By now you know that Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, did in fact play king-maker in the Israeli election and, after much maneuvering, threw his support to Netanyahu which resulted in Bibi being asked to form the Israeli government. (Livni’s Kadima courted Lieberman as well and in doing so, lost the support of Labor and Meretz. )
So what’s Avigdor’s next move? Campaigning for Minister of Foreign Affairs. Step one in that campaign is what Ha’aretz calls a “global charm offensive.” This PR effort is aimed at convincing us that, in the words of Daniel Ayalon, Yisrael Beiteinu member and former ambassador to the US, “Lieberman is not a monster.”
And guess who is the first US politician to help out this new rebranding effort? None other than our very own Joe Lieberman!
The Jerusalem Post describes this effort as “Lieberman auditioning for Foreign Affairs portfolio”
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman met with his American namesake, US Senator Joseph Lieberman, on Sunday in what sources close to him said was an audition for the role he wants in Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu’s government: foreign minister…
The senator requested the meeting, because he wanted to better understand the Israel Beiteinu leader’s views. He advised his namesake to go to the US to explain his views.
Ha’aretz reports that:
The Yisrael Beiteinu chairman said it was important to act quickly against Iran’s nuclear program. "If we want a peace process we have to work first against Iran," he told the senator.
And Jerusalem Post writes that:
The Israel Beiteinu chairman explained his party’s platform, including his call for a loyalty oath, which he renamed "the responsible citizenship bill," and dispelled what he said were myths about the party being racist.
Senator Joe Lieberman, after the meeting, said:
"Though we’re not related by blood, we are privileged to hold positions in two great nations," the senator said after the meeting. "I wanted to meet Lieberman, because he will play an important role in the next government, so it’s important that we in the US get to know him well.”…
Perhaps Joe should check some media reports to get to know Lieberman. Take, for example, Avigdor’s biography at the BBC which gives a good overview of his positions:
Under the party slogan "No loyalty, no citizenship", Mr Lieberman also wants a law demanding Israeli-Arabs pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state and committing them to some form of national service.
And his blunt invective and the blatant disregard for political correctness have further raised concern internationally and on the Israeli left.
For example, he has said that Israeli-Arab MPs who met Hamas should be executed like Nazi collaborators after the Nuremburg trials.
And according to the Jerusalem Post he said in January 2009 that Israel should "continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II" – widely interpreted as a reference to the dropping of nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima…
Mr Lieberman is a champion of the Israeli settlers and takes a tough line on unilateral withdrawals from Jewish settlements arguing that Israel gets nothing in return, particularly security guarantees.
He pulled out of [an earlier] government in January 2008, however, refusing to back its peace talks with the Palestinians on core issues under the US-backed Annapolis process.
Or, he could check Ha’aretz which writes that, “Lieberman unfit to be minister,” based on allegations of fraud – or consult what the Jerusalem Post called “American Jewish organizations on both the Right and Left:”
"His provocative image has ramifications that go beyond Jewish-Arab issues in Israel," said Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir. "We’re [against] the inclusion of such a red flag in the government, both because of the message he sends and the potential he has of igniting fires because of his public statements."
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told The Jerusalem Post last week that Lieberman’s "image is so tarnished, it wouldn’t be good for Israel" to have him in a prominent leadership position.
Instead, according to the Jerusalem Post:
After the meeting, the senator, who later met with Netanyahu, expressed optimism that the new administrations in Washington and Jerusalem would get along.
"Governments have come and gone in the US and Israel, but the relationship between the US and Israel has remained constantly strong because of the values and interests we share, and I’m sure that will remain true in the Obama administration," the senator said.
And while Joe’s advice to Avigdor “to go to the US to explain his views” must have pleased the Israeli politician, it may not be so simple. As Akiva Eldar reported in Ha’aretz last week:
Meanwhile the State Department is evaluating the implication of reports that MK Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, was a member of the extreme right group Kach. It appears on a State Department list of terrorist organizations.
If the Obama administration confirms the report that appeared last week in Haaretz, and which was not denied by Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader may not be granted a visa to enter the U.S.
I wonder if Senator Lieberman has anything to say about that?
Update: Senator Lieberman’s love, it appears, is not unrequited:
The Israel Beiteinu leader praised the senator after the meeting and said that "Lieberman is the best name in the world."
"We had a fascinating conversation," Avigdor Lieberman said. "I enjoyed hearing his estimation of developments in the Middle East, and I am sure we will meet again in the future."
I am sure the Senator looks forward to it. . . . [–ed.]