Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrives in the courtroom to hear the verdict in his trial on November 6, 2013 at the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrives in the courtroom to hear the verdict in his trial on November 6, 2013 at the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem © Emil Salman - Pool/AFP
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrives in the courtroom to hear the verdict in his trial on November 6, 2013 at the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem
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Steve Weizman, AFP
Last updated: November 6, 2013

Avigdor Lieberman: "Dobermann" of the Israeli right

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Israel's outspoken former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was on Wednesday acquitted on corruption charges, is a firebrand hardliner with a burning ambition to lead the right.

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court completely cleared him on charges of fraud and breach of trust in what marks a political watershed for the burly 55-year-old who has been dogged by corruption allegations for nearly two decades.

"After 17 years (of investigations)... I am putting this matter behind me and I look forward to the challenges ahead," the jubilant MP told reporters outside the court in heavily-accented Hebrew.

Assuming there is no appeal by the attorney general, Lieberman could return immediately to his former post at the foreign ministry.

Despite his resignation from the cabinet in December, Lieberman retained his position as an MP and as head of the hardline secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, which joined forces with the rightwing Likud of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a year ago, and won a narrow electoral victory in the general election in January.

Born in the then Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman, 55, immigrated to Israel in 1978 at the age of 20 and for a time worked as a bouncer in a nightclub in Beersheva.

He won a degree in social sciences from Jerusalem's prestigious Hebrew University and served in the army, reaching the rank of corporal, before beginning to climb the political ladder of the national right.

For years he was a loyal member of the long-dominant Likud, rising through the ranks to become Netanyahu's chief-of-staff during his first term from 1996-1999.

In 1999, Lieberman created his own party, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home), aimed at capturing the votes of the swelling Soviet immigrant community. The party came third in 2009 elections and this year, won a narrow victory with Likud, taking 31 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

A resident of the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, Lieberman is known for his openly anti-Arab stance and pleaded guilty in 2001 to assaulting a Palestinian child who had hit his son.

He was fined and ordered to pay compensation to the 12-year-old Palestinian.

Known to his critics as the "Dobermann" of the right, Lieberman has often been accused of racism, but to his supporters, he is a refreshing tough talker on security.

The Israeli press has been even less charitable, referring to him as "Rasputin" or alluding to the Soviet KGB secret police, over his authoritarian behaviour and his origins, highlighted by his slow speech and heavy accent.

Lieberman's appointment as foreign minister in March 2009 when his party won 15 seats, raised international concerns about the Israeli government's commitment to peace with its Arab neighbours.

Late last year, Lieberman raised eyebrows when he mounted an acerbic attack on Europe, saying its treatment of the Jewish state was comparable to its policies during the Holocaust.

He has called for Gaza to be treated "like Chechnya" and urged Israel to treat its Hamas rulers "like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II."

And he has called for the execution of Arab-Israeli MPs who have had any dealings with the Islamist movement.

Even Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has been slurred as a "diplomatic terrorist" and Lieberman insists there can be no peace while his Western-backed Palestinian Authority is in power.

Critics seize on his more outspoken comments to say he is a dangerous radical and a racist who poses a threat to Israel's Arab citizens and others.

He has regularly engaged in slanging matches with Arab-Israeli parliamentarians, calling them "clowns" and "terrorists".

But he also became the butt of Israeli jokes in 2011, when he conducted a live radio interview from the toilet, punctuating the questions with a flush.

Lieberman backs settlement activity and wants to keep the major settlement blocs in return for transferring areas where many Arab Israelis live to Palestinian control.

The father-of-three also served as national infrastructure minister (2001-2002), transport minister (2003-2004) and strategic affairs minister (2007-2008).

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