Understandable loathing for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ongoing frustration over his disastrous years in power have led some supporters of the center-left to a surprising decision. People who have given up on forging any kind of moral or values-based alternative to Netanyahu’s government of corruption, incitement and racism have found a new, exciting hero this time around – Avigdor Lieberman.
In his current incarnation, Lieberman has managed to reinvent himself as a fearless warrior for secularism. He forced Netanyahu into another election. And above all, he systematically drives Netanyahu crazy with statements that strike directly at the prime minister’s nerve center.
Lieberman, who began his career as Netanyahu’s right-hand man, is one of the most corrupt Knesset members in the history of Israeli politics. He was saved by the skin of his teeth when he was acquitted in court of charges relating to his appointment of an ambassador to Belarus, and escaped indictment in another corruption case that revolved around monetary transfers to the bank accounts of his daughter and his driver. The party he founded, Yisrael Beiteinu, has been mired in investigations and trials, and many of its senior officials have been indicted and convicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Lieberman’s bent for corruption is exceeded only by his racism. If there’s anything consistent in his career, it’s his hatred for Arabs and his incitement against them. He is the one who introduced numerous anti-democratic ideas into Israel’s discourse, like conditioning citizenship on loyalty tests or forcible territorial exchanges that would sever Israel’s Palestinian citizens from the state. He’s also an ardent supporter of the death penalty for terrorists.
During Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when he was serving as foreign minister, he urged people to boycott Arab businesses. He has also been careful not to exchange a word with the chairman of the Arab parties’ Joint List, Ayman Odeh, and in the last Knesset, he switched seats with another Knesset member from his party just to avoid sitting next to Odeh.
Anyone who insists on seeing Lieberman as a defender of secularism should be reminded that in Jerusalem’s mayoral election, he forged a deal with his longtime political partner – Arye Dery, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party – to get Moshe Leon elected. Leon defeated a secular candidate, Ofer Berkovitch.
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This is the face of the kingmaker. Lieberman has no ideological motivation whatsoever except perhaps for hatred of Arabs; his war with Netanyahu is nothing but a gang war between bitter rivals who are periodically embroiled in fierce conflict. Contrary to Netanyahu’s lie that “Lieberman is part of the left,” he is actually deep in the nationalist right. It’s not inconceivable that after the election, with a bundle of Knesset seats in his pocket, he’ll “remember” this and join a Netanyahu government. Lieberman isn’t a possible option for anyone who identifies with the center-left’s values.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.