Don’t cave Liberman, the fate of the government may rest in his hands

Netanyahu’s first and most important goal seems to be his political survival.

May 4, 2019 22:08
3 minute read.
WILL THEY laugh again in a few weeks? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman

WILL THEY laugh again in a few weeks? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Avigdor Liberman appears to be the politician holding the keys to the establishment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government.

Unless Netanyahu succeeds in breaking apart pieces of the Blue and White Party to add to his coalition, he will need Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu if he wants to continue as prime minister. If he fails, it could mean a new election.

For that reason is it imperative that Liberman stand strong and refuse to cave into pressure that he faces from Likud, as well as from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, to sacrifice on matters of religion and state that he claims to hold dearly, and to be part of his national and political agenda.

Netanyahu’s first and most important goal seems to be his political survival, which means passing legislation that will enable him to evade an indictment.

This would either be some version of the so-called French Law or more simply a modification to existing legislation so that he would have immunity from being indicted by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.

With the haredi parties – United Torah Judaism and Shas – taking up 16 seats in the Knesset, they now have more power than before and constitute Netanyahu’s largest potential coalition partners. Add to them the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP), which is led today by Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, representatives of the more religious branch of the national-religious sector.

We are already getting a hint of what these parties are planning. URP, for example, has passed on a list of demands to Netanyahu amid the ongoing coalition negotiations.

In it, the party is demanding not just the education and justice portfolios, but also steps to bolster and strengthen the authority of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel.

UTJ and Shas want to scuttle the draft bill, the failure of which to pass was one of the excuses Netanyahu used when he dissolved the last Knesset and called early elections.

Liberman, on the other hand, claims that he will not allow the bill to be changed, let alone not be passed. He also is asking that the Nissim Committee’s recommendations on conversion in Israel be implemented and that the continued standoff at the Western Wall over the establishment of a pluralistic prayer plaza be resolved.

These are all important issues that should not be ignored as the new government is formed. Netanyahu’s current priority is his own political survival.

As a result, he will be willing to simply give into the religious parties on all of these issues. If that happens, it could be devastating for the State of Israel as well as for its ties with Diaspora Jewry.

As long as the Kotel controversy is not resolved, Israel will continue to be at odds with the vast majority of American Jews.

While its solution will not solve all problems, it will contribute to easing tensions. URP’s demand to increase the authority of the Chief Rabbinate has the potential to further undermine religious freedom and pluralism in Israel.

Considering that the Chief Rabbinate is already responsible for hundreds of thousands of Israelis – many of whom Liberman claims to represent – being unable married in the Jewish state because they are not Jewish according to Jewish law, giving it even more power would cause even more damage.

Then there is the failure to pass a draft bill, which has led to an unequal reality in Israel in which some of the country’s youth serve in the IDF and others do not.

Liberman can insist that all of this does not happen. While this carries with it political risk, he has the power right now to make sure that some version of the Draft Bill is passed and that religious freedom is not completely lost in the State of Israel.

This does not mean that we want Netanyahu to fail to form a government or for new elections to be called. However, Liberman has an opportunity to stand up for what is right. He should not cave.

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