Israel / Occupied Palestine: Why did Lieberman become Defense Minister?

By Yossi Schwarz, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), June 2016,




Last week, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced yet again that he supports the two-state solution and peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. At the same time, he handed to Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right "Yisrael Beiteinu" (Israel is our home) party, the Minister of Defense portfolio in his government.


Were Netanyahu, who made a name for himself as a professional liar, really serious about the two- state solution, he would not have rejected the French peace conference starting Friday, June 3, 2016. The French Plan suggests:


- borders based on the 1967 Lines, with agreed equivalent land swaps;


- security arrangements preserving the sovereignty of the Palestinian State and guaranteeing the security of Israel;


- a fair, equitable and negotiated solution to the refugee problem;


- an arrangement making Jerusalem the capital of both States. (1)


While no more than a Bantustan arrangement, even this proved too much for the Israeli government.


Netanyahu and the “Two State Solution”


Instead, Netanyahu stepped up his opposition to the French initiative, aimed at reviving talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinians Authority that collapsed in June 2014, repeating his old mantra: "Israel adheres to the position that the best way to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct and bilateral negotiations,” in an apparent rejection of the French plan. (2)


When Netanyahu speaks about meeting face-to-face with the Palestinian Authority, what he means a meeting in which he will demand that the PA will recognizes Israel as a state of all the Jews in the world (“the state of the Jewish People”) while demanding from the PA to relinquish the right of the return in the name of the Palestinians refugees and accept the annexation of parts of the 1967's occupied lands including East Jerusalem.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that he would not agree to a Palestinian demand that Israel accepts the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations. Netanyahu also made a condition of his own, saying that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.


The demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as the state of the Jews around the world, is unacceptable not only to the Palestinians but to any person who supports simple democratic demands. Would anyone who supports democratic demands accept that the US should be recognized as Christian State? Of course not, as this would deny the democratic rights of the non- Christians Jews for example.


In any case, a Jewish state is one in which the Jews enjoy full citizenship, while the Palestinians Arabs will have a second class status.


The Palestinian refugees who were expelled or escaped for their lives after the many massacres Israel committed have the right to return, but Israel opposes this right, as it would undermine the notion of a Jewish state as it relies on a Jewish majority in occupied Palestine.


Since the Palestinian Authority cannot accept such undemocratic demands by Israel, which amount to their relinquishing the right of self- determination, Netanyahu can always end the discussions saying that there is no partner for peace and continue with the construction of new settlements.


Thus, in reality Netanyahu does not support a mini Palestinian state, but is pushing for a single state with special privileges granted to one ethnic-religious category and denied for any other - by definition, an apartheid state.


Defending former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as a “Lesser Evil”?


Left Zionists and reformist pro-Zionists in Israel see the replacement of the former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon (also former chief of the staff) with as a sign for rightwing radicalization and they have tried to convince themselves and others that we should defend or even support Ya’alon as the lesser evil. After all didn’t Ya’alon clash with Netanyahu over the issue of the murder of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron by Sgt. Elor Azaria? Didn’t he take the side of the military high command that denounced this killing while Netanyahu intervened on the side of the soldier and telephoned Elor Azaria’s family, a step that is widely perceived as an act of solidarity with the cold blood murder?


On Saturday, June 4th, the reformist Hadash and the left Zionist Mertez demonstrated against the nomination of Lieberman to the position of the Minister of Defense. Around 2,000 protesters carrying Palestinian and Israeli flags marched in Tel Aviv chanting: “Lieberman [is a] racist and a fascist,” and “Lieberman is the minister of war.” Zehava Galon Meretz leader stated: "It’s exciting to see thousands of Jews and Arabs coming together to tell the Netanyahu government that Lieberman, its defense minister, is illegitimate." Hadash leader and the head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh said " Lieberman wants to damage civil society, the Supreme Court, the [left-wing organization] Breaking the Silence, and specifically the Arab sector. We are together in this, Jews and Arabs, and we will overcome him.” (3)


This is the old argument of the lesser of two evils. Would a government without Lieberman be better? Were Herzog of the Zionist camp the Minister of Defense in Netanyahu’s government, would it become a better government? We had a government with Amir Peretz as a Minister of Defense and Tzipi Livni as Minister of Foreign Affairs, which went to a war against Lebanon in 2006 and killed thousands of civilians, was this better? Those who think that the real problem is Lieberman should be reminded that when the Zionist labor party ruled Israel, it expelled most Palestinians and until 1966 the Palestinians citizens of Israel lived under military rule.


Is the Netanyahu Government fascist?


The government of Netanyahu is a right-wing populist bonapartist government. Netanyahu is indeed a corrupt, nasty politician but he reflects a problem which is much deeper than this or that politician. The real problem is that the Israeli society is drifting all the time to the right because of its nature as a settler colonialist society where the majority of Jews want to establish an apartheid state from the river to the sea.


While the Zionist left in Israel represents those whose families gained from the properties of the Palestinians who were expelled in 1947-48, the right wing want to possess the lands of the Palestinians occupied in 1967. The problem we face is that, while we are witnessing in the world increased polarization to the left and right, and the growing militancy of the working class in different parts of the world, in Israel the polarization is between the right and the more extreme right. What we face is not a fascist government. Fascism in Italy and Germany took power after national working class revolutionary struggles failed because of the lack of Bolshevik workers’ revolutionary parties in each country. In that situation, when the capitalists could not solve the current economic and political crisis, the petit bourgeois plebeian movements led from below and outside the government by Mussolini (1922) and Hitler (1933) took power. In Israel, unlike what happened in Germany and Italy, the ruling class does not fear a working class revolutionary uprising. Here, there are no fascist mass movements that aspire to take power from below. Most Jewish lower-middle class people, workers and poor support this government.


One who does not understand what fascism is cannot fight real fascism. Focusing on Lieberman as illegitimate legitimizes not only Ya’alon, but Netanyahu. This government must be brought down, but with which type of government would Meretz and Hadash want to replace it? Since they do not have a perspective leading to a workers’ and Fallahin (peasants) government, they do not call for any other type of government.


In simple words, the June 4th demonstration in Tel Aviv served the growing unity between Mertz and that part of Hadash which is seeking their way into the Zionist swamp. Understanding this, the centrist CWI has already openly called for Hadash to leave the Joint List and form a broadly-based socialist party alliance. How wide could this alliance be when only 7,000 Israeli-Jews cast an anti-Zionist vote in the last elections? This we must ask CWI’s Israeli section.


The Palestinians’ Right to Resist


Let us examine this issue of Lieberman more closely:


On the morning of March 24, two Palestinian men armed with knives attacked an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron, slightly wounding him. Nearby soldiers shot the two men.


A video released by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem shows that one of the attackers was killed only after the attack, while he was lying wounded on the ground. In the video, an Israeli soldier Elor Azaria approaches the scene, cocks his gun, aims and shoots the man as an ambulance passes by. After the shot, blood flows from his head of the Palestinian onto the pavement.


Azaria murdered in cold blood a Palestinians who had tried to attack an Israeli soldier with a knife. This was not a terrorist act, as he attacked a member of the occupation force, not any uninvolved and unarmed civilians. Even by bourgeois international law, oppressed and occupied people not only have the moral right, but the legal right to fight against the oppressor army. To quote United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24 of 29 November 1978:


“2. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle;”


This justification for legitimate armed resistance has been specifically applied to the Palestinian struggle repeatedly. To quote General Assembly Resolution A/RES/3246 (XXIX) of 29 November 1974:


3. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation form colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle; …


7. Strongly condemns all Governments which do not recognize the right to self-determination and independence of peoples under colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation, notably the peoples of Africa and the Palestinian people;” (4)


The Murder of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif by Sgt. Elor Azaria and the so-called “Moral Code” of the Israeli Army


After the video clip was released by B’Tselem, the army arrested the soldier and senior Israeli officials criticized the soldier’s response. A few days later the army announced, that the soldier will be charged with murder. As the story became international news, the Israeli PM reacted:


What happened today in Hebron does not represent the values of the IDF,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement". (5)


On May 4th, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army Major General Yair Golan stated in a public ceremony that it is frightening scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here.


Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon referred to Azaria as a “soldier who strayed” during a speech from the Knesset podium following the incident and IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot issued an unusual letter vowing to “bring to justice” those who violate military rules and values. However, Netanyahu, in his telephone call to Azaria’s father several weeks ago, requested that the family trust the judicial process, assuring him that the court would take into consideration the “circumstances” that soldiers face at the scene of a terror attack. (6)


Netanyahu reprimanded Major General Golan for his public remarks, while Ya’alon came to the latter’s defense. This brought about the end of his job as Minister of Defense. The Israeli military legal system already has revealed its bias. Why is Azaria charged with manslaughter not with murder? Abdel Fatal al-Sharif was alive when he was shot by Azaria in what appears to be a premeditated act. Azaria’s act was clearly murder.


Is killing Palestinians in cold blood against the moral code of the Israeli army? In 2014 an Israeli military court acquitted of all charges an officer who in 2005, when Ya’alon was the chief of staff of Israel’s army, fired an entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl. The same officer later said that he would have done the same even the girl had been only three years old. The soldier, who has only been identified as "Captain R," was charged with relatively minor offences for the killing of Iman al-Hams who was shot 17 times as she ventured near an Israeli army post near Rafah refugee camp in Gaza.


The manner of Iman's killing, and the revelation of a tape recording in which the captain is warned that she was just a child who was "scared to death," made the shooting one of the most controversial since the second Palestinian intifada erupted, even though hundreds of other children had also been killed by Israeli fire. (7)


Did Ya’alon, during his tenure as army chief of staff intervene in this case of "Captain R" as he did in the case of Azaria? The simple answer is no. Thus, the actual cold blooded murder is not the true issue at hand here, but rather something else. What might this be? The answer: The Israeli military command is terrified of losing its control over its soldiers to the settlers.


"A poll conducted for Israel’s Channel 2 News found that 57 percent of the public said that there was no need to arrest and investigate the soldier, while just 32 percent supported his detention. Just 19 percent of those surveyed agreed that the medic had deviated from the army’s rules of engagement. Only 5 percent defined the shooting of the wounded suspect as murder, the crime that military police suspect him of committing." (8)


Israel and Russian Imperialism


Thus, Netanyahu replacement of Ya’alon was due to the prime minister’s orientation towards the settlers while Ya’alon is oriented to the military command which he previously headed. However, Ya’alon’s ouster does not explain Netanyahu’s decision to replace him as Minister of Defense with Lieberman. This, rather, has everything to do with the new orientation of Israel towards Russia.


What initially began as co-ordination between Russian and Israeli forces to avoid clashes over the Syrian airspace is possibly evolving into a kind of an alliance, in particular around the issue of natural gas. Last April, during his visit to Moscow, Netanyahu discussed the possibility of Russia’s Gazprom developing Israel’s Leviathan gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. While Russia has been a strategic ally of Iran for years, the new relations between Iran and the US have created an opening for new relations between Russia and Israel.


At the same time, Saudi Arabia is distancing itself somewhat from the US and is pushing for an alliance between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel, an alliance that will seek close ties with Russia. Particularly noteworthy in this context is the Russian-Egyptian agreement for the construction of Egypt’s nuclear plant in its Dabaa province by Russia’s RosAtom. Russia has also extended a $25 billion loan to Egypt for the construction of the nuclear plants to meet the most populous Arab country’s growing demand for electricity. Furthermore, the Kremlin continues its military cooperation with Egypt, supplying the country with billions in weaponry.


It is no secret that, when Lieberman was Israel’s Minister of Foreign Relations, he pushed for closer ties with Russia, and was not particularly friendly towards the US. In his new role as Minister of Defense, he is likely to act similarly.


The struggle in Israel, mostly conducted by Palestinian citizens of the country, is one based on demands that would lead to a true democratic state belonging to all its citizens, Arabs no less than Jews. Indeed, the struggle for a single democratic state from the river to the sea is the way forward. However, the question is what kind of democracy? Would it be like the US, a “democracy” in the service of Wall Street, or like the corrupted “democratic” post-Apartheid regime of South Africa? Or will it be a democracy of the workers and the peasants, the majority of the population? The ISL, along with its comrades in the RCIT, fights for a Democratic, Palestinian, Multinational and Socialist Workers and Fallahin Republic from the River to the Sea.





(1) Israel/Palestine: Understand France’s position in nine points, France Diplomatie, May 2016,


(2) Israel rejects French peace plan: ‘Direct talks are only path’, Time of Israel April 28, 2016,


(3) Tamar Pileggi: In Tel Aviv, thousands protest Israel’s ‘fascist’ incoming defense minister, The Times of Israel, May 28, 2016,


(4) United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/3246 (XXIX) of 29 November 1974; reproduced on the website of Electronic Intifada:


(5) Ben Sales: The 3 Videos of Fatal Shooting of Palestinian Terrorist Roiling Israel, March 28' 2016


(6) Tazpit Press Service: As Trial Begins, Israel Debates: Is IDF Soldier Who Shot Wounded Terrorist Murderer or Hero? May 10, 2016,


(7) Chris McGreal: Not guilty. The Israeli captain who emptied his rifle into a Palestinian schoolgirl, The Guardian, 16 November 2005,


(8) Robert Macket: Most Israelis Say Army Medic Who Killed Wounded Suspect Is Not a Murderer, The Intercept, Mar. 28 2016,