Announcing Knesset slate, Liberman vows to force unity government

Yisrael Beytenu leader says he’ll only recommend for PM a politician who promises to go across the aisle; Netanyahu: A vote for him is a vote for the left

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman at a campaign event for his party in Tel Aviv on July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman at a campaign event for his party in Tel Aviv on July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announced his party’s slate for September’s Knesset elections on Tuesday evening, telling supporters that he plans to force a national unity government between Likud and the centrist Blue and White party.

During a speech at his party’s Jerusalem headquarters, Liberman said that there was “essentially no difference” between the two factions and that he would recommend that the first leader to call for a unity government be tasked with forming a coalition.

“If none of the parties commit to it, we will not recommend anyone to the president,” he said, emphasizing that Yisrael Beytenu would only sit in a coalition that included both Likud and Blue and White, which is led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz.

He also said that in addition to the defense and immigration portfolios, he would demand the interior and health ministries during coalition negotiations. Yisrael Beytenu will also require the coalition to commit to comprehensive reform in child allowances and to linking the funding to ultra-Orthodox educational institutions to their acceptance of the state’s core curriculum, he said.

A Channel 12 poll Tuesday showed Yisrael Beytenu receiving 10 seats in the next Knesset, with Likud and Blue and White both tied at 30. Overall, the right-wing bloc (including the Ultra-Orthodox), sans Liberman, would receive 57 seats, versus 42 for the center-left. That means that Liberman would again hold the balance of power and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely be unable to form a coalition without him.

Such a turn of events would mark the second time this year that Liberman has been in that position. In May, weeks after the previous elections, Netanyahu failed to form a new coalition when Liberman refused to join his government. Although his party won only five seats in the 120-seat Knesset, that was enough to deny Netanyahu the 61-seat majority he needed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raises his glass during a campaign event at a bar in Rishon Lezion on July 30, 2019. (Courtesy)

The sticking point was a draft law obligating Haredi Orthodox men to participate in the draft. The ultra-Orthodox parties wanted to soften the text of the law. Liberman insisted he would not join the government unless the law was passed in its current form.

The slate that Liberman presented Tuesday includes him as leader followed by MK Oded Forer, MK Yevgeny Sova, MK Eli Avidar, MK Yulia Malinovsky, former Druze MK Hamad Amar, former Immigrant Absorption Ministry director general Alex Kushner, Sderot Deputy Mayor Mark Efremov, Migdal Haemek Municipality legal adviser Limor Magen Telem, and Liberman’s communications consultant Dr. Alina Berdach-Yalov.

Also on Tuesday evening, addressing a crowd of Russian-speaking voters in Rishon Lezion, Netanyahu panned Liberman, stating that a vote for Yisrael Beytenu would ensure the electoral failure of the right.

“Yesterday in an interview on Army Radio, Liberman said he would recommend Benny Gantz to be prime minister,” Netanyahu said. “He wants Gantz to be prime minister. Those who vote for Liberman are essentially voting for a left-wing government: Ehud Barak as defense minister, Yair Lapid as foreign minister. For those who want to ensure a right-wing government, there is only one party to vote for: Likud. Only a strong Likud can prevent a left-wing government.”

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