Reality Check: Liberman’s home front

Liberman has correctly identified state assistance in housing as a make-or-break issue for his party.

Lieberman, Israel Beiteinu MKs [file]_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Lieberman, Israel Beiteinu MKs [file]_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
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.
Not surprisingly, 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.
To 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 housing.”
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 public purse.
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.”
Following 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.
Netanyahu is caught in his least favorite position: that of having to make a decision, particularly one that could damage his unholy alliance with the haredi parties.
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 power.
Regardless of who wins tomorrow’s election for party leader, Kadima’s days as Israel’s largest party are numbered.
The shine 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 day.
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.