The striking news out of the Israeli election has been the meteoric rise of Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu* party. The good news about Lieberman is that he kind of looks like a lot of lot of bearded liberal bloggers and columnists I know**. The bad news is that he’s actually a far-right madman. How far right? How mad? Don’t ask me, ask Marty Peretz:
This year, alas, it is likely to be the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party, a neo-fascist list headed by a Russian immigrant and certified gangster, Avigdor Lieberman, who is the Israeli equivalent of Jorg Haider of Austria (now dead) and Jean-Marie LePen [...] Yisrael Beiteinu will collect more votes this time, and might–just might–decide who will be asked to form the government. When Haider was seated in the Vienna government, Israel made a big fuss and, as I remember, recalled its ambassador. Lieberman is no better than Haider and no worse, except that he is a Jew which makes him more repulsive, not only personally repulsive but politically repulsive. [...] But Israel is not suicidal and it needs friends. Lieberman will leave it with none, and with no self-respect either.
And yet what we’ve got right now is probably a scenario in which Bibi Netanyahu forms a government with Lieberman as his major junior partner. The alternative is that Kadima seems eager to form a government with Lieberman as his major junior partner. The natural thing faced with the rise of this kind of extremist party would be a cordon sanitaire grand coalition of Likud and Kadima plus Shas or Labor, but the parties of the mainstream right don’t seem to be mainstream enough to recognize that nobody outside Israel sees Lieberman as an acceptable national leader.
* I’m always confused as to why some Israeli parties’ names merit translation (“Labor,” “United Torah Judaism”) whereas others (“Shas,” “Yisrael Beiteinu”) are left in Hebrew. Suffice it to say that the party’s name means something like “Israel: Our Home” or “Our Home is Israel.”
** Because bearded liberal writers in the U.S. are all Jewish, I guess.