Analysis: The big cheese stands alone

Senior MKs are dropping like flies, but the party’s foundation is still strong.

Liberman at press conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Liberman at press conference
When Yisrael Beytenu reveals its list for the next Knesset next Monday, the press will probably report that Avigdor Liberman chose it.
Then, the party’s spokespeople will inevitably send messages to reporters asking for corrections, as it did last time, which will go something like this: “Avigdor Liberman does not choose the list himself! We have an organizing committee!” To be fair, Yisrael Beytenu has an organizing committee to which candidates must send applications, but it would not release the names of its members when these lines were written and it seems to be inordinately influenced by Liberman – just like almost everything else in Yisrael Beytenu.
There are a few independent voices in the party – MK Orly Levy-Abecasis, an award-winning parliamentarian who is active on social issues, stands out more than anyone else – but, it would not be far-fetched to say most of the MKs do Liberman’s bidding most of the time. Yisrael Beytenu is mostly The Liberman Show.
That’s why, despite top Beytenu MKs falling like dominoes – Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, Deputy Interior Minister and party secretary-general Faina Kirschenbaum and Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem all say they will not run for the next Knesset, and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir is rumored to be next – that problem is an optical illusion, not a real, structural one. The party’s foundations – a.k.a. Liberman – are still standing.
This does not mean the party won’t suffer at the polls. But reports of Yisrael Beytenu’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, it looks very bad before an election to have so many people abandon ship. It looks even worse in light of the ongoing corruption investigation which involves several senior figures in the party, including Kirschenbaum, though, to be fair, people affiliated with the Likud and a Yesh Atid MK were questioned as well.
Yes, the party’s weekly average in the polls dropped by two seats, from eight to six, after the scandal came to light, and the numbers didn’t swell after journalist Sharon Gal joined the party’s ranks.
However, the polls held steady in the following week, indicating that anyone who was scared off by the corruption probe left, but the core Yisrael Beytenu voters stuck with Liberman, even as his supporting players dropped like flies.
The conundrum in which Yisrael Beytenu seems to have found itself is not new for the party. As Liberman points out at every opportunity, he or other senior party members were under investigation during every election campaign since Yisrael Beytenu was founded in 1999.
Reshuffling the list is not a novel concept for Yisrael Beytenu, either.
In the last election, three high-profile figures were taken off the party’s list: Danny Ayalon, Anastasia Michaeli and Stas Meseznikov, who was also implicated in the current corruption.
Neither is running a Liberman-focused campaign, without much visible input from the rest of the list.
This is a party that ran in past elections with the slogans “Only Liberman speaks Arabic” and “Da, Liberman,” even in Hebrew advertising.
Once upon a time, Liberman’s dominance brought on crude stereotypes about immigrants from the former Soviet Union wanting strong, powerful authority figures, but Yisrael Beytenu is far from the only secular party run that way these days. Yesh Atid, Koolanu and Hatnua, where every MK except for Amir Peretz left Tzipi Livni, all have the same situation.
So, despite the departure of several MKs, Yisrael Beytenu’s usual strategy can still stand. The party can keep putting Liberman’s visage on its billboards, like it always has, without having to explain why other faces aren’t there to sing backup.
Because in Yisrael Beytenu, Liberman is the big cheese, and as the song goes, the cheese stands alone.