For One Democratic State
in the whole of Palestine (Israel)


FOR One Man, One Vote



If an American politician will propose to return Texas or San Diego to Mexico, would a Mexican professor call him “a racist who wants to get rid of Hispanics” or just bless this initiative?


A response to Saree Makdisi’s The Rise of  Avigdor Lieberman,

By Israel Shamir



Israeli and Palestinian politics are often misinterpreted by zealous supporters of various parties overseas. So many well-meaning American Jews and Arabs write about events and developments in our country basing their views on their Sunday school lessons or on their prejudices. But even for a man used to misunderstanding, the piece by Professor Saree Makdisi called The Rise of Israel's Avigdor Lieberman with an additional title The Ethnic Cleansing Party Outpaces Likud takes the proverbial cherry. I am sure Professor Makdisi is very knowledgeable regarding William Blake, his main field of study, but he should learn more of the area he presumes to write about. An Arab (or a Jewish) name and origin is just not a substitute of actual knowledge of Israeli politics. As a Russian Israeli writer living in Jaffa with its mixed population, and nor a supporter neither a voter of Yisrael Beiteinu (YB), I feel it is my duty to correct his most obvious errors.


Makdisi claims that “Avigdor Lieberman, leader of YB, is the real winner of the Israeli elections and a potential kingmaker”. The reality is very different: Lieberman’s party has a great difficulty to enter any coalition, neither it is sought by Olmert or Peretz, the leaders of the biggest Israeli parties. Far from being “a potential kingmaker”, Lieberman is an outsider, and there are big chances that he will squander the voices given to him by the Russian Israeli voter by remaining in fruitless opposition. The Israeli mainstream media refers to him and to his party with all the warmness usually reserved for Hamas. Being a Russian, he just does not qualify to be a serious player in Israeli politics. So much for being a winner.


Practically every word in Makdisi’s piece is misleading. He says that Lieberman’s party “outpaced Likud”. What rot! Not only YB with its 11 seats did not outpace Likud with its 12 seats, but more to the point, Likud crashed, ceased to be a major party, and became a middling party, on a par with three ethnic parties, Russian YB (11 seats), Moroccan Shas (12 seats) and the Arab block (10 seats). Thus it is not that YB overtook Likud, but rather, Likud has collapsed.[1]


Even less substantiated is Makdisi’s weird claim that YB is a “racist party” and for them, “non-Jews are not welcome”. As a matter of fact, the YB is the least Jewish nationalist party in the Knesset outside the Arab block, as it is the party of the Russian, heavily non-Jewish community in Israel. At least half of the Russians in Israel, and thus many of YB voters, are just not Jews, and do not regret it. The voters of YB stand for equality of Jews and non-Jews, for civil marriages as opposed to the religious ones, for termination of Rabbinic dictat, for non-kosher restaurants, and they intermarry with the Israeli Palestinians at least as often as with the Israeli Jews. YB does not support the mad idea of “transfer” or mass expulsion of Native Palestinians, as Makdisi claims.


Makdisi makes much of Lieberman’s plan to correct the borders of Israel and calls it “ethnic cleansing”. He writes: “Lieberman proposes that the state's borders be drawn in such a way that Jews are placed on one side of it, and as many Arabs as possible on the other. Lieberman's solution may seem a little less inhumane [than expulsion], but it is just as racist.” He is apparently unaware that this was the idea of the partition of Palestine approved by the UN on November 29, 1947. In 1948, the Jewish state seized some parts of the proposed Palestinian state, including Jerusalem Corridor, Jaffa, Western Galilee and the Wadi Ara area. Lieberman called to return the Wadi Ara area to the future Palestinian state. Mind you: he did not call to expel the Arab dwellers of the area, but to surrender the whole area with its population to the neighbouring state. This is hardly “an ethnic cleansing” idea.


Suppose an American politician will propose to return Texas or San Diego to Mexico. Would a Mexican professor call him “a racist who wants to get rid of Hispanics” or just bless this initiative? If a French politician would propose to return Alsace to Germany, should the German papers curse “a racist who wants to rid France of German-speaking Alsatians”? The answer is obvious: while ethnic cleansing, i.e. separation of people from their land  (like the one perpetrated by Israel in 1948, as correctly stated by Makdisi) is unacceptable, transfer of a territory with its dwellers from one sovereignty to another one is quite a normal and standard procedure in the law of the nations.


Personally, I am not in favour of the so-called “two-states’ solution” and would prefer one state with equal rights for all the dwellers of Palestine/Israel, but meanwhile this idea has too few supporters, and Palestinian and Israeli leaders are still trying to turn our small country into two states. The borders between the twain should be established by negotiations, and the Partition Line of 1947 is certainly the most legitimate starting point for such negotiations. Instead of condemning Lieberman’s proposal we may regret its limited character. Not only Wadi Ara, but Western Galilee, from Nazareth to Acre, were supposed to belong to the Palestinian state. A friend of Palestine should support their return, not object to it. Moreover, I live in Jaffa, predestined by the UN decision to become a part of the Palestinian state, and annexed by the Jewish state in 1948. I would fully support transfer of Jaffa with all its residents (including myself) back into Palestinian sovereignty, if Lieberman were to propose such a step.


Makdisi complains that Lieberman was born in Moldova and still has all the rights in Israel, as opposed to the native population. This does not sound convincing when said by a Lebanese who lives in the US and enjoys all the rights including professorship in an American university, while the Native Americans languish in their reservations.


However, the Lebanese experience of Makdisi could help him to understand the secret of Lieberman. His party is an ethnic party of the Russians, like the Socialist Party of Lebanon is a party of the Druze, or our Communist party is (predominantly) an Arab party, or our Meretz is a party of wealthy Ashkenazis. All other features of these parties are provisory and can change with circumstances. The Russians are probably the most sympathetic to the Native Palestinians group in Israel, and there are many organisations (notably in Nazareth and Jaffa) that work to strengthen these ties.


If this is the case, why YB is described as “racist” and why, despite its electoral success, the party is kept well outside of the pinnacle of power? I can venture an explanation. The Jewish state is ruled, from its murky beginnings in 1920s until today, by a single group of Polish Jews whose recent ancestors were born between Pinsk and Minsk. This is our Mayflower. They fight off attempts of other groups to share power. They fought the German Jews and kept their Liberal Party well outside. They fought the Sephardi Jews when they formed their Shas party, and many Israelis remember 1999 elections call “Anybody but Shas”. Now they fight the Russians. In Israel, they say that the Russians are not Jews, in their propaganda abroad they say the Russians are racist (rather a racist saying, too). Demonisation of these rising groups is just a tool of the ruling elite. The solution of our problems lays in union of the oppressed groups, including Russians, Moroccans and Native Palestinians, for full equality and better power-sharing. This is regrettable that Prof Makdisi did not understand the plot behind the accusations, and supported the “divide and rule” device of the Israeli elites. 

Israel Shamir,


[1] According to the results, Kadima now has 29 seats, Labor has 19, Shas and Likud have 12 each, Yisrael Beiteinu has 11, National Union-National Religious Party has nine, Pensioners' Party has seven, United Torah Judaism has six, Meretz five, Ra'am-Ta'al four , Hadash three and Balad three.