Ari Shavit
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 19, 2012 - 1:00am

Our Putin is different from their Putin.

Their Putin is a prime minister who wants to be president, while our Putin is a foreign minister who wants to be prime minister. Their Putin is an aggressive and arrogant statesman who serves Russia's interests; our Putin is aggressive and cynical and harms the interests of Israel.

Their Putin is a modern-day czar, while our Putin is a grotesque czar. Their Putin gives their country a troublesome kind of power; our Putin severely weakens his country's power. He disrupts our ties with the United States and sabotages our relationships with Europe and creates the impression throughout the world that we are all a bunch of thugs.

Our Putin, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is a mark of disgrace on the forehead of the State of Israel.

First and foremost, our Putin is a disgrace to Likud. No excuses will help: Likud should have made every effort to form a government that did not have to rely on the good graces of the extreme right. Likud did not do that. It preferred a life of horror with Yisrael Beiteinu to sharing a life with Kadima.

But our Putin is also a disgrace to Kadima. As we know, the chairwoman of the opposition is the handiwork of our Putin. For years she engaged in a secret political romance with him, and even today she is careful not to face off against him directly.

Both Likud and Kadima - in their acts as well as their failures to act - turned our Putin into the fulcrum of Israeli politics. They neither ostracized nor distanced him. Rather, they allowed him to rise up and become Israel's king-maker.

Our Putin is a disgrace to the media. Five years ago, Haaretz's Gidi Weitz published an amazing investigative report on the foreign minister. Motti Gilat did what he was supposed to do again and again. A small group of journalists warned incessantly about the spreading Putinist affliction in the country. But in general, Israeli media in recent years has shown a strange lenience toward the Cypriot businessman who traded in wood, wine and rubles. It does not take aim at him the way it does at former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The same is true of the judicial system. In August 2009, the police gave Lieberman's file to the state prosecutor. Some two and a half years went by before the diluted file finally received a hearing this week. Now it is said that months will pass before a decision is made. This foot-dragging is incomprehensible and inconceivable. Without a decision one way or the other, the Putin-like affairs are contaminating the democratic process with extraneous considerations and motives.

Our Putin is a disgrace to the Russian-Israeli community. A million Russian immigrants who came from the Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States enriched Israel in every way - with regard to science, technology, industry, music, art. But this impressive and high-quality wave of immigration contributed negatively to political life in Israel. When it had to choose between a fair and wise democrat like Natan Sharansky and a ridiculous Putin clone, it chose the latter. That is why hundreds of thousands of educated immigrants who fled from tyranny to freedom are today represented in the Knesset by the friend of the tyrants, who puts their freedom at risk.

And our Putin is also a disgrace to the secular elite of veteran Israelis. Every time he feels that hatred of Arabs has exhausted itself, the settler from Nokdim offers the poison pill of Haredi hatred to the secular tribe. Time after time, the secular tribe falls for it. It deludes itself into thinking that the belligerent bouncer will protect them from United Torah Judaism and Shas. Thus, through sheer manipulation, this extreme nationalist wins the favor and absolution of many secular people.

The bottom line is disgrace. In the world of their Putin and of ours, the key concept is honor. Personal honor, national honor, international honor. Yet our Putin is not a leader with respect, but rather one of dishonor. He is striking a mortal blow to the honor and strength of the State of Israel. The time has come for Israelis to remove this badge of shame. Putin? No, thank you. Not with us. Not in this Jewish democratic state.


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