Osama Al-Sharif
Arab News (Opinion)
January 20, 2010 - 1:00am

In the world of Israel’s extreme politics, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman comes out as a true representative of a new breed of politicians, whose ideological bigotry is augmented by their blind faith in brutal military force. Lieberman is the ugly face of Israel; an evil man more often than not acting as thug than a politician, a mobster who threatens “enemies” with destruction and annihilation and continues to underline Israel’s impunity status.

Lieberman is not a phenomenon, but rather the product of a political ideology of hate and condescension to others. He is the leader of an extremist far-right racist party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) which flaunts a number of stated, and surreptitious goals, including the expulsion of Israeli Arabs, or turning them formally, as a first step, into noncitizens, tearing up West Bank territories and annexing large chunks of it to the Jewish state, and forcing the Palestinians to leave or live as prisoners in closed cantons. He and his followers are openly hostile to Arabs, rejecting negotiated settlements, and he is also a terrorist because he defends the policy of killing Palestinians and striking Israel’s enemies wherever they are and by any means.

Lieberman’s latest folly was masterminding the scandal that nearly brought the collapse of diplomatic relations with Turkey. He believed that by openly and shamelessly humiliating Turkey’s ambassador, Israel would force Ankara’s hand into stepping back from its critical stands of Israeli policies, especially in Gaza. It was a blunder. Turkey raised the ante and it was Israel that had to retract. One wonders what would have happened if Lieberman had chosen to insult the ambassador of an Arab state? It’s a scene that we do not wish to see.

Lieberman, who emigrated with his family from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, has become a potent player in Israeli politics. His father, who had served in the Red Army, was exiled to Siberia’s gulags, and Avigdor or Evet as he was called, was prevented from studying international law in Kiev because, as he claimed, he was Jewish. In Israel, he joined the IDF where he served in the Artillery Corps and earned the rank of sergeant. Later, he finished his university education, receiving a degree in international relations, and joined the Likud Party. By that time he was working as a bouncer at a nightclub.

Lieberman entered the political arena through the Likud Party and started recruiting supporters among Soviet Jews. He became close to Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s when the latter took over as party leader. When Netanyahu won the election and formed a government in 1996, Lieberman was appointed director of the Office of the Prime Minister.

In 1999, he established Yisrael Beiteinu, and quickly attracted a large following of Russian Jews. He was elected to the Knesset that year when his party won four seats. Following that he held various ministerial portfolios in the government of Ariel Sharon, but was fired by the latter because he opposed the unilateral withdrawal plan from Gaza in 2004.

Lieberman’s party scored another major victory in the 2006 elections, this time winning 10 seats in the Knesset. He quickly joined the coalition government of Ehud Olmert, who gave him the strategic affairs portfolio, created to stave off future threats from Iran, in addition to the post of deputy prime minister. But two years later he resigned and pulled his party from the government to protest the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

But it was in the 2009 elections that Lieberman’s party became a force to reckon with as it came in third place, at the expense of the Labor Party, after the Likud and Kadima. Accordingly, it joined a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu and the Moldavian-born Lieberman became foreign minister and deputy prime minister. This marked the emergence of Lieberman as a political power player and confirmed the voters’ continuing support of extreme right parties and their racist ideas.

It would not be surprising if Lieberman is able to form a right-wing coalition government in the near future, making use of the endemic political fragmentation that is weakening centrist parties, the dominance of religious parties and the growing role of immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. When this happens it will be a major tremor at all levels, one that will be felt especially by the Palestinians and the Arabs.

Lieberman does not hide his racism, nor is he bashful about his rejection of a Palestinian state or ceding West Bank territories. He is also indifferent to Arab peace offerings and is more interested in seeing Israel join the EU and NATO. He is also one of the strongest advocates of using force against anyone who threatens Israel, including Iran, Lebanon, Gaza and even Egypt, which he once threatened to destroy its High Dam and insulted its president for his refusal to visit Israel.

This time he fumbled over the Turkey incident. But Lieberman’s loss will not spell his end. He will continue to play an inciting role in Israeli politics, provoking extremists and fanatics and especially settlers who approve of his diatribe against the Palestinians and the peace talks.

Avigdor Lieberman is the future of Israeli politics and Arabs must prepare for a period of more dangerous policies promoted by a man who only believes in imposing his will through force and violence.

— Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Jordan.


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