Avigdor Lieberman, nationalist leader of far-right party Yisrael Beiteinu, came third in yesterday's election with 15 seats (out of 120).  Israeli Arabs call him racist - even fascist - but how dangerous is he?

Read also: our Observer's analysis of Lieberman's position in the Israel election.

The 50-year-old former night-club bouncer from the poor former Soviet republic of Moldova smashed poll ratings in the run-up to the Israeli elections.  Known for his hard-hitting and blunt slogans, such as "No loyalty, no citizenship", Lieberman wants Israel's 20-percent Arab minority to prove they love the country, or leave it. (Ironically, he also claims to "speak Arabic," meaning he believes knows how to deal with the Palestinians.)

Lieberman, who once served as an aide to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now his rival for hardline hearts and minds, has called for the execution of Israeli Arab MPs who have had dealings with Hamas, and for Israel to fight Hamas "just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II." 

His mix of secularism and hard talk has struck a chord among Israelis while enraging both ultra-Orthodox voters and Israeli Arabs.

Centrist journalist and former Kibbutz resident Shai Versano says Lieberman's success shows disturbing tendencies within Israeli society. Lieberman campaigner Galy Carmeli-Shrim maintains the leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu merely says what Israelis really think.

Lieberman has been compared to French extreme right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. We asked Versano and Carmeli-Shrim if they agreed.

"Lieberman says out loud what many think but dare not say"

Galy Carmeli-Shrim, 36-year-old specialist in social media, campaigns for Lieberman.

I support Lieberman because I do not think other Israeli parties have taken strong enough action against the Palestinians. Some accuse him of being fascist, only because he asks people to be loyal to the country. This was a very controversial statement here in Israel. People asked, but how can you measure loyalty? Being loyal to the country doesn't mean marching around with flags. However, it does mean you can't go against your country. If you want to be on the side of the enemy, then go there. I believe Israeli Arabs should go to the army and shouldn't be allowed to demonstrate against Israel.

I think it's popular at the moment to say that Lieberman is very aggressive. Other politicians are far more aggressive. He says out loud what many think but dare not say. It's difficult to look into the mirror. People here find it difficult to talk of the religious versus the secular. For instance, religious people don't work, don't go to the army and benefit from what Israel produces. We want to separate Israel from all the religious stuff."

 

"He shares some values with Le Pen"

Shai Versano, former Kibbutz resident, works in the media and votes Labour.

You could say he shares some values with Le Pen. But it's not quite fair to say so. He is demagogical, his words are raw, his slogans tough and he appeals to our emotions. In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen campaigns against immigration, here Lieberman campaigns against the Palestinians.

But here the situation is different. Israel is at war. And Israelis, especially teenagers who grew up during the intifada, support more extreme parties, either to the right or to the left. Israelis generally think that if we bend democracy in the war effort, well then so be it, we don't live in Sweden.

However, if you bend democracy too far, it breaks. Lieberman is pushing democracy toward breaking point with his talk about throwing people out of society. What worries me is that if we don't do anything about education, this tendency will grow until the next election."