This is a guest post by s.o.muffin
David T asked me for a short piece on Avigdor Lieberman, the guy likely to become Number Two in the forthcoming Netanyahu’s government in Israel.
This has got me thinking, how to categorise Avigdor “Yvet” Lieberman in the greater scheme of things.
The standard, glib phrase that you hear in progressive Western media once Lieberman’s name comes up, is “Fascist”. The very glibness of this is enough to make us suspicious. Fascism was a specific, well-defined (and indescribably nasty) movement in 20th Century Europe, mostly associated with Benito Mussolini. Since then it has became a term of abuse. We call them bastards and we don’t really mean that their father is unknown – and we call them fascists but we don’t really mean that they have much to do with Musso and his thugocracy. The use of “fascist” as a term of abuse can be probably traced to that historical nonsense, the official moniker of “The Anti-Fascist War”, awarded in the Soviet Union to their war with Nazi Germany. Now, the Soviets were not fighting Fascist Italy (except for one, fairly ineffective, Italian formation that operated on the fringes of German 6th Army and was annihilated in fairly short order in the Stalingrad saga). They were fighting Nazi Germany (and we all owe so much to the heroism and sacrifice of Soviet soldiers), but somehow (for reasons immaterial to this post) the label was “Fascist” and this label persisted in Left wing and progressive terminology as the ultimate insult.
So, what is Yvet Lieberman? On the face of it, he defies easy categorisation. Most Israeli Right wingers are either motivated by religion or (like Sharon or Netanyahu) are not above exploiting religious terminology and rhetoric when it suits them. Not so Lieberman. He is secular, he dislikes (well, probably hates) the religious and doesn’t make bones about it. He is not a classical Right wing nationalist á la Begin either. When you listen to him, the national narrative, the sense of history and destiny that informed Menahem Begin so much, are striking in their absence.
My claim is that Lieberman is basically a fascist. Not “fascist” as a term of abuse but a fascist in the narrow, historically faithful meaning of this term. He is a fascist because he elevates the State to a supreme status. In classical liberal discourse the state exists for its citizens. In fascism citizens exist for the state. This, and not racism, explains the ludicrous Lieberman’s idea of loyalty pledges: he really believes that the relationship between Israelis (Jewish or Arab) and their state should be like between medieval serfs and the master of the manor – and serfs must swear their fealty or else… Equally, he believes that the State can give and take away its citizenship, and any rights accruing from that, as it wishes and that the executive is effectively above the law and above the courts. Il Duce would have approved.
But how is it that a not-terribly-well educated professional politician and businessman, who in all likelihood never read “The Doctrine of Fascism” in Enciclopedia Italiana, is so faithfully rediscovering its tenets? The answer, I believe, is in the formative first 18 years of Lieberman’s life in the Soviet Union. For here is the paradox. The very country that elevated “Fascism” to the ultimate epithet of abuse, was the best post-Mussolini approximation to a Fascist utopia: a state that is above its citizens, is owed their loyalty and owes them absolutely nothing. Unlike numerous other immigrants from the Soviet Union, Lieberman never internalised the values of Western democracy and liberal society. He learnt to use its language, and this makes him the more dangerous.
This man gives me the creeps.