The Avigdor Lieberman disaster

Ha’aretz columnist Bradley Burston has a powerful, disturbing column today on Avigdor Lieberman, arguing that the Foreign Minister is “the bully in the china shop of Israel’s relationship with its Arab minority” and slamming his “fascism bandwagon’s snorting, noxious draft horse – the loyalty oath initiative.”

Even members of the Israel is Always Right faction in the American Jewish community have been conspicuously silent as Lieberman wields rhetorical clubs to beat back the diplomatic agenda of his own prime minister.

“The mainstream right has come to reassess Lieberman,” he writes. “It has come to acknowledge the toxicity of his divisiveness, to fear his growing clout, and to recoil from a nightmarish suspicion: in his systematic, stepwise march toward rolling back democracy and the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, Lieberman has become Meir Kahane.”

I don’t know about that; what I do know is that Lieberman’s continued presence in the government and his blatant  fifth column actions against his own prime minister, as well as what looks to many like the racism of his position on Israeli Arabs, is scaring the living daylights out of mainstream Jewish leaders here.

Their worries are multiple.

They worry that Lieberman, Israel’s chief diplomat, is alienating his counterparts around the world with his crude, undiplomatic and bullying talk, thus furthering Israel’s isolation and handing Israel’s de-legitimizers easy victories.

They worry that even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama have found ways to work together and heal their earlier rift, Lieberman’s wild man tactics could undermine that progress.

They worry that Lieberman’s harsh talk undermines Israel’s image as the region’s only democracy and gives credence to those who portray it as a major-league human rights abuser. None of these leaders think that portrayal is accurate – but they fear, with good reason, that Lieberman is the biggest reason it could spread.

They worry about a younger generation of Jews that everybody knows is pulling away from active commitment to the Jewish state. That’s a cohort that may be turned off by the impression that Israel isn’t the democracy it’s cracked up to be and the perception that it’s foreign minister believes in only half the proposition that Israel is a Jewish democratic state.

And some worry – I’d be less than honest if I said “most” – that Lieberman’s presence in the Netanyahu government means there’s almost no hope of any viable peace process anytime soon. And a few I’ve talked to have privately expressed the view that keeping him in the government provides Netanyahu with the excuse he needs to stall negotiations.

I agree with Burston: the Jewish right has been conspicuously silent, perhaps signaling that they, too, understand Lieberman could be a big problem.

Also silent: the pro-Israel middle. But talking to a lot of these people off the record, their concern comes through loud and clear.

Not all clear is whether the one man who can change the situation – Prime Minister Netanyahu – is listening.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.