Avigdor Lieberman

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Avigdor Lieberman (1958-) is an Israeli politician, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, and current Foreign Minister of Israel in the coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu. In the February 2009 Knesset elections, his far-right party held the balance of power in the coalition government,[1] and he chose Netanyahu and Likud over Tzipi Livni and Kadima as Prime Minister.

Lieberman rejects sharing Jerusalem with a Palestinian state and a withdrawal from West Bank settlements like Nokdim, where he has lived since 1988 with Ella, his wife of 28 years. [2]

Yisrael Beiteinu is officially secular, and has offended some religious Israelis by supporting civil marriage. Nevertheless, he described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "not occupation, not settlements and not settlers. This conflict is really a very deep conflict. It started like other national conflicts. [But] today it's a more religious conflict. Today you have the influence of some nonrational players, like al-Qaida." He said the major obstacle "is not Israel. It is not the Palestinians. It's the Iranians." [3]

Inaugural speech

Upon becoming Foreign Minister, he spoke on a number of issues. [4]

  • "We must explain to the world that the priorities of the international community must change, and that all the previous benchmarks - the Warsaw Pact, the NATO Alliance, socialist countries, capitalist countries - have changed. There is a world order that the countries of the free world are trying to preserve, and there are forces, or countries or extremist entities that are trying to violate it. "
  • "The claim that what is threatening the world today is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a way of evading reality. The reality is that the problems are coming from the direction of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq."
  • "What is important is to maintain global and regional stability. Egypt is definitely an important country in the Arab world, a stabilizing factor in the regional system." He has previously, however, made statements more hostile to Egypt.
  • "I think that we have been disparaging many concepts, and we have shown the greatest disdain of all for the word “peace.” The fact that we say the word “peace” twenty times a day will not bring peace any closer. There have been two governments here that took far-reaching measures: the Sharon government and the Olmert government. They took dramatic steps and made far-reaching proposals. We saw the Disengagement and the Annapolis Conference. "
  • " I voted against the Road Map, but that was the only document approved by the Cabinet and by the Security Council - I believe it was Resolution 1505. It is a binding resolution and it binds this government as well. The Israeli government never approved Annapolis, neither the Cabinet nor the Knesset, so anyone who wants to amuse himself can continue to do so. ... we will therefore act exactly according to the Road Map.... I will never agree to our waiving all the clauses - I believe there are 48 of them - and going directly to the last clause, negotiations on a permanent settlement. No. These concessions do not achieve anything. " Opposition Leader and Former Foreign Minister Livni said this "erased in 20 minutes years of efforts to advance the peace process"[5]

Israeli citizenship

Among his most controversial positions is expecting a Zionist loyalty oath from all Israelis, Jewish or not, who expect to remain citizens. This met with mixed reaction among U.S. Zionist organizations, when he said “Arabs have all their rights in Israel, but they have no right to Eretz Yisrael,” at the Herzliya Conference, an annual summit on Israeli state and security.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he found Lieberman's proposal “legitimate,” while Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said he saw Liberman's comments directed at Arab Israeli Knesset who traveled to enemy states and Israeli Arabs who expressed solidarity with Hamas during the 2009 Gaza operation. Foxman said “There were a lot of people who said, 'Hey, that's disloyal,' That's what he's talking about. He's not saying expel them. He's not saying punish them.” Foxman also said he would speak out against proposals that violated the tenets of Israeli democracy, pointing out that in 2006, the ADL announced it was “disturbed” by Lieberman's call for the execution of Arab legislators who met with Hamas leaders.[6] He questions the loyalties of Israel's Arab citizens and his anti-Arab rhetoric has won a large following beyond his Russian-speaking base.

Egypt

According to Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, Lieberman, in October 2008, said that Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak "'can go to hell.' Israel's President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Olmert had to extend a public apology to Mubarak. Once they did, Lieberman complained that "The State of Israel is acting toward Egypt like a battered woman." In 2001, Lieberman told ambassadors from the former Soviet Republics that if relations with Egypt go sour, Israel should bomb Egypt's Aswan dam, a move that would flood vast areas, causing a national calamity." [7]

Criminal allegations

Israeli police, in August 2009, recommended that he be indicted for bribery. [8] He has denied wrongdoing, and said "If I had to, I would do exactly the same thing. I would do it all again." If, however, he is indicted, he would resign from the Cabinet, Knesset and party. Livni commented "It's his right to fight for his innocence but there is one thing which is beyond one's rights and that is claiming the Israeli police is driven by political interests and personal and political persecution. When an Israeli citizen says that one has to respond and back up the Israeli police." [9]

Founds own party

Frustrated with coalition politics, he founded Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Home is Israel) in 1999, calling for a strong presidency and a peace deal with the Palestinians under which Israel would swap land on which many of its 1.5 million Arab citizens live for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Buoyed by support among the massive influx of Russian speakers in the 1990s, he served in three governments from 2001 to 2008, quitting Ehud Olmert's coalition in 2008 over the idea of U.S.-sponsored talks with the Palestinians.

As administrative head of Likud from 1993, he ran the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 1996 to 1997.

Early life

Born Evet Lieberman in the Soviet city of Kishinev, now Chisinau, capital of Moldova, on June 5, 1958, Lieberman studied at the local agricultural institute. His father Lev was a Red Army veteran who was taken prisoner by the Germans and later spent 7 years in a Siberian Gulag labour camp under Stalin.[2]

He and his parents emigrated to Israel in 1978, some of the first significant group of Soviet emigres. On arrival, he changed his name to Avigdor, and learned Hebrew in addition to his native Russian; he also speaks English and Romanian.

He served as an army corporal, took a social science degree and held various jobs, including as an airport baggage handler and a much-cited spell as a nightclub bouncer.

While a student in Jerusalem, he began his career as an activist in the right-wing Likud party of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Haaretz reported that the former secretary-general, Yossi Dayan, of the banned Kach radical right movement, headed by Meir Kahane, said Lieberman was a member for a few months.[10]

References