Once again we hear cries of enthusiasm for Avigdor Lieberman: He taught them a lesson, that enigmatic Lieberman, the chess player, the strategist, the sophisticated, the man’s man, the man whose word is his bond, who understands the Arabs, and even the only one who can reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Most of Lieberman’s latest admirers come from the center-left. They will always qualify their remarks with, “I’m far from his positions,” and right after the “but” they will gush with admiration for the strongman, a man after their own hearts.
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More than what this says about Lieberman, this covert or overt admiration says a lot about the admirers and their real values. If Lieberman taught anyone a lesson, it was the media, most of which were impressed with him, if only secretly. Quite a few Israelis even wanted to see him prime minister. “He’ll show the Arabs and the world,” said the nationalists; “Only he can make peace,” whispered the leftists to themselves.
Because that’s the way all these admirers want their leaders – strong, bold, aggressive and cynical; just like them (or at least the way they’d like to be). But the truth is that Lieberman is one of Israel’s lowest, most destructive politicians, among the progenitors of contemporary Israeli racism and one of the country’s most heinous hate-mongers. He has caused long-term damage by introducing hatred and racism into the accepted Israeli lexicon. If there is incitement against Arab citizens, Lieberman has a golden share in it. If there is demonization and dehumanization of Palestinians, Lieberman is one of its agents. If there is incitement against the left, Lieberman, whose concept of democracy is frightfully limited, is one of its instigators.
Israel has never held him to account for this. It forgave and absolved him of almost everything – the suspicions of graft, his tainted political party, his dictatorial leadership, and of course his dark and primitive views. The center-left loved his aggressiveness, not to mention his battle against the ultra-Orthodox. Lieberman was portrayed as a harbinger of enlightened Israeli liberalism – after all, he favored imposing military service and the study of the core curriculum on everyone.
His career was built on expressions of bullying that reached their apex during his ridiculous years as foreign minister. To the position meant to bring Israel at least a semblance of international legitimacy, it appointed someone who did it the most damage. Has he left a single positive impression anywhere? Is there a single person who believes he was a good foreign minister? His only contribution was to show Israel as it really is, without masks or makeup; a country that thumbs its nose at the world, at international law and decisions by international organizations, a country convinced it can do whatever it feels like doing, just because it can.
Many Israelis applauded him for that; for his call to boycott Arab stores after they struck to protest war crimes in Gaza; for his proposal to hand over the lower Galilee Triangle to the Palestinians (“He’s the only one who has a plan”), for the way he compared Yesh Gvul to kapos, for how he was sickeningly rude to Joint Arab List leader Ayman Odeh, for declaring that terrorists deserve the death penalty. Lieberman the macho man.
Now it looks like there’s a real chance his career might be drawing to a close. It’s happening just as he is once again garnering admiring headlines for embarrassing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for overturning the wheels of politics in one fell swoop. Oh, Lieberman. “We will serve the people from the opposition,” he declared in a round of interviews with his interviewer-admirers, who murmured “enigma.”
But the truth is that the decline in his power and the possibility of his forced departure is the most joyful news of this election campaign. True, it’s poor people’s joy, but it’s joy nonetheless. It might be premature, but one can’t resist saying good riddance. Although wishing doesn’t make it so, one can’t help hoping that Lieberman will just leave.