Really? "Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel"
Bill de Blasio & Avigdor Lieberman/Bill de Blasio via Wikimedia Commons
"When you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I will answer it happily, because that’s my job."
As it is the job of every major-party politician in the United States. And don't you forget it.
This was the newly-elected "progressive" New York City Mayor de Blasio speaking to AIPAC at the New York Hilton last night, as recounted by Philip Weiss.1 According to The New York Times, this event was a "private” speech. It was kept off his public schedule, and a reporter who attempted to cover the event was ejected by security. Nothing to see here.
Say Hello to My Little Friend
By the way, that little fella de Blasio is schmoozing with in the picture above is Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Foreign Minister.
Lieberman is, shall we say, a colorful character.
He was sworn in as Foreign Minister in November, the minute he was acquitted of a spate of corruption charges related to business shenanigans that had earned him a reputation as “the Russian mafia’s poodle.” Lieberman, a former Moldovan night club bouncer, was the type of guy who "pulled up in a shiny black Mercedes Benz SUV, clad in a dark, impeccably tailored, broad-shouldered suit, often chomping on an expensive cigar." All part of his "gangster image." He also, of course, "claimed to be a playwright with scripts in production in Hollywood." In his previous run-in with the law, in 2001, "following his own confession, Lieberman was found guilty of beating a 12-year-old boy." But he paid a 17,500-shekels fine, and "promised never to hit young children again." Thug,
To be sure, it's his political base and his political ideas that have brought Lieberman to the inner circle of the Israeli government. As Max Blumenthal points out, in his book Goliath, Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), represent the "post-Soviet class of Russian immigrants who arrived in Israel with at best a tenuous connection to the Jewish religion, little understanding of the country’s history and no warning that over a million indigenous Palestinians also lived as citizens in their new country." It's a constituency that rejects "the cultural and political norms that defined the leadership of the traditional Ashkenazi elites of Labor and Likud," and Lieberman is a politician that "meld[s] authoritarian populism with a distinctly anti-clerical strain, appealing to anyone who loathed the presence of Muslims, radical leftists, and the ultra-Orthodox."
In a provocative gesture of contempt for Palestinians, as well as for international law and liberal opinion -- a stance that only further endears him to his constituency -- Lieberman resides in an illegal settlement. In other words, as Juan Cole puts it, Lieberman is a "far, far right nationalist" who, "if he were a European politician would almost certainly be considered too far right to be legitimate."
There's a word for Lieberman's kind of politics, and it begins with an "f." Israelis, unlike New York City mayors, do not shy away from recognizing this. When Lieberman was previously brought into the Israeli government, in 2009, Hebrew University professor Ze’ev Sternhell, a leading Israeli academic specialist on fascism and totalitarianism, called Lieberman “perhaps the most dangerous politician in the history of the state of Israel.”3 Labor and leftish and "Peace Now" Zionists in Israel and elsewhere (who, most liberal Americans wishfully-think, must be the real majority of Zionists) openly worried about the fascist tendencies that Lieberman represented, and tried to convince themselves that, surely, he would be a flash in the peace process pan. Here's how Uri Avnery, a well-respected original Zionist and peacenik, expressed his fears about him:
We should candidly confront the phenomenon [Lieberman] represents. If one believes that his utterances sound fascist, one has to ask oneself: is there a possibility that a fascist regime might come to power in Israel?...
When Yeshayahu Leibowitz coined, many years ago, the term “Judeo-Nazis”, the entire country blew up. Even many of his admirers thought that this time the turbulent professor had gone too far.
But Lieberman’s slogans do justify him in retrospect."...
FIFTY YEARS ago I wrote a book called "The Swastika", in which I described how the Nazis took over Germany. ...
I argued in the book that Nazism was not a specifically German disease, that in certain circumstances any country in the world could be infected by this virus – including our own state. In order to avoid this danger, one had to understand the underlying causes for the development of the disease. ..
For years I have avoided dealing with this subject. But it is true that I carry in my head a little red light that comes on when I sense the danger.
This light is now blinking....
Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini?
In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel’s Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. ...
And the belief that we are a “chosen people” is already deeply rooted. These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster..
Nothing “must” happen. But anything “can” happen. And the little red light won’t stop blinking.4So, in 2009, critical Zionists in Israel denounce Avigdor Lieberman as a harbinger of Israeli fascism, a potential new Hitler or Mussolini. In 2014, Bill de Blasio, the progressive mayor of New York City, welcomes Lieberman with eager fealty, because Lieberman now represents an entrenched and dominant strain of Zionist politics -- that which it is the PEP mayor's job to defend.
And how will progressive New Yorkers respond? Can you believe that Chris Christie?! OMG, a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge! Or can we do better?
Below are some some of the policies that Avigdor Lieberman advocates. Progressive New Yorkers might consider whether they merit a moment of attention away from the travails of Fort Lee. Perhaps we can spare maybe one critical peep about our mayor so warmly greeting, and so insistently pledging his loyalty and his job to, a contemporary political figure who can so fairly be described as a fascist:
“The vision I would like to see here is the entrenching of the Jewish and the Zionist state…I very much favour democracy, but when there is a contradiction between democratic and Jewish values, the Jewish and Zionist values are more important.” (Scotsman, October 23, 2006)...
Lieberman called for all Palestinian prisoners held by the Israeli occupation authorities to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses (“Lieberman blasted for suggesting drowning Palestinian prisoners,” Ha’aretz, July 11, 2002).
He has proposed to strip the citizenship of, and expel any Palestinian citizen of Israel who refuses to sign a loyalty oath to the Jewish Zionist state (“A Jewish demographic state,” Ha’aretz, June 28, 2002).
In 2002, Lieberman declared, “I would not hesitate to send the Israeli army into all of Area A [the area of the West Bank ostensibly under Palestinian Authority control] for 48 hours. Destroy the foundation of all the authority’s military infrastructure, all of the police buildings, the arsenals, all the posts of the security forces… not leave one stone on another. Destroy everything.” He also suggested to the Israeli cabinet that the air force systematically bomb all the commercial centers, gas stations and banks in the occupied territories (The Independent, March 7, 2002).
And, he has proposed bombing Egypt’s Aswan Dam, despite that country’s peace treaty with Israel since 1979.5 [As Juan Cole points out, this "would have the effect of murdering all 80 million Egyptians and sweeping them into the Mediterranean in a vast continental African tsunami."]
In 2001, Lieberman argued that Israel "must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in the second world war. Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary." He was referring to the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima."6There seems to be an element of this encounter that indicates it is something beyond a pro-forma gesture on the part of de Blasio. If you notice the credit beneath the picture above, it's to Bill de Blasio himself. Here's the full credit for the photo, as I found it on Wikimedia commons: "By Bill de Blasio [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons." So, not taken by the press, this would seem to be a photo for the de Blasio collection. Perhaps he'll spend a cozy evening with Chiara and Dante, perusing his photo books: Here, kids, are the people I work for and defend. Here is what my job is about.
Bill de Blasio shaking hands with Avigdor Lieberman today is not much different than the mayor of New York shaking hands with Willem Botha in 1986, and no less in contradiction with any "progressive" pretensions. (Actually, it would have to be someone like Johannes Vorster to complete with Lieberman!) There are many progressive Americans and New Yorkers who understand that, and more every day. Most of those who do not yet, will, sooner than they think.
AIPAC's/de Blasio's attempt at keeping the public's eyes out of this meeting is, I think, symptomatic of the increasing discomfort that's in the air, even in New York, with this kind of toadying to Israel. If he's so proud of defining his job as defending Israel, let all New Yorkers hear. and see. him say that. But what's happening is the kind of disconnect between what can be said to the voters and what must be said to the donors, a disconnect that's getting harder to hide. As with Romney at his private donor party in 2012, de Blasio's task at the Hilton was not to worry about the increasing percentage of his constituency who do not think defending Israel and AIPAC is part of the job description of the mayor of New York City.
Why does this kind of travesty persist? I leave that to Phil Weiss's comment:
The lobby is structural. Bill de Blasio went to Nicaragua to support the Sandinistas and he hates racism and he can spend political capital to fight for economic justice and scrimp on snow-removal on the Upper East Side, but: he’s hamstrung on this issue. The most progressive forces in the U.S. have been corrupted by the Israel lobby. The most left-leaning/realist public figures one can imagine getting into important offices, from Barack Obama to Bill de Blasio to Samantha Power to Chuck Hagel, and they have no choice but to truckle to the lobby, because the lobby is so enmeshed in our (political/financial/media) Establishment, and because the party needs the money. It’s that simple.
See also: Bruce Katz, "Fascism, Nazism and Avigdor Lieberman," Indymedia UK. [Note added 1/26/2014]
1"de Blasio tells AIPAC his 'When you need me to stand by you I will answer the call happily, because that's my job'," at Mondoweiss .
2All quotes in this paragraph, and all subsequent quotes from these authors, from:
Max Blumenthal, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, pp. 20-21,
Juan Cole, "Will Avigdor Lieberman's return as Israeli Foreign Minister scupper Talks with Palestinians?,"
Neve Gordon, "Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Shame."
See also my post on Blumenthal, "Dropping a DIME: Max Blumenthal and the Erosion of Liberal Zionism."
See also my post on Blumenthal, "Dropping a DIME: Max Blumenthal and the Erosion of Liberal Zionism."
3Ali Abunimah, "World silent as fascists join Israel government" at ElectronicIntifada.
4On Israeli Fascism: A Little Red Light" in Counterpunch.