For Israel's New Defense Minister, a Bad Arab Is One Who Seeks Reconciliation
The world according to Avigdor Lieberman: When a PLO official holds a discourse with Israelis he must be silenced.
The first decision by new Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman with regard to the Palestinians was to cancel the entrance permit of Mohammed al-Madani, who heads the PLO team for interaction with Israeli society. The team was established in December 2012, and since then has initiated hundreds of meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. According to Madani, the Palestinians have met with people from the right and the left, students, researchers, mayors and women’s organizations.
Lieberman took this step because he said Madani planned to establish a political party that would include Israeli Arabs and Mizrahim (Jews of Mideast and North African origin). If the minister’s people dig a little more, they will discover that he also planned to publish a freebie called “Palestine Today.” It’s a good thing this plot by the Palestinian Sheldon Adelson was foiled at the last minute.
When I asked Madani about Lieberman’s allegation, he categorically denied it, saying half-seriously, half-sarcastically that Lieberman apparently has little respect for the intelligence of his supporters. After all, his dialogue team had met with Jews of Russian origin, some of whom, one may assume, are supporters of Lieberman’s party. “Could I have more influence on them than Lieberman?” he asked.
Most likely, I said to myself. After all, Lieberman even scares his own people. All the prominent people in his party vanish in a second when they fall out of his favor, while Madani, a pleasant fellow, tries to persuade, not to frighten.
I asked what Madani had been doing before he managed to irk Lieberman. Instead of answering me, he responded with a battery of rhetorical questions: Does speaking about the two-state solution constitute a threat to Israel? Do our meetings with Mizrahi Jews, at which we spoke about the good old days when the two peoples lived in peace, pose a threat? What about the meetings with Russian immigrants, in which we spoke of Palestinian students who studied in Russian universities and had Jewish professors — do they undermine Israeli public order?
Unfortunately I had to answer — to myself, of course — yes. Madani’s approach shakes up the foundations of the Israeli right, which thrives on hatred and incitement. Suddenly from out of nowhere comes Madani and raises the possibility of reconciliation between the two peoples. Because of him we will have another term, “reconciliation terrorism,” added to the glory of the Hebrew language.
But this is not the whole story. An item on the NRG website reported that a number of Mizrahi mayors, including the mayor of the northern town of Ma'alot-Tarshiha, had held a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. This, continued the story, “made the security establishment suspicious, and it decided to take action on the matter immediately.” I breathed a sigh of relief. At the last minute a mega-attack was averted. The guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.
What’s amazing about this story is that no one got up and said “Enough with these Kafkaesque accusations.” Overnight the Palestinians, who are suffering from deep internal rifts in their own society, had become a superpower trying to form political parties in Israel. But if these ridiculous allegations were examined closely, one would find that behind the brouhaha is a deep desire to sabotage any and all Palestinian-Israeli discourse. For Lieberman, a good Arab is a militant Arab, and a bad Arab is one who seeks reconciliation between the peoples.
The fight between Lieberman and Madani is the essence of the entire conflict. The former only just arrived and already wants to show the Arabs who’s boss here. And the second, a native of the land for many generations, is trying despite the pain to map out a new path for the benefit of both peoples.
Who will win — the one who denies the other, or the one who is looking for a place in the sun for himself and for the other? This is the difference; there is no other. And regardless of religious, race, or gender, you are called upon to choose.