On the eve of Israel’s election, the new right is enjoying a surge in support.
Much of that comes from a perhaps unexpected source: Russia. More than a million Soviet Jews emigrated to Israel in the ’70s and ’80s, bringing with them their hard line political views. The beneficiary is a one-time nightclub bouncer, Avigdor Lieberman, who launched his Yisrael Beiteinu party because he thought right-of-centre Likud was too soft on the Palestinians. Yisrael Beiteinu means Our home is Israel. Lieberman says what he thinks, and many like what they hear. “I try to say openly what I think and what I mean, and I think the people appreciate this approach,” says Lieberman. His election slogan is “No loyalty, no citizenship” and it encapsulates the party’s view: anyone, particularly Israeli Arabs, who does not swear loyalty to Israel should be thrown out. Lieberman supporters believe Israel is increasingly open to such a message. “People from left and right are coming to us simply because we are saying today, without murmuring or apologising, what most people feel deep in their hearts, that we have gone a little too far with trying to live together with enemies within the state,” said Yisrael Beiteinu’s Uzi Landau. Yisrael Beiteinu’s policies go further: an exchange of land with the Palestinians, allowing Israel to expand into the West Bank and embrace its settlements. The party believes there will only be peace if there is no contact at all between Jews and Arabs. “Lieberman is heading a fascist Israeli party whose principles and programmes are based on racism and fear and on the tear between Israelis and Arabs,” says Professor Yaron Ezrahi of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “Therefore he cultivates incitement, he demands a loyalty oath which will exclude millions of Israeli citizens.” Lieberman has been compared to Austria’s Jorg Haider and Jean-Marie le Pen in France. He may end up holding the balance of power in Israel’s next government and even a cabinet seat from which to continue his right-wing campaign.