Sunday, February 17, 2013

Whatever Happened to Avigdor Lieberman?

Nadene Goldfoot
Avigdor Lieberman, former Foreign Minister in Israel, is on trial in Jerusalem  for a financial scandal with charges of fraud and breach of trust that happened about 10 years ago.  How can this happen to a Knesset member?  His  prosecutors say that he intervened to promote Zeev Ben Aryeh, former Ambassador to Belarus, to a post in Latvia. Both places were former parts of the Pale of Settlement.  This reward he gave to Aryeh was supposedly for a tip-off about another separate criminal investigation he was facing.  He is pleading innocence.   He feels this has been a witch hunt.

Israel's fault-finders can really tsk tsk over this scandal.  It seems that anyone in Israel is held under a microscope and must be perfect.  Of course every country wishes their elected to be so.  Sometimes they can be tempted and weaken.  The trick is not to let too many of them do so. Israel has more critics than any other country.  Notice, please, that Israel is a democracy and whether important or not, a person will get caught in any malice and must pay the piper for any wrong-doing.  After all, the country that has the Mossad is not asleep on the job.

Avigdor was born June 5, 1958 in Kishinev, Soviet Union which is now Chis,ina or Moldova. Moldova lies between Romania and Ukraine.  It was Ukraine that was part of the Pale of Russia.   His father, Lev Leiberman (May 18, 1921-July 2, 2007) had served in the Red Army and was in a Siberian Gulag for 7 years under Joseph Stalin's rule.  His family had a strong Jewish identity, pretty good for a Jew in Soviet Russia, where Judaism had been outlawed along with all other religions.    He spoke only Yiddish up to the age of 3 while  my father spoke Yiddish till age 5 in the USA.  He graduated high school and applied to study international law at Kiev University, but was rejected for being Jewish.  So he enrolled at the Agriculture Institute with a major in hydrological land improvement.

Twenty year old Lieberman and his family emigrated to Israel in 1978, just two years before I did.  He thought of living on a kibbutz before moving into Beersheba;  whereas I lived in Haifa and went through studies to gain an Israeli teaching certificate so I could continue in my profession and teach English.  He went into the army and served in the Artillery Corps,  becoming a Corporal eventually.  After his 3 years of service  he enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and earned his BS in international relations and political science.  He was active in a student group associated with Likud.  There were Arab groups at the university, too, that he would clash with.  However, Jamal Zahalka, an Arab Knesset member from Balad who was at the University with Lieberman said he yelled a lot but avoided any of the rough action (fights).  Believe me, my Russian friends that I studied with yelled a lot on the phones in our Ulpan when talking to family back in Russia.  I was in a class of 40 students studying Hebrew, and most were from Russia.

There are the Knesset Elections Law that bans parties that incite racism and Kach group was declared a terrorist organization in  1994.  Kach was the party of Rabbi Meir Kahane and Haaretz newspaper, a paper most critical of Israel, wrote that Lieberman was a member of the party for a short period with testimony based from 2 activists in the movement.  Lieberman rejected the story and said it was an "orchestrated provocation."

Lieberman had  helped to found the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry from 1983-1988.  In 1988 he started working with Benjamin Netanyahu.  Lieberman was director-General of the Likud party.  When Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister, Lieberman served as Director-General of his office from 1996-1997.

In 1997 Lieberman resigned from Likud after Netanyahu granted concessions to the Palestinians in the Wye River Memorandum.  He was disappointed when Yisrael Baaliyah, a new immigrant's party led by Natan Sharansky, also from Russia,  didn't quit the coalition government in protest.  So in 1999 Lieberman formed the Yisrael Beiteinu party for Soviet immigrants  who supported the hard line in negotiating with Palestinians.  By March 2001, Lieberman was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure, but resigned the next year.

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu merged in October 2012 and ran together on a single ballot in Israel's January 22, 2013 elections that we just had.  Lieberman had originally opposed the road map which has now fallen apart.

Lieberman and his wife Ella, another Moldovan immigrant, have a daughter and 2 sons.  They live in Nokdim which is on the Judean Desert of Judah (West Bank to foreigners).  They've lived there since 1988, but he is willing to leave his home if it's part of a peace agreement.  So as hard lined as he is, he wants peace more than anything, which is the attitude all Israeli have.  Lieberman speaks Russian, Romanian, Hebrew and English.  I moved to Israel and confessed that I only spoke English and a few words of Spanish.  He only had 2 years on me and is speaking Hebrew in the Knesset.  You have to hand it to these Russians.  They do know how to study languages.  I figure he learned a lot at the university as well, but not about political quagmires.  Ethics comes in our religion, so we do hope he's innocent.  We don't worry about what happens to us when we die since we try to live up to all our laws and mitzvot.

I must add that when my father-in-law came to Israel to visit us he expected to see all rabbis walking the streets.  He was shocked beyond belief when he spied his first female prostitute in Haifa.  Yes, we are real people and this is a real country like others, but we do answer to a higher power, just like Hebrew National Hot Dogs, and do try to do the very best humanly possible.

Letters From Israel by Nadene Goldfoot

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