Liberman’s liberal credentials questioned over video with fundamentalist rabbi

Yisrael Beytenu chief accused of homophobia after TV airs 2013 clip of meeting with the late Shmuel Auerbach, in which the MK spoke out against gay pride parades

Avigdor Liberman meets with hardline Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach in Jerusalem in 2013. (Channel 12 screenshot)
Avigdor Liberman meets with hardline Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach in Jerusalem in 2013. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Avigdor Liberman has come under fire from across the political spectrum after a video recording emerged of a 2013 meeting between the Yisrael Beytenu party leader and fundamentalist Jerusalem rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.

Auerbach, who passed away last year at the age of 86, was the leader of the Jerusalem Faction, an ultra-Orthodox movement whose members are seen as hardliners even by other members of the community. According to Channel 12, which broadcast footage of the meeting on Tuesday evening, Liberman had requested an audience to ask for Auerbach’s support for then-Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion, whom he was backing.

Auerbach’s followers are among the most vociferously opposed to efforts to draft yeshiva students and have frequently demonstrated and blocked traffic in Jerusalem and around the country to protest against the practice.

During the meeting, Liberman was recorded expressing his agreement with Auerbach’s opposition to gay pride events in the nation’s capital, stating “there won’t be all these parades that they hold here or the gay festivals.”

His comments drew immediate criticism from politicians on both the left and the right.

“Liberman the homophobe has never been on the side of secular or LGBT people,” the left-wing Democratic Camp said in a statement carried by Channel 12. “The most corrupt man in the history of Israeli politics will sell out anyone who votes for him in order to sit for one minute on the prime minister’s chair.”

“Avigdor Liberman, ‘the new liberal,’ is a homophobe of the old breed,” tweeted Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud stalwart and a member of the LGBT community. “Whoever did not realize this until this evening, now it is clear. Right-wing liberals have only one address in the upcoming elections — Likud.”

Even far-right Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has previously boasted of being a “proud homophobe,” condemned Liberman, tweeting that he was “an opportunist with no ideology at all.”

In response, Liberman decried “cheap gossip dragged out of storage” and insisted that those spreading it must know that they “cannot stop a broad liberal national government without the ultra-Orthodox and the non-messianic” from being formed.

In May, less than two months after Israeli voters appeared to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a mandate to form a new government, coalition talks collapsed after Liberman, a former Netanyahu ally, refused to join the government. The sticking point was a draft law obligating ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military draft. 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.

He subsequently said that he would push for a national unity government following September’s election and would not support a government that included ultra-Orthodox parties. He announced on Sunday that his right-wing party would enter a surplus-vote agreement with Likud’s chief rival for the premiership, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz.

JTA contributed to this report.

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