Avigdor Lieberman, the Internet Commenter

The foreign minister has returned to his familiar set point: inflaming passions, spreading hatred and methodically inspiring brief, violent and baseless headlines

Gidi Weitz
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Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gidi Weitz

When the inner cabinet discussed some three weeks ago the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers, he was taking a business delegation on a tour of Africa. Among others, they met with the president of Ghana and his friend Palmach Ze’evi, whose company provides water purification systems in western Africa. When he returned home, the man who served only briefly in the Israel Defense Forces called for Israel to “reoccupy Gaza and overthrow Hamas” — as long as he won’t be forced to give up his cigars and trips abroad, to exchange his suit for an army uniform and to go into the Strip himself.

In a post on Facebook this week he called for a boycott of Israeli Arab businesses that went on strike to protest the military operation in Gaza. Before that, he demanded the expulsion from Israel of Arab demonstrators “who rioted in Kalansua and the Triangle,” the latter a reference to a largely Arab area of central Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman is in a panic, and not only over the rockets falling on the country. If after the last Knesset election he made moderate-sounding noises as part of what appeared to be an attempt to take over Likud in the post-Netanyahu era, now, spooked by the swift ascendance of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the foreign minister has returned to his familiar set point: inflaming passions, spreading hatred and methodically inspiring brief, violent and baseless headlines, as in his suggestion over a decade ago to blow up the Aswan Dam and more recent calls to remove Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from power.

“Weak, corrupt and irrelevant” is how Lieberman described the head of the Palestinian Authority in the past. He suggested Israel and the United States had a more appropriate partner in Muhammad Rashid, once a key economic advisor to Yasser Arafat — the crassest example of corruption in the Palestinian leadership and the crony of Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff, who is one of Lieberman’s closest friends.

For 13 years Lieberman has held cabinet posts. He has served variously as minister of transportation, strategic affairs, national infrastructure and foreign affairs. It is hard to think of a single significant achievement on behalf of the public throughout the long years he has ostensibly been working for us. It sometimes seems that his main achievement of the last decade was to expand the bank accounts of his daughter and his driver, as well as the number of his associates who have been placed in key government positions.

The man who forged ties with moguls who were followed nearly everywhere by a trail of suspicion (Martin Schlaff, Michael Chernoy, David Appel) swept his submissive ministers to oppose the recommendations of the Sheshinski committee, which sought to divide the enormous profits from the recent discoveries of offshore natural gas fields more fairly between the tycoons and the public.

The man who for 16 years was under investigation in connection to a variety of scandals, the main plot point of which was shared by nearly all — the mysterious and rapid accumulation of wealth — is the man who, in the previous Netanyahu government, made the casting decisions for nearly all the cabinet ministers who are responsible for law enforcement. It was a brilliant move for him personally, which ended in the closing of the case against him, and a corrupt move from every other perspective.

The man who 20 years ago skillfully helped Netanyahu take control of Likud, and later the country; who in 1999 left the embrace of his patron to found a one-person Knesset caucus, afterward composing the party’s ticket for the next election on his own. Since then he has placed in the Knesset a number of outstanding parliamentary creations: Esterina Tartman (fake degrees), Stas Misezhnikov (alcohol, women), Sofa Landwer (business ties with serial fraudster Gregory Lerner) and others.

It seems no other Israeli politician is as cynical as Lieberman. His cynicism and personal opportunism are so transparent that it is impossible to believe that this man succeeds time after time to pass the Knesset’s electoral threshold without the public comprehending the deceit, the gap between his real interests and the interests he is selling.

A sane country with sane voters would have thrown the bum out on election day long ago. But Lieberman, just like the secretive American political advisor Arthur Finkelstein, seems to understand that in a crazy place with an unprotected nervous system, every Internet commenter is a king — or at least a foreign minister.

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