Since the election almost a year ago, his biggest achievement has been the setting up of a cabinet: 30 ministers and a bunch of deputies, most of them without any perceptible duties, some of them in charge of ministries for which they are the most unsuited of all possible candidates. In this zoo, the one really important creature is the Liebarak — a two-headed monster that terrifies all the other animals. This animal is 50 per cent Lieberman, 50 per cent Barak, 0 per cent human. When Lieberman first appeared on the stage, many looked on him with disdain. For ten years, he has been under investigation by the police on suspicion of corruption.
In the eyes of many Israelis, he is the most un-Israeli figure imaginable. They consider his outward appearance, body language and dialect as blatantly “un-Israeli”, belonging to someone who is “not one of us”. How can Israelis vote for such a person?
Lieberman is a settler based in Nokdim, a settlement near Bethlehem, and the settlers are not popular in Israel. He is openly racist, a hater of Arabs who despises peace, a man whose declared aim is to rid Israel of the Arabs. True, there is in Israel a lot of silent racism, partly unconscious, but this racism is denied. Israelis — it was believed — will not vote for an outright racist.
The last elections put an end to this belief. Lieberman’s party won 15 Knesset seats, two more than Barak’s party, and became the third biggest Knesset faction. Not a few “real” Israeli youngsters voted for him. They saw him as a good address for their protest vote. But Lieberman is a man of brutal power, lacking any scruples, a man ready to appeal — as Joseph Goebbels put it — to the most primitive instincts of the masses. We may yet see in Israel a coalition of all the malcontents and the angry, as the Bible says about David when he fled from King Saul. Lieberman’s home turf is the community of Soviet immigrants who have not been absorbed into Israeli society and who live in a spiritual and social ghetto. They may be joined by other sectors: the settlers, the Oriental Jews. This danger should not be underrated. Other historical leaders of his ilk were at first considered clowns and ridiculed, before they came to power and wrought havoc.
But the second head of the Liebarak is more dangerous than the first. The danger of Lieberman lies in the future. The danger of Ehud Barak is immediate and real. This week, Ehud Barak did something that should turn on another red light. On the demand of Lieberman, Barak accorded the Settlers’ college in Ariel the status of a university.
Unlike the “foreign” Lieberman, Barak comes from the epicentre of Israel. He grew up in a kibbutz, was a commander in the elite “General Staff commando” and speaks perfect Hebrew with the right intonation. As a former Chief of Staff and a present Minister of Defence, he represents the might of the most formidable sector in Israel: the army. Lieberman has not yet succeeded in hurting the chances of peace, except by talking. Barak has acted. I once called him a “peace criminal”, in contradistinction to a “war criminal” — though nowadays many would accord him this distinction, too.
The fatal blow dealt by Barak to the chances of peace came after the 2000 Camp David conference. To recount briefly: when he was elected in 1999 with a landslide majority, on the wave of enthusiasm of the peace camp and with the help of clear peace slogans, he induced Presidents Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat to meet him at a summit conference. In a typical mixture of arrogance and ignorance, he believed that if he offered the Palestinians the chance to found a Palestinian state, they would give up all their other claims. His offers were indeed more far-reaching than those of his predecessors, but still far from the minimum acceptable to Palestinians. The conference failed. Coming home from Camp David, he coined a mantra that has since become the centre of the national consensus: “I have offered the Palestinians everything they could ask for / They have rejected everything / We Have No Partner For Peace.”
This declaration by the leader of the Labour Party, dealt a mortal blow to the Israeli peace forces. The vast majority of the Israelis believe now with all their heart that “we have no partner for peace”. Throughout his time in office, Barak established and enlarged settlements. On his orders, the Commanding Officer of Central Command issued a permit for a radio station of the settlers. In this respect, too, he has trumped Lieberman. His decision about the Ariel university fits into this pattern.
Ariel is occupied territory. In the occupied territories, the army is the sovereign power. Barak is in charge of the army. The directive to upgrade the Ariel College was given by Barak to the commanding officer. This is the only civil university in the democratic world set up by the army.
An occupation regime is by its nature a temporary situation. It comes into being when one side in a war conquers territory of the other side. The occupying power is supposed to rule it, under detailed international laws, until the end of the war, when a peace agreement must decide the future of the territory. A war may last some years, at most, and therefore the occupation is a temporary matter. Successive Israeli governments have turned it into a permanent situation.
Why? At the outset of the occupation, Moshe Dayan discovered that the occupation is really an ideal situation. It gives the occupier absolute power without any obligation to accord the inhabitants any citizenship rights whatsoever. If Israel were to annex the territories, it would have to decide what to do with the population. That would create an embarrassing situation. The inhabitants of East Jerusalem, which was formally annexed to Israel in 1967, did not receive citizenship, but only the status of ”residents”.
A status of occupation solves all these problems. The inhabitants of the occupied territories have no rights whatsoever — neither national, nor civil, nor human. The Israel government builds settlements wherever it sees fit, also contrary to international law, and now it is setting up a university, too.
The Spanish government has already declared a boycott of the Ariel college and cancelled its participation in an international architectural competition run by Spain. I hope that more governments and academic institutions will follow this example. True, the Liebarak couldn’t care less. This two-headed monster is indifferent to boycotts. But an academic institution cannot be indifferent to a boycott by its peers around the world. And if the Israeli academic community does not rise up against this prostitution of its ideals by the setting up of a university of the settlers under military auspices — it is inviting a boycott on all Israeli universities.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli peace activist. He served three terms in the Israeli parliament (Knesset), and is the founder of Gush Shalom peace movement. For comments, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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