Palestinian citizens of Israel at the Ma'man Allah Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. The Simon Wiesenthal Center plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on the site, against the wishes of the Muslim community. (Inbal Rose, Maan Images)
On October 30th, Israel's Knesset approved the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Minister for Strategic Threats and deputy Prime Minister in a 61 to 38 vote. Lieberman has advocated for various forms of ridding Israel of its Palestinian citizens. His party, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), which holds 11 seats in the Knesset, moved from the opposition to become a member of the coalition government.
A major Israeli daily, Haaretz
, said in an editorial
that the "choice of the most unrestrained and irresponsible man around for this job constitutes a strategic threat in its own right."
Who is Avigdor Lieberman and why is he so controversial?
Lieberman was born in Moldova in the Soviet Union. In 1978, at the age of 20, he immigrated to Israel and received automatic citizenship under Israel's Law of Return. He now lives in the illegal Nokdin settlement in the occupied West Bank. A nightclub bouncer turned politician, Lieberman:
What does Yisrael Beitenu stand for?
- served as Director General of the Likud Party from 1993 to 1996, and as Director General of the Prime Minister's office from 1996 to 1997. A staunch opponent of the peace process and of any territorial concessions to Palestinians, he resigned this post and left Likud in protest over then-Prime Minister Netanyahu's signing of the U.S.-brokered Wye River Memorandum.
- In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.
- In 1999, he founded the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party and was first elected to Knesset.
- In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons.
- In 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman in a Cabinet meeting saying that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that "At 8am we'll bomb all the commercial centers...at noon we'll bomb their gas stations...at two we'll bomb their banks..."
- In 2003, Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.
- In May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan that called for the transfer of Israeli territory with Palestinian populations to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, Israel would annex the major Jewish settlement blocs on the Palestinian West Bank. If applied, his plan would strip roughly one-third of Israel's Palestinian citizens of their citizenship. A "loyalty test" would be applied to those who desired to remain in Israel. Those committed to making Israel a state of all its citizens, including the Palestinian minority, would be stripped of voting rights. This plan to trade territory with the Palestinian Authority is a revision of Lieberman's earlier calls for the forcible transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their land. Lieberman stated in April 2002 that there was "nothing undemocratic about transfer."
- Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel's 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would "have to find a new Arab entity" in which to live beyond Israel's borders. "They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost," he said.
- In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
- Lieberman championed a recent bill adopted by Israel's Cabinet that raises the minimum a party must achieve to enter Knesset from 2 percent to 10 percent. This would eliminate parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose combined strength has never reached 10 percent.
- According to Israel's former ambassador to France, in 2009 French President Nicholas Sarkozy met with Netanyahu and expressed shock that he had appointed Lieberman foreign minister. The ambassador recalled: "At that meeting Sarkozy spoke very undiplomatically and said very harsh things words about Lieberman to Netanyahu... He was tough and defiant, and asked Netanyahu in front of everyone: 'How can you appoint a man with those opinions to this job, and to your government? It's unacceptable that I, Nicolas Sarkozy, am forced to say that, but I won't receive him and I won't meet with him.'"
Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel is our home") enjoys strong support among recent immigrants from areas of the former Soviet Union. Its primary concern is the "demographic threat" posed by the Palestinian population of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Formerly united with parties that would have addressed this concern by the forced transfer of Palestinians citizens outside of Israel's borders, Yisrael Beiteinu now supports the exchange of territory mentioned above. The party also aims to encourage Jewish immigration by supporting economic incentives for new Jewish immigrants in order to bolster Jewish demographic predominance.