Netanyahu Backs Israel's Foreign Minister

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the wake of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's suggestion that Lieberman be fired. Sarkozy's comments, as reported by Israel's Channel 2 Monday, were made while Netanyahu was visiting France last week. The report caused an uproar in Jerusalem, where some members of Netanyahu's coalition were deeply angered by Sarkozy's remarks.

According to the report, Sarkozy told Netanyahu to "get rid" of Lieberman and replace him with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has more dovish views on the Middle East peace process. Sarkozy is also said to have compared Lieberman with the right-wing French politician Jean Marie Le Pen.

Netanyahu told a group of European ambassadors Tuesday in Jerusalem that he has full confidence in Lieberman, and said "Lieberman constitutes an important part of the elected government of the Democratic state of Israel."

Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, second in command for Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, delivered a scathing response to Israeli Army Radio. "Were I the prime minister," he said, "I would bang on the table and protest. That's how a prime minister should conduct himself to preserve his country's honor."

Another official close to Lieberman said if the words attributed to Sarkozy are true, it represents a "grave and unacceptable" intervention into the affairs of another democratic state. "We expect that--regardless of political affiliation--all political bodies in Israel condemn this callous intervention of a foreign state in our internal affairs," the official said.

Sources: Ha'aretz, The Jerusalem Post

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