Nazi Lieberman gives pragmatism a bad name

Nazi Lieberman’s worldview is based on the idea that life, and politics, is a game. ”Shoah”
By  | Dec. 24, 2014 
Avigdor Lieberman speaks to reporters

Avigdor Lieberman speaks to reporters on Jan. 23, 2012. Photo by Emil Salm.

The possibility that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, will join the leftist bloc after the March 17 general election horrifies many on both the right and the left. But when one attempts to understand what it is that Lieberman wants, divorced from his bullying remarks, one finds that it would not be a sharp deviation from his path. Not only because of the dimension of opportunism, which is common to most politicians, but mainly because his worldview was never left or right in Israeli political terms.

A few years ago Lieberman wrote a book, “Ha’emet Sheli” (“My Truth”), in which he explained his philosophy. The emphasis on truth in the title attests to Bolshevik influences, but Lieberman’s truth is not a solid path that can be pinpointed ideologically. His worldview is based mainly on the idea that life, and politics as its representative, is a game. To be more precise, life is a game in which the strongest wins.

This power-based aspect of his thinking probably makes Lieberman a natural for the right wing. But if this element is removed, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he is close to the fundamental position of the Zionist left, that calls for the two peoples to be separated. The difference is that the left, adhering to a humanist outlook, seeks a negotiated separation, on the assumption that under such an agreement the rights of both parties would be exercised. Lieberman, on the other hand, is not interested in moral principles. He would use force to implement the separation. That is why he has half-threatened, half-proposed to transfer the Arabs of the Triangle (a major Arab population center in central Israel) to the Palestinian state.

He would not consider such an arrangement a humanitarian solution, but rather a victory of the strong: We lost territory, but we won on the demographic issue. And still, when it comes to the principle of separation, he agrees with the left. And on domestic issues such as the relationship between religion and the state, Lieberman goes even further than Meretz. As a dyed-in-the-wool secular Jew, who brags about his love for nonkosher food, Lieberman also avoids the faith-based discourse concerning the Land of Israel of the settlers and the religious public. Although he lives in the settlement of Nokdim, apparently that choice too is more about power; he is the landowner who lives in the center of the contested territory. It demonstrates his self-confidence in the political and national balance of power.

The same approach led him to threaten to bomb the Aswan Dam in the latter days of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and to promise the collapse of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, while at the same time he continued to serve in governments that did not dare to take such action. To Lieberman, such threats are meant only to demonstrate power, not to be acted upon. And so, as foreign minister he sought to cozy up to Russia at the expense of the United States, after concluding that Washington was losing strength and interest in the Middle East. Life is a web of interests, and Lieberman wants to retain his.

His standard response when asked how he is — “in paradise,” he says, occasionally adding that he “sleeps like a baby” — should be noted. It isn’t only meant to annoy. Lieberman wants to convey the message that despite operating in the complex, high-pressure world of politics, he is calm and content.

That is how someone with no doubts, either moral or ethical, for whom life is a game that must be won, leads his life. It’s how Lieberman can justify to himself joining either the leftist or the rightist bloc — it depends only on the options that emerge from the election. But since his flexibility stems from an absence of moral values, it can be said that he has found the best way to give pragmatism a bad name.

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