Liberman slams Netanyahu over Rivlin endorsement for presidential race

Foreign minister says PM's decision contradicts conversation the two held Tuesday night during which they agreed not to back the former Knesset speaker for the June 10 election.

Liberman raising fist 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman raising fist 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman criticized on Thursday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to endorse his Likud rival, MK Reuven Rivlin for the June 10 presidential election.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu endorsed Rivlin, completely changing the dynamics of the race.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader told Israel Radio that the premier's declaration of support for the former Knesset speaker completely contradicted a conversation they held on Tuesday night regarding the disputed election.
Likud Beytenu sources revealed that on Tuesday night that Netanyahu and Liberman spoke about potential candidates who could defeat Rivlin and agreed that backing the former Knesset speaker was not an option.
"It seems strange and not right," Liberman said of Netanyahu's move.
The foreign minister reiterated his position that had Netanyahu consulted with him prior to announcing the endorsement, Liberman perhaps could have been persuaded to back Rivlin.
Liberman told the radio station that he had informed Rivlin that he would not receive the foreign minister's support, explaining that his decision was based on the MK's conduct during his post as Knesset speaker.
Liberman’s associates said his opposition to Rivlin was ideological, not personal.
Rivlin angered Liberman when he was Knesset speaker by preventing the passage of bills that would initiate an investigation of foreign funding for left-wing nongovernmental organizations and revoke the pension of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara, who helped Hezbollah against Israel in the Second Lebanon War. Rivlin further upset Liberman by making his first visit as Knesset speaker to the Arab city of Umm el-Fahm and not to a Druse village where people serve in the army.
Liberman’s associates said he had not decided which candidate to support, noting his good relations with both Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik.
Fearing a backlash in the Likud if he did not support the party’s only candidate, Netanyahu called the former Knesset speaker and told him he would back him.
Netanyahu’s endorsement is seen as carrying little weight among the 31 MKs in the Likud Beytenu faction.
The prime minister’s announcement came shortly after Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett gave Rivlin his support.
Lahav Harkov and Daniel Clinton contributed to this report.