Avigdor Lieberman is a former foreign minister and leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which after the 2009 general elections has become Israel's third largest party.
Born Evet Lvovich Lieberman on June 5, 1958 in Kishinev, Moldavia; Lieberman immigrating to Israel in 1978. Shortly after arriving in the country, he enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and served in the Artillery Corps. He went on to earn a BA in International Relations and Political Science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The extreme Right would later claim that he joined the Kach party in 1979, but left after a few short months. The radical right-wing party was founded in the 1970's by Orthodox American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane. Though it won one Knesset seat in 1984, its extremist ideology, advocating the expulsion of Arabs from Greater Israel, was eventually labeled racist; and in 1994 Kach was outlawed completely.
Between 1983 and 1988 Lieberman helped found the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry and was an active member of the Board of the Jerusalem Economic Corporation. During that time he joined Israel's National Workers' Union and was soon named its secretary-general.
In 1988 Lieberman teamed with Benjamin Netanyahu, who had just returned to Israel after his tenure as Israeli ambassador to the UN ended; and joined the Likud. In 1992, Lieberman orchestrated Netanyahu's primaries campaign and its successful results prompted Netanyahu to name him secretary-general of the Likud.
Netanyahu went on to win the 1996 elections and quickly named Lieberman his chief of staff. Lieberman stepped down in 1997, after the National Fraud Unit launched an investigation against him for alleged corruption.
From the bottom up (Photo: Reuters)
Lieberman splintered from the Likud in 1999 and formed Yisrael Beiteinu. A right-wing movement which began its political way by catering to the former Soviet Union immigrants' sector, Yisrael Beiteinu went on to win four Knesset seats. In 2000, the party joined forces with two other of the House's right-wing parties, Moledet and Tkuma, to form the National Union.
Mid October 2001 saw Lieberman and fellow National Union member Rehavam Ze'evi tender their resignation from the government in protest of the decision to turn over the Abu Sneina neighborhood, in the West Bank city of Hebron, to Palestinian rule. The two claimed the move left the Jewish residents of the city at the mercy of Palestinian snipers and constant terror threat.
On October 17, just hours before their resignation took effect, Ze'evi – then the tourism minister – was assassinated by Arab terrorists at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem. In the aftermath, Lieberman and newly-appointed National Union minister Benny Elon heeded then-prime minister Ariel Sharon's request and pulled the party's resignation. Despite Sharon's efforts to keep the party in his coalition, its members eventually resigned again in March of 2002.
Lieberman spearheaded the National Unions efforts in the following general elections. Held in the midst of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the party's campaign advocated the notion of "transfer" as the ideal solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The campaign won the party seven Knesset seats.
The 16th Knesset saw Prime Minister Ariel Sharon name Lieberman his transportation minister, but he stepped down in favor of fellow party member Eliezer Cohen. On June 4, 2004, faced with Lieberman's intention to vote against the disengagement plan, Sharon fired him from the government.
Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu broke away form the National Union at the end of 2004, launching an independent bid for the 17th Knesset. The campaign advocated "land swap" and revoking Israeli citizenship from Arab citizens proved disloyal to Israel. The party won 11 House seats.
In 2006, Yisrael Beiteinu joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition, with the latter creating the Ministry for Strategic Affairs in order to meet Lieberman's demand for a prominent portfolio.
Independent path. In the Knesset (Photo: AP)
Other members of the coalition found Yisrael Beiteinu's presence in the government tough to swallow. The harsh political recoil prompted the party to reconsider the move, but it eventually stayed in the coalition. Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz resigned from the government in protest.
Lieberman soon found it ideologically impossible to deal with the government's ongoing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and when the talks turned to the core issues, he announced Yisrael Beiteinu would be leaving the government. The Ministry for Strategic Affairs was subsequently annulled.
Lieberman has repeatedly and loudly expressed his complete distrust of the Palestinian leadership saying it could never truly aspire to strike peace with Israel. He has been equally harsh towards Israeli Arabs and the Left alike, going as far as demanding that Arab Knesset members who meet with Hamas leaders be tried for treason.
Lieberman grasps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a part of the larger war between the West and Islam; and claims Israel's primary goal should be joining NATO and the European Union.
Yisrael Beiteinu advocates maintaining the Jewish majority in the State of Israel. In order to reach this goal, the party came up with the "land swap deal," which suggests annexing all large West Bank settlement blocs to Israel, in return for giving certain Israeli areas which are predominately inhabited by Arabs – the likes of northern Arab town Umm al-Fahm – over to the future Palestinian State. Any citizen opting to live under Palestinian rule, according to his manifest, would thus be pledging their loyalty to the Palestinian Authority and stripped from their Israeli citizenship.
Lieberman also supports changing Israel's system of government from a parliamentary one to a presidential one, similar to that of the United States. He also advocated changing the election threshold – the minimum percentage of votes a party must get in order to have two mandates in the Knesset – from 2% to 10%.
The 2009 elections saw Lieberman’s party gain more electoral strength, winning 15 mandates and becoming Israel’s third largest party. He was later appointed foreign minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's government, but was forced to resign when he was indicted for fraud and breach of trust in the appointment of Ze'ev Ben Aryeh as Israel's ambassador to Latvia.
Lieberman is married to Ella Zipkin and has three children. He resided in the Gush Etzion Regional Council community of Nokdim.