Avigdor Lieberman, אביגדור ליברמן, born Evet Lvovich Liberman ) is a Soviet-born Israeli politician. He is currently Member of the Knesset, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of Israel. He is the founder and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose electoral base are the immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
A polarizing figure within Israeli politics, Lieberman is quoted as saying, "I've always been controversial because I offer new ideas. For me to be controversial, I think this is positive. Lieberman has called to redraw the border between Israel and the West Bank so that Israel would include large Jewish settlement blocs and the Palestinian state would include large Arab-Israeli population centers. He proposed that Israel's citizens should sign a loyalty oath or lose their right to vote.
Lieberman first entered the Knesset in 1999, and has since served in numerous roles in the government, including as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Strategic Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister, and Foreign Affairs Minister.
Lieberman was born on June 5, 1958 in Kishinev, Soviet Union (now Moldova). His father had served in the Red Army and spent seven years in a Siberian Gulag under Stalin's rule, where he met Evet's mother. After high school, Lieberman applied to study international law at Kiev University, but was, according to an interview, rejected for being Jewish. He then temporarily enrolled at the Chişinău Agriculture Institute with a hydrological land improvement major.
The family immigrated to Israel in 1978, during which Lieberman changed his name to 'Avigdor'. He initially considered living in a kibbutz before moving into Be'er Sheva. In Israel, he served in the Artillery Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, receiving the rank of Corporal, and later earned a BA in International Relations and Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During his studies he was active in the student group "Kastel" associated with the Likud. At that period he was busy job hunting and was given work by Tzahi Hanegbi, then a student chairman at the university, as a bouncer in the student club "Shablul" (lit. snail) where he met his future wife. A year later, Lieberman was promoted to a general manager, responsible for all the activities at the club.
From 1983 to 1988, Lieberman helped found the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry and was a member of the Board of the Jerusalem Economic Corporation and the Secretary of the Jerusalem branch of the Histadrut Ovdim Le'umit ("National Workers' Union"). In 1988, he started working with Benjamin Netanyahu. From 1993 to 1996, following Netanyahu's election as party leader, Lieberman served as Director-General of the Likud party. From 1996 to 1997, he was Director-General of the Prime Minister's office serving Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lieberman and his wife Ella (née Tzipkin) have one daughter and two sons. They live in the Judean desert settlement of Nokdim in the West Bank, where they have resided since 1988. He has said that, despite having lived there for so long, he is willing to vacate his house in a peace agreement.
He speaks Russian, Romanian, Hebrew and English.
In 1999, he founded the Yisrael Beiteinu party, catering to the large immigrant population from the Soviet Union and competing with the Yisrael BaAliyah party headed by Natan Sharansky. He was elected to the Knesset in 1999, with his party winning four seats. He has served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and State Control Committees, and as Chairman of the Israel-Moldova Parliamentary Friendship League. In March 2001 Lieberman was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure, but resigned the post in March 2002. He was re-elected in January 2003 as part of a joint National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu list, and in February was appointed Minister of Transportation. However, he was removed from the cabinet by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in May 2004 due to his opposition to the disengagement plan.
In the 2006 elections, Lieberman's party won eleven seats, a gain from its previous six seats. It was initially in the opposition, but after a few months, in October 2006, Lieberman and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signed a coalition agreement under which Lieberman became the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs, a newly created position with a focus towards the strategic threat from Iran. In December 2006, he called Iranian nuclear proliferation "the biggest threat facing the Jewish people since the Second World War. He advocated that Israel join the European Union and NATO. He resigned his cabinet position and Yisrael Beiteinu left the coalition in January 2008; he cited his opposition to the resuming peace talks, saying that "Negotiations on the basis of land for peace are a critical mistake ... and will destroy us. Yisrael Beiteinu, which was described at times as Lieberman's "one man's party" for its media-closed meetings and party members' reluctance to give interviews, emerged as the third largest party in Israel after February 2009 general elections and on 16 March, they entered into the coalition government led by Netanyahu. Lieberman currently serves as Minister of Foreign Affairs and he also has the title of Deputy Prime Minister.
Term as Minister of Foreign Affairs
Upon taking office as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lieberman posed a clear message against application of provisions discussed at the Annapolis Conference, which stipulated the settlement of all negotiated issues prior to their implementation in the field, adding that these discussions were never ratified by the Knesset. He noted that Israel must abide, nonetheless, by the road map for peace -- which held a demand for an 'End of Palestinian violence' as a first phase for furtherance of the negotiations process—as well as by the two accompanying Tenet and Zinni documents.
Lieberman had previously opposed the road map at the time of its adoption. He left Ehud Olmert's government due to his opposition to the Annapolis Conference. Lieberman followed his 1 April message with concerns that others stand over us with a stopwatch" and that responsible and serious formulations of policy will take between one and two months.
Lieberman's office stated in early April that peace talks will continue when Palestinian government officials crack down on attacks against Israelis, after which the Israeli administration will reciprocate by freezing settlement construction or expansion in the West Bank. That position contradicts the Obama administration's new approach to the peace efforts, where Israel is requested to freeze all construction, including "natural growth" (i.e. "within existing construction lines") regardless of Palestinian commitments. The office also told U.S. special envoy George Mitchell that past negotiations did not bring any real results. Lieberman himself said in April, "The situation is deadlocked, and it is not because of us". He argued that a stable, successful peace effort requires Americans to focus on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Lieberman and Prime Minister Netanyahu both planned to broaden the PR campaign overseen by the Foreign Ministry about Iran. Part of its new campaign focuses on Tehran's abuse of human rights and sponsorship of terrorism and also aims to appeal to those, such as the gay and lesbian communities, less concerned with Iran's nuclear aspirations and more fearful of its human rights abuses and mistreatment of minorities. Despite his status within the government, the Israeli police have questioned Lieberman three times from he took office to April 11 about the ongoing corruption investigation.
In early May 2009, Lieberman went on a European diplomatic mission, which went through Rome, Paris, Prague, and other cities. He met with his Foreign Minister counterparts, such as Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, and he also paid his respects at Berlin's Holocaust memorial, laying a wreath at the 19,000-square-meter monument. In 4 May 2009, in a press conference in Italy, Avigdor Lieberman skirted around the issue of a Palestinian state, stating that "This government's goal is not produce slogans or make pompous declarations, but to reach concrete results," adding that the government was still in the process of formulating its foreign policy. On another occasion in his trip, he stated that "Nothing is going to come out of this 'Peace Industry' except for conferences in five star Hotels and a waste of money. Generally speaking, the diplomatic mission was private and subject to restricted news coverage.
On 7 May, Yediot Ahronot stated that Lieberman was appointed the minister in charge of strategic dialogue with the U.S. On June 17, he appeared in a joint press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in his first official visit to the U.S. Lieberman clashed with Clinton over the issue of Israeli settlements, with Lieberman dismissing her call to end settlement expansion. Financial Times described the meeting as "one of the most tense encounters between the sides for several years. Clinton also rejected Lieberman's assertion that the Bush administration had agreed to further building in the West Bank. Israel National News stated afterward that Lieberman and Prime Minister Netanyahu both have the same position of settlement expansion and for retaining Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
According to Lieberman, "The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.
In late May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan in which the populations and territories of Israeli Jews and Arabs, including some Israeli Arabs, would be "separated." According to the plan, also known as the "Populated-Area Exchange Plan," Israeli Arab towns adjacent to Palestinian Authority areas would be transferred to Palestinian Authority, and only those Arab Israelis who migrated from the area to within Israel's new borders and pledged loyalty to Israel would be allowed to remain Israeli citizens. On May 30, 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned Lieberman's statements, stating "We regard Israeli Arabs as part of the State of Israel. On 4 June 2004, as the disputes over the up-coming disengagement plan grew more intense, Sharon dismissed Lieberman from the cabinet.
Lieberman supports Israeli membership in the European Union and NATO. Although he considers Iran a serious threat to Israel, he favors further political/economic sanctions and he opposes a military strike, saying that he cannot imagine the implications of armed action.
While his party is sometimes described as doctrinally secular and aiming to reduce the role of the rabbinical system in government by the news media, it actually supports the continuation of the role of Orthodox rabbinical courts, but wants more nationally minded religious people, rather than the ultra-orthodox, in charge. It does not advocate introducing civil marriage within Israeli law, but rather to find a solution to some of those who cannot marry under such laws. It does not advocate a separation of religion and state in Israeli society.
Mass media perception
A large number of mass media sources within and outside of Israel have labelled Yisrael Beiteinu and Lieberman as far right or ultra-nationalist. Others consider him right wing or a populist. However, in general, Israelis are divided on how to characterize Lieberman's politics.
Yisrael Beiteinu has shown support for a two-state solution and were also noted for a secularist approach upon leading new legislation for civil marriage in Israel as well as pushing for some relaxation in the conversion process. Several commentators, however, noted that these positions do not coincide with the party's platform. These positions which are contradictory to the tradition of right wing politics in Israel had been explained by Gershom Gorenberg as that following the Six Day War, opinions were split regarding the occupied territory, where being right-wing meant a position of holding onto the territory while being left-wing addressed a high level of willingness to give that territory away. He notes Lieberman to not be a right-winger by those terms as he's talking about giving occupied lands as well as land from sovereign Israel.
In November 2006, Lieberman, who described Arab members of the Knesset that meet with Hamas as "terror collaborators", called for their execution: "World War II ended with the Nuremburg Trials. The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in the Knesset.
The comment was attacked as racist by Eitan Cabel, a Labor party representative, and Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Arab party Ta'al and one-time advisor to Yasser Arafat, who demanded that, "a criminal investigation be initiated against Lieberman for violating the law against incitement and racism". Tibi strongly objected to Lieberman's ministerial appointment, describing him as "a racist and a fascist". Labour minister Ophir Pines-Paz, who resigned over Lieberman's appointment, echoed Tibi's remarks, saying that Lieberman was tainted "by racist declarations and declarations that harm the democratic character of Israel.
In remarks in the Knesset in March 2008, shortly after the 6 March attack at Jerusalem's Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, Lieberman commented that "yesterday's attack can not be disconnected from the Arab MKs incitement, which we hear daily in the Knesset. Directing his comments at Arab MKs whose comments Lieberman describes as anti-Israel incitement, he added that "a new administration will be established and then we will take care of you.
Statements about Egypt
In 1998, news reports stated that Lieberman suggested the bombing of the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat. In 2001, reports stated that he told a group of ambassadors from the Former Soviet Union that if Egypt and Israel were ever to face off militarily again, that Israel could bomb the Aswan Dam.
Since the signing of the Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty, which followed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel, multiple Israeli heads of state have visited Egypt on numerous occasions. However, Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, has visited Israel only once—for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in 1995—since he assumed the Presidency in 14 October 1981 and has never participated in talks on Israeli soil. In 2008, while on the Knesset speaker's podium during its memorial for Rehavam Ze'evi, Lieberman raised the issue and said, "Mubarak never agreed to come here as president. He wants to talk to us? Let him come here. He doesn't want to talk to us? He can go to hell.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres immediately apologized to the Egyptians. Lieberman accused the two of them of acting like "a battered wife". He explained his belief that the President and Prime Minister were wrong to ask forgiveness from Mubarak in that Egypt had provoked Israel just days earlier by identifying Israel as the enemy in a massive military exercise and that caricatures in the Egyptian media are akin to Nazi propaganda.
After Netanyahu began his term as Prime Minister in March 2009, government aides met with Egyptian officials and told them that Lieberman's role should not be a reason for tension between the two countries. News reports had previously been issued claiming that Egypt would not work with the Netanyahu administration unless Liberman personally apologized. The administration labeled them "inaccurate and out of all proportion". On 9 April, Mubarak invited Netanyahu to meet with him personally in Sharm e-Sheikh. Unofficial channels for discussion are also reportedly being considered.
During a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in April 2009, Lieberman made an attempt at an apology, expressing “his respect and appreciation for Egypt's leading role in the region and his personal respect for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Minister Suleiman".
Statements about Palestinians
Following a series of attacks on Israelis perpetrated by Palestinian militants during a three-day period in March 2002, Lieberman proposed issuing an ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority to halt all militant activity or face wide-ranging attacks. He said, "if it were up to me I would notify the Palestinian Authority that tomorrow at ten in the morning we would bomb all their places of business in Ramallah, for example. This led Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to respond that excessive military measures could lead to accusations of war crimes and that the Israeli administration must not "escalate the situation.
In July 2003, reacting to a commitment made by Ariel Sharon to the US, where amnesty could be given to approximately 350 Palestinian prisoners including members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lieberman rejected a chance to participate in the related committee and said "It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that's the lowest point in the world, Lieberman continued, according to Galei Tzahal ('Israel Army Radio'), stating his willingness, as Minister of Transport, to supply buses to take the prisoners there. Lieberman's suggestion also led to confrontation between Lieberman and Arab-Israeli MKs Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta'al), Jamal Zahalka (Balad), Taleb el-Sana, Abdelmalek Dahamsha (United Arab List) as well as opposition leader Shimon Peres.
In January 2009, during the Gaza conflict, Lieberman argued that Israel "must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II. Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary.This threat has been interpreted by some media commentators, including Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, as an allusion to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and as advocacy for a nuclear strike on Gaza.
Student political activities: Kach and Kastel
On the eve of the 2009 elections, Haaretz wrote that Lieberman was briefly involved with the Kach party of Rabbi Meir Kahane shortly after his immigration to Israel in 1979. The membership claims were based on the testimony of two activists in the movement, Avigdor Eskin and Yosef Dayan, who said that Lieberman was a member of the party for a short-term period. Lieberman rejected the story and called the publication an "orchestrated provocation".Kach was barred from participating in the election in 1988 under the revised Knesset Elections Law banning parties that incited racism and was declared a terrorist organization in 1994.
During his time at the Hebrew University, Lieberman was a active member of the student party "Kastel", at a time when the relationship between Kastel and Arab student groups was tense and often deteriorated into violence. According to Maariv, based on the testimony of a witness who was a student at the time, Lieberman participated in a few of the violent clashes (Lieberman said he was involved in two) but Jamal Zahalka, a Knesset member from Balad who was a student at the time and active in Arab groups, notes that he remembers Lieberman as yelling a lot but avoiding any of the rough action.
Investigations and allegations
Some of Lieberman's connections with local and foreign businessmen are currently under police investigation. Lieberman allegedly received millions of shekels from various entrepreneurs while serving as member of Knesset; under Israeli law, MKs are not allowed to receive any payment beyond their salary. One claim is that Michael Cherney paid a company called Path to the East large amounts of money between the years 1999 and 2006, and that these sums were then allegedly passed on to Lieberman as a bribe. Other allegations concern a company called M.L.1, founded by Lieberman's daughter Michal when she was 21. These allegations concern money transferred to M.L.1 from unknown sources outside Israel; the money was later allegedly used for paying salaries to Avigdor and Michal Lieberman. Lieberman is also under investigation for receiving a bribe from Austrian-Jewish businessman Martin Schlaff.
Lieberman denies all allegations of wrongdoing in these cases, and claims that the police are conspiring against him. In particular, he has pointed to the proximity of his investigation to the 2009 Israeli elections and said that such investigations are "part of my routine before every parliamentary election.Allegations of bias on the part of the police have also been reported in Arutz Sheva, a right-wing Israeli news outlet, which reported that the investigation, which had been "ongoing for years, suddenly became active again once Lieberman left the government" in January 2008.
On 2 April 2009, Lieberman was questioned by police on suspicion of corruption for at least seven hours at the national squad headquarters in central Israel. It was part of an ongoing investigation examining his business dealings. Lieberman denied all allegations. He claimed the investigation has been dragged out, and had filed a petition to the court requesting a speedy process.
On the 24th May 2010 the Israeli Police recommended Lieberman's indictment for Breach of Trust, regarding the suspected receipt of classified information concerning ongoing criminal investigations into his activities. Former ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh was also recommended for indictment.On April 13, 2011, the State Prosecutor's Office announced that it had decided to charge Lieberman with fraud, money laundering, breach of trust and witness tampering.
Conviction for assault
On September 24, 2001, Lieberman acknowledged in the Jerusalem District Court that he attacked a twelve-year-old youth from Tekoa, who had hit his son. The incident occurred in December, 1999 in the Nokdim settlement. His son told him that three boys hit him. Lieberman located one of the boys in a trailer and hit him in the face. After the boy fell and was injured, the defendant grabbed him by the shirt-collar and arm, took him back to his parent’s home in Tekoa and threatened that he would attack him again if he returned to Nokdim. He was charged with assaulting and threatening him. Lieberman was convicted based on his own confession in the context of a plea bargain. His attorney asked the judges, in the context of the arrangement, to restrict his punishment to a fine amid the defendant’s promise that he will not commit such an act in the future. The judge ultimately ruled that Lieberman must pay the child a compensation of 10,000 shekels, and an additional fine of 7,500 shekels.
Allegations of Anti-Arabism
Many commentators, including Arab Israeli groups, have accused Lieberman of Anti-Arabism. Christoph Schult in Der Spiegel has accused Lieberman of having a reputation as a "virulent racist". M.J. Rosenberg in the LA Times characterized Lieberman's election campaign as "frankly anti-Arab".Daphna Baram in The Guardian called him an "arch racist. Richard Cohen in the Washington Post noted that while Lieberman a "nationalist" he was also an "anti-Arab demagogue". Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism called Lieberman's campaign "an outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell. Martin Peretz editor-in-chief of The New Republic, a passionate Zionist and critic of the peace movement, called Lieberman "neo-fascist … a certified gangster … the Israeli equivalent of Jörg Haider During the 2009 campaign, Meretz released an internal memo comparing Lieberman to "Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Haider in Austria, and Zhirinovsky in Russia"
Party officials are denying the charges, saying that they have been falsely stigmatized.
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