Lieberman, Israel’s Pyromaniac at the Foreign Ministry

He will never understand that our relationship to the Arab minority is our litmus test for being recognized as a legitimate democratic state.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a cabinet meeting, July 31, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

I admit that I have never understood who Avigdor Lieberman is. A right-winger emotionally and a seeker of a peace agreement rationally? An autocrat in his party but an indulgent and merciful father, as a Yisrael Beiteinu MK described him to me?

When a person in politics for many years remains an enigma, that’s a problem for him and the political world. Lieberman has contributed nothing substantial to the ministry he heads. As a minister he acts more like a monk who has taken a vow of silence. Cabinet meetings are not his arena; his arena is outside, on Facebook and in media interviews.

The person who made him foreign minister knew that he was putting a pyromaniac in a sensitive position, the easiest place of all to set ablaze. The foreign minister by definition is the mirror of the state. He brings our diplomatic problems and ever-increasing difficulties to the cabinet table and demands that these issues be a priority.

If Lieberman were a real foreign minister, he would have taken Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel to task for their intention to build extensively in the territories. He would have warned the government of the intent of parliaments around the world to recognize a Palestinian state before it was established.

On Lieberman’s watch Israel is losing one stronghold after another. The boycott against Israel is beginning to look halfway legitimate. Even a powerful country like China, with which our prime minister boasts of strengthening ties, is turning its back on us at every decisive juncture.

It seems Lieberman doesn’t see himself as a foreign minister tasked with putting his country in a better place around the world. It seems he prefers to be the spokesman of the right and plucks at every primal string to win its support.

Harassment of the Arab minority is his thing. He will never understand that our relationship to the Arab minority is our litmus test for being recognized as a legitimate democratic state.

Never mind his demand to outlaw the Islamic Movement’s northern branch; I also regard Sheikh Raed Salah as more an enemy than an opponent. But when Arab MKs complain about discrimination, the official in charge of Israel’s international standing responds with these golden words: “I welcome the intention of the Arab MKs to disengage from politics in Israel. I hope they make good on their threat.”

In other words, Israel’s foreign minister wants a Knesset without the Arab minority. He’s certainly applauded by the section in the stands where the Beitar soccer team’s extremist fans sit, but he’s denying every democratic and moral value at the foundation of the Declaration of Independence.

When Menachem Begin was prime minister, he didn't want to raise the threshold for parties to get into the Knesset. He said this could reduce the Arabs’ representation there; they would resort to non-parliamentary actions.

But what does Lieberman have to do with Begin’s legacy? What does he have to do with the responsibility for the Arab minority? The foreign minister is supposed to protect the Arab representatives for the whole world to see. He’s supposed to highlight Israel’s tolerance of the opinions of the national minority.

President Reuven Rivlin notices the ills of Israeli society and points them out fearlessly. It’s no surprise that Lieberman and his friends didn’t want him as president. They want to choke off any rational voice on the right.

I am against Bennett, Ariel and Likud MK Zeev Elkin. I would be happy if they were not in power. I regard them as opponents leading to a dangerous road consistent with their beliefs. I cannot but condemn a public figure and a foreign minister when I do not understand what he believes in and what vision guides him. Only one thing is clear – the place he aims to go.