Understanding Lieberman’s Voters

Haim Watzman

Why do I really dislike Avigdor Lieberman? Because he’s forcing me to write about politics. When Gershom and I started this blog, I thought he’d take the political beat and leave me free to write about my country’s diverse and exciting culture and literature. But who can concentrate on books when the wolves are howling at the door?

A couple days before the election I had a long conversation with a young Palestinian-Israeli woman I often see at my favorite South Jerusalem café, The Coffee Mill. Like me, she was in despair over the likely results of the impending election, although unlike me, she wasn’t planning to vote.

I told her something that I’m afraid may shock some of SoJo’s readers, those who seem to measure us by the extent to which we conform to left-wing clichés. I told her that the Israelis who voted for Lieberman and his party aren’t evil people.

She was taken aback, too. After all, we’d just agreed that Lieberman spouted totalitarian rhetoric and racism. Isn’t that enough to make him a fascist? And aren’t people who support fascists themselves fascists. And aren’t we, excuse me, supposed to hate fascists? Aren’t we supposed to execrate them, bare their true faces to the world, and defeat them?

I respectfully disagreed both with her analysis and her strategy.

The great majority of people who voted for Lieberman are not ideologues. They voted him not because of his political philosophy, but because he knows how to appeal to their most basic fears. Lieberman’s voters are scared stiff—they fear war and terror, they fear Muslims and Arabs, and they have felt horribly insecure under a government that has talked a lot about peace agreements but which has actually led the country into two wars.

If we rational, peace-loving lefties stage lots of demonstrations where we shout “Fascists! Fascists!” at Lieberman’s voters, we’re going to scare them even more and ensure that Avigdor the Terrible gets even more votes in the next election.

On the contrary, we’ve got to accept that their fears are real. And, Israel being a democracy (yes! despite it all!), we need to present a convincing case to Lieberman’s voters. We need to find ways to explain to them that some of their fears are justified, but that some are overblown. We need to persuade them that accommodation with the Arabs and an open society at home are better guarantors of their long-term personal security welfare than is the leadership of a belligerent and benighted strong man.

The best friends of totalitarianism, whether of the right or the left, are fear and instability. When people fear for their lives and don’t know whether they’ll have a job tomorrow, they grasp at what straws they can, and a glib populist can exploit them. If we simply dismiss these voters as evil, we’ll never engage them. And unless we engage them, we’ll never have a chance of changing the way they think.

It’s not going to be easy, because we live in a dangerous and instable region and face problems so difficult that any possible solution necessarily involves great risk. But if we want, some day, to be able to ignore politics and relax with a good book, we can’t just condemn Lieberman’s voters. We must understand them.

32 thoughts on “Understanding Lieberman’s Voters”

  1. Amen! I recently found myself in a discussion with one of my kids from camp who lives in Israel. He told me that although his parents voted for Avodah, Lieberman was “the best.” This is a 14-year-old. His friends at school probably love Lieberman and why wouldn’t they — there is honestly no other fresh, new voice out there. Just the same left, right, center rhetoric of the nineties that does not work. The only way to defeat Lieberman is not to scare lefties into hating him, but to offer another alternative that is progressive and pro-peace.

    Great post.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this forever and I do not have a simple solution, and I don’t know who does, but since “Lieberman’s issues” have been raised, I wanted to see if anyone does – what does Israel do about the demographic problem? Israel is the Jewish state, and can only remain as such with an overwhelming Jewish majority – which seems to be slowly slipping away.

    Setting aside the issue of the demographics between the Jordan River and the sea, and only discussing Israeli citizens – what do we do??

  3. On the one hand he is a racist, a neo-fascist, and has connections to the Russian mafia and all sorts of political corruption in Israel.

    On the other hand, he is reducing the power and funding of the ultra-orthodox, and he is actually willing/interested in getting out of the west bank and occupation/settlements.

    Perhaps I am grabbing at straws to make lemonade out of bitter lemons… but… Is there any chance that any good can come out of this… maybe an secular majority coalition to reduce the lock of the ultraorthodox? Maybe reduce some of the outposts and settlements?

  4. I think the fact they voted for lieberman is understandable — but you must draw the line between what can be understood and what can be justified.

    nationalism in fact hardly never just sprouts and spreads out of the blue. it has many reasons — societal, economic, and security-related.

    many of lieberman’s supporters (most of them russians) are poor, alienated, and disaffected, and have a great hatred for the arabs — some of which emanates from fear.

    but when they and the rest of lieberman’s bunch shout “death to the arabs”, meaning all arabs and not only “those out to get us,” do you really think it’s their fear speaking? fear that israeli arabs, who are incredibly peaceful by and large, will storm past the idf and police and massacre us all?

    no, it is more than just fear, and if they would stop and objectively think (if they are at all capable of that) how israel neglects the arabs, and oppresses the palestinians, maybe some of their “fear” would be soothed.

    lieberman’s voters aren’t as soft-hearted as you make them out to be. most of his russian supporters don’t give a damn about democracy, they hate ethiopians and mizrahim nearly as much as the arabs, and are an embittered and jingoistic bunch. his jewish supporters are in love with war and with power.

    their fear is largely self-created, and if some of it is understandable, the way they express it is certainly not acceptable.

    they are not victims fearing the arab bully. but they certainly suffer from self-victimization.

  5. LB — you raise a good question, but the answer might not be so complicated.

    arab birthrates have dropped a bit recently. and like any modernized society, if in the next 10-15-20 years we put much resources into really stopping to neglect them and building their economy, education, giving them jobs and thereby perhaps spurring secularization, then the birthrates might well drop significantly.

    and perhaps in 50 years it won’t matter to most israelis anymore if arabs are 20% or 51%.

    by the way, if i were you, i’d worry more about how the jewish population of this country will look like in the future, with a majority of haredim and fanatic religious settler-types. that’s a danger harder to counter.

  6. An excellent, thoughtful piece. But you leave out the next step. Yes, we need to recognize the fears of Lieberman’s supporters. But we also need to move as quickly as possible to limit Lieberman’s power, while keeping him busy enough that he doesn’t have time to be out there rabble-rousing and fear-mongering. Because that crowd of supporters can be driven to a kind of frenzy that the world hasn’t seen since the 1930s, and we know what that led to…

  7. Alon – the issue of the makeup of the Jewish population is a very different issue. With regards to what else you said – two things.

    1. Yes, Arab birthrate has dropped recently – but we have no guarantee Jewish and Arab birthrates will be equal anytime soon (nor do I of any massive upcoming aliyah waves).

    2. “perhaps in 50 years it won’t matter to most israelis anymore if arabs are 20% or 51%.” I couldn’t disagree more. The Jewish state is the goal. Jewish sovereignty is the goal, not just a nice place for Jews to live. That can only be achieved if Jews rule, and that can only be democratic if Jews constitute the overwhelming majority.

    Thanks for taking the time and responding to my right wing fears…

  8. LB — why don’t you respond to my main suggestion that ending their neglect and modernizing their society could help.

    as for the 50 years — you will find that in history deep rooted ideas that once seemed absolute and certain often faded away when they were no longer necessary. try not to be dogmatic and realize that 50 years (or 100 years for that matter) is a very long time. jewish sovereignty is the goal right now, because the arabs aren’t exactly our greatest friends and because we are only 6 decades after the holocaust.

    i totally agree that in the near future jews must rule israel. but in the more distant future, if indeed we work with full force to ensure a radically better future (as i proposed) , we might find jewish rule to be archaic and a thing of the past, of history.

    just tell the irish in the 1920’s they’d have such peace and prosperity. or the europeans in world war I or WWII that europe would one day be joined in the EU. would they believe it?

  9. “why don’t you respond to my main suggestion that ending their neglect and modernizing their society could help.” Sorry, must have slipped my mind when I was responding.

    Anyway, modernizing their society, improving education and infrastructure (and eliminating corruption among municipal leaders) in the Arab community are the most important things that can be done. Agreed. Nevertheless, it seems like the Muslims in the community are radicalized, actively, by groups such the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

    Regarding Zionism in the future – I must disagree. Jewish sovereignty is a goal and of itself – regardless of who is and isn’t our friend. If everyone will be nice to each other and lovey-dovey – then no more war – great (and I mean that – it will be great). But that will not remove the desire for Jewish independence.

    I don’t think you can make a comparison to Europe, though – Jews are a people, and the conflict in the Middle East is a national one – in Europe, with all due respect – the real differences between the groups, aren’t all that great (not say they don’t disagree, but that the inherent differences between Irish and English, regardless of religion, aren’t as great as Jewish-Arab differences).

  10. Sorry, you have only yourselves to blame for Lieberman. Israel is becoming two peoples-one who lives in TA, doesnt serve in the army (usually convenient psych deferments), doesnt care about other Israelis (Russians, Sephardim, etc), and is much more comfortable in Berlin than Jerusalem. The other is red state Israel, staunchly zionist, includes secular, traditional, and religious people. Blue state Israel has failed Israel in several ways-it has failed to settle the Gush Katif refugees, it has failed to defend Sderot until recently, and it values the feelings of European antisemites over Jews living in Sderot, Jerusalem, Northern Israel, etc. So why shouldnt Israelis vote for Lieberman-what has Meretz or labor done for the on TA Israeli except laugh at them?

  11. Sorry, you have only yourselves to blame for Lieberman. Israel is becoming two peoples-one who lives in TA, doesnt serve in the army (usually convenient psych deferments), doesnt care about other Israelis (Russians, Sephardim, etc), and is much more comfortable in Berlin than Jerusalem. The other is red state Israel, staunchly zionist, includes secular, traditional, and religious people. Blue state Israel has failed Israel in several ways-it has failed to settle the Gush Katif refugees, it has failed to defend Sderot until recently, and it values the feelings of European antisemites over Jews living in Sderot, Jerusalem, Northern Israel, etc. So why shouldnt Israelis vote for Lieberman-what has Meretz or labor done for the NON TA Israeli except laugh at them?

  12. From one of the majority , who in 50 years will not be the majority here in the U.S.but a “fudge ripple” of people of all stripes . I think this “chest beating ” of the Jewish State for Jews is so much B.S. and will go down in history along with the malestrom of ever changing demography in the Near East.The short-sighteness of Israeli politicians has always been a mystery to me for such a intelligent and talented people. You would be well-served to read AMERICAN LION the recent book on Andrew Jackson , who truly was our first modern President, who understood politics and the power of compromise as political power and being the leader of the people.I don’t see any your present group contestants as a n outstanding leader who can say I am the people’s representative; maybe it’s your backward parlimentary system that produces these non-functional coalitions of the unwilling and the unproductive

  13. LB — the conflict in ireland was different than ours, that’s true, but it lasted for hundreds of years and is similar in a few senses — including the fact that it seemed intractable.

    our conflict is a national one? i’m not quite sure what you mean by that. what i know is that two peoples (one nation and one occupied nation) are involved in this conflict, and that it has religious undertones and pretexts — but that at the end of the day it’s a conflict more about a territorial dispute an much less about ethnic differences. you cannot deny that the palestinians under occupation are fighting for land (the fanatics among them for all of it) and freedom from oppression, no matter how self-defeatingly and extremely they conduct their battle.

    and the Israeli-arabs, for that matter, haven’t called so far for independence, and overwhelmingly wish to live in israel in peace and equality (according to numerous research) – and to receive better treatment from the state.

    the conflict is between two people of different ethnicity — but that does not mean the conflict is inherent in the ethnic difference between them.

    which means that yes, over the years, whether this sounds impossible to you or not, it is wholly possible that the lines and boundaries between us will fade and maybe even vanish. this example might sound corny to you, but do you think the slaves in 19th-century america would dare to think that one day a blackman would rule america? and i think that was a real case of ethnic strife, don’t you?

    and one last thing: what exactly does jewish sovereignty mean? if one day jews in israel have a jewish-arab government, does that mean jews aren’t sovereign?

    and if all danger to jews in israel is one day gone, and they are independent to do whatever they wish in a country of both jews and arabs, why in fact is “sovereignty” a “goal in and of itself”?

    was zionism not born out of a very real threat to the existence of jews, and got its overwhelming drive from that threat? and was not what truly necessitated zionism a pragmatic — not theoretical/idealistic — goal?

    if you can explain to yourself –without logical loops and empty cliches and ignoring historical reasons and their possible impertinence in the future — why zionism is a goal in and of itself, then feel free to share your conclusion with me.

  14. alon – Zionism is a goal because thousands of years have proven that people don’t like us when we live among them, either that or we disappear by way of assimilation – the other danger Zionism seeks to combat.

    I don’t believe that hundreds of years will change that – this situation has been around for much longer than blacks were slaves in the West, for much longer than any other conflict.

    Also, without getting into the details of politics (I’m really doing my best to avoid getting into a what to do about the Palestinians discussion – because that will completely sidetrack us entirely), other Arabs don’t exactly like us, and not for reasons that just have to do with land (based on British mandate and 1947-49 history, at the very least).

    You also say – “it is wholly possible that the lines and boundaries between us will fade and maybe even vanish.” Very true. Very dangerous, in my view, too. That would be the end of the Jewish people, literally – something I do not wish for in the least.

    I hope I’ve been clear.

  15. LB — i’m not going to continue on and on about this, but you answered in exactly the way i asked you to try not to. you ignored that the valid historical reasons for zionism may be irrelevant in the future, and you resorted to ideas that seem solid but in fact have no real basis behind them.

    you talk about the end of the jewish people, for instance. what does the end of the jewish people mean? why is assimilation such a great tragedy? of course you (and many others) have the right to wish that jews marry only jews and don’t let their culture be influenced by other cultures etc. but surely you can understand that is not a good enough reason to present assimilation as a violation of some moral imperative . many assimilated jews in america live their lives just fine, and i don’t believe you have a solid reason or justification to tell them they are wrong.

    in a way, the basis for zionism is very pragmatic, but more fundamentally, the explanations people have for it are rooted in dogma. like a religious believer explains why his religion cannot be violated — he is so sure he must be right because the ideas behind his belief seem so absolute to him. but in fact religion — any religion — is based on dogma and the inertia of tradition, and not much more.
    What seems true and certain to you and most others now, may look like distant, irrelevant history in years to come.

  16. Alon-
    I frequently encounter people, both Jews and non-Jews asking the question “why don’t Jews just assimilate and be done with it” i.e. ending “the Jewish problem”. At first glance, it seems to be a reasonable question. But, when looking further into the matter, I do NOT see these people , asking, for instance, why don’t the Northern Ireland Catholics give up their struggle to reunite with the Republic of Ireland, convert to Protestantism and accept British rule in Northern Ireland? Or, why don’t you ask why the Hindu Tamils of Sri Lanka don’t just convert to Buddhism and accept Sinhalese domination of the the island? Or why not ask the Pakistanis why they insisted on partition of India and simply accept having the Muslims live as a minority within Hindu-dominated India? Or why not insist the French-speaking Quebeckers give up their French culture, speak English and accept English majority domination of Canada?
    Or why didn’t the Algerians accept their position as part of France and simply become Christian Frenchmen of equal status as the people in Metropolitian France and choose to fight at bloody war of independence? Throughout the Muslim Middle East various religious minorities (Jews, Christians, Yazdi, Zoroastrians, etc) are under various degrees of pressure, from things like discrimination of the Copts in Egypt all the way to violent ethnic cleansing of Christians, Yazdis and others in Iraq. It is the ardent wish of Muslims to get rid of the Jewish state for similar reasons.

    Mankind was not meant to be some sort of undifferentiated mass of people. Different societies are going to create different cultures. If someone thinks that all people should “be the same”, then who is going to decide what the “same” is? Stalin tried this, and created a totalitarian terror state. Is this what people really want?
    Enough Jews insist on being different to make us a distinct people. We will not give it up willingly.

  17. Y- i hope you realize that all the examples you gave are of people who were/are oppressed in one way or another by colonialism. and i’ve got some news for you — jews in america are free to do whatever they wish and are not subjugated to the will of anyone, and yes, Y, the jews in israel are the ones doing the colonialism (de-facto at least, you must agree). and for that matter, it is the palestinians (whose national idendity you will surely deny) who know hebrew better than many anglo-saxon jews, who understand our culture better than israel’s self-styled friends, who use israeli currency, who have no choice but to depend on israel, and so forth.
    and if you are too stuck in whatever mindset that prevents you from getting my argument, i’ll repeat it clearly for you.

    i do not believe jews “must” assimiliate or “must” do anything, and i don’t want anyone to “tell them,” as you simplistically put it, what to do. i believe every person should be allowed to do as he wishes, and adhere to any culture he wishes.

    but i do believe, that you or any of your fellow cultural-isolationists cannot tell them what to do either.

    furthermore, as you obviously did not thoroughly read my comments above, i believe that israel should and MUST REMAIN a jewish country for THE NEAR FUTURE — meaning until the tensions between us and israeli-arabs (who you and your fanatic national union friends would like to kick out of here) have subsided considerably. and yes, i do believe that will happen if only us israelis cease and desist our self-righteousness and realize that our share of creating the problem started before 1948, through 1967, and on to this very day.
    In a more distant future, when Israelis could marry whoever they wish and when jews and arabs could stand together in one shared government, then maybe, just maybe, the word assimilation would be rendered obsolete, a primitive habit of the past. Of course with a haredi and settler majority, this probably won’t happen. But it might. And I don’t think you, Y, or any of your religious settler-friends, should be ktanei emuna on this and any other matter, if they can believe that some people are forbidden to marry other people just because they are “different.”

  18. “you ignored that the valid historical reasons for zionism may be irrelevant in the future, and you resorted to ideas that seem solid but in fact have no real basis behind them.”

    alon – No, I didn’t, these ideas are relevent in the future. Self-preservation is a perfectly valid reason. Nations have a right to maintain themselves and last, as a nation. Many American Jews may assimilate, but honestly, from my point of view – if they allow themselves to behave like that, they have left the realm of the Jewish people, because it is a nation, not just an amorphous “culture.”

    Just as YBD said, and I don’t expect you to disagree – if a nation has the right to to self-identify and maintain this identity, and flourish as a nation – then why don’t the Jews?

  19. LB — just read my comment to Y, and let’s be over with this futile discussion.

    i understand your point very well — that you believe in self-preservation– but you do not understand mine that jews should have the right to do whatever they wish, without some primitive, baseless dictation telling them to be ashamed if they want to marry a christian, or a hindu, or even — dare i say– an arab.

    and you fail to get my point that the whole basis for your argument is rooted in such dogmatic things as religious dictates that are basically so empty that no matter how many holes you punch in them they will stay afloat.

    so i say let jews do whatever they wish, and my hope is that this modernized form of tribalism will one day no longer be needed – psychologically and realistically — and jews can find a way of living peacefully by preserving their culture without letting their culture preserve and perpetuate their stubborn fear of letting go of their past.

    (depending on how much your next comment irritates me, i might just decide to end this ping-pong — because reading your replies, i kind of feel i’m talking to myself here.)

  20. alon – It seems like you’re already decided to end this ping-pong, though unlike many other discussions of this kind online, this one has been rather respectful.

    Anyway, anyone can marry whomever they want. My argument, however, is not “whole basis for your argument is rooted in such dogmatic things as religious dictate.” Religious law does not play any part in this.

    “my hope is that this modernized form of tribalism will one day no longer be needed.” Well, that’s where we really differ. This post-structuralist view is not one I identify with at all. People form groups, always have. Each group (and its members, of which I am one) will strive to preserve itself. If you call that dogma, then fine.

    I am not dictating anything to anyone, about they may or may not do. However, if they leave their nation, then they have left, and good for them, and I wish them long and happy lives – why does that mean the rest of us cannot maintain our “modernized form of tribalism,” which some of us actually like, and seek to maintain.

  21. i’m sorry but anyone cannot marry whomever they want. in israel, jews can marry only jews, and arabs can marry only arabs, unless they take off to cyprus, need i remind you. this i what i’m against — this is a clear-cut case of DICTATING AND IMPOSING jewish law on everyone.

    it is totally based on religion, because the whole jewish culture is based on religion and you won’t find too many common denominators between jews around the world (and even in israel) if you disregard their Judaism.

    so you prefer self-preservation, i prefer freedom to move between cultures and to define one’s own culture and to have no culture at all.

    and finally, i guess we can both agree in general terms that we should let history play itself out without forcing anything on anyone — and see what happens.

  22. alon – why have you decided that I agree with all Israeli policies? I don’t agree with many – including the Rabbinate’s monopoly on so many things.

    “it is totally based on religion, because the whole jewish culture is based on religion.” Absolutely not. Judaism is a civilization, based on shared history, language, religious tradition (notice I did not just say religion) AND culture. Culture is just one part of it – that keeps changing.

    Calling it just a culture, in my view, waters it down. A culture is barbecuing on the 4th of July, tailgating at football games and playing drinking games in college (and I’m not putting down America here – I’m just showing that there is clearly more to America in this example than just those things) – a nationality is so much more – it is a shared history and destiny. It is an affinity and recognition of connection and relationship between many people who associate with each other. Culture is “yom hastudent.”

    Nationality is celebrating Pesach, and recognizing what it means, how long its been around and how it ties people together, and will continue to do so.

  23. culture, dictionary definition:
    The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social or ethnic group.

    as for the policies — i say (and said), allow by law that everyone can marry whomever they wish, do everything to reach rapprochement between jews and arabs, don’t demonize each other, and then after many years let the relations between the groups and between individuals flow and develop, without the interference of politicians or religious coercion and certain rabbis and their ilk.

  24. Let anyone marry whomever they want. Fine. We, however, clearly have very different goals in the long run. I do not desire relationship between Jews and any other group, anywhere, to develop to a degree where Jews merge with another group and assimilate into something else.

    For me, preservation of the Jewish nation (not religious dictates) is a goal, in and of itself. From what you’ve said, it doesn’t seem like it is for you.

    But yes, “we should let history play itself out without forcing anything on anyone.” Regardless, discussion and attempting to convince others of various point of view is not a bad thing, nor is it something that is about to go away anytime soon.

  25. Raed, since no one of the Leftist concessionist crowd here as yet as responded to your subtle plea for justice, exactly where is Palestine? Does it have borders? If so, where is this place that the New Testament, in Acts 8:1, when there were no Arabs around and the country was Jewish but occupied by the Romans, terms “Judea and Samaria”? Could it be that Palestine only developed later, once the Jews lost total political sovereignty, and then some wandering Arabs, moving north on the commercial route and then, under the influence of a hot new religion, urged on the conquer by the sword, obliterated all Jewish presence? If so, why don’t you get out of Eretz-Yisrael? Or, at the least, make peace with the rightful owners of this territory?

  26. From the shoes of a bystander, I am amazed that Alon and LB could carry on the disagreement for so long. Each was so clear and seemed so fair and really didn’t seem to contradict the other — unless one was saying the other couldn’t exist at the same time — which I didn’t hear from the proponent of either side.

    So let me say what I understand, and then make a few simple comments from my simple brain. You both want Jews to be able to be Jews in a way that is meaningful to each Jew and for as long as we want to be Jews. You also both seem to hope for a time when being tribal is a choice rather than a necessary defense or survival tactic (as it seems to be in many people’s eyes — but I can’t tell if you see it that way LB). Alon sounds like he rejects the idea that the tribalism can remain productive or even neutral once universalism successfully bestows its blessings of equality on all of us; and LB sounds like our tribal identity is sacred beyond any worldly function it might have and deserves to be cultivated regardless of what the future holds for us or the world.

    So, a few small points (maybe not so small), but first some background. On one side of my family, I am a 4th or 5th generation American Jew (and the fact I don’t know which, tells you how long its been), and on the other side of my family, I am a 3rd or 4th generation American Jew. I was raised in the Classical Reform movement in New York, surrounded by a large extended family of big machers in the movement, and, then, in North Carolina in the ’70s where the synagogue membership wasn’t much bigger than the guest list at my Grandmother’s seder in New York. Maybe I’m what YOU call assimilated, but I’m not what my community would call assimilated. I’m a lay leader at my synagogue and more observant than my parents — though they occasionally attended services and forced us to go to Religious School and such. So there I am. Oh, and, this summer, I made my FIRST trip ever to Israel. I hope to return sometime.

    Here are my thoughts. Regarding Israel as a Jewish state: from a perspective of fear that we might always need a place of refuge and a place that protects our history, I want Israel to be a Jewish state. Also, now that I’ve been there, I want Israel to remain a Jewish state for people who want to live in a wholly Jewish setting without living among the Chasidim and Chabad. (Not an attack on those two groups, but that’s not how I want to live my Judaism.) This is a new position for me, and until I visited Israel, I didn’t feel this way. I don’t want to live there, but I want it to be available for people who do because now ‘I get it.’

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure I believe that the tragedy in Gaza and the ongoing violence and loss of life and compromise of morals and such is worth a Jewish state in Israel, but I have a lot more thinking to do on this.

    Regarding assimilation in the US, no one should imagine that Jews can yet do anything they want to do as if their Jewishness were not an obstacle. Much of US life is available to us now, and we can make most of the personal choices anyone else can make. But there are things which still feel dangerous and there are places we dare not go. It is better, far better than even when I was a child, and I would not want anyone to think I was complaining — in fact, I stand in awe sometimes of how far our country has come. For crying out loud, we have one police officer on our property for Shabbat and Religious School. That’s all. Still, assimilated Jews are Jews — even if they don’t practice their religion. Rare is the day when I would forget that for my sake or anyone else’s sake.

    My wish, in the end, since we are talking about the way history will play itself out, is that we will all see our ethnicity and culture and beliefs as features of an individual. Features that make us interesting and distinct and still familiar and companionable guests under each other’s fig trees. The fact that I choose to embrace my background or to send it on its way will, I hope, simply be more data about my identity not criteria for discrimination or hatred. I think a Jewish State of Israel could be critical to that future — if it could disentangle itself from the violence that is crippling it right now.

  27. Palestine is the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. You have no historic claim to it. You do have a historic claim to Las Vegas, with its temples of money and tackiness. Move there and give Palestine back to us

  28. Haim, as a German citizen, I want to thank you for showing so much understanding about how “good people” can fall for fascism. This is, uh, somewhat, hmm, refreshing. However, I think your strategy for dealing wih the problem is too simplistic, sounding awfully like appeasement. Doesn’t your approach look horribly like the totally misguided strategy of German centrist parties of the Weimar Republic, whose leaders fought they could control the Nazis by embracing them? Don’t we know now how horribly this failed? And in hindsight, wasn’t the determined opposition of the left the much better reaction?

    Imho, the main problem with your idea of not demonizing Jisrael Beitenu voters is hat it will simply take away any hesiancy to voe for Lieberman. After all, they’re just “good people”, and they have the right to vote for the party they like, right? And making a case to them, peruading them that most of their fears are exaggerated, won’t work. Basic psychology shows us that fear trumps rational thought. You cant reach those people with arguments anymore.

    I don’t have any patented solutions for this, either. But I guess that using Aikido techniques may be a better idea. Use their fear for your advantage, and paint the consequences of Lieberman’s policies in the darkest colors. Make them fear that Yisrael Beitenus cures may be worse than the desease! And don’t expect any of them to go voting for the left, such a radical turnaround won’t happen. The strategy can only be to drive them at least back to the Likud position. I know that this may sound paradoxical for left wingers, doing the work for Netanyahu. But the main problem right now is that Yisrael Beitenu has a stranglehold on almost every possible coalition. Their poll numbers have to go down again, or this will make right wing governmens in the future ineviable. Without this force on the right side of Likud, it would be much easier for Kadima and Labor to get into government again.

    Well, and sry if I’m violating against Godwin’s law again, but of course the horrible historical mistakes my nation made in the 30s influence my thinking. And it’s a clear fact that the appeasement policies of the Weimar centrist parties only paved the way for the Nazis. And so I can’t understand Kadima and Labor not doing everything they can to prevent Yisrael Beitenus paricipation in government. This will only result in establishing these extremists as an acceptable alternative in politics. The opposite way would be much better: Keep them away from power, and after some time, their supporters will lose interest in a group that can’t deliver anything to them. That’s how several extremist parties in Europe lost most of their voters after intial successes, too. So, no appeasement, no embrace! No pasaran!

  29. Gray – that is exactly the right reply (although I wouldn’t have worded it so harshly; we all have good interntions here). I agree with Haim that Lieberman’s voters are good people. But I would argue that many of the Nazis who illed many people were “good people” (i.e. they were essentially good people who got “sucked into” the situatio, say out of fear or out of collective behavior, or out of following orders, it doesn’t really matter; hench “the banality of evil”).

    “Good people” can commit horrible deeds (e.g. the Zimbardo and Milgram Experiments, and the “Third Wave”) so it doesn’t really matter what the intentions are.

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