The hysteria over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to bring in as defense minister Avigdor Lieberman tells more about the world’s attitude toward Israel than Israel’s toward . . . well, anyone. The Times issued an editorial declaring that the appointment of Mr. Lieberman — a former foreign minister — would make a “mockery” of any overture to the Palestinian Arabs. It complains he has proposed instituting the death penalty for convicted terrorists. Yet convicted terrorists can be subject to the death penalty here at New York.
It happens that the Sun is among those who favor a national unity government. It is the classic war-fighting configuration in the Knesset, and a war is being levied against the Jewish state. The logic of a national unity arrangement glinted last year, when Mr. Netanyahu gave his speech to the joint meeting of Congress and the leader of Israel’s opposition, Isaac Herzog, made it clear that he shared the prime minister’s opposition to the articles of appeasement. That struck us then, as now, as an underappreciated point.
Neither, though, do we have any fear of a rightist government. We remember when the Times was in one of its fits over another Israeli rightist, whose rise, it averred, meant that the politics of the Middle East were “dangerously out of synch.” The rising rightist took the position that Judea and Samaria were not occupied but liberated. Menachem Begin, it turned out, would go on to win global respect for his dignified defense of Israel. When he attacked the Iraqi atomic reactor, the sun — yet again — stood still over Gibeon.
We don’t mind saying that there are serious persons to whom we turn for advice on Israel and who think Mr. Lieberman is a far less qualified defense minister than Moshe Ya’alon, who has exited both the government and Knesset in conjunction with Mr. Netanyahu’s latest maneuver. They are saddened by questions in respect of Mr. Lieberman’s integrity. These are important issues. But they are not the issues that are causing fright on the left here in America. The left is unhappy with Mr. Lieberman because of his hardline defense of a large Israel, of Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and his tough line on in negotiations.
In that context, suggestions that the Middle East is going to be thrown off its axis by Avigdor Lieberman strike us as chimerical. There is not a single Arab leader, in the Palestinian Authority or elsewhere, with a mandate as legitimate, meaning as democratic, as that of Mr. Lieberman, who is freely elected to the Knesset and is being brought into government by a process of coalition building as old as democracy. If the opposition wants to encourage a national unity government, it could be more forthcoming when the idea is next on the table.
The real test in the coming months will be not of Mr. Lieberman (or Mr. Netanyahu) but of the American administration — incumbent and new. It strikes us as a stretch to, on the one hand, praise Israel as the closest the Middle East has to a real democracy and then, on the other hand, disrespect its democratically drafted decisions. Better to move quickly to establish a working rapport with the new defense minister, bearing in mind that the first rightist government in Israel went home with the Nobel Prize.
This editorial has been expanded from an earlier edition.