Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lieberman, or Diva-Man?

Avigdor Lieberman is now demanding a written apology from the Swedish government. Their crime? Well nothing per se. A lone author for a lone Swedish tabloid wrote an article about how Israeli soldiers allegedly harvested Palestinian organs during Operation Cast Lead. The website has a good description of the article's content for those readers not conversant in Swedish, and ever-so-classily has titled the whole article "Israelis Killed Palestinians for Organs." Thank you to our fair and balanced friends at the Saudi-censored media.

Immediately after the paper published this story, the Swedish ambassador to Israel issued a harsh condemnation of the paper's content. The Swedish government distanced itself from that statement by saying that it was issued by the ambassador without the evident consent of the government. However, the statement from Sweden noted that freedom of expression "carries a certain responsibility."

Foreign Minister Lieberman is not satisfied with these actions. He demands a printed statement from the government, and threatened to block the trip of the Swedish Foreign Minister to Israel in the coming days. The suggestion has been made that Israeli diplomats should speak to the Foreign Minister only about the issue of the newspaper. It's not clear where Netanyahu stands on the issue.

Here's why Lieberman's strategy is a bad idea.

1) Lieberman already has a reputation as a reactionary. Pushing the issue, which the Swedish government apologized for on its own, will only entrench this image internationally and domestically.

2) Because Lieberman is such a reactionary, coverage of the story is likely to focus on his demands, rather than on how ludicrous the story is. In the end, it's possible Lieberman would end up looking more radical than the newspaper.

3) Europe and Israel are not exactly BFF at this point in time. As much as it feels good to scorn them as anti-semitic, Israel can use European support, especially on the Iran nuclear issue. Chastising a country for apologizing fully, but not fully enough, may be how Lieberman manages to spend the little political capital he has with Europe.

4) Lieberman's recklessness in making the story about the government will be percieved in Europe as a smokescreen effort by those who see the concept of Israeli organ stealing as a legitimate possibility. It will further entrench Israel's reputation for knee-jerk condemnation of any criticism no matter how legitimate, and will group this crazy story with more legitimate ones (like the B'tselem testimonies on the war in Gaza).

In conclusion, Lieberman's policy is a classic case of letting the siege mentality in Israel go too far in dictating a reasonable foreign policy. In the end, playing like a Western nation and letting this go will get Israel way further than hounding the Swedish government because they can.

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