(photo credit: REUTERS)
In January 2003, in the course of an interview given to a local paper in Tel Aviv, MK Avigdor Lieberman was asked about suspicions of election bribery in the Likud – his previous party. His reply was: “There is a major crisis in the political system, and there is no reason for malicious joy, because in the final reckoning it leads to lack of trust by the general public in the whole political system, and this is pretty sad.”
According to the draft indictment submitted last week by the attorney-general, by 2003 Lieberman was himself involved in all sorts of financial irregularities. Of course, Lieberman remains innocent of all the charges unless proven guilty, though if he is really innocent, the fact that he went to so much trouble to cover his tracks in all sorts of business transactions mentioned in the indictment seems strange, to say the least.
But perhaps there is a logical explanation to this. With Lieberman, nothing is simple.
Of the many enigmatic figures in Israeli politics, none surpass Avigdor Lieberman.
Despite his rather thuggish appearance, and occasional horror-evoking
political statements, anyone who has been in personal contact with him
will tell you the man is a gentleman, an interesting conversationalist,
and pleasant to work with.
My own encounter with Lieberman in 2002, when he was minister for
national infrastructures, and I was involved in preparing the report of
the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the Water Crisis, left me
highly impressed by the man’s efficiency and pleasant manner. To the
present day, he greets me when he sees me. This is not something one
takes for granted with politicians, especially not if one belongs to
another political camp.
Just before the 2006 elections, Yossi Beilin – at that time leader of
Meretz – developed a rather surprising friendship with Lieberman, for
which he was derided by his colleagues.
In a joint interview given by the two to Yediot Aharonot in February
2006, Lieberman had the following to say about Beilin: “I think he is an
amazing man. I respect him – even admire him – for his willingness to
stick to his opinions and swim against the stream...
Most politicians flow with the opinion polls.
Beilin represents a different sort of politics, and I like it.”
And what did Beilin have to say about Lieberman? “I think Avigdor is
extremely intelligent, a successful politician, and a firstclass doer.
He is a wise Jew, but manages his electorate in a cynical manner. He
speaks to the Archie Bunkers of Israeli society. He speaks to the
Israeli public that hates Arabs, and he therefore proposes death
sentences for terrorists, even though he knows it will get us kicked out
of the community of civilized nations.”
However, what Beilin was most impressed about was the fact that for
real-politik reasons, Lieberman had given up the dream of “Greater
Israel,” even though his views on how to separate Arabs from Jews was
not to Beilin’s liking.
Not surprisingly, this mutual admiration society soon crashed against
reality, and in October 2007, after Lieberman – by now Minister for
Strategic Issues – blamed the Israeli Left and the agreements it had
reached with the Palestinians for Jewish deaths in Palestinian acts of
terror, Beilin reacted as if he had just discovered that Dr. Jekyll was
also Mr. Hyde: “Only a twisted mind can relate the blood spilt to the
agreements that were signed, rather than look at the number of persons
killed before 1967 and since then, and understand the terrible price we
have paid for our sticking to the occupied territories.”
Today Beilin is no longer in politics, after his failure as Meretz
leader, and Lieberman might also be on his way out – though for totally
different reasons. Recent opinion polls show Lieberman approaching his
dream of 20 Knesset seats (up from 15 today). This is quite surprising,
given the fact that he has not managed to deliver on his promise to
bring about a change on civil issues such as marriages, conversions and
burials (except for a minor change, regarding civil marriages between
those defined as having no religion), his failure to get through
legislation directed primarily against Israel's Arab citizens,
concerning allegiance to the State, and a prohibition on their marking
the Nakba, and his overall rather problematic record as minister for
foreign affairs. Lieberman’s voters, who are not impressed by the
indictment, apparently do not view his enigmatic record as a personal
failure, and continue to see him as a strong leader who must simply gain
more electoral strength to succeed.
“Everything is heaven,” was Lieberman’s reaction to the news about the indictment.
That is his reaction whenever asked what is happening. What he really thinks and feels is anyone’s guess.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.