Avigdor Liebermann is the self-styled strongman of Israeli politics, taking on all-comers and attacking what he calls the “enemy within.” His nationalistic message has proved popular, propelling him up the league table of Israeli politics. The former nightclub bouncer has his guns trained on Israel’s Arab minority.
Liebermann says they should be thrown out if they do not pledge allegiance to the Jewish state and carry out some form of national service. He believes there should be no contact between Jews and Arabs, and will not apologise for his xenophobic message. His legal bid to exclude Arab parties from standing in the election failed in the Supreme Court. Outside, he went on the attack, saying a critical Arab MP should be treated “like Israel treats Hamas.” Liebermann rose to prominence three years ago when his Israel First party won eleven seats in parliament and he joined Ehud Olmert’s cabinet. It was short-lived: Liebermann walked out over the inconclusive war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the decision to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians. But his most controversial plan is to re-draw Israel’s borders, embracing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and throwing the Arabs out. Liebermann is riding a wave of nationalistic popularity. Fears over security and the inconclusive wars in Gaza and Lebanon have seen the Israeli electorate shift right. He may end up as kingmaker in the new government, but his critics ask why a man born in the old Soviet Union, and who emigrated to Israel, should presume to tell Israeli Arabs, who have lived here for hundreds of years, what to do.