Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Avigdor Lieberman the Devil Incarnate?

To anyone who watches Russian-language news and has actually heard Lieberman speak, this is gob-smacking hilarious. To the rest, it must seem really frightening - a chilling tribute to JStreet's confused adventure in pro-Israel activism. Lieberman is such an enigma, because he's seemingly so very not mysterious. I do not wish to label him as the Sarah Palin of Israeli politics, because they're quite different people and personalities, but the sensationalism they both generate is remarkably similar. Currently under multiple investigations for bribes and corruption - apparently standard Israeli fare given that the previous two Prime Ministers faced similar charges - his public profile seems to rise with every new accusation, each more devastating than the last, but ultimately having an inverse impact on his party's popularity. The simpleton Moldovan bouncer turned right wing extremist turned neo-fascist turned ethnic cleanser turned... well, the descending staircase of inflammatory adjectives has to end somewhere. The man is almost Clintonesque, with each seeming infidelity winning over adherents in their droves. By their nature, the investigations drag on for years, as they did for Sharon and Olmert, but meanwhile Lieberman soars. The last news report I saw had Yisrael Beteinu, Lieberman's self-founded party, polling up to 20 Knesset seats, up from the current 15 it won just two years ago.

It's all so very twisted, how the likes of Haaretz fan the flames of his support, as if on cue. Just last week, RTVi's Israel affiliate was broadcasting a stinging attack on the man, challenging Lieberman's record as Foreign Minister in light of the Latin American countries' embrace of Palestinian statehood. Russian-speaking Jews care about such intangibles as pride, loss of face, dignity and all the rest, and from all the sweet-talking Lieberman had been doing, they assumed Latin America was safely in Israel's corner. If you remember, shortly after assuming his duties, Lieberman was the first Israeli FM to visit Latin America in three or four decades. He made promises upon his return, in a champagne reception for Russian-speaking media, no less, ushering a new era in which Israeli interests would find warmer reception in continents theretofore ignored.

No sooner was the man being asked to account for his unfulfilled promises that new allegations of impropriety surfaced, or was it just some procedural move on the part of the investigators - but who can keep up with endless Israeli investigations - and Lieberman is back in his element, and on top, deftly maneuvering Haaretz into giving him full page press over rumors of a map granting the Palestinians a provisional state on 50% of the West Bank. A plan apparently being considered by Netanyahu himself, but which Lieberman, with a leak here and a wink there, fleshed out and made his own. And that map, Lieberman then turns to Russian-language media and explains, doesn't actually exist, except as a hypothetical Foreign Ministry scenario, and no land percentages have been finalized. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have already been asked and have had time to reject a map they haven't seen, which doesn't actually exist.

Add to all this Lieberman's recent win on IDF conversions, and an open-minded Israeli voter might begin to wonder, perusing through the pages of Haaretz, who is in charge and running his adversaries around the tennis court like chickens with their heads cut off, Israel's Prime Minister, or its Foreign Minister? At this rate, how long until they switch roles in name, as well as deed? Hmm... Devil incarnate, you say?

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