Several Haaretz correspondents worry that the expected appointment of hardliner Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister in a coalition government led by Bijamin Netanyahu would harm Israel’s relationship with the United States.


[T]he “Lieberman question” continually arises in State Department briefings for journalists and in other forums. And opinion columns in the American press have presented Lieberman in an extremely negative light, with comparisons to Austria’s Joerg Haider and even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, (both use “ultranationalist rhetoric of hate,” one paper charged).

No American official is likely to convene a press conference publicly condemning Lieberman’s appointment. However, such a choice will almost certainly encourage the U.S. administration to keep its distance from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, as Washington will not want to take the flak absorbed by demonstrating closeness to a government whose public face is widely considered to be a racist.

Moreover, the potential for conflict is already obvious. Even as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region last week speaking of the importance of resuming Israeli-Syrian negotiations, Lieberman was publicly declaring that he saw no point in talking with Syrian President Bashar Assad as long as the latter continues to support anti-Israel terrorist organizations.

FP’s Joshua Keating snarks,

I find it kind of doubtful that a U.S. administration would ever “keep its distance” from an Israeli government. Netanyahu could probably appoint Skeletor as foreign minister and U.S. officials would still meet with him.

Quite so.  The Obama administration is, by American standards, quite to the left on Israel, with Jim Jones, Hillary Clinton, and others having been quite candid in the past about Israel’s need to make concessions on such controversial issues as Jerusalem and the settlements if a peace deal is to get done.   But that’s a leftist position only insofar as American politicians seem to consider anything short the Likudist positionto be anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic.

Beyond that, Israel is a liberal democracy where elections actually mean something.  Of course the American government will deal with the duly appointed foreign minister of the legitimate governing coalition. To the extent that his being an “ultranationalist” is a problem, it’s a reflection of that fact that ultranationalism is a key component of Israeli public opinion that’s reflected in their government, not because he’s unpleasant to deal with.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. .

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