Lieberman on his way to visit a Bedouin village last week.
Avigdor Lieberman on his way to visit a Bedouin village last week. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Despite being a member of a massive 94-member coalition, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is busy conducting an election campaign. As usual, he is doing so at the expense of Israel's Arab citizens. This time, he has manufactured tension with Israeli Arabs and is inciting against them, by using the Plesner Committee, which is due to submit its recommendations on a replacement for the Tal Law.

Lieberman's latest maneuver began on Wednesday, when he visited the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Zarnouk, ostensibly in order to observe illegal construction work in the area. During his visit, Lieberman clashed with MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ), who accused the foreign minister of visiting the village "in order to incite against the Bedouin." In response, Lieberman called al-Sana "a member of a terrorist organization" and promised - in language he seems to have borrowed from a mafia movie - "to take care" of him.

Later, Lieberman called a press conference, at which he booby-trapped the Plesner Committee's findings, which center around a call for Israeli Arabs to gradually be integrated into some kind of national service. "Every Israeli government has done whatever it can to sidestep the problem of the Arab minority," he said. "Every Israeli citizen who reaches the age of 18 must perform either military or civilian national service. No one should be exempt." Clearly, Lieberman's comments are not based on any factual evidence and are, more than anything, a populist attempt to curry favor with his constituency.

The foreign minister's cynical tactics, however, have a painful impact on the situation. Immediately after he made his view public, members of his Yisrael Beiteinu faction and Habayit Hayehudi announced that they were withdrawing from the Plesner Committee because of what they called "pro-Arab discrimination." In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would not "submit a bill that does not call for ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens to share the burden of national service." With those few words, the Plesner Committee ceased to have a role to play.

The sorry tale of the Plesner Committee proves that, despite the massive coalition he has forged, Netanyahu is still trapped in the mind-set of a political escapologist who is unable to act like a leader and push through a historic reform that would formalize the relationship between the State of Israel and its ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens. Because of Netanyahu's weakness, hundreds of thousands of Israel citizens are easy prey for the foreign minister's incitement.