Israel’s Avigdor Lieberman Is Dangerous in Many Ways

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Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman addresses the press, September 22, 2019.
Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman addresses the press, September 22, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

“In 2004, everybody raised an eyebrow when I presented my plan for land and population swaps. Last night, President Trump adopted my plan in its entirety, and the idea of land and population exchanges became an integral part of a comprehensive strategic plan of the president of the United States,” Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Facebook.

Lieberman really does have a good reason to claim credit for this “achievement” because Donald Trump’s plan really does mention the insulting possibility that the so-called triangle of Arab communities in the center of the country may become part of the envisioned Palestinian state.

Lieberman’s stamp can be seen clearly not only in diverting the diplomatic direction. Lieberman is the person behind the three elections rounds in less than a year. If it weren’t for his opposition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would probably now be enjoying immunity from prosecution in the corruption cases against him. Lieberman is the kingmaker, the executioner, the balance of power.

Lieberman looks as if he has taken on the mission of eliminating Netanyahu politically. It’s hard to imagine how the efforts led by Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party could succeed without being synchronized with Lieberman. “Standing on principle, a systematic doctrine and patience pay off, and I have patience in all other matters, too,” Lieberman added on Facebook.

He has certainly demonstrated all of the above facing at least two of the tribes that President Reuven Rivlin mentioned: the Arab Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim. “Without loyalty there is no citizenship,” he tells the Arabs. His latest steps against the ultra-Orthodox can be described as the beginning of an attempt to make their citizenship rights conditional – in the spirit of “without military service there is no citizenship.”

As long as Lieberman focuses his battle against Israeli Arabs, he is attacked from the left. When he began coming out against the ultra-Orthodox, he was branded a new liberal hope. But both the Arabs and the Haredim know how dangerous he is. A few weeks ago, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said: “There are many, many gentiles here, some of them communists, hostile to religion or haters of religion. They aren’t Jews at all but gentiles. Then they vote for parties that incite against the Haredim and religion.”

After the harsh responses to this, Yosef explained that he wasn’t referring to all the immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Yosef was referring to the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jews based on Jewish law and who immigrated as the grandchildren of Jews based on the Law of Return. But we can’t ignore Yosef’s fury and what it has in common with the Arab Israelis’ anger.

Israel is the only country in the world that belongs more to its potential citizens than to a 20-percent bloc of citizens who were born here. An American Jew who hasn’t yet been born is more of a master in Israel than an Arab citizen who was born here as is ancestors were.

Once can understand the frustration of Arab citizens who are subjected to loyalty tests by a newcomer. What lets Lieberman and the other immigrants (like me) have this feeling of immediate ownership is the identity that is linked to the definition of the state. Now Lieberman is suggesting that we put the Haredim’s link to the state in question.

Understandably, they are furious. The secular Jewish identity is a derivative of the traditional Jewish existence that has been preserved for many centuries mainly through Jewish communities sharing a belief in God and practicing similar religious rules and rituals. Now there is an attempt to underestimate the religious component and role in the Jewish-Israeli identity. Moreover, this move is being carried out by Lieberman, who also represents those who are questionably Jewish based on Jewish law.

The Haredim often cooperate with the Arab legislators in the Knesset. Last week the Central Elections Committee voted to ban MK Heba Yazbak from running in the election next month. The MKs from the ultra-Orthodox parties voted in support of the ban. The Haredim must understand that this fantasy of Israel without Arabs, in the Knesset and outside it, often overlaps with the fantasy of Israel without the Haredim. And at the center of this dangerous congruence stands Lieberman.

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