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Lieberman: Israel Has "a Fundamental Problem: We are Not Perceived Well."


Now that Nethanyahu's speech is behind us, we can prepare for the upcoming Washington visit of Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's foreign minister.

Lieberman is arriving Tuesday night and will meet here with Secretary Clinton (on Wednesday) National Security Advisor Jones (on Thursday) and with congressional leaders.

Lieberman is a man on a mission. His goal: to improve Israel's image abroad. Last Tuesday, I kid you not, Lieberman was quoted as telling the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Committee that Israel "cannot continue with a successful foreign policy without changing the way we are perceived" internationally. He lamented: "We have a fundamental problem: we are not perceived well."

Could it be that Mr. Lieberman, Israel's number one PR agent, has something to do with this image problem?

For those who need a reminder, here is my colleague Lara Friedman's compilation of Lieberman's greatest hits:

1.  Contempt for Palestinian/Arab Lives

In early 2009, during the Israel's military operation in Gaza, Lieberman suggested that Israel should completely annihilate the people of Gaza, along the lines of what the US did to Japan in World War II - a clear allusion to total destruction of two Japanese cities by the dropping of atomic bombs.  He stated, "We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II," Lieberman added. "Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary."

In 2006, then-newly appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs Lieberman suggested that in dealing with Gaza, Israel should emulate the brutal tactics adopted by Russia, operating "like Russia operates in Chechnya."

In 2003, when Israel released Palestinian prisoners, Lieberman said: "I am willing to bring the busses to take the Palestinian prisoners to a place from which they will never return." He added, "I would rather drown them in the Dead Sea." This statement triggered a formal complaint by the Palestinian Authority and has been repeatedly used by Palestinians as an example of Israeli anti-Palestinian incitement.

In March 2002, Lieberman stated his support for massive destruction of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, stating "If it were up to me, I would notify the [Palestinian] Authority that tomorrow at ten in the morning we will explode all their places of work in Ramallah, for example."  Around this same time he also reportedly suggested during a Cabinet meeting that Israel adopt a policy of massive retaliation against Palestinian civilian infrastructure if terrorism did not stop: "At 8am we'll bomb all the commercial centers... at noon we'll bomb their gas stations... at two we'll bomb their banks."

2.  Incitement against Israel's Arab elected officials

In 2007, Lieberman told an Israeli Arab Knesset member:  "You are an ally in the Knesset of terrorists. I hope that Hamas will take care of you and all the rest once and for all. Don't worry, your day will come."

In March 2007, Lieberman blamed Arab Knesset members for a deadly terrorist attack on a yeshiva in Jerusalem, stating that "yesterday's attack can not be disconnected from the Arab MKs incitement, which we hear daily in the Knesset." Shortly thereafter he threatened Arab MKs in the Knesset, stating that "a new administration will be established and then we will take care of you."

In May 2006, Lieberman called for the execution of Israeli Arab Knesset members who met with Hamas leaders. Addressing the Knesset, Lieberman said: "At the end of the Second World War, not only the criminals were executed at the Nuremberg Trials, but also those who collaborated with them. I hope that this will be the fate of the collaborators in this house."

3.  Contempt for Israel's Arab Citizens

In January 2008, in his speech resigning from the Olmert government, Lieberman stated that, "Our biggest problem are (MK Ahmad) Tibi and (Hadash Chairman Mohammad) Barakeh, who are even more dangerous than (Hamas politburo chief Khaled) Mashaal and (Hizbullah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan) Nasrallah, because they work from the inside."

In a February 2007 interview with Spiegel, Lieberman made explicit his view regarding the removal of Arab citizens of Israel, based entirely on ethnic/religious concerns (i.e. no pretense that his concern is over loyalty to the state).  He stated:  "What is the core of the conflict? Wherever in the world there are two languages, two religions, two people, there are tensions and conflicts: in Qu├ębec in Canada, in the former Yugoslavia, in the Russian Caucasus or in Northern Ireland where the confessions have fought each other for many years. It is crystal clear: The more homogeneous a country is, the better it develops."

In a 2006 interview, shortly after entering the Olmert government, Lieberman stated, "Minorities are the biggest problem in the world... I think separation between two nations is the best solution. Cyprus is the best model. Before 1974, the Greeks and Turks lived together and there were frictions and bloodshed and terror.  After 1974, they constituted all Turks on one part of the island, all Greeks on the other part of the island and there is stability and security." When the interviewer pointed out that in Cyprus thousands of people were forcibly driven from their homes, Lieberman responded "Yes, but the final result was better."

In a 2004 interview with a local Tel Aviv weekly, Lieberman stated that "ninety percent of the Arabs of Israel will have to find themselves within that Arab entity that will be established, not within the state [of Israel]." He continued: "All of them with no exception! They have no place here. Let them take their bags and go to hell."

Lieberman has repeatedly stated his wish to expel Arab citizens of Israel, and has used hateful, provocative expressions against Arab citizens of the state. In 2005, when Israel was preparing to remove settlements from the Gaza Strip, Lieberman - a strong opponent of the move - enraged Israel's Arab citizens by posting huge billboards in key locations calling for "disengagement from Umm al-Fahm," implying that rather than remove settlements from Gaza, Israel should rid itself of one of Israel's most densely populated Arab towns.

4.  Incitement against Israeli peace activists

In October 2007, Lieberman "caused a political storm on Tuesday when he declared the Left responsible for all the lives lost in the Arab-Israeli conflict and for everything wrong with the country."  Speaking to Army Radio, Leiberman said (among other thing), he stated that "All our troubles, all our problems, all our victims are because of those people...I have no complaints against the Arabs or against the world. My claims are aimed against those in the Israeli Left, who are trying to break us from within at any cost and to breach every consensus."

Around the same time, in an interview on an Israeli news program, Lieberman assailed Israeli peace activists and called them "Capos, like those who served the Nazis at the concentration camps." This statement prompted Israeli documenters of the Holocaust, as well as Holocaust survivors to charge Lieberman with contempt of the Holocaust.  (Unofficial translation).

5. Contempt for Egypt and Israel-Egypt relations

In October 2008, Lieberman said that Egypt's President Husni Mubarak "can go to hell." Israeli leaders, Lieberman said, should condition meeting with Mubarak on reciprocation. "If he wants to talks to us, he should come here, and if he doesn't want to come, he can go to hell." Israel's President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Olmert had to extend a public apology to Mubarak. Once they did, Lieberman complained that "The State of Israel is acting toward Egypt like a battered woman."

In 2001, Lieberman told ambassadors from the former Soviet Republics that if relations with Egypt go sour, Israel should bomb Egypt's Aswan dam, a move that would flood vast areas, causing a national calamity.  Around that same time, he reportedly stated that "Mubarak continues to act against us and to travel for consultations with Saddam Hussein. If he carries out his threat and puts forces into the Sinai, it would be an example of a (crossing) of the red line to which we would have to respond strongly, including by bombing the Aswan Dam."

6.  History of anti-Arab Racism

According to former officials of Meir Kahane's racist Kach movement, Lieberman was a card-carrying member of the movement in the late 1970's.  Kach was later outlawed in Israel - and in the United States - as a terrorist organization.