish organizations, including the ADL and ZOA.
But Lieberman is not the only example. Yesterday, Bibi Netanyahu spoke in his polished English to George Mitchell, promising to honor “all international commitments” made by Israel. But here’s what his protege, Likud MK Gilad Erdan, had to say today – in Hebrew – about Tzipi Livni’s refusal to join a government that didn’t support a two-state solution:
“It’s sad that Ms. [Livni] is so worried about Palestinian interests that she’s ready to damage national unity and the Israeli interest. In doing so, she is placing herself and Kadima on the extreme, hallucinatory left that always justifies the Palestinians, while the residents of the South continue to endure Kassams and the Iranian threat is closer than ever.”
In other words, while Netanyahu plays nice in English, his hatchet man brands former Likudnik Livni as an “Arab lover” and “enemy of the State”. It all smells very foul.
So each time we hear Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Lieberman, or others kissing up to the American audience, we need to give them a dose of their own medicine and ask: Yes, but what did he say in Hebrew?