What the world makes of Lieberman

No one who calls him a fascist knows anything about fascism, says Italian reporter.

lieberman new 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lieberman new 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
What is the world's impression of the man threatening to upset some of the country's traditional political shoe-ins? "Avigdor Lieberman is certainly seen as someone on the extreme Right in the German media," said Christoph Schult, a Jerusalem-based reporter for the weekly Der Spiegel. "The question most addressed in the German press is how is it that he is projected to receive more votes than Labor. It's been less explained as the right-wing views of the Israeli public, and more as the weakness of the traditional Israeli parties." However, Schult noted, "It's hard to understand someone who talks about a population exchange, and I think the German press describes [Lieberman's] views as a sort of latent racism, but there isn't a blunt rejection of him," he said. "The German elite, of which journalists are a part, are quite careful in calling other people racist, because of our own history of the Holocaust, and they wouldn't rush to it, as would maybe a Frenchman or a British man." Nonetheless, Schult explained, "The [global] financial crisis is what's dominating the headlines there, along with the controversy surrounding the bishop in the Vatican who is denying the Holocaust," Schult said. Across the ocean, similarly, "The Israeli elections are not high on the agenda," said New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner. In the US, too, he said, the financial crisis was the focus of attention. However, Bronner said, if Israel Beiteinu does make good on its projected showings, American interest might pick up. "He'll be seen as a Rehavam Ze'evi or even a Kahane type, and there will be the concern that he's not a backer of Jeffersonian Democratic values. But if he's left out of the coalition, well, then there's a guy with right wing ideas who sits in the opposition. I don't think that's such a big deal." Back on the European side, Claudio Pagliara, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Italian public service broadcaster RAI, told The Jerusalem Post that "in the Italian press, you see a greater understanding of Lieberman's ideas for a land swap in exchange for settlements, and in general, balanced coverage of the Israeli political debate." As far as using the term "fascist" to describe the Israel Beiteinu leader, Pagliara dismissed it. "To me, it's not understandable why he would be compared to a fascist or, for that matter, [Italian National Fascist Party leader Benito] Mussolini," he said. "It's a false parallel, and it's made by people who don't know anything about fascism or Mussolini." Pagliara did say, however, that an Israeli government with unclear intentions for peace negotiations with the Palestinians would cause concern among the Italian public. "People would like to see an Israeli government in favor of peace negotiations and committed to an Annapolis-style process," Pagliara said. "Anything outside of this is considered risky both for the peace process and Israel's security. The concern over Lieberman in Italy has more to do with his position in a future government and how it might paralyze the diplomatic process."