Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during an interview with the Israeli army radio (Gali Tzahal) on Sunday the "Arabs of Israel" should be expelled if a Palestinian state was established and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were dismantled.
Lieberman, a former Moldovan immigrant who arrived in Israel in 1978, suggested that the existence of a large non-Jewish minority in Israel threatened the "Jewish identity" and "ethnic purity" of Israel.
But his explicitly racist remarks raised no ire in the Israeli political establishment.
Israeli officials, from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon downward, refused to condemn the remarks, suggesting a sympathy with Lieberman’s ideas.
Amira Dotan, a spokeswoman for the Israeli foreign ministry, told Aljazeera.net ethnic cleansing was not "the policy of the government".
"I do not know what made him say these things. He is a free man; he has the right to express his views."
When reminded it was not the first time Lieberman made such racist statements, Dotan said even government ministers had the right to voice nonconformist views.
Asked why such provocative statements go unchallenged in a country that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, Dotan evaded the subject, arguing that Sharon had promised to allocate additional funds for Israel's Arab sector.
Lieberman's remarks drew angry reactions from some of the leaders of Israel's Arab community. Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi called Lieberman a "full fledged fascist".
"He is not the only fascist. The entire political atmosphere in Israel provides a most suitable environment for the growth and prosperity of fascism. This is why sickening statements as such go unchallenged."
Ariel Sharon has refused to
condemn Liberman's comments
Tibi blamed the international community, especially the United States and Europe, for their "obscene double-standards toward Israeli fascism".
"A few years ago, Europe moved swiftly to silence and isolate [Austrian nationalist leader Jorg] Haidar for his alleged anti-Jewish remarks.
"Here in Israel we have government ministers who routinely make brazenly racist and fascist remarks about the Palestinians ... and the EU is saying nothing and doing nothing," he said.
On why Israeli civil society does not condemn such anti-democratic attitudes, Tibi said a sizeable segment of the Israeli Jewish society had already drifted to jingoistic and religious fascism.
"Many Israeli Jews are already inured to Lieberman's way of thinking. I expect that these fascist trends will continue to grow." Tibi's views are corroborated by a number of peace-oriented Israelis.
"He is not the only fascist. The entire political atmosphere in Israel provides a most suitable environment for the growth and prosperity of fascism. This is why sickening statements as such go unchallenged"
Arab Knesset member
Yossi Sarid, a leader of the centre-Left Meretz Party, accused Lieberman of "emulating fascists in other lands and other times".
"His (Lieberman's) remarks are reminiscent of other people and other lands which ultimately led to the annihilation of millions of Jews," said Sarid.
Another Arab member of the Israeli parliament reminded the international community, "Arabs of Israel are probably the most persecuted minority in the world."
"It is this fascist mentality that makes the Israeli government destroy our homes, confiscate our land and spray our fields with pesticides … and then they unashamedly tell the world that they are the only democracy in the Middle East," said Talab al-Sanai.
He described Lieberman's remarks as "the epitome [of] the iceberg of fascism in this country".
"Lieberman came from Moldova in 1978 and he is telling the Palestinians who have been living here from antiquity that they don't have the right to be here. Can you think of a more brazen obscenity?"
Lieberman's racism has been well known for many years. A few years ago he called for the bombing of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, the Presidential palace in Damascus and Iran’s nuclear facilities.
He also called for executing Arab Knesset members Tibi and Muhammad Baraka by a firing squad for supporting Palestinian rights and calling for ending the Israeli occupation.
Shimon Peres had a run-in with
Liberman over previous comments
In 2002, he urged the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to carry out "wholesale killings" of Palestinian civilians in order to force them to flee to Jordan and other neighbouring Arab countries.
"At 8:00 am, we'll bomb the commercial centers; at noon, we'll bomb their gas stations and at two o'clock we'll bomb the banks … Then we keep the border crossing open," Lieberman was quoted as saying during a cabinet session.
Upset by his remarks, Israeli opposition leader and then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres reportedly looked at Lieberman, telling him … "and at 6:00 pm, you'll receive an invitation to the international Tribunal in the Hague".
Lieberman now lives at the settlement of Nikodem in the northern West Bank, built on a piece of land, which he and other immigrants from the former Soviet Union had seized from Palestinian villagers.