“Why Lieberman?,” by Shai

“Why Lieberman?,”

Written by Shai for Syria Comment

The question has been bothering me, as well as many other Israelis (perhaps even most), for quite some time now.  We didn’t need to wait this long, to hear the controversial speech at the UN, to ask why the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t fired Lieberman.  We asked this question when Lieberman allowed for the most embarrassing treatment of the Turkish Ambassador earlier this year.  We asked this when the Police disclosed its intention to recommend Lieberman be tried under multiple charges of corruption.  We asked this when Lieberman patronized European foreign ministers, telling them to “first fix your problems” in Europe, before lecturing Israel.  We’ve been asking “Why Lieberman?” again and again, ever since Netanyahu chose him for his post.  Sometimes one finds comfort in unexpected places, even in knowing that others, outside of Israel, are asking the same question.

Speculations about the Netanyahu-Lieberman political-marriage are varied but, surprisingly enough, Israeli media has focused less on “why”, and more on “why-not”.  But the “why” is no less important, and might possibly be a key factor in our common goals towards Peace.  In pondering this question, I’ve come up with a number of reasons, at least some of which I am convinced are true.  By the end of Netanyahu’s term in office, I hope we’ll know whether the rest are true as well.  Here are five reasons why I believe Netanyahu chose Lieberman as Israel’s Foreign Minister, and for now, prefers to keep him there:

1.  Political Pressure-Reducer:

Lieberman, a West Bank settler and a politician with extremist views, is often considered the “loudest dog” in the pack.  Few politicians on the Extreme-Right are more vocal and anti-Peace than Lieberman.  By placing Lieberman as so-called “chief diplomat” for Israel, the man responsible for Israel’s foreign-policy (including that of Peace), Netanyahu assures himself a lot of political quiet-time from the Right and Extreme-Right, his only potential adversaries.  While many suspect, few can openly criticize Netanyahu for endangering Israel, when Lieberman is allowed to speak as he does, at home and abroad.  Notice, “endanger Israel”, from the Right or Extreme-Right point of view, is giving back land.

2.  Foreign Minister doesn’t mean Foreign Policy:

While Lieberman certainly has harmed Israel’s diplomatic relations, most noticeably with our critical and strategic ally Turkey, Netanyahu has made sure that our Foreign MInister does not “come near” our peace negotiations with the Palestinians.  Netanyahu keeps Lieberman busy worldwide, while his own team sits with Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.  (Interesting note about Turkey:  As relations continued to deteriorate, Netanyahu apparently sent Labor’s Infrastructure Minister Fouad Ben-Eliezer to Turkey, without informing Lieberman.  Learning of this only upon Fouad’s return, Lieberman was furious.)

3.  Good for Negotiations:

While Lieberman isn’t brought into peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu knows that Abu Mazen cannot ignore Lieberman’s views.  If Tzipi Livni were to replace Lieberman, her Center-leaning political profile, and her public statements regarding a two-state solution, would not serve Israel well during negotiations, as Netanyahu might see it.  To close a deal, the other side might need to be reminded that there are those close by, who don’t want to close a deal at all.  If one can maintain even the slightest speculation that such deal-opposers may be candidates one day for PM, this might be viewed by the other side as more a reason to compromise today, for fear of a worse tomorrow.

4.  Good for Outside Pressure:

This might actually be one of the key factors in Netanyahu’s calculations.  If Netanyahu is interested in achieving Comprehensive Peace, and a final end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, then surely he sees his own people as the biggest hurdle to overcome.  He already knows that the Palestinians are ready to compromise over Right-of-Return, over security, and even over territory.  He knows that Syria has promised to meet Israel’s security-demands, and that Israel’s number one ally, the United States, has promised to vouch for Israel’s security.  Netanyahu knows that Security is as close to guaranteed as any PM could ever get.  But he doesn’t know that his people will back him.  He doesn’t know, if his people will be ready to give back the Golan.  Or to vacate hundreds of thousands of Jews, out of their homes in the West Bank.  Or to divide Jerusalem.  He doesn’t know if Israelis will either allow him to do all of these, or ever forgive him for having done so.

But Netanyahu does know, that if he can bring about a situation whereby Israel is “forced to comply”, by her closest allies, or by the threat of sanctions, or even by war, that he can then more easily come before his people and say “Israel’s security depends no less on her relations with her closest allies, than it does on a stretch of land in the West Bank, or on the Golan…”  And if outside pressure is indeed something Netanyahu sees as necessary, then placing Lieberman as Foreign Minister, and allowing him to voice our “Foreign Policy” worldwide, are both logical agitators that can help speed up this pressure.

It is interesting to note, that while the PM’s Office did make a public statement disconnecting itself from Lieberman’s recent speech at the UN (calling it “his personal views, which are not representative of the Israeli government…”), Netanyahu has yet to tell the Israeli media why he keeps Lieberman in this position.  All Israeli media forms have been calling for his resignation, and yet Netanyahu does nothing.

5.  The Countdown Begins after Lieberman is Replaced:

Netanyahu knows that the minute he replaces Lieberman as Foreign Minister, his adversaries will have the political fuel they need, to begin the Offensive that will lead to new Elections.  Lieberman will make Netanyahu look like the next Oslo-selling Rabin, and no political leader from the Right, Center, or Left, could help defend the Prime Minister (and none will want to.)  Netanyahu’s political countdown will begin.  However, it is not unlikely that if serious progress is made on any of the Peace tracks (Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese), that Netanyahu will be forced to replace Lieberman by Tzipi Livni, to attain a large-enough coalition to carry out the necessary steps towards reaching a final Peace Agreement.  The questions are if and when this countdown will begin.

Final Note:

I have tried to answer the question “Why Lieberman?” without assuming that Netanyahu is interested in Peace.  But clearly my answers aren’t truly-neutral.  Yet the more I considered the second option, the one that many out there believe – that Netanyahu isn’t ready to withdraw to the 1967 lines, the more I found contradictions with keeping Lieberman around.  After all, if the idea was to make time go by, to let the whole world think Israel is doing “everything we can” to bring Peace to the region, to end the Israeli Occupation, to bring about a just end to the Palestinian problem, then what could be easier than letting Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni be Israel’s Foreign Minister?  Why not form a Center-Right coalition, and let all our best Two-State supporters numb their listeners worldwide, as we have done so well over the years?  Lieberman, in such a case, would be counterproductive.

But to those who still fear Avigdor Lieberman, who still view him as more mainstream than do the Israeli media, the Israeli Police, or the Israeli people, I remind them of the old saying:  “Smaller dogs bark loudest.”

Posted by Alex

Comments (106)

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101. Shai said:

Why Discuss,

As part of our national ethos, the creation of the state of Israel is the solution to the 2000 years Jews have spent being persecuted as minorities in the Diaspora. Laws were passed in many a nations that legalized this persecution. So it is not completely surprising that Jews in Israel would enact laws that relate to their religion, and even give preference to their religion.

To you, it may seem crazy that Jews in Israel are still paranoid about being persecuted again. But if you think about it, we have barely 60 years of history as a free people, in a land where the majority are (still) Jewish. There is no other place on earth where Jews can know for certain that they will not be persecuted. Indeed as you say, since we are such a tiny minority in this world, we do tend to worry about our existence, much more than Muslims or Christians do. There are barely 13 million of us worldwide, while there are 2.2 billion Christians, and 1.6 billion Muslims. We are less than a drop in the bucket…

All of this of course does not grant us “special rights”, especially not ones to rule over another people, to withhold freedom and independence that they deserve them no less than Jews do. But it is in this context, that Israel was created, that the Jewish State symbolism was created, and that the connections between state and religion were and are being upheld.

Having said that, while most Israelis certainly see themselves as Jews, they do not practice religion as you might think they do. Most do not go to synagogue, for instance. Or belong to the Ultra-Orthodox movement. My own attachment to Judaism, for instance, is based much more on the historical link to my ancestors, than on any actual religious significance or practice. My grandparents and my mother were not born in Israel, and all of my ancestors before them, so the only connection I have to them, is that we were all Jews.

I wrote in the past on SC that something like 95% of my family was murdered in the Holocaust. All of my grandparents’ brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. In 1945, instead of being a family of 100, we were a family of 4 (my grandparents from both sides). So you can understand why some people in Israel see Jewish-persecution as something that is very real, very recent, and not only belonging to the distant past. We still live with those who tell us the horrific stories. That’s part of why we can’t begin to let go of this past. In another 10 or 20 years, that will begin to change.

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November 11th, 2010, 2:46 pm


102. SimoHurtta said:

To you, it may seem crazy that Jews in Israel are still paranoid about being persecuted again. But if you think about it, we have barely 60 years of history as a free people, in a land where the majority are (still) Jewish.

Come-on Shai some limits. 60 years as free people? The best educated and richest religious minority of all times. They were/are that in Europe untill WW2 and also after that. Without Holocaust there would never have been a mass moving to Israel. Hitler created (almost directly) Israel and Stalin was the biggest supporter in that birth.

Equally Shai the Mormons and Scientology followers could categorize themselves as not free.

In what Jews have been extremely talented are the stories of constant persecution. Like a miracle they still managed to surface as professors, doctors, secret police bosses, bankers, big business men etc. For example in Poland in the 30’s 56 percent of doctors were Jews, 43% of teachers, 22% of journalists and 33% of layers. Quite an achievement of a minority of about 16 percent of the population. Especially for a seriously prosecuted minority.

If a Jew was/is not accepted to a university it is often said to be because of anti-Semitism and if a non Jew was/is not accepted it is the question of not meeting to requirements (not enough points in the entrance examination). Evet Lvovich Liberman was not accepted to study international law in the Kiev University and the reason is told by Avigor was he being a Jew. Well maybe it was so, more likely considering Avigor’s interpretation with international law it was not.

Surely the history of Jews = followers of Judaism has many dark periods, no doubt about that, but still they managed excellently as a tiny minority most of the time. Compare your ancestors situation to many ethnic minorities situation. For example the Romani people. They have no Rothschilds, no Nobel price winners, a handful of doctors etc. Not to mention the faith of big Native American tribes.

Shai Nazis blamed everything for the Treaty of Versailles and said “niemals wieder”. You give yourself the freedom of doing what ever you want by blaming Holocaust and you say “niemals wieder”. It could be said that the Jewish Holocaust is used to create a new Holocaust for Palestinians. Have the millions displaced Palestinians who have lost their family members and relatives in Jewish concentration camps, ethnic cleansing operations and in massacres equal right to the same “understandable generations long frustration”?

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November 11th, 2010, 4:34 pm


103. why-discuss said:


That Jews managed to have high position in many areas of the society before WW2 can only bring admiration to their determination and hard work. Despite and maybe because of the ramping persecution they chose to become highly educated on sciences, finance and arts. I would never blame them for that, in the contrary.
Yet, this success and the penetration of Jews in all parts of the country economies brought suspicions about their real motives and was one the parameters of the systematic persecution. Some extremists saw and still see them as trying to control the world etc..

The return of Jews to Europe after WW2 could have triggered a renewal of anti-semitism but the creation of Israel by guilt-stricken Europe and the ‘move’ of all jews in a remote location has created a new situation: Jews have no more a sufficient presence in European countries to be perceived as a threat. Europe is still anti-semite and anti-moslem. Any thing can trigger that again, I am sure. This is why they have laws…

The creation of Israel has provided a haven for jews fearing renewed persecution. Yet, the abuses of Israel in its land grabbing policies have created a wave of justified anti-israel in the neighboring countries who were never involved in the centuries long persecutions of jews. For arabs, it is not antisemitism but anti-Israel. A totally different issue.

Today, the success of the american jews may bring the same urban myths Europe had before WW2. Who can blame the average people when they see that so much power is in the hand of a minority? It is all natural to look for a secret motivation and of course this can be exploited to trigger a new wave of anti-semitism. This is why there are laws punishing anti-semitism, otherwise laws would have been unnecessary.

Jews will never be safer than with Arabs. Arabs are mostly moslem and they don’t carry the blame Christianity has against jews for centuries. Arabs are NOT anti-semite. They have a common and a long history of co-existence with Jews. This was spoiled by the creation by rape of a western dominated country on their land, but it is still possible to correct that. It is just up to Israel to see its long term interests of survival in the area. Unfortunately the feeling of superiority, the arrogance we see with Akhtenaze Jews towards Arabs and the fact that they detain the largest power in the country won’t help. Israel need to change. How?

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November 11th, 2010, 5:37 pm


104. SimoHurtta said:

That Jews managed to have high position in many areas of the society before WW2 can only bring admiration to their determination and hard work. Despite and maybe because of the ramping persecution they chose to become highly educated on sciences, finance and arts. I would never blame them for that, in the contrary.

Well I never blamed them for that success. Of course that success is an admirable achievement and needs to be noticed and celebrated. But it must also be neutrally analysed in what kind of environment that success happened. I do not in anyway want to deny the tragedy of WW2 and Shai’s family’s tragedy. I only want to question are the stories of constant persecution and discrimination a bit overblown, because there are long periods also in European history when Jews were extremely successful. Germany had Jewish ministers, France and Britain even a Jewish Prime Minister. The Soviet history is full of influential Jews in top positions. Not to mention Jewish success stories in European financial and academical life. Hardly possible to pariah people.

If 60 percent of Israel’s doctors and 30 % of teachers would be Arabs (people of the 20 percent Israeli minority), could/would we speak of Israeli Arabs as a severely discriminated part of population? Hardly. The proportions in different professions are about same what that small minority in Poland had. And Poland was not the least anti-Semitic country in Europe. If Jews were so successful in Poland, how successful were they in other European countries in pre WW2 Europe? The 19th century and first decades of the 20th century were not bad for European Jews. If the analysis, that 30 percent of the costs of Wehrmacht were covered with properties taken from Jews, is true it was not a “question” of a poor neglected, discriminated minority (= not free people).

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November 12th, 2010, 1:34 pm


105. Ghat Al Bird said:

Avigdor wants to keep Golan because Syria is not interested in Peace.


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November 12th, 2010, 1:55 pm


106. Shai said:


The fact that Jews were “so successful” in Europe apparently did not stop a madman from acquiring the vocal and silent support of the majority of his nation, his nation-of-birth, and a few others he conquered along the way. You do not get to exterminate 6 million Jews “just like that”. Something has to exist, for a long time beforehand, to allow for enough hatred that precedes the Holocaust.

I too think it is time Israelis drop The Holocaust Excuse (those that still use it). I don’t think any person alive today is responsible for what happened 70 or 170 or 2070 years ago. Certainly not the Arabs or the Palestinian people. I also think Israelis should be a bit more cognizant of their true strength, and a lot less paranoid. Our paranoia is today unjustified.

But my reference to the Holocaust was not intended as “an excuse”, but rather as an attempt to explain some of the reasons behind the need for the Jewish State symbolism. It is silly of Netanyahu to “demand” the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish State, because he knows that recognition, in the eyes of the Palestinians, is meaningless. They’re not going to give up any right of return based on such recognition, nor accept any pro-Jewish laws that discriminate against their brethren Israeli-Arabs. But he wants this, because he knows it’ll “sell well” amongst his constituents, who do think sometimes more out of emotion, than rationale.

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November 13th, 2010, 2:25 am


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