Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, May 11, 2015.

Israel Beiteinu chairman and former defense minister MK Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday morning criticized sharply what he sees as the radicalization of religious Zionism.

Speaking to senior journalist Shimon Schiffer of Yedioth Ahronoth at the IDC Herzliya Conference, Liberman said: “What’s happening with religious Zionism is a Greek tragedy. There is nothing in common between the historic [National Religious Party] and Habayit Hayehudi, between [NRP minister and Deputy Prime Minister Zevulun Hammer, d.1998] and Bezalel Smotrich.”

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Liberman then attacked one of the great historic assets of religious Zionism, the pre-military preparatory religious academies.

“I was one of the founders of this system in 1997, with Zevulun Hammer and Itzik Mordechai,” Liberman recalled, adding, “And I want to say some harsh things about this subject: the religious pre-military preparatory programs in the past trained a long line of good and brave fighters, and I hope they will continue to function. But what’s happening today with them is becoming the cultivation of private religious militias, of Falange.”

He might as well have said that the religious Zionist academies are a breeding ground for Hitler Youths. The Falange were the militias that fought under Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the Spanish civil war, ushering in close to 50 years of fascistic rule in Spain. Is Liberman actually saying the religious Zionist academies are preparing for a civil war in Israel?

Yes, he does.

Liberman described a “takeover by a small, Hardali (Haredi National Religious) fanatical group, to a great extent the group that’s the definition of hypocrisy in Israeli politics, which is taking over the entire religious Zionism.”

“I hope that eventually this will end and we will see religious Zionism again,” Liberman, who often points to his residence in a settlement in Gush Etzion, Judea, to suggest he couldn’t possibly be a leftist, said. “I want to see religious Zionism and not the Hardalim.”

He may not be a leftist, but Liberman’s statements this morning bring him closer to the relatively small bloc of secular Israelis who see Jewish Law as the enemy of the State of Israel. And with his natural base among Russian olim in stagnation due to biological reasons, he is positioning himself to attract the votes of right-wing Israelis who loath the modus vivendi Prime Minister Netanyahu and the religious parties have formed over the years.

Netanyahu’s lengthy cooperation with the religious (save for his 2013-2015 government that threw the Haredim to the dogs, but that’s all in the past) has yielded a solid, unbeatable, seemingly permanent governing bloc: the two Haredi parties together with the National Union now have 20 seats in the Knesset, but their potential strength is estimated at about 25 seats. Combine that with Likud’s potential for 35 seats and you hit the magic number, 60. With Liberman, Netanyahu could have a solid, 65-seat majority.

But Liberman, a native of Kishinev, Moldava, said Nyet, demolished the coalition talks and forced Israel into a second election in six months.

On Tuesday morning, Liberman also attacked Prime Minister Netanyahu and his arch-rival for the post, Benny Gantz, who are engaged, so he said, in a “wild competition” over “who would kiss up more to the Haredim.”

“We will oppose Haredi participation in the government, they have been there for too long,” Liberman said, and went into a litany of complaints against his sworn enemies, with whom he had collaborated, shook hands and hugged only a year ago. He warned that the Haredi radicalization is not only about the draft law, over which he walked away from the talks.

“I see the forced closing of supermarkets on Shabbat, stopped works at Yehudit bridge (an overpass above the busy Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv which, done on a weekday, would mean exorbitant losses to the economy), the boycott of Phoenicia Glass plant (which can’t turn off its kilns on Shabbat, seeing as it takes them a week to heat up). There is radicalization among the Haredim and it would be good if their parties had some opposition time,” he said.

Liberman told his audience in Herzliya Tuesday morning of a process in which religious Zionist academies are “cultivating soldiers who are subordinate not to their direct military commander but to their spiritual authority, to the rabbi, it’s a dangerous thing, it cannot be.”

Has he lost his mind? Not at all. It’s quite clearly the political horse he intends to ride to a 12-seat faction in the next Knesset, and he ain’t getting off. He offered a few scandalous quotes which have made waves in Israel’s media—secular and religious alike—over the past few years. They all come from one school: the flagship pre-military preparatory yeshiva in Eli, where several Rabbis were caught on tape wrapping truthful Torah concepts with coarse xenophobic and misogynistic language, presumably to come across as “cool” to their students.

Those unfortunate statements comprised Liberman’s entire case for the Hardali plot against democratic Israel.

You can take the boy out of Kishinev, but you’ll never take Kishinev out of Evet Lvovich Liberman. There’s an anti-Semitic panic there, deep inside the man, born in a land with much more snow over much longer parts of the year.

And since Liberman is an exceedingly clever man, he should be able to capitalize on the same anti-Semitic panic inherent in about 10% of the Jews in Israel. It’s only been tried once before, with enormous success, by MK Yair Lapid’s late father, Tommy, a gifted journalist who went into politics late in life and in 2003 carried 15 Knesset seats with a crude, even brutal anti-Semitic message, which he concealed, Like Liberman as an effort to rid Israel of halachic repression.

Liberman told his IDC audience: “We will demand in the next government to disconnect the education ministry from the pre-military preparatory programs. This duality, the subordination of the preparatory programs to the education ministry, with all the rabbis, and the defense ministry – it cannot continue. The preparatory courses must be on an axis between the defense ministry and the IDF. We must sever by law between the preparatory courses and the education ministry, which has become completely Hardali, especially with [education minister] Rabbi Peretz (Righwing Union) going there.”

That’s two rabbis in one paragraph, and neither reference (“with all the rabbis”) is especially favorable.

Education minister in Netanyahu’s transitional government, Rafi Peretz, announced in response on Twitter: “There is no educational project that has contributed to the army and to the state like the pre-military preparatory programs. As one of the founders of [preparatory academy] Atzmona, who raised thousands of boys to contribute and volunteer for the state, I say to Liberman: Let us go, your time has passed. These are the death throes of your career. While society needs unity and the healing of rifts, you only fan the flames and deepen the polarization.”

MK Ofir Sofer (Rightwing Union) asked, following Liberman’s remarks: “Evet, when in your life have you seen the blood of the dead and the wounded, that you dare to produce such lowly headlines?”

As a new immigrant from the Moldovan Republic, Liberman served for only a year in the IDF, in the administrative staff of the military government in Hebron, and later on, in his reserves service, as member of the artillery corps. Popular rumors in Israel that he did his military service working the counter at a canteen have not been substantiated.

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