Will Lieberman order a new attack on Gaza?

Weeks before joining his coalition, Avigdor Lieberman, left, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar and swindler.”

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

Avigdor Lieberman’s apparently inexorable rise in Israeli politics continues.

The blowhard nationalist, former nightclub bouncer and secular sectarian who would rather a pure Jewish state than countenance equal rights for Jews and non-Jews, now holds the second most powerful ministry in the country.

Lieberman’s record suggests this could either end unremarkably or very, very badly indeed. Between shooting from the hip and bending to prevailing winds – also known as political pragmatism – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of substance.

Even by the questionable standards of Israeli politics, the defense portfolio is a huge gift to a man who was convicted of a 1999 assault on a 12-year-old boy and has been implicated in a major corruption investigation.

That is without taking into account countless incendiary comments about Palestinians, for whom he is trying to introduce their very own death penalty, Palestinian citizens of Israel, who he wants to expel, and foreign politicians.

When Hosni Mubarak was president of Egypt, Lieberman told him he should either visit Israel or “go to hell.”

More recently, he has hurled insults at Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom.

Responding to Wallstrom’s call for an investigation into Israel’s extrajudicial executions of Palestinians earlier his year, Lieberman claimed the “only thing” she hadn’t done yet was to “physically join Palestinian terrorists and stab Jews.”

And yet, in a nearly 30-year political career that started in the Likud Party, Lieberman has gone from strength to strength.

He has worked his way up the government ladder from infrastructure minister to transport – reportedly offering to provide buses so that Palestinians could be taken to the Dead Sea and drowned – to minister for strategic affairs and foreign policy.

And he served two stints as deputy prime minister.

Born in Moldova, Lieberman founded Yisrael Beiteinu, a Russian-immigrant dominated party, in 1999.

He had walked out on the Likud in protest at what he saw as concessions offered to Palestinians by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the 1997 Wye River talks.

“Seeds of fascism”

As Yisrael Beiteinu leader, he has played kingmaker for successive Israeli governments during the past decade. That is the reason he was offered the defense portfolio.

Without the party’s six seats, Netanyahu’s uneasy ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious coalition would have had to rely on a single-seat majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Not one to shunt aside political expediency for other considerations, Netanyahu therefore happily ignored the parting shot from Moshe Yaalon that “extremist and dangerous elements have overrun” Israel.

Yaalon had resigned as defense minister when Netanyahu moved to replace him.

Yaalon was, of course, a man jilted, a former army chief of staff being forced to make way for a civilian to take charge of a military that boasts of being the “most moral” in the world, in order to shore up a malfunctioning governing coalition.

But Yaalon was not simply unloading a broadside, and he was not alone.

Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, told Israeli TV on the same night Yaalon resigned that Israel had been “infected by the seeds of fascism.”

Lieberman, who lives in the Nokdim settlement south of Bethlehem, is the very voluble symptom of Israeli extremism, a man who voices what was once deemed politically unacceptable.

His vision of a two-state solution involves transferring Palestinian citizens of Israel to a new Palestinian state by swapping Palestinian-majority areas inside Israel for settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.

He has called for Palestinian members of the Knesset to be prosecuted for treason, advocated to “chop off” the heads of “anyone who’s against us.” And he repeatedly questions the loyalty of Palestinians living inside present-day Israel.

He is also at the head of a growing group of hardline settlers unsatisfied with the military for not being tough enough on Palestinians.

This in spite of decades of sham or nonexistent investigations into allegations of soldier misconduct that have only served to whitewash the occupation, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, and the near-impunity enjoyed by settlers in the West Bank under a two-tier legal system.

The settlers nominally live under Israeli civilian law, while Palestinians are subjected to military courts.

In March, Lieberman called for Yaalon’s impeachment when a case was brought against a soldier filmed shooting and killing an immobilized and disarmed Palestinian in Hebron.

He also denounced Netanyahu’s handling of the 2014 Gaza assault as not aggressive enough.


Indeed, he has denounced Netanyahu a number of times. In April, he reportedly called Netanyahu a “degenerate liar and swindler.”

One month earlier, he described the prime minister as “spineless.”

Such flip-flops, from outright condemnation to willing coalition partner, also suggest another side to Lieberman. In politics, it’s called pragmatism.

It means he is willing to say and do whatever it takes to ride the prevailing wind.

That side of him is the one that came out a few days ago when he stood next to Netanyahu as the Israeli prime minister said he would be willing to negotiate with Arab countries and the Palestinians on the basis of the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which is in effect a Saudi restatement of international law with inbuilt potential compromises.

This suggests Lieberman will be far less bold in action then he is in word. It may temper his time as defense minister as he perhaps eyes the bigger prize for himself, the premiership – a position he suggested in 2014 may soon belong to a Russian-speaker.

Then again, this is also the man who said last year that major attacks on Lebanon and Gaza were “inevitable

Moreover, he has previously advocated a “thorough cleansing” in Gaza.

He is now in a better position to make that happen.

Omar Karmi is a former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.




everything is being build on "faits accomplies"... And the regime seemingly lives well with them, to begin with the Nakba, the Lebanon wars and massacres, the Gaza-massacres.. once being done, Israel continued as before. With the only difference: becoming day by day more fascist... This only will end when in the US, particularly in the US' Jewish society, the wind will turn. I see changes coming.


i have a question? why are the israeli doing this? in what sin did the innocent ever do to them? the israel has taken everything they have, their lives and we just going to sit back and watch all those innocents died. are we supporting this? are we as cruel as the israelians? our silence, kill them every each day. i do agree. what ever the media shows on TV about ISIS i do feel disgusted about it, and don't blame the religion of what the followers did, that is not what they taught in islam. but why do THEY HAVE TO KILLED THE INNOCENTS? someone have to do something about this, if the authority can't do anything, who is gonna help them? we need to unite and FIGHT, as far as i know....they are human too. God didn't create them so they can be killed. God didn't create this earth for them to kill each other. SO WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS? you want their land, and you have destroyed almost 90% of their land. WHAT ELSE DO THEY HAVE LEFT? please have some humanity, the last time i checked, i almost have lost faith in humanity. because for us not did not do anything, killed the innocents every each day. And that makes us the BAD GUY too.