Despite the growth of his Yisrael Beytenu political party in recent years, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is perceived as one of the most controversial leaders in Israel’s government. The Foreign Minister often generates controversial headlines in Israel and abroad with his direct approach and willingness to say things as he sees them. Recently, he was extraordinarily vilified merely for calling for the Palestinians to adhere to the democratic process and inviting a neighboring leader to visit Jerusalem. However, an Arab MK who trods on and burnt Liberman’s picture outside the Foreign Ministry barely elicited a whimper.
However, these events often distract people from the significant achievements the Yisrael Beytenu party has attained. I think it is time to share these details with those who may have missed them to gain a greater understanding of a party who has achieved a lot during the last three years .
To start, Yisrael Beytenu holds 15 seats in the current government, and although it is perceived as a one-dimensional party, it is actually the most diverse of any major party in the history of the state. There are 5 women among these seats, which is the highest ratio of any political party in the Knesset. The party’s Knesset members also include; immigrants, native born Israelis, religious and secular, and a member of Israel’s Druze community.
The most prominent Knesset Member from the Yisrael Beytenu party is of course Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. He leads the Foreign Ministry together with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Under their leadership, Israel has strengthened relations with several European countries in the Balkans and southern region of the continent like Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria, while establishing diplomatic relations with South Sudan. Their Foreign Ministry has the most embassies and consulates in Israel’s history, opening eight new diplomatic offices around the world (Munich, Sao Paulo, St. Petersburg, Wellington, Accra, Goonanz’o, OECD and Ashgebat) while planning three more, (Bangalore, Kinshasa and the Caribbean.)
There have also been many diplomatic achievements this Foreign Ministry has been involved in including; the Palmer Commission establishing the legality of the Gaza blockade, preventing another “flotilla” and “flytilla”, resisting the Palestinian petition in the UN Security Council, the Australian Parliament making boycotts against Israeli businesses a criminal offense, the Dutch Parliament naming the IHH a terror organization, curbing the risk of arrest for Israeli officials in Britain, tightening sanctions on Iran, international rejection of the Durban Conference, the signing of agreements with the CERN and the OECD, and many more. I also should mention the millions of people who have viewed Danny Ayalon’s video series that presents Israel’s side of the story on the Palestinian conflict, peace process, and Jewish refugees from Arab lands.
Theirs has been a policy of action rather than the reaction that has characterized Israel’s foreign policy before this government.
Next, the Ministry of Tourism has achieved significant success under the direction of Yisrael Beytenu’s Stas Misezhnikov. While most predicted that Israel’s tourism industry was facing a sharp decline when he took over, Minister Misezhnikov, has overseen consistent year after year increases in tourism to Israel for the past four years, strengthening the economy, and creating jobs. Tourism is now at record levels. To keep the number of tourists rising, he has overseen significant increases in the governmental budget allocation in tourism development and infrastructure as well as establishing a fund to give grants to tourist cities and finance a maximum of 30% of the construction of new hotels and the renovation of existing hotels. Over the last year the Ministry of Tourism has announced major development projects in Eilat and the Dead Sea region, which will create many more badly needed jobs. This has been a major factor to our relatively stable economy surviving in a global economic crisis.
Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau is also a member of the Yisrael Beytenu party. Under his leadership, the water system is undergoing an accelerated development program. Within 3 years Israel will be desalinating 600 million cubic meters of water per year, relieving water shortages at a very vital time. MK Uzi Landau has also helped launch the construction of private power plants to increase competition and lower the cost of energy for Israelis, and overseen the natural gas revolution taking place off Israel’s shores. Especially in these uncertain times regionally, Minister Landau’s policies are moving Israel towards energy independence which will become an essential part of Israel’s strategic standing in the Middle East. Minister Landau has also made huge investments in infrastructure such as sewage, with the goal of providing the same infrastructure standards across all regions and populations in Israel.
Other achievements for the Yisrael Beytenu party come from Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver’s leadership. Four thousand public housing units for immigrants will soon be built. Rental assistance has almost doubled, and over six thousand immigrant students are now receiving educational scholarships and other assistance. In addition, a program has been established to assist “at risk youth” in 50 localities around Israel.
Besides the achievements of the ministries I mentioned above, Knesset members from the Yisrael Beytenu party have initiated and passed many laws in the current government. Here are just a few:
- MK David Rotem: Civil Marriage Law, allowing for the first time those defined as “without a religion” to marry
- MK Moshe (Mutz) Matalon: Doubling the IDF release grant to 20,000 NIS
- MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov: Revocation of citizenship of those convicted of terrorism or espionage
- MK Orly Levy-Abecassis: Extension of maternity leave to mothers of newborns requiring extended hospitalization.
- MK Lia Shemtov: The granting of income support to disabled senior citizens who otherwise would not be eligible for such a financial benefit.
- MK Faina Kirshenbaum: The granting to terror-victims’ families a leave of absence from work on Memorial Day
- MK Alex Miller: “Nakba” Law, denying any benefits or budget to authorities to mark Independence Day as a day of mourning.
- MK Alex Miller: Compulsory Education Law Amendment prohibiting the employment of children and youth during school hours
Yisrael Beytenu has also placed the issue of citizenship and contribution on the national agenda. The party is still the one in the Knesset to actually formulate a law (written before the Tal Law was struck down as unconstitional by the High Court) demanding that all Israelis contribute equally to the state through military or civilian service and is committed to electoral reform to bring stability and accountability to Israel’s political system.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party are making very significant contributions to Israeli society and the party will continue on its upward trajectory and continue to work on the issues of necessity and importance for the state which most other parties and politicians merely equivocate and fumble over.