The concerns about Avigdor Lieberman becoming Israel’s next Foreign Minister remind me of a Jewish telegram: “Start worrying. Details to follow.”
Indeed, in an era when Israel’s image is not so shiny, the idea of someone who seems like a bully, who lives in a settlement and who uses strong language to express his radical views is not ideal.
But, looking carefully at his recent statements to the Washington Post and New York’s Jewish Weekly, Lieberman seems less scary on peace. Like other right-wingers before him — Sharon, Olmert and Livni, to name a few — he realises a Palestinian state is a fait accompli. He even hinted at giving up his home settlement for real peace.
It is his views about the Israeli Arabs, not his stand on the peace process, which should worry us. Six decades of conflict have put the Arab residents of Israel — 20 per cent of the state’s population — in a situation where, according to a painful saying, “my country is at war with my people”. If we were smart, we would have made them the happiest people in Israel, fully integrated and equal, thus turning them into our perfect ambassadors, conveying the message to other Arabs: “See what you get when you live in peace with the Jews”. Instead we have treated them unfairly and are surprised they are bitter.
Then along comes Lieberman with his past suggestions of a land swap and more recent calls for Israeli Arabs’ citizenship to be conditional on an oath of loyalty.
In such a complex situation, where national sentiments, cultural differences, social grievances, prejudice and fear create an explosive mix, the last thing we need is a bull in a china shop. And we Jews, of all people, with our history of being a persecuted minority, should be more sensitive than anybody else.
The good news is that he will not last long in his new job. Either police investigations about his money deals will force him to resign; or, most likely, a fight with Netanyahu. These two strange bedfellows can’t stand or trust each other. Until it happens, however, we’re in for some interesting times.