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Liberman: Is he the most Demonized Jew in the World?

Published on: July 23, 2012

Good news for all in Israel who seek to end the grip of the ultra-Orthodox in religious

The ‘Tzohar Bill’ passed its first reading. It will allow a couple to choose any recognised
rabbi in Israel to marry them without having to turn to the ultra-Orthodox. This change will
also solve the problems that converts to Judaism often face when marrying.

Now this sounds like something the Reform and Liberal movements in the UK should
be celebrating. Except that the secular party that proposed this bill is the one that they
choose to demonise – Yisrael Beytenu, the third largest political party in Israel led by the
controversial Avigdor Liberman – the Israeli Foreign minister whom they openly called to
be disinvited from speaking at a recent JNF event. “He does not represent the views of
the majority of Israelis, nor that of most British Jews,” according to a Reform Synagogues

Now that statement is in complete contradiction to my own research. I
realised this subject was taboo when I noticed that the Jewish Chronicle were relentlessly
removing any positive comments about Yisrael Beytenu from their online website. Why
can’t we talk about Lieberman?

I decided to interview people myself. Not that anybody would let me use their real name.
In London, mention the name Liberman and you mostly receive the tetchy reply: “he’s
a racist thug and he doesn’t represent me.” Ask whether they know anything of his
party’s manifesto and you receive a blank stare. Then a mutter that he wants to throw
out the Arabs. Most people are surprised to hear that he’s proposing moving borders, not
transferring people.

Alon Grea, an Israeli living in London, explained to me: “Avigdor Liberman doesn’t fit into
the Israeli Leftwing establishment frame. They absolutely hate him. One of the things they
despise the most is that he’s from the galut (diaspora). A Russian immigrant who speaks
with a thick accent. These left-wingers, if they are so liberal, should accept him even if
they don’t agree with him.  He is not an extremist. He talks about exchange of land, but the
leftwing try to portray him as a racist who is trying to kill and deport Arabs. They look down
on the Russians like they used to the Sephardim. “

On my recent trip to Israel I spoke to about 200 different people for their views. Israelis
open up easily, so on a bus, in a taxi or just sitting in a café I could find people to share
their opinions.

Shoshana from Tel Aviv (born in Hampstead Garden Suburb), told me they couldn’t talk
about Liberman in London. All her Anglo-friends vote for him, but when they’re back in
the UK they lie to their families. “They just don’t understand – they’re not in possession of

the true facts.” When I interviewed other Israelis, whether from wealthy North Tel Aviv or
Ashdod in the South, two out of three told me that they wished there were more outspoken
politicians like Liberman. It was only the Ashkenazi elderly that I interviewed who were still
supporting Labour.

In the Israeli Arab towns of Umm el-Fahm and Baka al-Garbiyeh the residents I
interviewed had mixed loyalties. Whilst they liked being Israeli-Arabs and benefiting from
Israeli healthcare, education and pensions, they admitted their loyalties were with their
brothers the other side of the wall. They were not prepared to serve in the Israeli army.

I also interviewed Arab MK Ahmad Tibi who asked me (in all seriousness) whether on my
return to the UK, I could ask David Cameron to get rid of Liberman. When I asked if that
was reasonable as they were both voted in by the Israeli democratic system, he quickly
changed the subject. Would Tibi endorse the Palestinian way in Gaza of getting rid of their
opponents, I thought: chuck them off the top of a building?

When I finally heard Liberman speak at the JNF event in Hendon two weeks ago, I was
pleasantly surprised. Despite his large, thuggish-looking build, he spoke persuasively
about the realities facing Israel. His critics had every right to challenge him, but he
expected Diaspora Jews to support Israel’s elected government. The audience of 150
people from across the Jewish spectrum had plenty of opportunities to dispute him, but as
he talked, one could only feel relief that such an fervent man was among Israel’s leaders.

Michelle Huberman is the Creative Director of Harif. She also
writes a blog on the Jerusalem Post. She can be contacted at
[email protected]

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