Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is He Or Isn't He?

Is Avigdor Lieberman a racist? Since last week's election there has been a bit of a rush among pro-Israel voices to defend him. (Often these defenses are couched in "no, but" terms... as in "there's nothing inherently wrong with loyalty tests, but it's a bad idea because the Europeans and Americans won't like it.") It is true that Lieberman's statements are seldom if ever explicitly racist. If the premise is that Israel's security is paramount while democracy is secondary, his platform and rhetoric have their own internal (and more or less non-racist) logic.

But it is worth remembering that when George Wallace ran as a national candidate, he rarely talked about integration and barely mentioned blacks. Wallace was media-savvy and never said things on the campaign trail that were explicitly racist. He railed against liberals, elitists and out-of-touch politicians imposing their goody-two-shoes agenda onto good, hard-working Americans. His campaign, like Lieberman's, was an exercise in bigotry by other means.

Is there anyone who would say in hindsight that George Wallace did not stir the pot of racial hatred?