The largest possible coalition of Zionist parties is necessary to wage war and make peace, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said at a Yisrael Beytenu campaign event in Ariel Tuesday night.
“People ask how dare I say I would sit with Bibi or Buji, but I say when I form a government, I will invite them both to sit in it,” he quipped, using the respective nicknames for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor).
“War and peace need a broad consensus. We face difficult, unprecedented challenges,” he said.
Liberman pressed back at the claims that he is becoming leftwing in his hour-long speech, which opened with him ascending the stage to a Yehoram Gaon song with the lyrics “You won’t defeat me so fast” and cracking jokes about the investigation of senior Yisrael Beytenu officials, including party secretary-general and Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, who he made sure to specifically thank.
Addressing critics of his openness to sitting in a Labor-led government, Liberman said he chooses his coalition partners according to their platforms and not for personal reasons.
Then, though he said he is not interested in causing fights within the nationalist camp, he took aim at those critics, saying that Yisrael Beytenu is a party of action, while making hardly veiled hints that Likud is all talk.
“It wasn’t Yisrael Beytenu who gave away Hebron; other people did,” Liberman said, referring to Netanyahu, though Liberman was director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office at the time. “Likud evacuated Gush Katif [ Jewish settlements in Gaza].”
“When people say we’re leftwing, just remember who gave away Hebron and who evacuated Gaza,” he emphasized.
Continuing on the theme of Likud being all talk, Liberman criticized Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s performance during Operation Protective Edge.
“I remember Ya’alon saying Hamas is scared and was crushed. Ten days ago I saw they had new, more precise and more deadly missiles,” he stated. “The correct thing to do is to not start a war if you aren’t going to crush Hamas. The terrorist attacks in Jerusalem were by Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who were encouraged because we couldn’t destroy them in Gaza after 50 days.”
Following his tough talk on Hamas, Liberman spoke in favor of peace talks but said that the paradigms that other politicians follow – annex the West Bank, maintain the status quo, negotiate the formation of a Palestinian state – are all mistaken, because the conflict is not just with the Palestinians but with the whole Arab world.
As such, any agreement must be forged with three components at the negotiating table with Israel: Arab countries, the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
On the last one, he said: “I know people prefer to be quiet about Israeli Arabs and bury their heads in the sand. We can’t run away from it. We need to deal with them in a clean way and with courage.”
Fighting potential charges of racism and using a Yisrael Beytenu slogan, Liberman said there should be no difference between Muslim and Jewish Israelis; for both, “without loyalty, there is no citizenship.”
“Israeli Arabs who mark our Independence Day by waving black flags are no different from those in [the haredi neighborhood] Geula and others who do not stop for the Remembrance Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day sirens,” he added.
The foreign minister also called for Israeli Arabs and haredi teens to serve in the IDF or do national service.
However, he said “those who wave flags of Hezbollah or Hamas or Fatah should get unemployment and child allotments from [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas].
I don’t see why Umm el-Fahm can’t be part of a Palestinian state in the land swaps everyone talks about.”
As for the investigation of figures in the party, Liberman pointed out that most of the people involved in the alleged corruption are not from his party and asked that the media stop calling it a Yisrael Beytenu scandal.
The party leader also repeated a statement he has made several times in recent days, that police have investigated Yisrael Beytenu members before every election since the party was founded in 1999.
In light of that, Liberman compared the police’s actions to Stalin’s show trials, while calling for party members to be levelheaded.
“I’m not hinting that this is a personal vendetta by police; I’m saying it outright,” he declared.
“No one in Yisrael Beytenu has ever been convicted of embezzlement, bribery or even breach of trust, unlike ministers and MKs from other parties,” Liberman said. “In the last week, the media has already convicted all of our members, but I certainly believe in their innocence and hope the truth will come to light as soon as possible.”
Yisrael Beytenu’s polling numbers varied in the days after the corruption scandal came to light, with some showing the party holding steady at eight, but a Jerusalem Post poll on Friday indicated it will barely pass the electoral threshold with four seats. A Knesset Channel poll released Tuesday gave the party five seats.