[Freemanlist2] Prof. Efraim Inbar - Lieberman and the Naked Emperor

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Lieberman and the Naked Emperor

by Prof. Efraim Inbar

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 125, January 13, 2011


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman takes a blunt approach 
to politics, one that is often met with resistance at home and abroad. But 
despite his not-very-diplomatic style, Lieberman's views on issues like the 
"peace process" and the Israel-Turkey relationship are representative of a 
large majority of the Israeli public, and his assessments are often right on 
the mark.

We are inundated with critical reports of the strident statements made by 
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is, reportedly, damaging 
Israel’s international image. Obviously, political correctness is not one of 
his main concerns. It has to be acknowledged, however, that Lieberman's 
not-very-diplomatic style, while uncomfortable, also involves more than a 
little truth-telling.

To a certain extent, Lieberman is playing domestic politics, trying to 
position himself as leader of the Right. Issues he has raised, such as the 
oath of allegiance, the conversion bill, and foreign funding of human rights 
NGOs indeed smack of populism and are simplistic remedies to complex 
problems. And his bluntness has repeatedly forced Prime Minister Binyamin 
Netanyahu, a very eloquent representative of the Jewish state, to issue 
clarifications in order to distance himself from the enfant terrible of 
Israeli politics. Netanyahu prefers the image of a statesman and a 
responsible politician.

Yet, Lieberman is often telling the naked truth. Let's consider his 
"provocative" and "irresponsible" statements on the Palestinians and the 
Turks.

The chances of reaching a comprehensive agreement in the near future with 
the Palestinians, within 12 or 36 months, are indeed nil, as Lieberman has 
pointed out. The Palestinian Authority is not willing to make any 
concessions in peace negotiations on Jerusalem or on refugees. It rejects 
recognition of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. Lieberman is correct also in 
pointing out that the PA lacks any legitimacy to close a deal with Israel. 
Abu Mazen’s corrupt regime relies on Israeli bayonets to defend it from 
Hamas. This is what Lieberman has said, and he is correct in his assessment.

Moreover, his views reflect the sober assessment of a large majority of 
Israelis. Even large swaths of the Israeli Left agree that there is no 
Palestinian partner for a full peace.

So why is it so terrible to tell the truth?

Similarly, Lieberman’s evaluation of the behavior of the current Turkish 
government is right on the mark. Turkey, under Prime Minister Tayyip 
Erdogan, has not missed an opportunity to pick a fight with Israel over the 
past two years, and there is nothing Jerusalem can do but wait for better 
times. Erdogan-led Turkey is not interested in good relations with Israel, 
primarily because under his helm Turkey is distancing itself from the West 
and displaying a greater Islamic coloration in its foreign policy. 
Anti-Semitic sentiments also fuel the hostility toward Israel. Israelis 
agree with Lieberman’s refusal to be a "punching bag for Turkey." Thus, it 
makes no sense to apologize and pay compensation to those who sent IHH 
terrorists to help Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Actually, Lieberman’s assertion that it is Turkey which owes Israel an 
apology seems more logical. This probably makes sense to most Israelis, who 
witnessed the brutal treatment of Israeli naval commandos on the Turkish 
ship at the hands of so-called “peace activists.”

Similarly, Lieberman's promotion of a loyalty oath is well in synch with 
majority Israeli opinion. Israeli Arab leaders have become increasingly 
vocal and violent in their support for Palestinian irredentism – and Israeli 
Jews want to see them checked. Most Israelis instinctively feel, as well, 
that the Ultra-Orthodox-controlled Rabbinate is much too narrow and 
unwelcoming in its approach to Russian-Israelis who want to convert to 
Judaism.

Another bingo for Lieberman.

Lieberman’s attack on left-wing NGOs being fifth columns is also striking a 
responsive chord among many Israelis that are fed up with Israel’s use of 
force being portrayed systematically as a human rights violation. After all, 
the IDF is making consistently great efforts to behave admirably moral.

The truth is often unpleasant. As a result, the seemingly noble and 
relentless search for an unavailable peace formula is preferred by many to 
acceptance of the bad news that there is no chance to end the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon. Incredibly generous Israeli concessions 
by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert did not bring about peace because of the 
Palestinians' insatiable appetite.

Nevertheless, entrenched formulas and paradigms are difficult to discard. 
The inertia of the “peace process” and the sunken costs are not conducive to 
taking a fresh look at a 17-year-long failure to bridge the differences 
between Israelis and Palestinians.

Similarly, the realization that diplomatic maneuvers or clever formulas 
cannot fix relations with a Turkey that has chosen to side with radical 
Islam goes against unfounded optimism. The possibility that ignoring reality 
is more dangerous than pursuing unrealistic policies does not always 
register.

Lieberman is not off the mark in pointing out that the flow of foreign money 
to Israeli NGOs is a serious issue that needs to be squarely dealt with. 
This is necessary particularly because some of these NGOs are blatantly 
biased with a clear Israel-demonization agenda hidden behind a human rights 
discourse.

This Israeli government understands the depressing reality, though a cool 
assessment will probably dictate going along with falsehoods to please the 
world. After all, telling the truth might push Israel into greater 
isolation. Lying is what the world expects of Jerusalem, and in the short 
run at least, such lying probably best serves Israel’s interests. In the 
longer run, however, political correctness may prove extremely costly.

Lieberman is having none of this. He is enjoying the role of the boy who 
exposed the sham behind the Emperor’s new clothes. But in contrast to the 
naïve boy in that well-known fable, Lieberman is a shrewd politician. The 
emphasis on naked truth suits his search for votes. After all, truth has 
certain appeal among Israeli voters.

This is Israel’s dilemma. Who represents the better and wiser diplomatic 
course: Netanyahu or Lieberman?
========================

Efraim Inbar is Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and 
director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. This article first 
appeared in the Jerusalem Post newspaper on January 12, 2011.


BESA Perspectives is published through the generosity of the Greg 
Rosshandler Family.
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