With New Defence Minister, Israel Pivots Further Towards Open Racism

The failure of Israeli liberalism has made the ascent of a far-right and openly racist leader sadly in keeping with the country’s mainstream politics, writes Michael Brull.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Israeli party Yisrael Beiteinu, has become Israel’s new Defence Minister. In this article in New Matilda , Brull sets out who he is, who he will replace, the context, and the significance of Lieberman’s rise.

The Significance Of Lieberman’s Rise

In a military-obsessed country, Lieberman’s lack of military experience has often been counted against him. As Defence Minister, Lieberman will probably get the chance to put his own stamp on the next Gaza massacre. While he has often attacked the government from the right for being too soft on Palestinians, in power he will have to trade demagogy for policy. If he believes his own rhetoric and tries to implement it, disaster looms for the Palestinians, and even for Israel. However, if Lieberman serves as Defence Minister with some prudence, and doesn’t show any obvious signs of incompetence, he could put himself in a strong position to become Prime Minister.

Seven years ago, I observed that the political mainstream could have marginalised Lieberman into irrelevance in the 2009 election. It didn’t happen. On the left, Barak criticised him for lack of military experience – he was only “big on words, not on action”. The lack of meaningful opposition to Lieberman’s authoritarianism and racism helped legitimise him. Liebermanism has meant the dismantling of vestiges of liberalism for Jews in Israel, and the use of overtly racist rhetoric. Since then, both have become standard. Every election has included political competitions to appear tough on Arabs and Israeli leftists, and most major parties have supported his legislative agenda, and even embraced it as their own. Lieberman as Defence Minister isn’t a shocking development, but a logical culmination of where Israel has been heading for years.