Israel is now gearing up for another election, after the one that took place on April 9th did not result in a government. The Likud blames Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, for the new elections. Yisrael Beytenu blames Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Who is right?
Well, it would be right to say that Netanyahu was unable to build a ruling coalition because Lieberman made it impossible for him to do so. It would be wrong to say that this led immediately to new elections. Having failed to build a ruling coalition, Mr Netanyahu was expected to return the baton to the President, who would have handed the opportunity to build a coalition to the leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz. Instead Netanyahu called new elections.
Who is Right?
That night Netanyahu fulminated against Lieberman, calling him a leftist. In failing to support a right-wing government, he accused Lieberman over going over to the Left side. In turn, Lieberman shot back: “The man who lives in Caesarea is calling the man who lives in Nokdim, a leftist?” Prime Minister Netanyahu has his private home in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast. Avigdor Lieberman lives in the settlement of Nokdim in the heart of Judea and well over the Green Line.
So who is Right? Someone who strives to build a right-wing coalition, or someone who actually lives in the West Bank? Is being Right-wing to do with being a security hawk, or being committed to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)?
Who is Right?
Avigdor Lieberman is arguing that he is indeed on the political Right, but that to be on the political Right in Israel does not mean that one must be religious. Lieberman has chosen his moment to take a stand against the significant demands of the Haredi Ultra-Orthodox parties. He will not give his (now-growing) support to a government that kow-tows to the Haredim who demand continued exemption from army service and increasing funds for Yeshivot.
Lieberman is now saying that after the coming elections he will insist on a government made up of Likud (who received 35 seats this time) and Blue/White (who also received 35 seats). With the addition of Lieberman’s party, this would make for a strong, solid, and wholly secular ruling coalition.
Who is right?
Were this come to pass, we might be looking at the opposite of a scenario we floated back in late April: A government that will unlikely make any significant inroads towards ending the military occupation of the Palestinians, but that would probably make big changes to the place of Haredim in Israeli society.
In this Likud-Blue/White-Yisrael Beytenu world, all sorts of possibilities suggest themselves:
- Women may be given full access to the Kotel.
- Conversion laws could be made far more accommodating.
- Moves may begin to replace compulsory military service with compulsory national service for all – Haredim and Arabs included – whereby volunteering for several years in the fire service, for example, would be recognized as just as valuable as army service.
- Funding of Haredi schools may become dependent upon teaching math.
At the same time, such a combination would move hardly an inch towards a Palestinian State. And if Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman’s current statements are anything to go by, Israel would if anything be likely to behave even more harshly towards Hamas.
Bearing in mind progressives cannot have both, would it be right to support a right-wing secular government in Israel? Or would it be right to oppose it?
[The first English-language journalist to call this latest Lieberman twist was Shmuel Rosner. He often writes for the New York Times, and has a regular blog at Rosner’s Domain.]