Reality Check: Enough is Enough

Our senior diplomat, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, should have been sent packing long ago.

Lieberman with headphones 311 (photo credit: AP)
Lieberman with headphones 311
(photo credit: AP)
More than 18 months ago, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman paid a 10-day visit to South America, the first by a senior Israeli minister in many years. At the time, his critics scoffed, saying he was only making the journey because the doors of the foreign ministries of the Western world were closed to him due to the distasteful anti-Israeli- Arab election campaign he had run as leader of Israel Beiteinu.
The Foreign Ministry was quick to run to its minister’s defense, and issued a statement saying “the visit is meant to emphasize the high importance the Foreign Ministry ascribes to Latin America.”
Lieberman visited Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia. The results of this swing are now clear.
In recent weeks, seven South American states, including Brazil and Argentina, have recognized an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, despite the fierce opposition of Jerusalem and Washington. It seems that Lieberman’s trailblazing tour will not go down in the history books as one of the highlights of Israeli diplomacy.
In a weekend newspaper interview, Lieberman brushed off these declarations of recognition, saying they had no real, practical meaning. But as more and more countries recognize an independent Palestine, there will come a tipping point, after which Israel will find itself diplomatically isolated and a new reality will be imposed on Jerusalem from the outside. Last month, for example, a group of 26 senior former European leaders who held power during the past decade called for strong measures against Israel in response to its settlement policy and refusal to abide by international law.
OF COURSE, our poor international standing is not just the work of Lieberman. The responsibility lies with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who appointed the most unsuitable person possible for the role of foreign minister. And yet Netanyahu seems oblivious to the damage Lieberman has caused to the country’s image, even when he has repeatedly and publicly humiliated the premier.
Choosing the world’s most prominent diplomatic stage, the UN General Assembly, Lieberman last year tore into ribbons Netanyahu’s protestations that Israel was seeking a way to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinians over a final-status peace accord.
In what former UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev diplomatically described as an “undiplomatic” speech, Lieberman proposed a “two-stage” solution to the conflict that “could take a few decades,” and said a final-status agreement would entail “not land-for-peace, but rather exchange of populated territory.”
In other words, Lieberman used the world’s stage to promote Israel Beiteinu’s election manifesto of stripping Israeli-Arabs of their citizenship rather than present the international community with the government’s official position.
Just to make it clear to Netanyahu that this was not a one-time slip of the tongue, when the prime minister recently declared that it was possible to reach a final-status agreement within 12 months, the foreign minister helpfully remarked that his evaluation “was not realistic.” It’s hard to think of any other country in which the prime minister would allow a subordinate to act in such an undermining manner.
AND WHEN not seeking to embarrass the prime minister directly, or concentrating on ways to improve the country’s standing in the world, Lieberman is busy with other matters, most notably Israel Beiteinu’s instigation of a bill to establish a Knesset committee to investigate human rights groups.
As Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor noted, the idea of Knesset members investigating groups that have different views “is a very dangerous thing. It reminds us of phenomena in other places which we do not wish to imitate. When the freedom of expression and the freedom to express a view are threatened, Israeli democracy is also threatened.”
Such criticism is water off a duck’s back for Lieberman, who rather than address it, prefers crude attacks on his critics, calling them feinschmeckers (“dandies”). In his weekend interview with Yediot Aharonot, he even went further, and compared Bennie Begin and Meridor, who voted against the bill, to self-hating Jews who come to the aid of anti-Semites.
Lieberman’s failures as foreign minister should have been enough to warrant his being sent packing, but due to the electoral threat he poses to Netanyahu from the Right, our spineless prime minister has shown a total disregard for our standing in the world and preferred, instead, to keep Lieberman as our senior diplomat.
However, this situation cannot be tolerated any longer. As well as besmirching this country’s name internationally, Lieberman is debasing its political culture with his personal attacks on leading members of the government and damaging the very foundations of our democracy through his determination to begin political investigations of human rights groups with whom he disagrees.
Such a person does not deserve to be in the Knesset, never mind hold cabinet rank.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.