Like several foreign ministers before him, from Abba Eban, who worked like a wind-up doll that prattled in Oxfordian English and equally Oxfordian Arabic, through David Levy, who became the hero of a hefty joke book in his own right, current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman will go down in history as a joke. However, when he eventually (may he live to be 120 ) arrives in that circle of paradise set aside for tragic individuals who became walking jokes in their lifetime, do not be surprised if he finds himself alongside his biggest critics, the ones who make jokes of themselves as they embark time and again on ridiculous crusades against the joke called Lieberman.
Heading the most recent ridiculous crusade this week was Yossi Beilin (once a politician, now a businessman ), who was interviewed at length on Monday on state television about the umpteenth diplomatic mini-crisis Lieberman has fomented since taking office. This time the foreign minister supposedly insulted his peers in France and Spain, who were visiting the country, and afterward either apologized or didn't. Most probably he was overcome by an urge to come off as a patriotic clown and believed someone would clean up the mess after him.
If Yossi Beilin didn't exist, it would have been necessary to invent him precisely for this purpose: to clean up after Lieberman. Beilin (like our president, Shimon Peres ) represents Israel's civilized and polite European face, at least in his own eyes. Hence, almost automatically, he must be invited to the television studio to react to the person who represents Israel's uncivilized, impolite and non-European face. And what was the conclusive argument he presented to anchorwoman Geula Even? That Lieberman speaks only for himself and does not represent Israel, and is causing it damage abroad.
And this - in nearly identical words - is what people who don't agree with Beilin say about him: that he speaks for himself and he didn't represent Israel when he went and signed peace agreements with the Palestinians, and thereby caused us damage abroad. We have mask versus mask, pretense versus pretense. Israel's polite European mask versus Israel's impolite and non-European mask. Which is more accurate? Is it even at all reasonable to expect masks to be accurate?
This is like a person who sees a camel and thinks it is a horse with a hump. The hump called Lieberman is already an integral part of this species called Israel. It is possible that once, long ago in the mists of time, this animal was a horse whose back swelled, but in the meantime it has engendered offspring with swollen backs and the genetic mutation can't be reversed. Anyone who thinks he can undo evolution is likely to make a laughingstock of himself.
Inside this hump hide the tens of thousands who voted for Lieberman in the last election, precisely so that Israel would reveal its impolite and non-European face. This hump represents, in a very big way, the desire of a crucial part of this nation to do everything possible in order to be ugly, if only for the sheer hell of it.
Around the world, trying to be ugly and proud of it has become a comprehensive and far more common phenomenon than trying to be beautiful. Iran started the trend when it defiantly put forward its ugliest face in the form of the indefatigable provocateur President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Turkey followed in its footsteps and voted for an equally successful and equally ugly provocateur in Recep Tayyip Erdogan (rest assured: In Turkey there are also massive numbers of Yossi Beilins who say Erdogan doesn't represent their country ). Venezuela has Hugo Chavez, and even in Europe the movement is slowly beginning to take hold - for instance, in the victory of crude right-wing ugliness in Austria in the figure of Heinz-Christian Strache.
And let us admit: Would French President M. Nicolas Sarkozy have come into power were he not the representative of a certain kind of crudeness and scorn for intellectuals, leftists and Arab-lovers? This Sarkozy, in order to trick himself out in feathers of moderation after the election, appointed Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister.
That is, Lieberman understands the world map far better than those who scorn him. He has realized that in order to succeed nowadays you have to don a mask of ugliness and rile people. In this he is even before his time to a large extent. Why, nevertheless, will he go down in history as a joke? Because when the show is over and he wants to take off his ugly mask, it will turn out to be stuck to his face until the end of days.
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