Waiting to replace Netanyahu

#27 - Thorns in Netanyahu’s side: Avigdor Liberman, Gideon Sa’ar and Yifat Shasha-Biton

(L-R) Gideon Saar, Yifat Shasha Biton and Avigdor Liberman (Photo credits: Marc Israel Sellem / Yael Orbach) (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
(L-R) Gideon Saar, Yifat Shasha Biton and Avigdor Liberman (Photo credits: Marc Israel Sellem / Yael Orbach)
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is used to getting his way when it comes to politics, internal Likud squabbles and key government policies, but this has been changing, little by little, thanks to three politicians who stood up to Netanyahu and became thorns in his side.
First came Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who refused to enable Netanyahu to form a government after the April 2019 election. Netanyahu had 60 seats on the Right without Yisrael Beytenu. He only needed one more MK in the coalition. He did not get it, and Israel went back to elections. Liberman did not join after the second or third elections, either.
Then appeared MK Gideon Sa’ar, who challenged Netanyahu last December to a Likud primary, arguing that Netanyahu was no longer able to form a government. Netanyahu defeated Sa’ar easily, 72.5% to 27.5%, but Sa’ar proved that a Likudnik could challenge Netanyahu and survive politically. He is well positioned to run again for the post whenever the post-Netanyahu era arrives.

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Finally, a most unlikely rebel arrived in MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who was little-known until she reversed restrictions on swimming pools and gyms in her role as head of the Knesset Committee on Fighting the Coronvirus. Shasha-Biton later reversed another government decision on closing restaurants. She reportedly enraged Netanyahu, who did not succeed in firing her but took away some of her committee’s authority and clout.
“The government under Netanyahu made a decision on limits for the public, and I asked for the data that it had used,” she said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I saw the decision wasn’t justified, and the more I studied it, the more I saw that the health benefit was very small compared to the damage done to the economy. I decided not to approve it. It’s important to maintain the sanity of our society.” Shasha-Biton said she had no regrets, and her committee was still having an impact on key decisions in the Knesset.
“I didn’t think I was going against the prime minister,” she said. “I helped the prime minister continue to make right decisions and prevent wrong decisions. If I hadn’t decided the way I did, we might be in a full closure by now. I didn’t really make a sacrifice.” Since then, Shasha-Biton’s political stock has skyrocketed. She has gotten offers from several parties to run together in the next election. She told her suitors to wait until elections are called.
“I don’t know where I will be in the next election,” she said. “When we get there, we will make the decision.” Shasha-Biton vowed to continue working for the balance between the needs of the health system and the needs of the people. She warned that closures have not proven effective anywhere in the world.
“The stronger the health system is, the more you can open the economy,” she said.
Liberman: The anti-Netanyahu czar
If Ronni Gamzu is the coronavirus czar, whose job is to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Israel, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is the anti-Netanyahu czar.
Many have joined the anti-Bibi bandwagon, including most recently Naftali Bennett, but Liberman can proudly say he was there first, at least among politicians on the Right.
In an interview, Liberman explains why he – and only he – should be the heir apparent to Netanyahu.
When you were foreign minister and defense minister, you obviously belonged on a list of influential Jews, but why do you deserve to be on this year’s list?
There are two things that happened in the past year. First of all, we in Yisrael Beytenu proved that there are politicians who keep their word and stand behind our promises to voters. There is a difference between me and the other heads of opposition parties in the Knesset. Bennett wanted to join, and Lapid was offered nothing. I was offered the world with interest and we kept our word.
Netanyahu has contributed to the country, but the time has come for him to evacuate the stage. I saw already in the first election that he was making promises that he wouldn’t keep, like applying sovereignty. There were always fights between us, but in the past year he is dealing only with his personal issues. The second thing is we have been fighting for a Zionist liberal agenda. We don’t act against the haredim but for the majority who are secular, traditional and knitted kippa wearers. That is why I belong on this respectable list.
You prevented Netanyahu from forming a government after the first election. Why do you think Benny Gantz allowed the current government?
He is a man with no experience and too much self confidence. He has a big ego. He thinks he understands better than others what we need and what to do. He is a huge disappointment. He made big promises, and he called for a secular unity government. But he is close to Shas and United Torah Judaism and is trying now to deepen his relations with both parties.
How long will the current government last?
I believe that in March we are going to new elections.
What do you think about Naftali Bennett starting to rule out supporting a Netanyahu-led government? Better late than never or unforgivable?
I have my own clear agenda. I don’t zigzag. I have the most qualifications to be prime minister. I have the most experience of any politician, except Netanyahu. I don’t change my views according to polls. I have my truth. Netanyahu had a majority for sovereignty. I said the Jordan Valley has the support of a consensus. Unfortunately, Netanyahu caused the sovereignty effort to fail.
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai is expected to be another candidate for prime minister. You were seen meeting with him last weekend. Could you run together with him?
I respect him. He asked to meet. I wish him well. It is good that experienced people enter national politics. But no, I won’t collaborate with him.
In the past, you have wooed candidates from strong Likud families like Yair Shamir and Uzi Landau. Former budget chief Shaul Meridor is looking for work. Should he apply?
Meridor is not looking to enter politics. But what is important is that the Finance Ministry is collapsing. The accountant general left, too. [Finance Minister Israel] Katz has proven himself a failure in just a short time. Even MKs in Likud like Nir Barkat and Miki Zohar say so. But Katz is not really finance minister anyway, just a representative of Netanyahu’s office.
There has been talk of Yisrael Beytenu running together with Yesh Atid in the next election. How likely is that?
I respect Lapid but we have very different views. I can’t be on a list with people like MK Ofer Shelah; he is on the Left. We are on the Right. He talks about running for prime minister, but I have the best background. We will see in the next election how many votes all of us can get. We will see afterward whether we will get enough mandates to be prime minister.
And then what would you do if you became prime minister?
The first thing I would do is to reduce the number of ministers from 36 to 20 and deputy ministers from 16 to 4. The second thing would be to transfer the entire effort against the coronavirus from politicians to professionals.
What do you think about the deal with UAE?
Any agreement with an Arab country is undoubtedly important, but this is not peace for peace, as Netanyahu claimed, but normalization for Netanyahu conceding on sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley and a silent agreement on America selling the UAE F35 fighter jets.
How long will you stay in politics after more than 25 years? Will you continue arguing with Arabs in the plenum forever?
We don’t fight Arabs. We fight representatives of terror groups. Joint List head Ayman Odeh refused to go to Shimon Peres’s funeral but went to Yasser Arafat’s grave that same week. He also condemned the Arab league for putting Hezbollah on its list of terror groups and refused to sign a vote sharing agreement with Meretz. I will continue to fight for everything I believe in.