Resigning minister: Liberman defense appointment ‘extraordinarily cynical’

Environmental protection minister was the most moderate in cabinet, warned against extremism.

May 27, 2016 11:29
4 minute read.
Avigdor Lieberman, head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, (L) and PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Avigdor Lieberman, head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay resigned from his post Friday, saying he could not remain in the cabinet following the recent coalition shuffle.

Gabbay said Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition, party leader Avigdor Liberman being given the Defense portfolio and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon resigning in the past week-and-a-half were “a line I cannot be part of, and too significant for me to be able to continue as a member of this government.

“Despite the great importance I see in my ministry and the significant action we are taking to reduce air pollution and in many other areas, the recent political moves and the replacement of the defense minister are, in my eyes, severe acts that ignore what is important to national security and will cause further extremism and divisions in the nation,” Gabbay stated.

In a press conference in Tel Aviv following his announcement, Gabbay made a serious indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, saying he seeks to stifle all dissent, though he did not mention Netanyahu by name.

To begin with, Gabbay said, it was difficult for him to be part of a government that “harmed relations with the strongest power in the world, which protects our security, and attacked the army, which is the last institution with broad public trust.

“I’ve always reminded myself of why we founded [Kulanu] and continued working. The [government’s natural gas outline] was also a great challenge for me. I saw how the biggest economic decision of the last year was made without a basic understanding of economics and in a series of spins, weakness and bending to outside interests,” he stated.

According to Gabbay, there is a connection between Netanyahu’s recent statements that IDF generals should not express opinions publicly and the prime minister’s strong advocacy of the gas plan: “It is an attempt to... prevent them from telling the public what they think. The same thing happened to the head of the Israel Electric Corporation, who was forced to resign after opposing the gas plan and the experienced military people who are trying to tell the public their opinion.”

Gabbay admitted to considering resigning from the government after the gas plan was approved, and that once Liberman was appointed defense minister, he could not take it anymore, calling the move “extraordinary even in the cynical world of politics.”

He said he was fulfilling a promise to friends and family that he will “never be a cynical politician and always be fair.”

“This is the most important minister in a country surrounded by enemies,” Gabbay said. “Ya’alon was a balanced minister who brought calm [in light of the recent wave of violence].”

While the public clearly chose a right-wing government in the last election, the former minister added, he does not think this government’s extremism is the incarnation it wanted.

“The State of Israel is a wonder. It is the Third Temple. The People of Israel destroyed the first two temples because of sibling-hatred. We must prevent the destruction of the third,” Gabbay pleaded. “We need leadership, not just tanks and planes.”

Gabbay is a close ally of Kulanu chairman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and his declaration shows a lack of faith in a move that Kahlon had approved with little hesitation.

Kulanu will retain the Environmental Protection portfolio, and Kahlon’s office said he currently plans to keep it for himself. Gabbay is not an MK, and therefore does not need to resign from the Knesset.

The former minister was the most centrist figure in the government, and opposed its policies more than once, most vocally the government’s natural gas deal, which Netanyahu enthusiastically backed.

Kahlon thanked Gabbay for his partnership in founding Kulanu and for his work on environmental issues, like pollution in Haifa Bay, and wished him luck, not addressing, however, the reasons for the minister’s resignation.

Several opposition MKs touted Gabbay’s resignation as another sign of the government’s extremism.

“Another sane voice abandoned this bizarre extremist government,” MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) said. “The prime minister is sacrificing the leadership of the State of Israel and the future on the altar of political survival.”

MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union), a former environmental activist, said that Gabbay stood up for his beliefs, like in the case of the gas plan.

“We did not always see eye to eye, but he had good will, values and saw the importance of the environment.

His resignation is a wake-up call to the moderate majority in the country.

Gabbay is another minister who is putting a mirror in front of the public to see the government’s extremism,” she stated.

Greenpeace Israel called Gabbay’s resignation unfortunate, though they often disagreed.

“Gabbay responsibly led the policies of the Environmental Protection Ministry and understood that protecting the environment and peace are one and the same,” the organization stated. “The minister tried to make changes and fought foreign interests that tried to pollute in order to maximize their earnings at our expense.

“We hope the next [minister] will be committed to the path he led and show the broader public and NGO partners toward a sustainable society that is friendly to man and the environment,” Greenpeace’s representative added.

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