Avigdor Liberman was once an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and later forged a united electoral list between his party and the Likud.
He served as foreign minister in Netanyahu’s previous government. After all that proximity, he recently accused his former mentor and political partner of “political paranoia.”
Possibly Netanyahu lacks interpersonal relationship skills, but to use a psychological term in a press interview is a cheap shot. Furthermore, even if Netanyahu is excessively suspicious of other people, that may very well come with the turf. In other words, to be head of government in any country automatically means that there are people plotting to replace you.
Henry Kissinger, that wise old cynic of world geopolitics, said, “Even a paranoid has some real enemies,” and, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”
Netanyahu has real enemies who would gladly destroy him politically. Some are within his own party. Within his own cabinet.
Within the Knesset. Abroad, from Washington to Tehran, many (most?) foreign leaders would be happy to deal with someone else as Israel’s prime minister.
So, Mr. Liberman, let’s not use psychobabble.
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I can’t imagine a political leader anywhere who is not suspicious of cronies as well as rivals. Let’s take another political leader, with whom Liberman has met often: the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is in his 60s, a judo champion and a former lieutenant- colonel in the KGB.
He is an almost absolute ruler and has been bolstering his power and wealth since he became prime minister in 1999. Since then, in a system of musical chairs, he has held key power, either as prime minister or as president. His critics have been imprisoned, exiled or have had unexplained accidents or have been murdered.
Now look at his (Russia’s) position as he sees it. Forget about internal opposition.
He has many secret services and controlled mafias, plus a lapdog press and media to carry out his will. But the former great Soviet Union is now a truncated Russia.
Within its borders and along them, there are Muslim areas or states which are subject to jihadist and Shia influence, as well as Georgia and Armenia, both Christian and hostile. China, the giant, and Japan, the diminishing but still significant power, abut his eastern flanks. The United States via Alaska is in physical proximity, and its naval and air power loom over the Pacific.
President Putin has every right to ask how much CIA money and talent went into the relatively peaceful democratic revolution against the previous pro-Russian Ukrainian government. Or maybe he actually knows.
NATO and the US have also spread their cover over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, once part of the Czarist Russian Empire and later the Communist USSR.
Maybe Putin suffers from “political paranoia.”
After all Czarist Russia just about invented the conspiracy theory and the USSR actively conspired against the West. The KGB trains to disbelieve, and Putin’s father was a convinced Communist who undoubtedly believed (correctly, it would seem) that the capitalist world would do very much indeed to subvert Communist Russia.
No wonder Putin took Crimea from Ukraine. The US did not permit missiles in Cuba. Could Russia have NATO controlling its warm water ports and fleet on the Black Sea? Ergo, paranoia or not, Russia’s Putin sees himself threatened. And he is, for real. How wise the European leadership and the US were to crowd in on Russia so closely? Now Poland and certainly Romania live in fear that the neighboring Ukraine will fall into Russian hands or Russian influence.
For his part Putin sees the West encroaching on his European side, and China in Asia, Iran in the south.... Yes, Mr. Kissinger, Putin may be paranoid, but he has enemies.
Thus, psychobabbling about Bibi does nothing to enhance the political debate in this country. Liberman would never dare use such a word against Putin.
The psychobabble psychosis has even infected serious historians. At Columbia University I attended a course on the psychology of Martin Luther. The professor, a fine man and distinguished scholar, blanched when I said that putting a man dead more than 400 years on the psychologists’ couch is nonsense.
Former ambassador Michael Oren is a serious historian. His slip into the psychology of President Obama’s approach to the Muslim world is not only gratuitous, but did Oren, now an MK, a major disservice as well.
Returning to paranoia in politics and public life, how can we distinguish between it and criticism based on well-honed responses to the excesses and errors committed by people in power? For example, why did the retiring (but not shy) outgoing inspector-general of the police, Yohanan Danino, only become a great crime-buster in his last year in office? Why is he visiting each and every police station in the country and throwing himself a farewell shindig, burning hundreds of thousands of our tax shekels.
Another possible paranoid episode. Why did Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party always want the public security ministry? To return to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I am appalled at the prurient prying of the media. I don’t want to know about Bibi’s prostate. Can the PM not have any privacy about his private plumbing? Of course, he or his doctor should have announced that he is having tests and treatments for a common, benign illness which attacks many men his age.
Seeing all these conspiracies, real and imagined, I am developing my own conspiracy theories – so much so that I must end this column now and go see a shrink.
There are many among my friends.
But which one can I trust? Avraham Avi-hai is a veteran of both the Israeli and world Jewish civil service. He is the author of a political study of David Ben-Gurion as well as a novel. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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