A Word Is (Just) a Word

Head of the Israel Beyteinu party Avigdor Liberman seen at an event marking the opening of that party’s elections campaign in Tel Aviv, January 20. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He was the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office during Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term, and then launched his own political party. He appealed to the Russian community in Israel and they — a captive sector — put their trust in him time after time, like good Russians. One doesn’t change the land of one’s birth. Mother Russia, Father IVET.

Avigdor Liberman has come a long way in the Israeli public arena, and has evolved into the essence of a politician in every sense of the word. A politician is someone who is not afraid to alter and distort reality just to garner another momentary achievement or some more political power.

Liberman was the one who crafted the slogan, “Liberman, a word is a word.” He was also the first to violate his own slogan. He promised before the elections of 1999 that he would not sit in the same coalition as Shas, but he had no problem doing just that — joining a coalition with Shas. He promised civil marriages, but he didn’t promise to keep his promise. He also promised an amended draft law, and didn’t keep his word. But that is who the man is.

When he sat in the opposition, Liberman boasted that if he was the defense minister he would assassinate the head of Hamas’ political wing Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours of taking office. We all know the end of that: Liberman was appointed defense minister and Haniyah continues his efforts to destroy both Israel and its heroic defense minister.

This week, Avigdor Liberman rose up, infused with fighting spirit. The polls are not being complimentary to him for some reason (and in actuality they don’t really know how to read the Russian community, just like they don’t know how to properly cover the chareidi community and l’havdil, the Arab sector.) This is the time for him to make some noise and score some political points. He hung a sign announcing, “Liberman lo dofek cheshbon l’Hamas” (loosely translated as “Liberman doesn’t take Hamas into account”), as well as a sign declaring that “Liberman lo dofek cheshbon lachareidim.”

While the comparison is infuriating, it is not causing too many people to lose their cool, because the growling Russian bear doesn’t usually bite. The man who boasts that he grew up in the presence of Harav Chaim Zanvil of Ribnitz, zy”a, still pledges his loyalty to Israel, even if he appears obtuse.

Liberman has a very clear goal: To connect to the Russian immigrant population, which is disconnected and heretic, and who perceives him as a respected general. For the Russian community, he is a far more inspirational figure than the Prisoners of Zion who sat in the Siberian gulag. And Liberman knows that and speaks their language.

Liberman is the most ignoble genre of politician. He doesn’t posture, nor is he careful about being politically correct. He says what he thinks is the right thing for him to say at that moment, and also does what is most worthwhile for him. He goes in and out of governing coalitions at a dizzying pace, and can be for and against chareidim from one day to the next. His voter base, the Russian immigrant population, is used to discipline within the party, group or whatever structure it may be. Whatever the boss says, they will do.

The chareidi representation did not react with indignation to Liberman’s harsh words. The chareidim don’t get excited by these remarks anymore, just like, l’havdil, Hamas is not afraid that Liberman will settle accounts with them. Experience has proven that indeed, “Liberman — A Word Is a Word” — is just that, a word. He’s not a man of action at all.

During his tenure as foreign minister as well, he made no significant contribution to the state of Israel, although he did contribute to other countries. In an indictment recently filed against Paul Manafort, president Trump’s former campaign manager, there is a mysterious connection between Manfort and a senior Israeli official in an effort to influence relations between the United States and Russia and the Ukraine. That senior Israeli official is none other than this same fellow, former foreign minister Mr. Liberman. And perhaps that is what the GSS head meant when he claimed that “a foreign state will intervene in the upcoming elections,” referring to Russia. The first intervention is already upon us.

Liberman is in a fight for his life this time. He will try once again to be elected using his old tricks, but each time, the number of people who trust him diminishes. And there is a chance — a reasonable one — that, this time, he might find himself outside of the government and the Knesset for the first time in his political career.