The person I like least in the Knesset, the person I detest by far more than I do Haneen Zoabi, or Ahmad Tibi, two openly pro-Palestinian Arab MKs who are on occasion very hard to take – the one person who awakens the angry Jew in the pit of my stomach is MK Zehava Gal-On, leader of the now-minuscule, ultra-leftist Meretz party, who looks and sounds like the aging Communists who used to gather at Union Square for fiery speeches on May Day, except her voice reminds me of fingernails screeching down a glass window.
The same Zehava Gl-On, last night, on one of the local TV channels in an interview that followed the Netanyahu-Liberman announcement of their upcoming wedding, has come up with the perfect name for the new political creature born by the happy couple: she named it Biberman.
She invested this nickname with all the Jew-hating zeal of the left, which by now has stopped bothering to hide its anti-Semitism. This is not the left of Hubert Humphrey or even George McGovern, not to speak of David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir. This is the left of the Yevsektsia and gulags, whose repulsion of things Jewish is pathological. When Gal-On calls the new deal of the two major right-wing parties “Biberman,” she spatters the name like an evangelical Christian decrying the Prince of Darkness.
But I must tell you, having provided the emotional and historical context for the new name, I must admit that I love it, and that come January 22, I’m most likely going to vote Biberman. As will many other Israelis, I trust, who have in the past voted for neither Biberman partner.
The short announcement by the two men last night—there were no questions from the reporters in the room—described a logical union of Likud, with its 27 seats in the outgoing Knesset, and Yisrael Beitenu, with its 15 seats, to create a powerful new party with the potential to attract more seats than its sum total of 42.
An old, by now departed, chavruta of mine used to say that before you start talking about good government, you have to have government. And both men have proven to the voter that they are able to govern. Netanyahu boasted that this has been the most stable government in Israel’s history, and he may not be so far from the truth. More than that, it has been a government that faced the worst global economic tides in decades, and under its rule Israel was among the very first Western countries to emerge from the worst of it. They faced adversity on the social welfare front and managed to calm the “Occupy Sderot Rothschild” protests. They also managed a hot border with Gaza and a cooler border with the PA, and were able to mobilize the world against a nuclear Iran. They’ve done quite well.
Now, I was going to vote for Liberman’s party and not for Likud. I was disappointed by Netanyahu’s cavalier treatment of the settlements, his use of Ehud Barak as his errands boy against the settlers, and his failure to adopt the Levy Committee’s recommendation to apply Israeli law to the Jewish towns and villages of Judea and Samaria.
I planned to vote for Liberman not because I thought he was any more trustworthy regarding the fate of the settlements, despite his show of anti-Abbas machismo. I also didn’t think he was such a stellar foreign minister—although he did improve relations with Russia in ways only he could have done, and brought in from the cold several former Soviet republics, as well as rebuilding relationships with long-ignored countries, because they weren’t the United States. I was also aware of the cloud hovering above Liberman’s head, as five-years’ worth of attorneys generals have been threatening to prosecute him for “corruption” (this mostly has to do, as I understand it, with just how blind is the blind trust managing his businesses).
My reason for supporting Liberman this time around was gratitude. One of the portfolios held by his coalition party is Absorption: the Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver is a member of Yisrael Beiteinu.
My family arrived in Israel last December and we have had a charmed aliyah, largely due to the competent and compassionate help we received from the Absorption officials, starting at Ben Gurion airport on a very early Monday morning. It has been obvious to us that letting recent immigrants—the largely Russian crew at the ministry—run absorption services is an ingenious idea, and it works. As a voter, I’d like to reward competence with my vote.
Now I and many like me will get a chance to consolidate our vote, as Netanyahu put it last night—you’ll only need one ballot for both parties.
Back to Zehava Gal-On – she and the rest of the politicians on the field have been transformed as if by a magic wand into yesterday’s news. Remember the poll results from Thursday morning, predicting that a centrist party headed by disgraced former PM Ehud Olmert would tie the Likud? Yesterday’s news. The math has become almost as simple as the math of American presidential elections: are you aware that there’s a very talented former governor of New Mexico named Gary Earl Johnson running for President in November? No, because he’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he’s a Libertarian and so he doesn’t really exist.
Does Zehava Gal-On exist after last night’s announcement? In its 1992 heyday, Meretz had 12 MKs and was a major partner in the late Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor-led government (Remember Oslo?). Down to three members, Gal-On’s party no longer matters, other than assigning funny nicknames to things.
But while Meretz Chairperson Gal-On was condemning the move in familiar terms—though with the added glass-screeching effect, Shelly Yachimovitch, Chairperson of the 8-MK Labor party was absolutely livid. She was being interviewed live almost simultaneously by the news anchors of all the news editions in Israel, and she looked pale, as if the color had drained from her face – and she spat her words in a rage that she just could not conceal.
Let’s face it, the Biberman duo had just pulled the rug from under Yachimovitch’s best laid plans. The polls were giving her as many as 18 seats, which could make her a player in a center-based Likud coalition government. Without Liberman in the picture, Labor—as it had done so many times before—could provide Netanyahu with stability, away from the madding right-wing. A Likud-Labor-Shas coalition, supported by 6 Haredi MKs would have been the perfect combo for improved relations with the Obama White House (should it happen), re-opening the 2-state solution talks and so expanding markets in Europe which have been closing down on account of the settlements, and basically freezing the settlements movement, if not worse.
Now Yachomovitch has been deprived, perhaps for a very long time, of a chance to control the center. With Biberman essentially owning the right-of-center block, the remnants of Kadima, as well as newcomer Yair Lapid, have clear dibs on the center. Lapid last night repeated time and again that he had no interest in going into a partnership with Yachimovitch because she is the left and he is the center. Lapid did not exclude a partnership with Olmert et al, but that would clearly come at the expense of Labor.
Shelly Yachimovitch and Labor may have been swept back to the cheap seats they have been occupying for some time now, and the dream of 18 seats may remain just that, a nice, short-lived dream.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai from Shas, fresh from the brawl with rival Aryeh Deri that has just ended in a tie and a triumvirate partnership (with Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias), told the TV news folks that his party could only benefit from Biberman. The Shas voters, he argued at one point (I’m paraphrasing), seeing as Likud’s victory is guaranteed, would feel free to vote their real interest, the socially-conscious, Sephardi, religious Shas. He could be right. But there’s no doubt that the trend could go both ways, and typical Shas voters would feel attracted by the sheer size of the new juggernaut.
The most amusing talking head on the news circuit last night was Beit Yehudi / NRP chairman wannabe Zevulun Orlev, who claimed that his party was the biggest winner from Hurricane Biberman. He made an argument similar to the one made by Shas, about his voters feeling free to vote for the party that truly represents their interests and their soul – a touch of Harlem politics there – but history so far has not borne him out. The National Religious voter prefers the large right-wing parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteni, over the various NRP factions. The fact is, it would be very hard for Orlev and his partners to make the case that voting for them, without the guarantee of getting into a future coalition, beats voting for the next rulers of this country.
Long live Biberman!
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published two fun books: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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