Rumors are floating around about why Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Washington – again – last week when Israel’s official top diplomat, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is nowhere to be seen. This was Barak’s seventh visit to DC; Lieberman has been here exactly once.
So what’s up with that? Why isn’t Israel’s most important envoy playing the key diplomatic role with Israel’s most important diplomatic sponsor? One reason is that Lieberman is an embarrassment to many, even here in Washington’s Israel-can-do-no-wrong political culture. His party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home) is so far right that Kadimah — the party of the 1982 “Butcher of Beirut” Ariel Sharon and Tzipi Livni who helped orchestrate the assault on Gaza — and the extremist settlement-backing Likud party of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, look centrist and center-right by comparison.
Lieberman’s gang goes way beyond normal Israeli extremism, calling not just for unconstrained settlement expansion, but various versions of “transfer” – the preferred Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing. That means the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, including some who are Israeli citizens, starting with those who refuse to sign an oath of loyalty to Zionism. In May 2004, Lieberman announced that 90 percent of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who amount to 20 percent of the population, would “have to find a new Arab entity” to live in because “they have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost.” He called for executing Arab members of the Knesset who speak to Hamas, or who call for commemoration of the nakba, the Palestinian expulsion and dispossession from what would become Israel in 1947-48. Back in 1998 Lieberman urged Israel to bomb Egypt’s giant Aswan Dam, a move that would have flooded pretty much all of Egypt and drowned most of Egypt’s 80 million people. And in 2003, as transport minister, Lieberman called for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons to be drowned in the Dead Sea – and offered buses to take them there.