Avigdor Lieberman: A Profile in Ultranationalist Extremism - by Stephen Lendman
Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Lieberman represents the worst of Israel's lunatic fringe, sort of a combination Dick Cheney/John McCain/Joe Lieberman, too extremist to be entrusted with power, but he's got it.
On March 18, 2008 in the London Independent, Robert Fisk headlined, "Why Avigdor Lieberman is the worst thing that could happen to the Middle East," saying:
"....Israelis have exalted a man....who out-Sharons even Ariel Sharon. A few Palestinians (said) the West will see the 'true face' of Israel. (He's) talked of drowning Palestinians in the Dead Sea or executing Israeli Palestinians who talked to Hamas. (His) incendiary language (promotes) executions....drownings....hell and loyalty oaths," perfect for the role he's assumed, allied with Israel's most extremist ever Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who also out-Sharons Sharon, no easy feat by any means.
On September 20, Haaretz writer Akiva Eldar headlined, "Freeze Lieberman," referring to his opposition to a settlement freeze, telling Israeli Radio that his party (Yisrael Beiteinu) has enough power to stop it and much more, including obstructing meaningful peace talks.
Eldar's conclusion - "There is no excuse for Netanyahu to keep the man and his party" as part of his coalition government. He's an embarrassment, but for that matter, so is Netanyahu and Israel's most extremist ever Knesset, a topic earlier writing addressed.
On August 2, 2009, Haaretz writer Gideon Levy headlined, "Kahane won," referring to extremist Rabbi Meir Kanane and his racist Kach Party, banned by Israel in 1988 under a law passed to disqualify him and his zealots. Later in 1994, after the Cave of the Patriachs massacre (committed by Kach member Baruch Goldstein), it was the first Jewish organization in more than 40 years to be called a "threat to security" and outlawed.
Levy said he "can rest in peace." He's been resurrected. "His doctrine has won....Kahanism has become legitimate in public discourse....racism and nationalism (have been transformed) into accepted values."
If Kahane ran for office today, "not only would (he and others in his party) not be banned, (they'd) win many votes....the ostracized is now accepted, the detestable has become the talented - that's the slippery slope down which Israeli society has skidded over the past two decades."
In his youth, Lieberman was a Kach party member. He "was and is a Kahanist. The differences between Kach and Yisrael Beiteinu are miniscule, not fundamental and certainly not a matter of morality."
For example, Lieberman demands Israeli Arabs declare loyalty to a "Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state," its emblems and values, and to perform military or equivalent service as a condition for a national identity card signifying citizenship. Kahana wanted unconditional annulment. Lieberman wants them transfered to a "Palestinian state." Kahane wanted them deported.
Israel under Netanyahu/Lieberman institutionalized racism in its worst form - potential expulsion or extermination, a "nightmare (that's) here and now. Kahane is alive and kicking - is he ever - in the person of his thuggish successor."
His extremism promotes "hatred for Arabs, hatred of democracy and the rule of law, and the stink of nationalism, racism and bloodthirstiness. (He's) the voice of the mob, and the mob craves hatred, vengeance and bloodshed." He's a malignancy on the body politic, a "cancerous growth (throughout) society, (a dangerous, embarrassing) abomination," one step removed from being Prime Minister.
Who Is Avigdor Lieberman?
Hebrew University Professor Yitzhak Brudny said his "model is not very democratic. He doesn't like balancing government with checks and balances. He wants a kind of imperial presiden(cy), an executive authority. This is why he is dangerous."
Hebrew University Professor Zeev Sternhell calls him "perhaps the most dangerous politician in the history of the state of Israel."
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, describes him as "outrageous, abominable, hate-filled, (and) brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell."
David A. Harris, the American Jewish Committee's Executive Director, says he "define(s) an entire class of Israelis as suspected traitors," a fifth column.
Der Spiegel's Christoph Schult called him a "virulent racist," and for the Guardian's Daphna Baram an "arch" one.
An unnamed Meretz party member said "If you liked Mussolini, if you were missing Stalin, you'll love Lieberman." During the 2009 political campaign, Meretz released an internal memo comparing him to "Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, (Jorg) Haider in Austria, and (Vladimir) Zhirinovsky in Russia."
Known for racism, bullying and belligerence, Le Pen's views were hard-right. So were Haider's for praising Nazism and Zhirinovsky's ultranationalism.
Even ultra-Zionist peace process critic Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, called Lieberman "neo-fascist....a certified gangster....the Israeli equivalent of Jorg Haider."
Others call him offensive to basic ethics and morality, and a threat to the rule of law and democratic freedoms. In a word, he's bad news for Israel, Palestinians, and the region.
Lieberman's Roots and Background
Born Evet Lvovich Lieberman in Moldova (a former Soviet Republic) in 1958, he studied at a local agricultural institute, worked as a nightclub bouncer, and later as a Baku, Azerbaijan broadcaster, before moving to Israel with his parents in 1978.
He got a Hebrew University social science degree, served as an IDF corporal, then began a political career. In the 1980s, he helped found the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry, and was also a member of the Board of the Jerusalem Economic Corporation and Secretary of the Jerusalem branch of Israel's "national workers union," the Histadrut Ovdim Le'umit.
From 1993 - 1997, he was Director General for the Likud party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief of staff during his first term. In 1999, he established the far-right, ultranationalist Israel Beiteinu Party (Israel is Our Home), the same year he became a MK. He's also held other positions, including Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, and is currently Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Across the board, his positions are over the top to put it mildly. On September 5, he called peace with the Palestinians unattainable, "not next year and not for the next generation....Our proposal is: No to unilateral concessions, no to continuing the settlement freeze (a fake moratorium, in fact, never frozen, and), yes to serious negotiations and mutual gestures of good faith," though he offers none of his own.
"The peace process," he said "is based on three false basic assumptions. That the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main fact of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict."
On the contrary, he says. Give up some land and they'll demand more. Never mind that all of it belongs to them. For over 43 years, Israel has been an illegal occupier, what Lieberman other Israeli politicians omit from their rhetoric, important truths too disturbing to admit.
Deploring peace, he says those for it "should prepare for war and be strong." He also believes "tensions within the Muslim world are 95 to 98 percent of all the problems of the Middle East, (the) Israeli-Palestinian conflict account(ing) for two percent."
He, his party, and the Netanyahu government want all valued West Bank and Jerusalem Judaized, confining Palestinians to isolated, resource poor cantons, surrounded by hostile settlers, free to commit violence with impunity.
Conflict for him is "about values and vision, and is part of a world wide collision between the West or the free world, and the radical Islamic world. Israel represents the free world, and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas represent the Islamic radical world."
His solution - "separation, like in the Balkans. The best model is Cyprus: before 1974, Greeks and Turks lived together and there was friction and terror." After separation, "we haven't seen a peace agreement, but there is security. The same we must see in our region."
His racist extremism is also well known. Besides demanding a "loyalty oath" as a condition of citizenship, he wants a separate Palestinian entity, excluded from majority Jewish areas, what Americans enacted 1960s civil rights legislation to ban.
In February 2007, he said "Israel is under a dual terrorist attack, from within and from without. And terrorism from within is always more dangerous (than) from without." Earlier in the Knesset, he wanted Palestinian MKs hanged as collaborators, saying:
"World War II ended with the Nuremberg trials. The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the (Arab MK and other) collaborators."
In March 2002, he said:
"I would not hesitate to send the Israeli army into all of Area A (under PA control) for 48 hours. Destroy the foundations of all the authority's military infrastructure and all of the police buildings, the arsenals, all the posts of the security forces....not leav(ing) one stone on another. Destroy everything."
He also wanted air strikes on all Palestinian commercial areas and other parts of its civilian economy. In 2003, when Sharon (for political, not magnanimous, reasons) suggested 350 Palestinian prisoners get amnesty, he responded:
"It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that's the lowest point in the world," adding his willingness, as Transportation Minister, to load up busses and take them there.
In January 2009, he compared Cast Lead to America's 1940s war in the Pacific, saying Gaza should be "treated like Chechnya," and Israel "must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II," suggesting ending it the same way with weapons of mass destruction.
He also believes pandering to international opinion is a mistake, showing weakness, not strength. He's so ultranationalist and hard-right, many call him fascist. Under investigation for alleged fraud, accepting a bribe, money laundering, embezzlement, and obstruction of justice, others say he's corrupt. In addition, on May 24, 2010, Israeli police recommended indicting him for Breach of Trust for receiving classified information about his criminal investigation.
Earlier, on September 24, 2001, in Jerusalem District Court, he admitted attacking a 12-year old boy in December 1999 in the Nokdim settlement who'd hit his son. Charged with assaulting and threatening him, he was convicted, but copped a plea to pay a fine and avoid harsher punishment.
Jamal Zahalka, an Arab MK Balad Party head, says Israel lurched to the right after Yitzhak Rabin's 1995 assassination. The 2000 Camp David failure, followed by the second Intifada, Hamas' January 2006 election, the Lebanon summer 2006 war, and Cast Lead solidified hardline views. "Lieberman didn't suddenly appear like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. He rode the wave and he's not alone."
Hassan Jabareen, founder and director of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, agrees, saying:
"He didn't establish racism in Israel....This product wasn't shaped by him. He just got the fruits of the others," using them for his own advantage. Israel is in crisis, he believes, caused by a lurch to the right. "They try to suppress our identity. But the state won't be more Jewish if we stop commemorating the Nakba (or) stop criticizing Zionism. When segregation becomes ideology, (it) has only one place to be translated - (into) law. Here in Israel, segregation (has become) ideology. The Jews want to live alone without Arabs."
Lieberman is their most prominent spokesman. He's not a traditional "Greater Israel" right-winger. He's more pragmatic, opportunist, and secular, but unbending in his views like Netanyahu. As long as they're in power, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs face persecution of the worst kind short of total expulsion or outright extermination. But those possibilities can't be ruled out.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.