Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday sparred with far-right Knesset hopeful Itamar Ben Gvir, claiming in a radio interview that the Otzma Yehudit candidate could be an agent for the Shin Bet security service.
Ben Gvir, a lawyer who has represented far-right hilltop youth in cases against the Israeli authorities and a member of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, responded by saying that Liberman, an immigrant to Israel from Moldova in the former Soviet Union, is a “KGB agent.” He also threatened to sue Liberman for libel.
Liberman, whose right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party is experiencing a political crisis and hasn’t passed the electoral threshold in the most recent public opinion polls, made the comment in an interview with Israel Radio about a Central Elections Committee discussion Wednesday on whether to disqualify Otzma Yehudit and the Arab Ra’am-Balad party.
After explaining his decision to vote against disqualifying Otzma Yehudit and in favor of disqualifying Ra’am-Balad, Liberman said that nevertheless, he is not a fan of the far-right party, which joined forces with the Jewish Home and National Union parties to create the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP).
In that context, he took aim at Ben Gvir, Otzma Yehudit’s No. 2 and URWP’s No. 8.
“Is Itamar Ben Gvir the same man as he presents himself? Or is it a sort of new Champagne?” he said, referring to the codename of Avishai Raviv, a radical right-wing activist who became a Shin Bet mole in the 1980s and 90s.
After the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Raviv was accused of having known of killer Yigal Amir’s plans to murder the prime minister and of failing to inform the Shin Bet in advance. Raviv was tried but found not guilty.
“I have some reservations about Ben Gvir,” Liberman continued. “I have been seeing the man for many years and there is something in his activeness and declarations that raises questions.”
“Those claims are baseless and the court has already ruled in my favor in previous libel cases I filed against those who made similar claims. If I’m a Shin Bet agent, Liberman is a KGB agent,” he said.
Ben Gvir added that he “fought the Shin Bet which abused the hilltop youth [hardline settlers], while Liberman stayed silent and backed the Shin Bet’s Jewish Unit.”
“My heart goes out to Liberman, who is seeing in the polls how all his Knesset seats are going to the URWP,” he said in a statement, criticizing Liberman’s term as defense minister which ended with his November resignation.
“In the last term everyone understood that Liberman is a fake defense minister who talked and talked but did nothing in practice,” Ben Gvir said, likely referring to Liberman’s promise shortly before becoming defense minister that if he was appointed, Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh would be dead “within 48 hours.” He is still alive.
“In any case, if Liberman doesn’t apologize within 48 hours we will file a libel lawsuit against him on Sunday,” he concluded. “I don’t only talk, like Liberman. I also act.”