We are inundated with critical reports of the strident statements made by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is, reportedly, damaging the country’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 loyalty oath, the conversion bill and the attack on human rights NGOs, indeed smack of populism and are simplistic remedies to complex problems. And his bluntness has repeatedly forced Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an eloquent representative of the Jewish state, to issue clarifications 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 about the Palestinians and the Turks.
The chances for 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 on Jerusalem or on refugees. It rejects recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Lieberman is correct also in pointing out that the PA lacks the legitimacy needed to close a deal with Israel. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s corrupt regime relies on Israeli bayonets to defend it from Hamas. This is what Lieberman has said, and he is correct.
Moreover, his reflects the sober assessment of a large majority of Israelis. Even swaths of the 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 government in Turkey is right on the mark. Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not missed an opportunity to pick a fight with Israel over the past two years, so there is nothing Jerusalem can do but wait for better times. Erdogan-led Turkey is not interested in good relations, primarily because under his helm it is distancing itself from the West and displaying a greater Islamic coloration.
Anti-Semitic sentiments also fuel the hostility.
Israelis agree with Lieberman’s refusal to be a “punching bag for Turkey,” as explained in his recent op-ed in this paper.
Thus, it makes no sense to apologize and pay compensation to those who were sent by the IHH, an organization with proven terror links, to help Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Actually, Lieberman’s assertion that it is Turkey which owes Israel an apology seems the more logical. This probably makes sense to most Israelis, who witnessed the brutal treatment of the naval commandos on the Turkish ship at the hands of “peace activists.”
So why is it so terrible to tell the truth? Similarly, Lieberman’s promotion of a loyalty oath is in sync with majority opinion. Israeli Arab leaders have become increasingly vocal in their support for Palestinian irredentism – and Jews want to see them checked. Most Israelis also instinctively feel that the haredi controlled Chief Rabbinate is much too narrow and unwelcoming in its approach to Russian- Israelis who want to convert.
Another bingo for Lieberman.
His attack on some 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 violating human rights. 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 way to end the conflict any time soon. Incredibly generous concessions by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert did not bring about peace because of the Palestinians’ insatiable appetite.
Nevertheless, entrenched formulas are difficult to discard.
The inertia of the “peace process” and the time, energy and money already invested are not conducive to taking a fresh look at a 17-year failure to bridge the differences.
Similarly, the realization that clever formulas can’t fix relations with a Turkey that has chosen to side with radical Islam goes against the popular but unfounded optimism. The possibility that ignoring reality is more dangerous than pursuing unrealistic policies does not always register.
Lieberman is also not off the mark in pointing out that the flow of foreign money to local 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 government understands the depressing reality, though a cool assessment will probably dictate going along with falsehoods to please the world.
After all, daring to tell the truth might push Israel into even greater isolation. Lying is what the world expects of Jerusalem, and in the short run probably best serves its interests. In the longer run, however, it 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 a certain appeal among voters.
This is Israel’s dilemma. Who represents the wiser diplomatic course: Netanyahu or Lieberman?
The writer is is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.