Lieberman says Israel’s borders “imperialist” and “arbitrary”
“Anti-Zionism” can be found in surprising places. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was up in the Golan Heights on Thursday. The settlement of Katzrin awarded him “honorary citizenship of the city.”
The Israeli media provided superficial reporting of Lieberman’s acceptance speech, with only generalities regarding his hard-line positions diplomatic issues coming through. IBA Radio’s diplomatic correspondent, Shmulik Tal, a diligent government stenographer, was more thorough, relaying other elements of the acceptance speech.
Without Tal’s discipline, this little scrap of insight might have been lost [Evening Newsmagazine, November 11 2010 17:11; recording here]:
[…] Shmulik Tal: The Foreign Minister said in Katzrin that the Golan Heights’ annexation [sic] to Syria was incidental and that it was a mistake. This mistake was made 94 years ago, but today the Golan Heights’ are Israeli territory and that is how they will remain. Lieberman: It was an imperialist agreement, between Sykes and Picot, between England and France. In 1916 the Golan was transferred to Syria. It was something arbitrary and that’s why I think that, from every perspective, the Golan must stay, must be the entry gate [sic] to Israel. […]
If the name Sykes-Picot doesn’t ring a bell for you, then you probably didn’t go to an Israeli high-school in the ’80s. I did and there is no chance that I will ever forget the names of these two obscure diplomats. The history curriculum was heavily focused on the origins and development of Zionism. To make it successfully through matriculation, one had to remember an awful lot of details from the early 20th century.
If you’re a poor memorizer like me, systems are important. Regarding diplomatic history, I had a simply structured chain, resembling the verse of a Dry Bones song. The establishment of the State in 1948 was the “head bone” and everything started in 1916 with the “toe bone” — the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which carved up the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France.
Now the Israeli Foreign Minister was calling “arbitrary” an agreement that I was taught to believe underpinned, along with another “imperialist” document, the Balfour Declaration, the official narrative of Israel’s international legitimacy. Had things changed that much in the space of 25 years? Not according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Paragraphs 4-5 of its translation of the Declaration of Independence look like this:
In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country. This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.
Those are the only two hyperlinks in the document and they both lead to Foreign Ministry renditions. With slight modifications, the Sykes-Picot Agreement drew the map of the British Mandate. Destruction of internationally recognized borders has become a characteristic of de facto Israeli foreign policy. The 1967 borders, recognized by UNSC 242, the Algiers Declaration and the Arab Peace Initiative, have all but disappeared under the weight of the settlements and the separation barrier. That line is also being wiped away by the reopening of 1948 in places like Sheikh Jarrah and Ajami.
Still, to a layman, Lieberman’s latest revisionism appears to be exceptional. When Israel annexed the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Begin cited recent events. Even the “Jordan is Palestine” idea is premised on the Mandate borders. It seems that previous generations of Israeli leaders understood that de-legitimization of the “arbitrary” Sykes-Picot Agreement is a two-way street. The Israeli-Lebanese border, for example, is obviously “a mistake.” Demography suggests a route further to the south, topography — one further to the north.
But that’s not the least of it. When was the last time you heard a Zionist use the term “imperialist”? You probably haven’t, because over much of recent history anti-Zionism has been closely associated with anti-imperialism.
I’m increasingly hesitant to position myself or others in relation to Zionism because it has become a very ambiguous term. Lieberman, however, is clearly an anti-Zionist, at least as generations of Israelis were taught to understand the term.
“Combating de-legitimization” is the flavor of the year in pro-Israel advocacy. Abe Foxman of the Anti Defamation League is leading the charge in the US. But who is a bigger “de-legitimization” threat: Israel’s radical Foreign Minister, or one of his favorite targets, an organization of young Jewish-Americans protesting the occupation?