Several months ago, the same Olmert who worried publicly about the stigma of apartheid appointed Avigdor Lieberman, a man of racist and antidemocratic convictions, as his deputy prime minister. Lieberman, who heads a right-wing party of mostly Russian immigrants, Yisrael Beiteinu, holds political views that would have made Rehavam Ze'evi sound like a charter member of the ACLU. Neither Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of France's anti-immigrant National Front, nor Austria's neofascist Jörg Haider (whose role in forming an Austrian government provoked international outrage that led to a diplomatic boycott), has called for measures as outrageous as Lieberman. Lieberman advocates not only the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from the occupied territories but getting rid of Arabs who are Israeli citizens. He has urged that Arab members of Israel's Knesset be executed for having contacts with Hamas or for failing to celebrate Israel's Independence Day.
Lieberman was also appointed by Olmert as the minister in charge of responding to "strategic threats" to Israel. If Israel does indeed face an existential threat from Iran--and listening to Iran's Ahmadinejad's rantings at an obscene event he orchestrated in Tehran for Holocaust deniers, it is difficult not to take the threat seriously--it is hard to imagine a more effective way of trivializing that threat than with the appointment of Lieberman. Indeed, the decision is so reckless as to suggest it is Olmert and his government--including his Labor Party partners, who overwhelmingly approved Lieberman's appointment--who pose the existential threat to their country.
The appointment also raises the question of how a government whose deputy prime minister is a man who does not recognize the right of Palestinians to even one square inch of territory in Palestine can impose draconian sanctions on a Hamas government that will not recognize Israel's legitimacy. Talk about double standards!
Not the least of the ironies of the controversy generated by Carter's book, or by its title, is that on any day of the week, there appear in virtually all major Israeli newspapers and in its other media far more extreme criticisms of the policies of various Israeli governments than one finds anywhere in the United States. Most of Israel's adversarial editorializing would not be accepted in the op-ed pages of America's leading newspapers.
It is also worth noting how uninformed Democratic and Republican mavens are even about the voting patterns of American Jews. The panic aroused by Carter's book title was based on the belief of these mavens that American Jews share the hard-line right-wing views of organizations like the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and AIPAC, organizations that would go out of business if Israelis elected a government committed to a political solution rather than a military one. Indeed, when former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came into office in 1992 and concluded that Israel's security would be far better served by a peace agreement that recognizes Palestinian rights than by beating the Palestinians into submission, both the Conference of Presidents and AIPAC went into institutional eclipse, from which they did not emerge until Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in 1996.
The uncritical pro-Israel advocacy of these organizations has never been an accurate barometer of the political thinking or behavior of American Jews. Surely there is something Republican and Democratic leaders can learn from the fact that after six years of the presidency of the man believed by Israelis and by the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to be "the best American president Israel ever had," 87 percent of American Jews voted for the Democratic Party, whose chair is seen by the pro-Israel lobby as untrustworthy at best.
To be sure, the overwhelming majority of American Jews care deeply about Israel's security and well-being. But that concern does not translate for most of them into mindless support for the policies of Israeli governments that seem to undermine Israel's security. Most American Jews understand how recklessly both Democratic and Republican politicians manipulate the Israel-Palestine issue to their own advantage, just as most Israelis understand the same about many of their own politicians.