At tonight’s (Monday) Likud convention, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will
ask his party to jettison its proud liberal-democratic heritage and run on a
joint list with Yisrael Beytenu, solely in order to ensure he will be asked by
the president to form the country’s next government following January’s
As to whatever happens afterwards to the Likud, Netanyahu
frankly does not give a damn so long as he is safely ensconced back in the
official prime ministerial residence in Balfour Street for a third
Alongside its nationalistic, territorial expansionist ethos, the
Likud also has a strong vein of western democratic liberalism running through
its body, as best represented by politicians such as Knesset Speaker Reuven
Rivlin and ministers Bennie Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, a group
sarcastically derided as feinschmeckers (a Yiddish term for those with
over-refined tastes) by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
Rivlin, Begin et al firmly believe in Israel’s rights to settle in Judea and
Samaria, they also believe that Israel’s Arab population should be treated as
full citizens, enjoying the same civil rights as the Jewish majority. In this,
they faithfully follow the dictates of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the
Revisionist Zionist movement, the ideological precursor to the Likud.
1934, Jabotinsky wrote a draft constitution for the Jewish state which declared
that the Arab minority would be on an equal footing with its Jewish counterpart
“throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.” He also proposed that in
every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership should be
offered to an Arab and vice versa.
Yisrael Beytenu’s leadership, on the
other hand, prefers to view Israeli Arabs as a dangerous fifth column, to be
treated with the utmost suspicion and, if possible, removed from the country in
any future peace agreement with the Palestinians as part of a population
One wonders whether Jabotinsky, were he alive today, would make
it on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu slate the prime minister is so eager to
THE PRIME MINISTER’S enthusiasm for weakening the Likud brand by
merging it with Yisrael Beytenu is hard to understand, until one takes into
account Netanyahu’s central character flaw: fear.
According to most
recent opinion polls, the Likud would garner the most seats in the coming
elections, leaving Netanyahu the favorite to be tasked by the president to form
the country’s next government.
But our prime minister, as shown by his
recent zig-zagging over the summer when he first backed the idea of early
elections in September, only then to chicken out at the last minute to set up
the pathetic coalition with Kadima, before then pulling the plug on that
partnership because he feared alienating his haredi partners, does not like
taking political chances.
And so, with the same opinion polls showing a
rise in support for the Labor Party under Shelly Yacimovich’s leadership,
encouraging figures for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, and even suggestions that
a new party headed by either Ehud Olmert of Tzipi Livni (neither of whom have
actually decided yet whether to run) could, possibly, challenge Netanyahu, the
prime minister decided to merge with Yisrael Beytenu and thereby ensure that the
new combined listing will receive the largest number of seats of any one party
and thus be in pole position to form the country’s next
INDEED, BOTH Netanyahu and Liberman have talked of their
joint list increasing the number of Knesset seats they currently have, but in
politics, as in business, there is no guarantee that the consolidation of two
separate entities will actually create a greater whole.
In fact, there is
a very clear chance that by running with Yisrael Beytenu, the Likud will lose
significant numbers of its current voters. The Likud’s veteran feinschmeckers,
for want for a better word, will certainly find it hard to vote for list that
includes the powerful anti-democratic tendencies of Yisrael Beytenu. Liberman’s
fawning admiration for a Putin-style strong government which brooks no
opposition is anathema to these true democrats.
On the other end of the
Likud spectrum, its religiously observant voters will also find it hard to
support a joint list that has a prominent number of Russian immigrants,
espousing an agenda in support of civil marriage and the open sale of pork
For Liberman, the advantage of running with the Likud is clear.
His party is reaching the end of its natural life now that the 1990s generation
of Russian immigrants to Israel are becoming more Israeli and have less need of
ethnic-based political party to represent. By merging with the Likud and
receiving the number two slot on the list, Liberman is now the heir-in-waiting to
inherit Netanyahu’s leadership of the right.
In a country where a recent
opinion poll found that a third of Israeli Jews support a law banning Israeli
Arabs from voting for the Knesset and almost half (49 percent) want the state to
treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones, that is a truly frightening
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.