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21 may 2016, yet more hopelessness

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Jonathan freedland tries hard to find crumbs of comfort in this week's israeli government musical chairs - but there is no silver lining in changing the defence minister from a right-wing ideologue committed to the rule of law and in good standing with the army to one far further right and neither. Avigdor lieberman is a notorious extreme-right thug, more noxious than the freedom-party favourite to win austria's presidency this weekend. Unlike netanyahu's vision of the world, which is a complex combination of populist, opportunist and ideological, lieberman's is straightforward racism. Long an advocate of transferring some of the arab population out of parts of the west bank, lieberman has built a popular platform based on denigrating arabs and a political vision based on legally identifying them as second-class citizens. In passing, he has talked about drowning palestinians in the dead sea and executing israeli arabs (ie full citizens) who talk to hamas. During the last gaza conflict he called for israelis to boycott arab shops. The same thinking was behind a sinister government bill (the non-profit association law) to punish domestic critics of government policy. His supporters chant "death to arabs" at rallies. Freedom of expression ? Not for arabs: lieberman's party championed a bill to criminalise commemoration of the "naqba" which loosely translates as catastrophe and is the arab narrative for what jewish israelis celebrate as independence day. Lieberman's party winning 15 seats (of 120) in the 2009 election was one of the biggest shocks in israeli political history, flagging that an enduring message of outright racism has a constituency in democratic israel. Far from the body politic rejecting such racism, it has continued to evolve relentlessly into the mainstream right - hence lieberman's renewed appointment to one of the country's highest offices is hardly news. How far, in the wrong direction, we have travelled (see it was 20 years ago today, 4 november 2015). So - hope from this nightmare ? Bibin there, done that (see 18 april 2015) - tragically, no.