Opinion

Lieberman Is No Knight on a White Horse

Avigdor Lieberman in Holon, Israel, October 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Tzvia Greenfield has joined the chorus of commentators and journalists pinning their hopes on that political chameleon Avigdor Lieberman (Haaretz in Hebrew, November 4).

He is the man who will decide if Benjamin Netanyahu will leave office; he is the one who can, she says, undo the political knot in which Israel is entangled and enable Benny Gantz to form a government. The man of the hour, she calls him. 

The temptation to do this is certainly great. The election results mean Gantz has a daunting mission in trying to form a coalition that would enable him to keep his promise to replace Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Gantz continues to spout all the lovely clichés about the need for “unity” and “reconciliation” and the goal of forming a unity government with Likud.

Indeed, the public is cringing, and rightly so, at the thought of a third election. This is evidently sufficient reason to cling to every wisp of hope and be tempted to bank on someone as slippery as Lieberman. But it’s a long way from there to the kind of praise that Greenfield lavished on him.

Last week, on the Dekel-Segal show on the Kan Bet radio station, Lieberman said: “Of course the Joint List is a fifth column, not in quotation marks but literally. … It’s unthinkable, you shouldn’t try to make the despicable acceptable. Unfortunately, the Joint List does not represent Israeli Arabs.”

Not such a surprising statement from someone who built his political career on fascist incitement against Israel’s Arab citizens: calling for making citizenship contingent upon a loyalty oath, the transfer of Wadi Ara and raising the electoral threshold in order to wipe out the Arab parties.

Yet Greenfield refuses to hear, see, believe or understand. She calls on Lieberman to form a minority government that would rely on the support of the Joint List: “Lieberman is capable of bringing dramatic change. He has already proven his ability by so far preventing Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister.”

The portrayal of Lieberman as a knight on the white horse of Israeli secularism also conveniently ignores his record. He was part of governments that surrendered to Haredi blackmail and to religious coercion, and he will be willing to sit with such partners in the future too.

Therefore, despite everything, it’s best to remain skeptical about one of the most dubious figures in Israeli politics – one who managed to evade trial by the skin of his teeth, as witnesses mysteriously vanished and Israel’s ambassador in Belarus relayed information to him about the investigation.

One should also take into account the very real possibility that at the moment of truth, Lieberman could take the extra Knesset seats he won thanks to starry-eyed voters from the anti-Bibi camp and stuff them in Netanyahu’s pocket. A rotation agreement between them would enable Lieberman to enter a Netanyahu government with greater bargaining power, and the possibility of filling in as prime minister should Netanyahu be indicted.

Lieberman is one of Israel’s most racist politicians, and possibly the most cynical and manipulative of all. In the last election, he managed to position himself ideally for extortion: Israel’s future now depends on his decision.

The left and center are consciously ignoring his unsavory attributes while the right is hoping that in the end, he’ll stay with them.

Which all goes to show how profound the political crisis here has become. To replace one corrupt figure, we’re wooing another one. Even presuming there’s no choice, we should still remember whom we’re dealing with. If Lieberman must be our savior, we have hit a new low.