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A Decent Respect To The Opinions Of Mankind

These were the words of the Signers, and perhaps of one man, Thomas Jefferson.  And I commend them to Benjamin Netanyahu.

No, I do not expect or, for that matter, desire that Israel design its politics to the opinions of an increasingly maddened mankind.  So I would amend the injunction of July 4, 1776  to "a decent respect to the opinions of decent mankind."  That is not an enormous cohort, and it seems to become smaller, despite Ambassador Rice's delusions, with every session of the United Human Rights Council.

There is still a large part of the world and a goodly number of nations that remains decent and civilized.  However cynicallly many of them have behaved on the question of Palestine, ignoring both history and present-day fact, in various international bodies they are not Israel's enemies.  Netanyahu, who is my friend and a good friend (although I would have preferred Ehud Barak, though not his Labor Party, to be trying to form a governing coalition now), will be offending not only these polities but the government and people of the United States if he allows Avigdor Lieberman to ascend to the foreign ministry of the Jewish state.

It is clear that Bibi would have preferred not to do that.  He would have chosen to ally himself with Barak, Tsipi Livni and their parties.  Netanyahu is no fool, not at all.  And he is not a cynic either.  Most of Livni's Kadima knesset members wanted to join with Netanyahu.  But she did not, wanting somehow to share in the prime ministry, a pluperfect crazy idea already tried once in Israel with disastrous consequences.  Barak was eager to become the defense minister again in an alliance with Likud.  But Labor, for three decades the most powerful party in a parliamentary system that has never given one of its parties a majority, had fallen to fourth place and fears extinction.  Going into opposition was the only tactic its leadership could imagine as rescue.

Why is Lieberman so poisonous?  It is not just that he is a target of serious police inquiry; that is, after all, an experience that accrues to many high Israeli politicians, like to French and Italian high political personages.  But, for a Zionist as I am, the corruption and decadence in Israel's present public life is a coming of age that makes me yearn for the age of innocence.  The early prime ministers were each virtually ascetics: David Ben Gurion, Moshe Sharret, Levi Eshkol, Yigal Allon, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin who lived till his death in his English basement two-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv, the same one in which he had hid from the Mandate police a half a century before.  Moshe Katzav was forced from the presidency on sexual abuse charges, and he is soon to go to trial.  The present deputy prime minister, Haim Ramon, to be out of office in days, was cleared of similar accusations but on procedural grounds.   The legal ordeal of Ehud Olmert he brought upon himself.  His former minister of the treasury is fighting a jail sentence for corruption.  And on and on and on.  The only person at the top of Israeli politics who seems not to have been tarred with some hint of criminal behavior is Livni.  Alas, I've seen no sign that she can lead a country in peril.  Quite the contrary.  During the wars with Hezbollah and with Hamas she became a patsy for Condi Rice who really doesn't care much for Israel's security.

If you read the Hebrew dailies (which I do not), you can often see within front-page inches of each other two articles about Lieberman: one about his intentions as foreign minister; the other about how he is scrambling to evade arrest.  The fact is that he is a thug in personal demeanor and a thug in political belief.  He is, as I have already written, a Jewish neo-fascist who deliberately enrages Israeli Arabs rather than engages them.  Now, engaging them is not a simple matter, and their political leadership is mostly made up of reckless agitators who are also not enrolled in the project of engagement.  Yet the very future of the Jewish commonwealth depends on some amity and comity with its Arab citizens.  Think about Lieberman's vulgar trick to require of them a loyalty oath.  The loyalty of immigrant Muslims in European countries is fast becoming a matter of concern.  But Israel's Arabs are not immigrants.  And they will not be emigrants.

There is also the question of the Obama administration.  I believe that, though it will put itself through contortions to placate Arab and Muslim countries on the matter of what Samuel Huntington called "the clash of civilizations," it will not succeed.  Israel has difficult enough issues about which it needs to engage the continuing trust of the United States.  Iran is the most important.  But there are others: for example, to make sure that the just-unveiled proposal, the "program of action" by eight European countries plus our own country, to keep weapons out of Gaza actually does keep weapons out of Gaza.  If I were Bibi I wouldn't want Lieberman even speaking with Secretary Clinton about anything.  Israel's relations with other, especially friendly governments is too precious a project to leave to an emissary of darkness.  Neither Israel nor Netanyahu has the luxury of allowing someone who seems to model himself on the current Russian despot, Vladimir Putin, to be the architect of and the spokesman for its and Bibi's ties to other nations.   With Lieberman as his top diplomat, Netanyahu will be putting diplomacy behind him.