Haredi silence belies concern over Liberman’s frontal attack - analysis

Why has the haredi political leadership responded to this rampaging and unceasing invective with such deafening silence?

July 31, 2019 22:15
4 minute read.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman  posted a satirical Purim video where he dresses up as a har

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman posted a satirical Purim video where he dresses up as a haredi rabbi . (photo credit: FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT)

Even by his usual standards, Avigdor Liberman’s speech on Tuesday night hit new depths in its antagonism and rancor towards the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) political parties, and to some extent the haredi community at large.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader made one outrageous comment after another, only to be followed up by an even greater and even more incendiary attack.
This has been Liberman’s strategy from even before the latest election were called, as he began to inveigh and fulminate against the haredi political parties during the coalition negotiations, which ultimately collapsed after Liberman refused to budge on the haredi enlistment legislation that must be passed by the next government.

In recent weeks, he has moved into high gear on this track, but Tuesday night he went further than he has yet gone, increasing the tone of his attack and broadening the range of his targets as well.

The question is, why has the haredi political leadership responded to this rampaging and unceasing invective with such deafening silence?

To recall, Liberman alleged in his Tuesday speech that “the profession” of the ultra-Orthodox community was to have children so as to get child subsidy payments, a comment which comes close to the troublesome canard that the haredi community is parasitic.

He also implicitly accused the haredi community of ballot stuffing, saying that the voter turnout in the community was abnormally high and even exceeded 100% in some places.

This allegation is seemingly based on initial, erroneous voter turnout figures published by the electoral commission after the April election, which were later adjusted.

Liberman promised to bring legislative solutions to both issues, saying he would cut child welfare payments to make unemployment less viable and that he would advance legislation to introduce mandatory voting to negate the electoral advantage enjoyed by the haredi parties whose voters come out in high numbers at the urging of their rabbis.

He said he would abolish local religious councils – a rich source of patronage for the haredi parties – force haredi schools to teach core curriculum and allow greater commercial activity on Shabbat.

The importance of welfare payments and the independence of the haredi school systems are neuralgic issues for the haredi parties and Liberman’s promises to intervene would in any normal situation elicit a fierce haredi response.

He also tried to personally provoke United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leader and head of the Health Ministry Ya’acov Litzman into a response by describing the State of Israel’s health system as “very sick” and saying it needed a professional to run it, who he would appoint.

IN SPITE of all this and more, the haredi political leadership, not known for its bashfulness, has steadfastly refused to respond to Liberman’s attacks on Tuesday night, or those that came before it.

At the outset, they tried to demonstrate how often in the past Liberman has cooperated with the haredi parties, even dredging up photos for the haredi press of the Yisrael Beytenu leader meeting with haredi rabbis.

But even this effort has stopped in recent weeks.

Ya’acov Vider, a haredi member of the Bnei Brak municipal council for the Likud Party, told The Jerusalem Post that some of Liberman’s comments Tuesday night were “antisemitic,” “outrageous” and “total lies.”

But despite appearances, Liberman and the haredi parties are actually serving each other’s purposes quite nicely, Vider said

“If the ultra-Orthodox parties didn’t have Liberman, they would have had to invent him,” he added, noting that previous haredi bette noir Yair Lapid had severely toned down his rhetoric against the ultra-Orthodox.

He said that Liberman’s rhetoric “does the work of the haredi parties for them,” by providing them with an enemy to rally the haredi community against and to justify their existence as defenders of the ultra-Orthodox sector.

He noted that the main haredi daily newspapers, which are mouthpieces for the different haredi parties, have reported Liberman’s attacks in full, including Tuesday night’s, so that the threat is clear without needing to respond.

“Liberman is actually advancing the political interests of the haredi politicians by these attacks,” said Vider.

Despite this claim, Liberman has at the same time significantly boosted his own polling figures through his attacks against the ultra-Orthodox, and has been stable on nine or 10 seats in the polls for several weeks.

This is of concern to the haredi parties however much they can use his rhetoric to bolster their own support, because it would leave Yisrael Beytenu as the deciding factor after the September election, as it was after the April election.

“On the one hand, they want to ignore Liberman because they don’t want to play into his hands,” said Yisroel Cohen, a senior reporter and commentator for the haredi radio station Kol Barama.

But, he noted, this strategy has not really worked and neither did the strategy of trying to show how much Liberman has cooperated with the haredim in the past.

Cohen said that essentially the haredi political leaders were concerned not to let the central issue of the elections turn into a debate on religion and state issues, where the large majority of the Israeli public opposes and resents haredi policies and control over matters such as civil marriage, restrictions on Shabbat and other secular gripes.

He said that at the moment, the haredi parties are still leaving the playing field open for Likud to do the dirty work of responding to Liberman, especially by arguing that he is not truly right-wing, but said that this could change if there is no discernible drop in Liberman’s polling figures.

“They understand that at the moment, it is preferable to be silent,” said Cohen.

“In another week or two, they will likely re-evaluate. At the moment, it just doesn’t serve them to attack back as this would only help Liberman.”

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