Liberman’s Moment

Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party are often associated with the far right but they have consistently backed two states. Their plan is to draw major Arab-Israeli population centers out of a future Israel. Jewish population centers east of the Green Line, such as Ariel, would be annexed into Israel in exchange for Arab population centers west of the Green Line, such as Umm al-Fahm, which would be given to the Palestinian Authority, without forcing anyone from their homes. In previous campaigns they used the slogan “Ariel for Israel, Umm al-Fahm for Palestine.” They have also pushed for a “regional peace” initiative the details of which were published in 2014. 

Other Yisrael Beitenu positions have included plans to incentivize the emigration of Arab-Israelis and to require those that remain to take oaths of loyalty to the country; support for instituting a death penalty for convicted terrorists; advocacy of haredi conscription; and more aggressive policies in Gaza, including Liberman’s threat that he would have Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh assassinated within 48 hours of his appointment as Defense Minister unless Hamas returned the bodies of Israeli soldiers held in Gaza. 

Liberman has spent 20 years as a politician and has served as Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Strategic Affairs Minister, Transportation Minister and National Infrastructures Minister but it is hard to point to a single policy position he has advanced. The “populated area exchange” and the “regional peace” initiatives have fallen by the wayside. Israel has never executed terrorists, required loyalty oaths from Arabs or incentivized their emigration. Ismail Haniyeh is alive while Hamas continues to hold the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. 

Liberman maintains an image as a hardline representative of secular Russian immigrants but he has sat in several coalitions with ultra-Orthodox parties and has yet to affect haredi conscription or employment or religio-political policy in general and it is just as hard to credit him with having impacted the lives of immigrants.

Yisrael Beitenu weathered what could be described as the largest political corruption scandal in Israeli history in which a minister, a deputy minister, and several others were arrested. Liberman himself was acquitted in a separate political corruption case and his legal record is not limited to his political dealings. In a case involving his son Liberman plead guilty to assaulting a twelve year old.

After 20 years of titles and scandals and not a single legislative accomplishment, Liberman, in the last several months, has blocked the formation of a rightist-haredi governing coalition and advocated for the formation of a centrist one. In doing so he forced the first repeat election in Israeli history, brought Netanyahu’s future into jeopardy and gave up on a senior ministerial post, all in the name of religio-political reform. A righteous advocate of Truth and Justice Avigdor Liberman is not but by bringing about this election he has stuck to his guns this once. Even If the election results in another rightist-haredi coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu it will still be remembered as the most significant thing Liberman has ever done. If for nothing else it must be recognized that for that alone he deserves credit.

About the Author
Baruch Stein holds a BA in Political Science from Penn State University, with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies. He has campaign experience in both Israel, and the United States, and has experience working for elected officials and for political advocacy organizations in the United States. Born and raised in Pennsylvania he has now been living in Jerusalem for more than six years.
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