Thursday, February 5, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman: International Man of Mystery

I wasn't planning to do another Israel post so soon, but this guy absolutely fascinates me...and has the potential to become a real wild card in our (or anyone's) relations with Israel. Meet Avigdor Lieberman, the man who seemingly came from nowhere to become one of the biggest players on the Israeli political scene. He wont be Prime Minister after next Tuesday's election - that fight is between Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu - but the performance of his Yisrael Beiteinu Party will likely determine who does get the big office, and he is going to land a BIG cabinet job regardless. Right now five of the six top stories on the Jerusalem Post's "Election '09" page are about Lieberman or his party, and the banner at the top of the page was edited yesterday to add his picture alongside the leaders of the three major parties. Not bad, considering that Lieberman built his party entirely from scratch in only ten years. So, who is this guy, and how did he pull off one of the most surprising and meteoric rises in world politics?

In a former life, Lieberman was a big player in the Likud Party, and even worked as Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office during Benjamin Netanyahu's first stint as Prime Minister. But in 1999 he ditched Likud and started a new far-right party from scratch, calling it Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel Our Home"). An unabashed nationalist, Lieberman became known for his harsh anti-Arab rhetoric - demanding that Israeli Arabs swear loyalty to Israel or be stripped of their citizenship - and his controversial peace plan. "The Lieberman Plan" calls for a two-state solution in which predominantly Arab towns in Israel would be traded to Palestine in return for Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories.

Yisrael Beiteinu was primarily composed of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Israel in the late 20th century (Lieberman himself came from Moldova in 1978), and was able to quickly capitalize on support from the immigrant community. Hence, they won four seats in the Knesset (or Parliament) in the 1999 elections, and Lieberman entered the Knesset for the first time not as a mere freshman legislator, but as the leader of a new political movement. He quickly merged Yisrael Beiteinu into the National Union, a coalition of far-right parties that function as one in elections, and contested the 2003 election under their banner. However, he seems to have realized that the Union was holding him back, and Yisrael Beiteinu contested the 2006 election on their own. He made the right move, and Yisrael Beiteinu rocketed to prominence by winning 11 seats.

While the 2006 showing was impressive, it now seems to have been merely warm-up for next week - when Yisrael Beiteinu will likely become Israel's fourth major political party (the other three being Labor, Likud, and Kadima). Polls currently show Lieberman's forces winning between 18 and 20 seats in the Knesset, and still climbing. The Labor Party, once the dominant force in Israeli politics, appears to be eating Yisrael Beiteinu's dust in the race for third place, and the leaders of Likud and Kadima are rushing to kiss up to the suddenly-popular Avigdor Lieberman.

While Lieberman has expressed his desire to join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing Likud Party, he may actually be sabotaging that party's chances. Likud voters, disillusioned with their party's drift to the center, are hemorrhaging to Yisrael Beiteinu. Hence, Netanyahu is quickly running back to the right and trying to woo back voters with the promise that Lieberman will get a senior ministry in his cabinet. Meanwhile, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is also trying to cash in on Lieberman's sudden popularity by publicly declaring that he would be an acceptable coalition partner in her government (despite Lieberman's statements to the contrary).

So, what does this mean for the US? Well, it looks like Lieberman will land one of the major cabinet ministries under either Netanyahu or Livni...meaning he will either be Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, or Finance Minister. If he lands the Foreign Ministry, equivalent to the U.S. Secretary of State, our diplomats will suddenly be dealing with a controversial firebrand as their Isreali counterpart. I said yesterday that Netanyahu might have personality issues with Barack Obama...but there could be even more tension between Hillary Clinton and Avigdor Lieberman. However, I would expect Lieberman to be kept away from the Foreign Ministry, as tact and diplomacy are not his strong suits. More likely, he will be handed the Defense Ministry, putting him in charge of the Israeli military...and if anyone takes less flak from terrorists than Benjamin Netanyahu, it's Avigdor Lieberman. So, having both of them in power simultaneously would be bad news for Israel's enemies. Then again, Yisrael Beiteinu might actually be responsible for installing a leftist government, as they could split the right wing vote with Netanyahu - allowing the dovish Tzipi Livni to run up the middle and become Prime Minister.

Now, to be clear, my endorsement in these elections goes to Netanyahu and Likud. Lieberman is just a tad too radical in his nationalism for my liking, and his distaste for Israeli Arabs doesn't sit quite right with me. That said, it is hard not to admire his work in building Yisrael Beiteinu into a national force so quickly - and it will be hard to ignore the mark he leaves on the Middle East.


  1. Adam, I can't imagine that any town is actually 100% Arab OR Israeli, so how can Lieberman seriously support trading one town for another? Won't the minority Arabs or Israelis face much worse discrimination afterward? (Or are they already experiencing that now....?)
    Btw, does Netanyahu support "dealing with" Iran pretty soon? I must say, I was surprised that the Israelis didn't attack before GW left office. Do you think GW disallowed their crossing Iraq?
    That Condi......

  2. Mountain Mama,

    There are towns that almost entirely Arab, and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are 100% Jewish. That said, I agree with your basic premise. The Lieberman plan is bad for twoo reasons 1) It does encourage discrimination against the Israeli Arab community and 2) It's pie in the sky...the land tranfers would be a mess.

    On Iran, I think Netanyahu is more agressive, but I don't think he has any set plans (military ops must be determined by the situation on the ground). That said, the most pressing security issue right now is not the Iranians but rather their buddies in Hamas. There will be no direct confrontation between Israel and Iran - but the Gaza conflict is quickly morphing into a proxy war between them.

    Lastly, you can't say what Netanyahu will do without knowing which other parties will be in which cabinet positions. For instance, it will make a big difference whether the Defense Minister is Ehud Barak of the Labor Pary or Avigdor Lieberman. If Netanyahu gets the "unity government" he wants, he will have to please Barak, Lieberman, and Tzipi Livni to hold it together.

  3. I am grateful for this teaching, and will pray that G-d's perfect will is done re. the elections there. (What a confusing mess!)

  4. Good post, Adam. I'm fascinated by the differences between coalition governments and the 2 party system we have here at home.

  5. Hi
    As an Israeli in Israel, I just wanted to give my opinion. I think that there are many Israeli Arabs who truly want to be apart of Israeli society and be one with us. However, their radical leadership keeps them down. For example the heads of the Arab parties said any Arab who does national service (referring not to the army but a year of community service as an equivalent) would be excommunicated from the Arab community on a whole. They do everything to build a rift between the Jewish and the Arab people. They galvanize the Arab population to declare themselves 100 percent Palestinian and 0 percent Israeli. I therefore think what Liebermann is doing is commendable. I truly dont believe he is anti Arab. I believe he will take power away from this terrible Arab leaders which will then give the Arab in the street a chance to voice his true feelings if he chooses. As for switching cities for a two state solution im all for it. I find it funny that people can think it is okay to ethnically cleanse 300,000 Jews from the West Bank by ripping them out of their homes and no body blinks at this tought but when its suggested borders are changed without anyone losing a home, every newspaper around the world is calling him the next hitler, and how could you suggest such a thing. But its very simple, you have an Arab more or less secessionist sector of society who can easily join up with a new Palestinian State. I mean if were gunna have a Palestinian State, let us also have a real Israeli one. Not one in Gaza, one in the West Bank and a quarter of one in Israel. And for the record Israel has minorities in the army like the Druze and Bedouins who are sectors of the Arab ethnicity and they love this country.

  6. Senate voted contempt charges against todd palin and aids

    French is such a jerk for doing this.. after Sarah made amends with him publicly.

  7. Israeliforever, thank you for your insights. I understand better now----although I remain nervous about Israel's giving up land in exchange for anything, since the other side seems not to keep promises (or isn't that so?).

    Here's another view of the USA's recent election:
    Obama's Victory--A British view
    An editorial from the London Daily Mail
    Obama's Victory

    A victory for the hysterical Oprah Winfrey, the mad racist preacher Jeremiah Wright, the mainstream media who abandoned any sense of objectivity long ago, Europeans who despise America largely because they depend on her, comics who claim to be dangerous and fearless but would not dare attack genuinely powerful special interest groups.

    A victory for Obama-worshippers everywhere. A victory for the cult of the cult. A man who has done little with his life but has written about his achievements as if he had found the cure for cancer in between winning a marathon and building a nuclear reactor with his teeth. Victory for style over substance, hyperbole over history, rabble-raising over reality.

    A victory for Hollywood, the most dysfunctional community in the world. Victory for Streisand, Spielberg, Soros and Sarandon. Victory for those who prefer welfare to will and interference to independence. For those who settle for group think and herd mentality rather than those who fight for individual initiative and the right to be out of step with meager political fashion.

    Victory for a man who is no friend of freedom. He and his people have already stated that media has to be controlled so as to be balanced, without realizing the extraordinary irony within that statement. Like most liberal zealots, the Obama worshippers constantly speak of Fox and Limbaugh, when the vast bulk of television stations and newspapers are drastically liberal and anti-conservative. Senior Democrat Chuck Schumer said that just as pornography should be censored, so should talk radio. In other words, one of the few free and open means of popular expression may well be cornered and beaten by bullies who even in triumph cannot tolerate any criticism and opposition.

    A victory for those who believe the state is better qualified to raise children than the family, for those who prefer teachers' unions to teaching and for those who are naively convinced that if the West is sufficiently weak towards its enemies, war and terror will dissolve as quickly as the tears on t he face of a leftist celebrity.

    A victory for social democracy even after most of Europe has come to the painful conclusion that social democracy leads to mediocrity, failure, unemployment, inflation, higher taxes and economic stagnation. A victory for intrusive lawyers, banal sentimentalists, social extremists and urban snobs.

    Congratulations, America! God help you!

    I can't stand how true those statements are; how do we ever bring SANITY and healthy moral values to America again!?

  8. i don't know how we change, but i know God isn't done yet.. what scares me though are the countries like mexico who are falling into collapse when the majority are lower class poor people who are extremely religious and deserve God's blessing more than our country who seeks to expel Him from our borders.

  9. i'm not an economics expert by far but it seems our country is dependent on excessive spending of the people.. if everyone holds on to their money small businesses suffer and it's a chain reaction from there leading to almost double digit unemployment. Is the stimulus package really going to help? what when that money is gone if our system is broken? how does our country make it without the excess mentality considering so many jobs are based on it? I guess if we knew the answer we would be in washington.. well maybe not.

  10. Scott,
    you are correct about the mentality. You are correct about it being dependent on jobs.
    Home sales correlate better with the unemployment rate than with interest rates.

    If people have jobs, they have confidence to buy a home.
    If people are out of work, they will not buy a home no matter what the rates are.

    Remember, during the depression, FDR said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself"
    During our current crisis, this past week, the President said "if we don't do something now we will never recover".
    As much as I dislike FDR, his attitude was perfect for the time.

    I follow an investment advisor who says, regarding the current crisis, that this is a confidence crisis and not an economic crisis.

  11. FDR was a good leader, even if the New Deal and some of his other domestic policies were a farce. Leadership comes first.

    .........which is a good segue into this topic. What the hell is Barry going to do, seriously? If getting on TV and whining every night about a bill that quite frankly isn't much different than last year's non-stimulus
    is his version of a fireside chat then I'd rather not even think about what happens if we get hit again or Ahmajackass starts going ballistic again.

  12. About a week ago, I said that I do not want to become an Obama whinner. (or as I saw today "stop global whinning")
    He has not impressed me at all. Sarah's going a great job in Alaska. She is showing real leadership.
    And Mr. Obama is voting present. How long will he get away with saying "I won"?

    I hope that senator from Penna. decides he is too old to run for re-elcetion.

  13. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) not too long ago battled cancer, but he might still run again, if he stays healthy. Nevertheless, at various times, Specter has voted more centrist/liberal (he's pro-choice, for example) than conservative.

    I wish the FAKE Republican Senators would GET REAL, or get out of the party. It's just getting ridiculous with them....

    How can anyone in their right mind view this "stimulus package" as anything but a disgusting pay-off for votes or support? It's utterly obvious. PRAY that someone gets this truth through to the three Republican TRAITORS to America.

  14. Oh mama, you'll love this: Now that Mr. Tingly Legs has decided not to run against Spectacle (might as well, he can continue to be a lib hack politician at MSNBC like he's been doing all along and make tons more money) the talk is none other than Hall of Fame RB Franco Harris, who not only came out of retirement to play for my Seahawks back in 1984 but is also a big lib.

    Hope Pat Toomey runs again.

  15. Americans: wake up from your paralysing pro-Israeli slumber: Yisrael Beitenu and Avigdor Lieberman are racist Fascists. American Republicans, even Conservative ones, would shun such people if they tried to get elected in the US.

    As Gideon Levy put it here: (do read the whole thing)

    "Lieberman calls for a fascist "test of loyalty" as a condition for granting citizenship to Israel's Arabs, while Kahane [considered a terrorist] called for the unconditional annulment of their citizenship. One racist (Lieberman) calls for their transfer to the Palestinian state, the other (Kahane) called for their deportation.

    If someone like Lieberman were to join a government in Europe, Israel would sever ties with it. If anyone had predicted in Kahane's day that a pledge to turn his successor into an important minister would one day be considered an electoral asset here, they would have been told they were having a nightmare."

    Anyone who considers Hamas extremist but Yisrael Beitenu acceptable is simply a hypocrite.

  16. Great post Adam. I am no expert in Israeli politics but I am concerned about this party and Lieberman. I kind of support the Kadima party and want see Livni become the PM.

  17. Usually I delete trolls, but I think I'm going to leave Gert's post up...because I find it almost disturbing for several reasons.

    First off, Gert fails to realize that no-one on this blog is all that thrilled with Lieberman, and the three commenters who declared an allegiance in the Isreali election - only one went for Beiteinu (and that person is not a regular reader..though they made some good points) - I went Likud and SOA backs Kadima. So dissing us as if we are Lieberman people is rather strange.

    Second, Gert expresses an early bias against Israel by asking us to wake up from our pro-Israeli slumber - so I don't think she really cares who wins...she just doesn't like Israel.

    Third, comparing Yisrael Beiteinu to Hamas is ridiculous. I've already expressed my distaste for Lieberman's ethnic rhetoric, but he is not advocating the elimination of the Palestinians as a people - nor is he promoting ANY violence against them. Hamas wants to violently destroy Israel - Lieberman just has a rather strange plan to try to carve up two states along ethnic lines. And while I totally disagree with him, I can at least see the basis of Lieberman's argument...if Israeli Arabs wish to define themselves as loyal to Palestine over their country of citizenship, then let them be PART of Palestine.

    Lastly, it is almost equally nonsensical to define Avigdor Lieberman as an heir to the the racist Meir Kahane. It is very clear who Kahane's heirs are, because one of his old Buddies (Baruch Marzel) heads a very small, ultra-nationalist party which is in no way alligned with Yisrael Beiteinu (and never has been, although Marzel's party did join the National Union coalition this year, several years after Yisrael Beiteinu left it).

    Avigdor Lieberman is a nationalist and a radical, and nobody here is backing him. But he is neither a terrorist nor a Kahanist. People like Gert need to think about the extremity of their own rhetoric before they declare us to be extremist hypocrites.

  18. Once again, Adam, YOU are correct, sir!

    I admit I thought, "WOW, I wonder if they'll delete this Gert person's completely biased and rude post!"

    I'm glad you left it posted, Adam, as a GOOD EXAMPLE of BIAS and lack of logic!

  19. MountMama,

    Thanks..actually it turns out that most of Gert's post is just a copy-paste from her own blog...but its still worth responding too.

    Also, Gert, if you're reading...not cool to copy-paste, not cool to rant rather than join the conversation, and really not cool to yell at people simply because they're talking critically about the views of a political figure who you happen to hate.

  20. Not cool to run blog with a set of rules for the 'regulars' and then claim an outsider is a troll. Very conservative.

    Lieberman is indeed considered a Fascist by many of his countrymen, he's even being investigated for his former Kahane connections (but I daren't cut and past anything about that - lol).

    What do you call someone who calls for the entire transfer of an entire population group? What would you do if an American politician called for something similar? What would you call Milosevic?

    Get real, Adam and stop the 'Big girl's blouse' act, otherwise put up a sign: "No dissent please, we're conservative'.

    No offence was meant by my post at all. If opinion that doesn't conform with yours has to be considered trollish, you should look carefully at your definition of Freedom of speech, pal...

    Soooorrryy, wrong forum. Bye now...

  21. Gert, your initial post stated that people who differ from YOUR viewpoint are "racist," "facist," terrorist," or "hypocrite."

    In your second (reply) post, you ignored each of Adam's points of contention with your initial post. Why don't you back up and address Adam's points?

    Or would you prefer to behave like a rude child, calling people names? "Big girl's blouse" hardly constitutes adult debating.