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Eating his wordsEating his words

In jest, Liberman ‘weighs’ joining Amona hunger strike

Defense minister’s diet quip met with straight-faced denunciations from Netanyahu, other lawmakers

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman joked during a Sunday meeting of coalition leaders that he wanted to join former residents of the Amona outpost in a hunger strike in order to shed some kilograms.

The jollity elicited few expressions of mirth from senior Israeli lawmakers and supporters of the destroyed outpost, who chided the stocky minister for making light of a serious situation.

In an exchange leaked to Army Radio, Education Minister Naftali Bennett asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an update on the status of the new settlement he promised would be built for the residents of the West Bank outpost, evacuated and destroyed last month by court order.

After Netanyahu told Bennett to be patient, the Jewish Home leader replied that the group was hunger striking.

At that point, Liberman quipped, “Where are they hunger-striking? I need to lose weight. I’ll join them.”

The wisecrack by Liberman, whose role as defense minister puts him in charge of Israeli activities in the West Bank, was met with chiding from Netanyahu, who reminded him that the issue was not a laughing matter, according to the report.

Leaders of the former Amona community launched the hunger strike outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, vowing to refuse food until the government fulfills its promise to replace their illegal outpost with a new West Bank community in accordance with a deal they struck with the government ahead of the court-ordered evacuation of Amona.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives to the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives to the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Oren Hazan tweeted in response that if the defense minister was interested in a diet, “I’m sure there’s someone in the government that can help [him] with a shortcut to the process,” likely referring to fellow Likud lawmaker Yisrael Katz who underwent gastric bypass surgery in August 2015.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) called on Liberman to apologize for his remarks.

“What is so difficult about saying ‘I was wrong’?” Ariel asked on Army Radio.

On Monday Liberman, who lives in a settlement and is seen as a staunch supporter of the enterprise, said that he had received calls from all over the world criticizing the idea of annexation, including a candid communique from the new US administration, after a Likud MK called for the move on TV.

“The coalition should make unequivocally clear that there is no intention at the moment to apply Israeli sovereignty,” the defense minister said.

Furthermore, “we received a message directly — not indirectly, not a hint — from the US, that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank means an immediate crisis with the new administration,” he added.

A spokesman for Liberman declined to comment on who from the US administration had delivered the message.

Liberman’s comments — made with journalists present before a closed-door briefing to the high-level committee — came amid calls from some in the Likud and Jewish Home parties for the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and other settlements, and after an interview given by Likud MK Miki Zohar on Sunday,in which Zohar called for full Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

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