Skip to main content

Five of Avigdor Lieberman’s worst outbursts as Israel's defence minister

The now-resigned Israeli defence minister is known for his outrageous statements - here are some of the more memorable ones
In his resignation announcement, Lieberman said a truce with Hamas was 'capitulating to terror' (AFP)

When Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman officially tendered his resignation on Wednesday, leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with just a hair-thin majority in Israel’s parliament, he surprised few observers of Israeli politics.

This is the fifth time since 2000 that he has quit or been kicked out of a coalition government in Israel.

In fact, Lieberman is known for championing hardline policies and has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to step down if his demands aren’t met.

Avigdor Lieberman: 16 of his most outrageous statements
Read More »

In the two-and-a-half years he held the title of defence minister, the Israeli army under his command faced few serious challenges. Most of its activities consisted of maintaining the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and aggressively responding to the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, which have left hundreds of Palestinians dead and tens of thousands more injured.

Still, since he was named defence minister in 2016, Lieberman managed to court controversy with several contentious public statements.

Here are five of the most notable ones:

Comparing Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to Hitler

Darwish is widely celebrated as one of the most popular Palestinian poets, but his verses are not to Lieberman's liking (AFP)
In July 2016, Lieberman suggested that the poetry of the late Mahmoud Darwish is akin to the writings of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

His remarks came after Darwish’s body of work, which was highly critical of the Israeli government and the Zionist movement, was the subject of an Israeli army radio programme.

Lieberman raked then-station chief Yaron Dekel over the coals following the episode.

“The military station’s mission is to strengthen social solidarity and not to widen rifts, and certainly not to hurt public sensitivities,” Lieberman said.

To give airtime to Darwish’s poems, he said, was like to “glorify during a broadcast the literary marvels of ‘Mein Kampf’”.

Asking Israel's president to pardon soldier Elor Azaria

Azaria's trial sparked widespread anger among Israelis, many of whom believed the soldier should not have been found guilty (AFP)
In November 2017, Lieberman urged Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to pardon Elor Azaria, an Israeli army medic who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing a Palestinian man who was lying on the ground in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

Even though video footage of the incident showed Azaria extrajudicially executing Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif while he was lying on the ground wounded and motionless for more than 10 minutes, many Israeli leaders, including Lieberman, voiced their support for the soldier.

In a letter addressed to Rivlin, Lieberman argued that Azaria should never been taken to trial to begin with because he was "an outstanding soldier”. Lieberman described al-Sharif, meanwhile, as “a terrorist who came to kill”.

Azaria was sentenced to only 18 months in prison and the Israeli army's chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, later reduced his term to 14 months. Despite this leniency, however, Lieberman called for Azaria to receive additional clemency because the trial had "exacted a heavy price” on the health of the soldier and his family.

Urging Jewish Israelis to boycott Palestinian citizens of Israel

Palestinians citizens of Israel wave the Palestinian flag during a demonstration against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (AFP)
In December, Lieberman called on Jewish Israelis to boycott Palestinian citizens of Israel from the Wadi Ara region of the country.

The residents of Wadi Ara incurred Lieberman’s ire after about 200 people blocked the intersection of a major road in protest of US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“I am calling for a boycott of Wadi Ara. Don’t go there, don’t buy anything from there,” Lieberman said in an interview with Israeli Army Radio. “They should understand that they are not wanted here, they are not part of us.

“Formally, the residents of Wadi Ara are Israeli citizens, but they are not a part of Israel and must be part of the Palestinian Authority,” continued Lieberman, adding that they “have no connection to this country”.

Calling all Gaza residents legitimate military targets

The killing of Yasser Murtaja, who was shot in Gaza while wearing a press jacket, sparked uproar (MEE/Mohammed Asad)

In April, Lieberman justified the Israeli army’s use of lethal violence against Palestinian protesters, paramedics and journalists, including a young Palestinian photojournalist who was killed by Israeli troops that same month.

Yasser Murtaja was among scores of Palestinians shot and killed by Israeli army snipers during the Great March of Return protests, which have taken place every Friday in the Gaza Strip since 30 March.

After Murtaja's death, Lieberman went on the offensive in an attempt to justify his killing.

"You have to understand, there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip. Everyone has a connection to Hamas. Everyone receives a salary from Hamas. Those who are trying to challenge us at the border and breach it belong to Hamas's military wing,” Lieberman said in an interview with national radio broadcaster Kan.

Saying to shoot an unarmed protester is 'stress relief'

Israeli snipers have killed some 200 Palestinians in Gaza since the start of the Great March of Return protests (Reuters)
Two days after Lieberman said there were “no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”, he voiced support for an Israeli soldier who was filmed shooting a Palestinian man who was protesting in Gaza.

“Wow, what a movie! Yes! Son of a bitch,” the soldier shouted as Palestinian residents ran to the aid of the wounded protester.

“The sniper deserves a medal, but the photographer deserves a demotion,” Lieberman said. “The Israel Defence Forces is the most moral army in the world, but without doubt, when you are at the front and you are under stress, sometimes, relieving stress is understandable.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.