Vote For Me—I’ve Done Nothing

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The Daily Beast:

Avigdor Lieberman quit last Friday as foreign minister a few moments before Shabbat began, the preferred timing for Israeli politicians to do something uncomfortable and hold news coverage to a minimum. Lieberman’s goal was to keep his resignation a non-issue. It was a gambit entirely in keeping with the surrealistically issueless non-campaign that he and his senior partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are conducting on the way to the January 22 election.

The day before, Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein announced that after an investigation so long that no one agrees when it began, prosecutors had too weak a case to indict Lieberman for laundering millions of dollars allegedly received from foreign millionaires while he held public office. (One witness has had a stroke, another committed suicide, a third recanted…) But Weinstein did say he would indict Lieberman for fraud and breach of trust in a cover-up of one small piece of the larger case. A legal battle before the Supreme Court on whether the alleged crimes were weighty enough to obligate Lieberman to leave office would have focused public attention on the indictment and on corruption as a national problem. The standard speculation is that the Lieberman wants a quick plea bargain, but he may assume that the courts will get around to trying him “after the holidays,” as Israeli bureaucrats like to say without specifying which holidays in which year.

Meanwhile, Lieberman remains the No. 2 candidate on the joint slate of his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitunu party and Netanyahu’s now nearly-as-ultra-nationalist Likud. Lieberman is his party; its other candidates, picked by him, are extras. Perhaps not being foreign minister will help him avoid discussing what he hasn’t accomplished in that post over the past four years. The most important foreign ties, with the United States, have been handled in a good-cop, bad-cop manner by outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Netanyahu. Lieberman has apparently seen his task as insulting other Western allies—most recently, when he described European criticism of settlement as a repeat of the Holocaust. To stave off any slight risk of being sucked into peace talks, he has regularly called for the ouster of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Legislatively, Lieberman hasn’t delivered on the establishment of civil marriage in Israel, a key promise to his base among Russian-speaking immigrants. It’s a blessing that he hasn’t delivered anything else in his platform, which included disenfranchising Arab citizens and “reforming” government to allow the prime minister to take nearly Putin-esque power.

Nor is Netanyahu running on a record—except perhaps not attacking Iran (thank God) after threatening to for four years. Somehow, I doubt he is going to make campaign speeches about this.

Read the rest here.