Avigdor In Vichy, 2009


There’s a terrific revival of Arthur Miller’s “Incident At Vichy,” opening this week at the Beckett Theater, about a roomful of people picked up by the Nazis for “questioning.” Most of the suspects wonder why, for all their individual innocence, they were picked off the street. Perhaps, each figures, if they would carry themselves a certain way, if they only had a chance to explain. At the end of the bench sits an “old Jew” (as he’s called in the script), as obvious as his beard and black hat. The old Jew clearly knows there wasn’t anything he could have done to ingratiate himself with the enemy.
Miller said that the play, when it was first produced in 1964, was as current as the
morning paper. Indeed it is.

As you know from your paper, let alone from e-mails whipping around the Zionist world, Israelis, be they tennis players or gentleman soldiers, are being vilified around the planet, and arguably the one being vilified the most, by Jews and non-Jews, is Avigdor Lieberman. His rightist party, Yisrael Beitenu, finished third in the recent elections and he likely will be Israel’s next foreign minister. He’s the “old Jew” at the end of the bench, the one the other Jews figure is not them. Except he is.

Not since Time magazine introduced Menachem Begin in 1977 with “Begin as in Fagin,” has a successful Israeli politician met a nastier press. The Chicago Tribune (Feb. 16) called him an “ultranationalist,” more of an insult than patriot. Numerous papers and magazines are calling him “racist” and “fascist.” The New Republic’s Martin Peretz, a neo-con supporter of Israel, calls him “neo-fascist.” All this for someone who has not advocated violence, supports a Palestinian state and believes Arab citizenship in Israel must be contingent on taking a loyalty oath to Israel. That loyalty oath is the bone in most Jewish throats.

If there was ever a Palestinian politician who was sympathetic to the random killing of Jewish civilians, while demanding a Palestinian state in which not even a single Jewish village would be allowed to remain (loyalty oaths not being an option), and who the mainstream media regularly described as “racist” or “fascist,” I haven’t seen it. Almost no one is pointing out that Lieberman already served some two years as deputy prime minister in the Olmert administration without breaking all the china.

He’s not alone in fearing Israeli Arabs. Five years ago in Haaretz, the once-dovish Benny Morris, a leading post-Zionist historian, wrote that Israeli Arabs “are a potential fifth column … In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state…” In recent months, most Israelis have been terrified to enter Israeli Arab towns, many of them hotbeds of Hamas support.

Haaretz (March 9) headlined, “World takes dim view of Lieberman in [foreign ministry] post.” Lieberman “is an anti-diplomat [with] the image of a dangerous radical,” declared Le Figaro. Der Spiegel noted Lieberman advocated Israel being as harsh in Gaza as Russia was in Chechnya. Horrors, until one takes a deep breath and remembers that according to a worldwide consensus Israel did exactly that, without Lieberman but under the leadership of Kadima’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Labor’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Electronic Intifada (Feb. 25), a leading Palestinian-American online news site, whose editor, Ali Abunimah, earned some attention last year for his friendship with Rashid Khalidi and Barack Obama (before Obama left him behind when he sought higher office), has repeatedly pointed out that the focus on Lieberman is a little too convenient. EI calls the new Knesset “the most hostile” ever, even though Lieberman’s party has only 15 of the 65 seats so classified.

EI (in an article that also appeared in Abu Dhabi’s The National) quotes Haneen Zoubi, an Arab member of Knesset, who said that “the Knesset is always hostile to Arab Knesset members and we are well used to their racist language,” not just Lieberman’s.

All the main Israeli Jewish parties, reported Electronic Intifada, “gave their full support” for what many are calling the Gaza “war crimes.” Gaza university students didn’t mention Lieberman but Livni as the one who “helped destroy the Palestinian people,” and made them “suffer greatly.” And yet the American media, Jewish or otherwise, never called Livni a racist or fascist.

According to Abunimah (Feb. 12), “it has never been true and makes even less sense today” for pundits to write that there is a “peace camp” (Labor or Kadima) and “an anti-peace camp” (Likud and Yisroel Beitenu). After all, Barak’s Labor government “actually approved more settlement expansion than [Netanyahu’s] Likud-led government that preceded it.”

Abunimah — who only calls Lieberman a “proto-fascist” — pointed out that it was Barak who “promoted a bloodthirsty image in the campaign, bolstered by the massacres of Gaza civilians he directed as defense minister.” During the campaign it was Barak who was dismissive of Lieberman’s tough guy credentials: “Who has he ever shot?”

“It’s too easy to make [Lieberman] the bogeyman,” writes Abunimah.

Like the more assimilated Jews in “Incident At Vichy,” who are convinced that there must have been some mistake to be lumped together with the old Jew, Israelis in the universalist world of sports are discovering that to most of the world, by some mistake, we are all Lieberman.

Dave Zirin reported in The Nation that when the Israeli basketball team went in January to “supposedly apolitical environs — a Eurocup game” in Turkey, they were greeted by crowds yelling, “Israeli murderers, get out of Palestine.” Down from the stands, came angry chants of “Israeli killers!” A mob surged toward the court and the Israeli team (two of its players are African, five American) forfeited the game rather than play in an empty arena.

The Nation’s response? Well, the Israeli athletes may have been terrified but “it pales in comparison” to what Israel did to Gaza.

In a more publicized case, Shahar Peer, the Israeli tennis player found she wasn’t allowed to play in Dubai. That was wrong, wrote Harvey Araton in The New York Times, but “no doubt the Israeli invasion of Gaza made it harder there for progressives.” Apparently, the “progressive” position (The Nation is “progressive, too) is that Israeli policy is inappropriate, even without Lieberman.

In Sweden, thousands rioted against Israeli tennis players there, too, because of the “war crimes” of the good guys, Livni and Barak.

Lieberman is “an anti-Arab demagogue,” Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post (Feb. 24). “The Israeli electorate, feeling besieged, has moved to the right.” Israel has grown weary of the world and “it is clear that the world has grown weary of Israel.”

There must be some mistake.