Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday took a swipe at political rival Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, saying that he was taking action to help the Russian community after years of neglect.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since 2009 and also held the post in 1996-1999, made the comments at the inauguration of a social housing project for immigrants and Holocaust survivors in the coastal city of Ashkelon.
“For years, with regards to immigrants from the Soviet Union, there was a policy of much talk and zero action. We have changed that,” Netanyahu said, according to the Ynet news site. “The vast majority of those who will populate [the new center] are new immigrants and Holocaust survivors. Instead of talking about solutions, we brought solutions. We are doing, and we will do a lot more, for immigrants.”
Liberman,who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in the former Soviet Union in 1978 and whose party caters largely to secular Russian speakers, responded to the prime minister’s statement with a quote from prime minister Yitzhak Shamir in 2000, when the former Likud leader called on the party not to accept Netanyahu back to the party’s leadership: “The sea is the same sea, Arabs are the same Arabs, Netanyahu is the same Netanyahu.”
Liberman stopped short of completing Shamir’s quote, which ends: “I would not want him to return to the premiership.”
Last month, Netanyahu’s Likud party announced the appointment of a new “special adviser” for Israel’s Russian-speaking community. The adviser, attorney Ariel Bulshtein, will help the Likud campaign target a vital demographic — right-leaning immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
The move is meant to help the party in its efforts to siphon votes away from Yisrael Beytenu.
Netanyahu’s failure to form a government after the April elections stemmed from Liberman’s refusal to join a coalition unless a bill formalizing military exemptions for religious seminary students was passed without changes, a condition rejected by the premier’s ultra-Orthodox allies.
Netanyahu was tasked with putting together a coalition, but was unable to muster a ruling majority before the deadline. Under Israeli law, if the prime minister-designate cannot form a government before the clock runs out, the mandate goes back to the president, who assigns another lawmaker to do so.
However, at Netanyahu’s instigation, the Knesset instead voted to dissolve itself minutes ahead of the deadline in late May and schedule fresh elections, preventing another MK, a rival from inside or outside Likud, from getting a crack at assembling a coalition.
Polls show Liberman still holding the balance of power and playing kingmaker after the September 17 elections.