While Avigdor Liberman has proved himself to be the worst foreign minister
Israel has ever had (yes, even the much-mocked David Levy proved a better
diplomat) he now has a chance to redeem his reputation.
Not in the field
of diplomacy of course, that’s the exclusive domain of Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, with occasional sorties from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In an
ironic turn of events, it’s the home front where Liberman can make his mark for
the good on Israeli society.
Liberman is threatening to scuttle
Netanyahu’s much-heralded “balcony reforms” (so called because the planned
legislation involves reforms for approving simple construction plans) over the
crucial issue of the criteria for determining who should receive subsidized
housing. Liberman, rightly, insists that the squeezed middle class, who go to
work every day, pay their taxes and serve in the army should be the first in the
queue for public housing aimed at young couples.
Housing Minister Ariel Attias thinks differently.
The Shas minister,
whose male voters in the main do not work, pay taxes or put on an IDF uniform,
and who prefer to live off the state while wasting their time in the barren
study halls of the yeshivot and kollelim, insists that eligibility for
subsidized housing should be weighted in terms of how long the young couple in
question has been married.
Given that the draft-dodging haredim
(ultra-Orthodox) tend to marry at the age of 18-19, when their secular
compatriots are giving the best years of their lives (sometimes literally) in
the defense of the country, this means a young haredi couple will have amassed
more eligibility points at the same age than their secular brethren.
right this simple wrong, Liberman is insisting the legislation incorporate main
recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee, set up in the aftermath of last
summer’s middle-class wave of social protest. In its report, the committee
argues that the state must “give priority to people who, although they have
exhausted their earning potential, do not make enough money to afford
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In other words, the people at the front of the queue for state
assistance in housing should be those who make the effort to provide for
themselves, not those who are content to spend their lives suckling from the
LIBERMAN HAS correctly identified this issue as a
make-or-break issue for his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, which so far has little to
show its electorate from its term inside the coalition, aside from a slew of
hate-filled, McCarthyistic legislation such as the “Nakba Law.”
last summer’s social protests, it’s clear there’s a reservoir of voters waiting
for a political party to voice and act on the middle class’s frustrations; and
the difficulty for young couples of scraping the money together for their first
apartment is one of the middle class’s central concerns.
caught in his least favorite position: that of having to make a decision,
particularly one that could damage his unholy alliance with the haredi
But in the past, Netanyahu has shown he can act on his
convictions: when he was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s Likud government, he
had the courage to cut child allowances, a staple of the haredi subsidized way
of life, for the good of the wider economy.
The prime minister now has to
show the same determination and side with Liberman in the argument as to who is
more deserving of public housing; those young couples who go out to work every
day and serve in the army or those who prefer to idle away their days in sterile
study, making no contribution to the country.
OF COURSE, the real fight
for middle- class Israel should have been led by Kadima, the largest party in
the Knesset. But under Tzipi Livni’s leadership, Kadima has sunk without trace,
failing to adapt to life in opposition.
This is not solely Livni’s fault;
Kadima is a party with no heritage, no central ideology or core beliefs, with
little to unite its Knesset members, who straddle political viewpoints ranging
from the center-left to the settler right, except a desire for
Regardless of who wins tomorrow’s election for party leader,
Kadima’s days as Israel’s largest party are numbered.
surrounding Livni has been totally tarnished, while Shaul Mofaz holds no appeal
for Kadima voters of a center, or centerleft bent. With Yair Lapid waiting in
the wings, and a Labor Party slowly emerging from the ruins of Barak’s second
time in charge, the sane center are unlikely to rush to Kadima come polling
Until then, much as it hurts to say it, Liberman, of all people, is
the politician we have to trust to ensure that middle-class Israel, those who
work, pay taxes and serve in the army, receive their fair share from the public
purse.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.
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