No Good News from Israel
By Jo-Ann Mort - February 11, 2009, 1:53PM

The Israeli elections turned out pretty much as predicted--a victory for the extreme right. Even though Tzipi Livni holds on by a one-vote margin, her centrist Kadima Party is unlikely to be able to create a stable governing coalition.

The victor is not her nemesis Bibi Netanyahu, but rather Avigdor Lieberman, the extreme right wing apparatchik from Moldova who outpaced the Labor Party to score number three in the elections. This bodes poorly for the Obama attempt at a two-state solution, but even more so, it is a dangerous warning to Israel as a nation adhering to democratic values.

As has been documented elsewhere, Lieberman's vote is not simplisticly anti-Arab or racist since he also promotes a staunchly secular agenda to appeal to his largely Russian-based voters but it is impossible to ignore that at the heart of his message is an anti-Arab voice so fierce that it hurts the ears and haunts the soul.

My friend Jonathan Freedland has an excellent piece in today's Guardian, reporting from Israel, where he describes Lieberman as a 'toxic force,' and rightly places the blame on the left as much as the right, who have joined together for years to warn against the 'demographic danger' of Arab citizens inside of Israel toward the Jewish state.

This xenophobia has led to Lieberman, so has the disfunction of the Arab leadership inside Israel, the rise of Arab fundamentalism, but too, the continued disenfranchisement by both the left and the right among Israel's leaders agains the Arab population.

But the left, too, is responsible for governments--especially under Barak--and Olmert, too--where settlements kept growing and the settlers' reality, though rejected time and again by the majority of Israelis--kept a stranglehold on Israel's future.

How will the Israel that voted yesterday engage in the region, with a new US president who seeks peace and a new US role? How will the Israel that voted yesterday engage in a global economy that it so desperately seeks? (After all, Israel's largest trading partner is the EU).
Stay tuned--the news is not good. The time is now to wake up --Israel needs to strengthen its democracy if it is to also achieve peace beyond its borders.