Liberman: Vision, values gap with haredim ‘existential threat’ to Israel

Yisrael Beytenu leader warns Israel likely to turn into ‘Iranian, Khomenei-style state’ of religious law if Netanyahu-led right-wing, religious bloc wins the election.

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: REUTERS)
Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The gap in “vision and values” between the secular, Zionist population and the ultra-Orthodox community is an “existential threat” to the State of Israel, warned Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, and the country could turn into a “Khomeini-style state” if the right-wing, religious bloc wins the election.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Liberman laid out the policies he will advance to address this issue, including his reversal on support for a High Court override law. He also addressed criticism he has faced over his acerbic attacks against the haredi parties.
As ever, Liberman has been in the headlines of late for his harsh rhetoric, this time against the haredim who have become his bêtes noires and the principal focus of his enmity since the second election campaign of 2019.
Asked in an interview last Friday if he would join the haredi parties in a coalition if it meant toppling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Yisrael Beytenu leader replied: “The haredim and Bibi together on a wheelbarrow to the garbage dump.”
Liberman was widely condemned for the comments and not just by the haredim and the right wing, although he was technically referring to the haredi parties themselves.
Nevertheless, his intemperate and caustic language and tone toward the haredi sector did not abate in his interview with the Post, when he described their parties as “cults close to Judaism but which do not represent Jewish values.”
Although he has been strongly criticized for this rhetoric, Liberman, characteristically, does not shy away from this image, and defends his outbursts as a response to what he, in turn, describes as incitement emanating from the haredi political parties.
He cites as evidence a recent offensive election ad by United Torah Judaism comparing Reform converts to dogs, and a UTJ MK calling converts through the IDF Orthodox conversion system “shiksas,” a derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman, arguing that neither Netanyahu nor anyone else in the government condemned these incidents.
“My harsh words come as a reaction to the incitement that we’ve seen over the last month, with the ‘Reform are dogs’ ad, Pindrus’s shiksa comments, and the incitement in the haredi press where all immigrants from the former Soviet Union are depicted as non-Jews, drunks and Communists who go to church,” said Liberman. “That is the image they incite.”
Immediately following Liberman’s comments on Friday, UTJ and its politicians highlighted the Yisrael Beytenu leader’s fierce language in a campaign to galvanize its voters, some of whom are disappointed in its activities and may possibly defect to other parties.
Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the most senior rabbinic leaders of the country’s haredi community, earlier this week called specifically on haredi voters to vote only for UTJ despite their dissatisfaction, saying that otherwise “inciters” will increase their Knesset representation and issue “decrees of destruction” against the haredi community.
Asked if his rhetoric actually serves to increase haredi voter turnout, Liberman ducked the question and insisted that he was simply highlighting the societal problems the State of Israel faces in its relationship with its haredi citizens.
Liberman cited the 140,000 full-time yeshiva students who he said “never served in the IDF, never worked, don’t intend to work, and don’t care about the economic situation.”
Liberman also talked about the haredi education system, where many institutions do not teach core curriculum subjects whatsoever despite being funded by the state.
During the last election campaign, Liberman vowed to pass legislation defunding any school that does not teach these core curriculum subjects.
“We are the only country in the world – not Iran, not North Korea, not Venezuela – which finances an education system that bans children from studying math, English and computing,” fumed Liberman.
“Someone age 18 who has not learned those subjects for even one day has no chance of integrating into the workforce,” he continued. “And then he has one path: yeshiva and kollel. They have no other path.”
Liberman said that cutting funding for schools that do not teach the core curriculum is still very much on his agenda.
He also seeks to cut child benefit payments beyond a fifth child, saying that distributing such payments beyond a fifth child “encourages [high] birthrates and unemployment among the Beduin in the South and the haredim.”
Moreover, Liberman maintains that the entire system whereby haredi yeshiva students get paid a stipend by the government for their studies should be ended.
“Someone who wants to study Torah, that is something blessed and honorable. But people can do it at their own expense and not at the expense of taxpayers,” he argued.
Liberman said he will also introduce legislation, again, instituting a universal draft to the IDF or civil service, including the haredi and Arab sectors.
The Yisrael Beytenu leader largely blames Netanyahu for the control of the haredi parties over these and other religion and state issues, saying the prime minister has allied himself so strongly with Shas and UTJ because he needs them for his political survival, and because they will support the “French law” to retroactively grant immunity to the prime minister.
“Netanyahu’s decisions during the corona crisis were based only on his personal interests,” alleged Liberman. “All his decisions come from his desire to escape his trial, and his desire to survive politically and personally.”
Turning to politics, the Yisrael Beytenu leader maintained his line that he would support the largest party in the “Bloc for Change” as he describes the anti-Netanyahu group of parties, but alleged that Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party would join a Netanyahu-led government if the right-wing, religious bloc, including Yamina, nets 61 Knesset seats.
“They will then formulate the most radical, fundamentalist government that we’ve ever had,” declared Liberman. “Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, Deri, Litzman, Gafni and Bennett, with the Likud, will form an Iranian-style, Khomeini-like coalition.”
Asked why he does not simply rejoin the right-wing bloc to end the interminable elections and balance out the religious parties in such a coalition, Liberman said such balance was impossible to exert anymore.
“We want a Zionist and liberal country, but if the fundamentalist bloc wins, then we will turn into Iran, and it will create a crisis the consequences of which I don’t want to even think about.
“Netanyahu is captive to Deri, Litzman and Gafni; he is only interested in personal survival, legally and politically, so he gives them everything they demand,” he said.
Liberman cited the suspension of the Western Wall agreement in 2017; the failure to approve proposals made by a Netanyahu appointee on the knotty problem of Jewish conversion; and the failure to pass legislation increasing haredi IDF conscription as prime examples of the prime minister capitulating to the demands of the haredi parties UTJ and Shas.
Despite Netanyahu’s adoption of these unpopular religion and state positions dictated by those two parties, as well as blocking civil marriage, public transportation on Shabbat and the opening of shops on Shabbat, the right-wing does not seem to suffer politically for this stance.
Liberman put this phenomenon down to “tribal voting,” but pointed out that polls have demonstrated that some 61% of voters want a government without the haredi parties.
“If the haredi parties are the deciding factor for a coalition, there is no way to come to agreement on religion and state issues,” he said.
For this reason, Liberman says he has also abandoned his previous support for legislating a High Court override law that would allow the Knesset to reinstate legislation struck down by the court.
He noted that the haredim have promised to use such a law to continue to prevent mandatory IDF service for yeshiva students, and that Netanyahu would use it to pass a retroactive immunity law.
High Court rulings on conversion and other religion and state issues would also be at risk, he said.
But due to his abandonment of the Netanyahu-led bloc, Yisrael Beytenu now finds itself with strange political bedfellows, including the hard-left Meretz Party.
Liberman said he would have no problem sitting in a government with Meretz, but when asked what if a situation arose in which Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz insisted on restarting negotiations with the Palestinians that would divide the West Bank, Liberman was evasive, saying simply the Palestinian issue was not on the agenda.
He also said Horowitz’s recent comments justifying the International Criminal Court’s investigation into Israel for war crimes was “total insanity.”
But the Yisrael Beytenu leader said that the real existential threat to the State of Israel is what he described as the chasm in “vision and values” that has opened up between haredi society and the general population.
“What was the vision of the state’s visionary, Herzl? He wrote ‘We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks,’” Liberman quoted Herzl as saying.
Liberman pointed to several phone calls made by Netanyahu to the grandson and adviser of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky during the COVID-19 crisis, imploring him to have his grandfather keep haredi schools closed in the third lockdown in January, something the rabbi had refused to do previously when schools around the rest of the country were shuttered.
“Herzl predicted these problems, and with all due respect to the rabbis, they can manage their educational institutions, but they cannot interfere in the management of the state,” said Liberman.
Asked again whether his full frontal war with the haredim does not worsen the societal divides, Liberman remained defiant.
“I am just highlighting the problem, and I’m just telling the liberal, Zionist public to wake up,” he insisted. “If the majority of the Zionist public has not woken up until now, then they need to be woken up. All I am trying to do is to wake up and cause an awakening of the secular, liberal Zionist public. Otherwise, we will lose this state as a liberal, Zionist country.”