Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu became the third largest political party in Israel after last week’s elections. Its two main policies concerned citizenship and the replacement of ‘land for peace’ initiatives in favour of ‘land for land’. Both of these proposals bring a fresh perspective to stubborn problems in Israel and beyond.
Citizenship is a vital issue everywhere these days. Just last month, Britain’s Home Office announced a bill requiring a citizenship test and a probation period in which candidates demonstrated their ability to contribute to the community. The message behind these new laws is that citizenship implies responsibility and duty.
Over two years ago, British people were stunned to learn that native-born citizens had perpetrated the London bombings. Gordon Brown said: “We have to face uncomfortable facts… they were British citizens, British-born, apparently integrated into our communities, who were prepared to kill fellow citizens irrespective of their religion.” The adoption of a more rigorous naturalization process in the UK since 7/7 is one result of the recognition of these “uncomfortable facts”.
Israel, too, faces a crisis in citizenship. While having succeeded in integrating people from diverse cultures, Israel has yet to distill a definition of the rights and duties of citizenship. Many strictly Orthodox Jews refuse to serve in the army or any other national service programme or pay taxes. In the Israeli-Arab community, there are some who openly call for the destruction of the state and espouse terror as a legitimate means. The percentage of terrorist acts that have benefited from the assistance of Israeli-Arabs in recent years has skyrocketed.
By choosing to make responsible citizenship the central issue of its campaign, Yisrael Beiteinu sought to open up a discussion on the value of citizenship and how one contributes to the country in which one lives.
Our proposal is to make eligibility for state benefits contingent on one’s participation in some form of community service. There is nothing racist in such a platform — it applies to both Jew and non-Jew alike. Developing a collective sense of purpose is crucial for the security and success of any country, and that is what Avigdor Lieberman’s notion of citizenship is about.
There are other ways to strengthen Israel’s diverse society. Yisrael Beiteinu Member of the Knesset Hamed Amer, a pillar of the Druze community, is seeking to improve the standard of living and educational opportunities of the Druze people of Israel. Beiteinu MK David Rotem has worked tirelessly with Zionist rabbis to break the monopoly of strictly Orthodox rabbis on the religious courts — thereby easing the processes of divorce, marriage and conversion.
I think that Jews everywhere can be proud of Yisrael Beiteinu’s readiness to reject foggy notions of citizenship and failed peace initiatives. The party proposes replacing the concept of ‘land for peace’, which has defined all peace negotiations since 1979. ‘Land for peace’ is inherently unbalanced — we have only one side giving anything up. This lack of symmetry is one of the reasons for the failure of all peace initiatives with the Palestinians. One need only look at the aftermath of the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which laid the ground for Hamas’s takeover, to see that unilateral cessions of land do not bring peace.
Our alternative to ‘land for peace’ is ‘peace for peace’. Once the Palestinians are prepared to accept that Israel is not a fleeting entity and that terror will resolve nothing, we can begin negotiating to address the grievances on both sides. This can succeed with the support of the international community. Like our policy of responsible citizenship, it implies accountability on the part of our negotiating partners. We want all citizens of Israel to work together toward the security and success of the country, and all denizens of the Middle East to recognize that nobody is going anywhere. The only way to live together is to give up the rockets and bombs and start talking.