Liberman’s un-Orthodox proposal: 8 things to know for June 16
Israel media review

Liberman’s un-Orthodox proposal: 8 things to know for June 16

The Yisrael Beytenu chief roils the political scene with his plans for a unity government with Likud and Blue and White, but without Haredi parties or (seemingly) Netanyahu

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting regarding the coalition negotiations at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a faction meeting regarding the coalition negotiations at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Let’s get together (without the ultra-Orthodox): Less than a month after blocking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman has thrown a fresh wildcard into the political mix, vowing to force Likud and Blue and White to form an “emergency” unity government to keep the ultra-Orthodox out of power.

  • Such a coalition, so long as the Haredi parties were out of it, would represent the will of “an overwhelming majority of the citizens of Israel,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
  • “Three months before repeat elections, Liberman has done it again, He’s managed to roil the political scene with a series of Facebook posts,” marvels Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “Liberman is aiming to again be kingmaker or king-breaker after September’s elections,” my colleagues at ToI note.

2. Secret leftist: Why such a hubbub? Though Liberman doesn’t say so directly, his call means he is essentially gunning for a government without Netanyahu, since Blue and White has already expressed its refusal to sit with the nearly indicted premier.

  • Likud’s response is to use the comments as fuel to cast Liberman — a hawkish right-wing politician who does not necessarily toe the Likud line — as an enemy of the right. “The cat is out the bag — Liberman says explicitly that he is willing to go with [Blue and White No. 2 Yair] Lapid and Gantz, and force the establishment of a leftist government,” the party says in a statement.
  • The Israel Hayom tabloid, closely linked to Netanyahu, goes even further, filling its whole front page with the headline “Liberman admits that he is trying to bring down the right.”
  • A political cartoon by the paper caricatures the Soviet-born former minister as a Russian nesting doll with Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg hiding inside.
  • “His comments yesterday… show his plan all along was to bring down Netanyahu,” the paper’s Mati Tuchfeld writes of the party leader who recommended Netanyahu for prime minister last time around. “With his lust for revenge driving him, Liberman decides to lie and cheat his whole way to the ballot box. Every time there is a poll that includes him in the Netanyahu-supporting right wing, he sees it and laughs inside.”
  • Notably, the paper also plays up the fact that Liberman said he would refuse to allow a coalition with Otzma Yehudit extremist Itamar Ben Gvir. By trying to paint Liberman as an enemy of Ben Gvir, it signals that Netanyahu’s allies will once again be happy to stand behind with him (Ben Gvir) for political gain.

3. Blue and hoping to get it right: Blue and White’s response was a laconic statement essentially welcoming Liberman’s remarks but wishing he’d embarked on such a path before new elections were called.

  • In Haaretz, Jonathan Lis looks at all the things the party needs to do and alliances it needs to make if it wants to have a chance in the newest round of elections. While appealing to right-wing voters is on the roster, bringing Yisrael Beytenu in does not make the cut.
  • Rather, Lis says, “One of the campaign’s primary target audiences will be voters who in the past cast their ballots for Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party and who have been disappointed by his decision to run on a joint ticket with Likud, thereby purportedly breaking his promise to constitute a ‘moderate right wing.’”

4. Ultra-annoyed: The ultra-Orthodox are also having none of Liberman’s promises.

  • “Liberman is history, he’s no longer relevant,” reads a headline in the ultra-Orthodox Behadrei Haredim news site, quoting the Shas party.
  • The Kikar Hashabbat website denounces Liberman’s comments as part of an “incitement campaign.”
  • The front page of Haredi paper Yated Ne’eman echoes Likud’s claim that Liberman is a leftist, while the Hamevaser paper’s only front page mention is of a poll showing a right-wing bloc, without Liberman, would manage 60 seats, which is pretty much what we saw in April.

5. Crying over stored milk product: As most would point out, Liberman doesn’t hate the right or Netanyahu so much as he has a constituency that is largely secular, or not halachically Jewish, and has positioned himself as their defender, placing himself opposite the ultra-Orthodox political parties and their demands to both stay out of the army and impose Jewish law on certain areas of everyday life, including the military.

  • Thus Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party was among the most outspoken over the weekend when a story emerged that a soldier was punished for not going above and beyond in following halachic dietary restriction on a base kitchen.
  • According to Channel 12 news, the soldier put dairy products and cold cuts on the same shelf in a refrigerator on his base.
  • Under Jewish dietary laws, which the IDF adheres to, it is forbidden to mix meat and dairy together, though even the strictest letter of the law does not say you can’t store them on the same shelf in your fridge.
  • “In every fridge of a Haredi, religious or traditional person, there is meat alongside milk,” tweets Efraim David, an editor at ultra-Orthodox Radio Kol Hai.
  • Rules is rules though, and it is apparently against army regulations, which is why Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova attacks the system and the punisher.
  • “Today they forbid putting milk and meat together in the same fridge. Tomorrow they’ll forbid girls from enlisting in the army. In two days we’ll become the army for the defense of Jewish law,” Sova writes on Facebook.

6. Courting Shaked: Religion in Israel can be a strange thing. In Yedioth’s op-ed page, Yaron London goes into the political entanglement between nationalism, religiosity, feminism and the right-wing, using former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who is not religious per se but is seen as a future leader of the nationalist camp, to demonstrate his point.

  • “It has gotten to the point that a religious party no longer needs a religious leader. It’s enough that he, or she, be nationalist and conservative,” he writes.
  • “The trifecta [of nationalism, religion and conservatism] is so strongly tied that in the public imagination they are all lumped together in the same basket. It’s clear that a right winger is at least a little religious, and nationalist at least some times. Thus a conservative, nationalist politician can be thought of as an honorary religious woman.”
  • Makor Rishon’s Shirit Avitan Cohen writes that Shaked has become the new election season’s hottest “get,” especially as her breakup with New Right leader Naftali Bennett seems complete.
  • “She is seen as someone who will increase seats for any party she joins. Likud very much wanted her, but [Netanyahu] vetoed that possibility. After she was badly burned in the last elections despite campaigning hard, she prefers the sure thing of the [Jewish Home] she left, the activists who are awaiting her and the supportive rabbis. Thus she will try to close a deal, without Bennett, at the top of the slate.”

7. Psst. It was Iran: Israel is joining the US and others in blaming Iran for attacks on tankers in the Sea of Oman, kinda.

  • Channel 13 news reports that Israel believes Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps carried out the attacks using mines and a torpedo, quoting a senior Israeli official.
  • The US, UK and Saudis have already said as much publicly, making it somewhat strange that Israel has not made an official pronouncement and is only leaking unsourced information.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that Israel has been mostly silent on Iran in general for the last several weeks, despite the Islamic Republic being one of his favorite topics of conversation.
  • “The Israeli interest appears pretty clear. Jerusalem hopes the US administration will continue to pressure Iran, but in a rare move it’s trying to stay out of the storm. Israel doesn’t want to be accused of encouraging Trump to get into a direct confrontation with Tehran,” he writes.

8. Did you say Ramat Rump? Israel may be staying out Trump’s face, but Trump isn’t staying out of Israel.

  • The government is expected later Sunday to okay the naming of a new community in the Golan Heights as Ramat Trump. (Sorry, Neve Trumpers)
  • A sign heralding the new community, bearing the name in Hebrew and “Trump Heights” in English and Israeli and American flags (and adorned with a tacky gold-looking border, natch) has already been put up at the site.
  • And who will live in the Trumpiest of towns?
  • “We’ve been getting people coming to us, mostly US and Canadian Jews, who say they want to immigrate and live in ‘Trump City,’” Golan Regional Council head Haim Rokeah tells Israel Hayom. “There has been a rise in interest in all Golan towns and not just the new one, but the crazy flow began with the decision. Some of those interested we are sending to other communities.”
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