Israeli Elections: Worse than a crime….

Avigdor Lieberman isn’t just a racist who subverts democracy: he betrays his own constituency.

….it was a blunder.

As we all know, the kingmaker in Israel now is the racist pol Avigdor Lieberman, whose platform seems to consist of baiting Israeli Arabs (or Palestinian Israeli citizens, depending upon your view) and setting up the conditions for expulsion. What is only slightly less obvious is that Lieberman derives the vast majority of his support from Israel’s Russian population, most of which arrived in the early 90’s, and much of which does not speak Hebrew yet.

But here is the thing: the Russian community’s main enemy in Israel is not the Arab population, but rather the ultra-orthodox (“Haredi”) and the settlers. Why? Because the Russians are not particularly religious themselves. Many do not even qualify as being “Jewish” under Jewish law. If anything, they have high technical skills, are quite secular, and stand to benefit from Israel’s engagement with the west.

Put another way, the Russian-Israeli population has a strong interest in Israeli secularization — just the same as the Israeli Arab population. The Russians don’t want the government rabbinate deciding who can get married or where people can be buried. They don’t want precious governmental funds being used to support ultra-orthodox schools. And neither do the Arabs.

In other words, the Russians and the Arabs are natural political allies. People like Lieberman are using crude racial stereotypes to undermine their actual interests. And Israeli democracy is being destroyed in the process.

Somewhere I have heard this all before…

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.