Lieberman Controls the Switch

Lieberman can count on the Russian-speaking community's sweeping hostility toward the police and law-enforcement authorities.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been given a heavy responsibility alongside the police recommendation to indict him. He now controls the main switch affecting the complex relations between the Russian-speaking community (he is a leading member) and democratic institutions in Israel. If he desires, he can lower the flames, or fan them.

Lieberman has proven himself to be a verbal pyromaniac. Now the phrase he coined can be applied to him: "Without loyalty (to democracy) there is no citizenship." So far, he has instructed his supporters to refrain from belligerence, and this week blocked their initiatives to organize demonstrations against the police. He may simply be waiting for a more opportune moment.

Lieberman did not have to make too much effort to check a public outburst of emotion. The Russian-speaking community greeted the recommendation to indict with surprising calm. Here and there, Russian speakers - not necessarily from his electorate - are sighing and asking how such a great man was brought down, but they immediately move on to more urgent matters. One factor may be the considerable time that has passed since the Lieberman investigation entered the public agenda. And half of the Russian speakers believe a politician must be corrupt to reach the top, according to the most recent Democracy Index. Lieberman himself deliberately radiates calm, and offers no hints of agitating the Russian-speaking community.

Even if this situation changes, it is clear an era has ended; this community used to cry instinctively "he's innocent" when its representatives made news. The tribal instinct is still alive, the sentiment remains, but there's a maturity now that no longer encourages knee-jerk support of the kind we are seeing among the ultra-Orthodox. The individualism characteristic of the Russian-speaking community is a counterweight to the communal cohesion.

Online, you can still find pictures of Russian Jewish crime boss Gregory Lerner and Avigdor Lieberman alongside anonymous Russian speakers targeted by the police, according to the immigrant-founded Committee for Democracy. The committee, incidentally, was financed by Michael Chernoy, whose is now being mentioned in connection with affairs in which Lieberman is suspected.

When a finance minister and a prime minister - the salt of the earth - have been toppled, it is hard to present Lieberman as a victim of a cruel establishment. That does not mean he will not try to enlist the Russian-speaking community, nor that such a move will be unsuccessful. It's already clear this choice will guide his behavior in the coming months. After all, when the recommendation to indict was published, Lieberman refused to speak to the Hebrew media and chose to appear on the Russian-language Channel 9. This public is still his natural base, though even Lieberman knows the communal atmosphere is changing.

Surprisingly, the Russian-language blogs, usually a lively arena, barely have discussed the Lieberman affair; the Web sites offer only a brief, business-like report. The Russian-language Web site of Arutz Sheva (the settlers' radio channel) even displayed open hostility toward the politician, no longer the favorite of right-wing settlers. That is one of Lieberman's problems; he has no connection to a clear-cut political camp, but rather to a divided community whose bonds of solidarity are weakening.

But Lieberman can count on the Russian-speaking community's sweeping hostility toward the police and law-enforcement authorities. Lieberman's main asset is the drawn-out nature of the investigations, a type of harassment with which Russian immigrants can identify. Reducing the foot-dragging and putting together a solid legal case could reduce suspicion and prevent the rift from deepening between this community, and the police and the State Prosecutor's Office.

The rest depends on Lieberman himself.