Lieberman and the banality of Israel’s advocacy for ethnic cleansing

by Yaniv Reich on September 30, 2010

Israel’s Moldovan FM Evet Lieberman took the stage at the UN this week to advocate for a “peace” settlement based on “population exchanges”, by which he meant settlers remaining on stolen Palestinian land in “exchange” for Palestinian citizens of Israel having their citizenship stripped of them and giving them instead citizenship in the nascent Palestinian state, should it if (ever) emerge, which, Lieberman added, can be expected to happen in a “few decades”.

This is a grotesque euphemism for “population transfer”, which itself is Zionism’s historical euphemism to describe ethnic cleansing. To strip the citizenship of Israeli Palestinians—against their will—in the interest of artificially boosting the proportion of Jews in Israel is a form of ethnic cleansing, irrespective of whether their towns remain in place, because ethnic cleansing is precisely about the expulsion of people, the forcible removal of populations, based on ethnic criteria.

And make no mistake about it: Israeli Palestinians are not interested in this form of violence. In all surveys undertaken of their opinion on this proposal, very large majorities reject categorically the notion, a fact that Israeli right-wingers love to cite as evidence that (1) they are so well off as a marginalized minority in Israel and (2) Israel really is a democracy of a non-mediocre sort.

The most striking thing about the whole incident is how completely normal it is in Israeli discourse on “peace”. So even after getting hammered in the international press for these comments, for expressing a policy that contravenes the supposedly official policy of Israel (in fact, the prime minister’s office was quick to distance itself from Lieberman’s comments, although , FM Lieberman felt fine in doubling down on his previous comments and relating them to majority Israeli opinion:

I was talking about facts, about views that represent the majority of Israeli citizens, out of a clear position that it is better to say truth even when it is bitter. I think that things were taken exactly as they should be.

We have to stop apologizing and looking for where we are guilty. The other side does not want peace and wastes time. The truth is not always pleasant but it needs to be told.

And beyond the current acceptability within Zionism of such remarks, there is also a long history of “transfer” and racist concern for “demographic balance” in Zionist thought. I cite just two quotes from the mid-20th century plus some Benny Morris apologia:

“We must expel Arabs and take their places.” – Ben-Gurion, founder of Israel, 1937.

“If there are other inhabitants there, they must be transferred to some other place. We must take over the land.” – Menahem Ussishkin, chairman of the Jewish National Fund, 1930.

“Ben-Gurion was right…. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.” – Benny Morris, Professor of History, Ben-Gurion University, 2004.

Lieberman’s comments come as part of a long tradition of looking for ways to ensure a Jewish majority in a land previously overwhelmingly populated by non-Jews. But that doesn’t make the racism and desire for ethnically-based and exclusive privilege any more acceptable.

That Israel feels it can even consider such an idea is offensive enough to morality. That it seriously advocates for it at the UN General Assembly is beyond that: it reflects just how depraved the Zionist project is.

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