Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his election campaign Thursday night in a speech at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem marked by his festive mood and his notorious graphic aids (but no Wile E. Coyote bomb cartoons this time). From his first line it was obvious he was there to focus all his fire on Israel Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman. The PM launched a most brutal and personal attack, ushering-in a particularly dirty election fight.
Likud officials are saying the attack on Liberman will be backed by millions of shekels invested in advertising to the Russian sector, Israel Beiteinu’s home base, which has been eroding since the heady days when Kishinev, Moldova-born Avigdor Liberman could count on them for as many as 15 Knesset seats. Many in his home base have passed away, many others no longer see in him their trusted “ethnic” representative in government.
The Likud campaign will be devoting equal time to the 35-seat strong Blue and White party and the 5-seat Israel Beiteinu, seeing as siphoning Liberman’s 5 mandates will easily be as crucial to Netanyahu’s ability to form a new government as would be defeating Benny Gantz.
The personal relations between these two veteran politicians—Bibbi and Ivet—have reached a dreadful low years ago, but this time Netanyahu has decided to go all the way. This time his aim is to take out his pesky foe for good.
In his speech, Netanyahu presented a graph showing Israel Beiteinu’s declining curve from one Knesset election to the next, and claimed that this was the real reason Liberman had prevented the establishment of a strong right-wing government the voter wanted so badly.
“He is looking for a kuntz (trick) to keep him above the threshold,” Netanyahu insisted, referring to the 3.25% of the vote required of every slate, meaning it must gain almost four seats before it is allowed in.
The amusing thing is that it was Liberman himself who pushed the increased threshold, and for a while it looked like it was going to bury him.
Netanyahu ran through a long list of deals and agreements Liberman had reached with the Haredim over the years, including most recently when he solicited their help in electing his candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon—the Haredim will never forgive him that one, because he promised them a lenient IDF draft law in return. So much for the “man of his word” slogan…
Bibi’s point was that Liberman had worked very nicely with the Haredim, who trusted him all these years. Liberman’s shtick about blocking with his body the halacha state the Haredim are conspiring to install is just that, a shtick, his personal ploy to prevent the establishment of a government headed by Netanyahu.
“Suddenly someone who made deals with the Haredim becomes anti-Haredi,” Netanyahu said.
Kan News quoted one of the coalition leaders as saying that Liberman had confessed to him the reason for his opposition to joining the Netanyahu government was that this move would mean “Bibi will remain prime minister for another 10 years.” But if Liberman sticks Bibi now, he would be forced to go to the voters without having passed the override clause and the immunity law amendment, leaving him exposed to the torment of three corruption indictments. This could bring down the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history (as of this July).
Oded Forer, number 2 in Israel Beiteinu, wrote on his Facebook page: “Litzman and Gafni – we do not work for you. We work for millions of citizens and taxpayers, most of whom serve in the army or do national service, to whom we are accountable.”
“The boycott threats by the Haredi factions against Israel Beiteinu are reminiscent of methods from other places, and, unfortunately, there are factories in Israel that suffer from similar threats,” Forer continued, referring to the Phoenicia Glass Works bottle factory in Yeruham, which was shut down recently because of Haredi pressure – they couldn’t turn off their kilns on Shabbat because it took those kilns a full week to reach their optimal temperature, but you explain this to the Gerer Rebbe.
“In contrast to the Haredi factions, as far as we’re concerned there are no boycotts, we have no problem sitting with them in the government, provided that the balance is maintained – the principle of live and let live and the understanding that the IDF with its soldiers, male and female, is an important institution in the State of Israel, and serving there is a value.”
Furer did not address the fact that the IDF is in the midst of a broad move to reduce the number of its recruits, and, speaking of “equal burden,” enlisting yeshiva students is a huge financial burden on the army, because Haredim usually enlist after they get married, sometimes with children, too, and their salaries are much higher than other recruits’ – while the value they give the army is questionable.
According to the ministers in the Likud coalition negotiating team, not only did Liberman’s party, which received only five Knesset seats, come in with impossible initial demands which the Haredim would never have agree to, Israel Beiteinu also asked for too long a list of portfolios.
The Likud negotiating team claimed that Israel Beiteinu demanded three ministerial positions and spoke of five portfolios: Security, Absorption (which fits their one natural skillset), Diaspora, Jerusalem, and intelligence. That’s one ministry for every single MK!
Israel Beiteinu for its part claims that only two portfolios were requested. According to sources in Liberman’s party, they only wanted to be consulted on the next Minister for Jerusalem Affairs (they hate Ze’ev Elkin, who fought them in the campaign for mayor of Jerusalem), and on one department in the Diaspora Ministry. As to the Ministry of Intelligence, they didn’t ask for it, they said it was redundant and wanted it eliminated.
Ah, yes, they also demanded chairmanship of the ministerial committee on absorption issues, two political-defense cabinet memberships, one deputy speaker of the Knesset and the chairmanship of the Knesset Interior Committee.
And they would have gotten all of it!