He’s back again. Ultra-rightist Avigdor Lieberman is all set to be sworn in as Israel’s next defence minister on Monday.
For years he was foreign minister under various coalition governments with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right Likud party. Before that happened, liberal Zionists had tried to portray him an an aberration – an outsider who did not represent the “true” face of their “beautiful Israel”.
But then he was elected in the coalition government. In power, his idea of diplomacy was to say that Palestinian citizens of Israel considered “disloyal” should be beheaded. The context of such attacks is his party’s popular and long-standing election slogan, “No loyalty, no citizenship”. He has also called for Palestinian citizens of Israel to be removed from the country.
And now, after a year out of government, he’s received a promotion. As liberal daily Haaretz put it: “now he will be in charge of the army and of the occupation machine in the [occupied] territories, with an almost unlimited potential to foment crises”.
The liberal Zionist establishment is bemoaning the appointment. The New York Times ran an editorial calling it a “baffling, hard-line choice”. They also printed a piece in the Sunday Review supplement declaring that putting Lieberman in charge of the military was “the latest act in the war between Mr. Netanyahu and the military and intelligence leaders”.
The Associated Press commented that Lieberman has ousted “a strong voice of moderation” from the war minister’s seat in the cabinet. This is a race to the bottom. The end goal is complete and utter fascism.
Former Labour party prime minister and accused war criminal Ehud Barak said recently that Israel is “infected by the shoots of fascism”.
The supposed “moderate” that Lieberman has replaced is Moshe Ya’alon of Netanyahu’s Likud party. As I reported back in 2013 as he was sworn in, Ya’alon is a racist who considers Palestinians an “existential threat”, dehumanising them as a “cancer” that requires “chemotherapy”. He is also apparently a fan of the anti-Muslim demagogue Pamela Geller, whose views were one of the key inspirations for the anti-Muslim Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik.
Due to his involvement with successive murderous Israeli wars of aggression, Ya’alon has had to flee arrest during overseas visits, where he would have faced war crimes charges.
He complained to a conference last year that universal jurisdiction law has limited his travel overseas: “I prefer not to go to [the] UK, to London for about 10 years, or to Spain for a while.” Ya’alon lamented that Israeli soldiers now have to be taught that “we should be ready to give up a visit to London … but it’s not fair, it is not just”.
At that same conference, he openly threatened to bomb entire civilian populations during future Israeli wars. “We are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family. We went through a very long deep discussion,” he threatened. “We did it then, we did it in [the] Gaza Strip, we are going to do it in any round of hostilities in the future.”
He also made a thinly-veiled threat to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran, talking about taking “certain steps” such as the Americans did in “Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000”.
All this is apparently what AP considers “moderation” and what the New York Times describes as the words of a “tough but pragmatic” defence minister.
By way of comparison, Lieberman once called for the bombing of the Aswan Dam in Egypt (something he’d theoretically now have the power to do), wants to behead “disloyal” citizens, aims to expel Palestinians, is now calling for a new law which would mean the death penalty for Palestinians convicted in kangaroo military courts as “terrorists” but not for Jewish citizens (the bill is reportedly part of the deal to bring Lieberman into Netanyahu’s coalition) and has also called for the reconquest of Gaza.
Palestinians are “cancer” and Arab civilians will be targeted, verses Palestinians are “disloyal” and “terrorists” who should be beheaded. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
The truth is that liberal Zionists are complaining about Lieberman’s appointment, not because of his aggressive policies but because they see him as bad for Israel’s international image – too frank, too crass and not a good enough propagandist.
As one Haaretz editorial put it, Israel is now “torn between rule of law and rule of ruthless power”. Their claim is that this disagreement is over Lieberman’s support for Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who murdered Palestinian youth Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif by calmly shooting him in the head while he lay wounded and vulnerable on the ground in Hebron. Israel claims that al-Sharif had been involved in a knife attack on soldiers illegally occupying Hebron, a Palestinian city, but in any event it is clear from the video footage that he was no threat when killed.
For openly rallying in support of Azaria, the liberal Zionists and the military and political establishment are critical of Lieberman. But the reality is that they are not being critical of of the murder itself, merely the way it was done so openly, on camera, in the front of the world’s press. The liberal Zionists are highly concerned about Israel’s international image, while Lieberman is less so.
The truth, though, is that in openly supporting Azaria’s murder of the Palestinian youth, and in calling for the death penalty for Palestinian “terrorists”, Lieberman is merely formalising policies and practices that Israeli occupation forces routinely carry out under governments of all political stripes.
As Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says, Israel is already routinely carrying out executions without trial of Palestinians accused of attacking occupation soldiers.
The encouragement by Israel’s leaders of a “public mood that considers ‘shooting to kill’ valid in all cases and circumstances, even when the suspect no longer poses any danger, has transformed soldiers, police and armed civilians into ‘judge, jury and executioner,’” the group says.
While Lieberman will no doubt accelerate Israel’s continuing descent into ever increasingly open fascism, there is far more of a continuity of policy than Israel’s liberal defenders would care to admit.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.