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Voting Liberman, for heaven’s sake

If you want to see religious reform in the next Knesset, you need Yisrael Beytenu to continue blocking the formation of a rightist-Haredi coalition
Former defense minister and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former defense minister and Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

I do not like Avigdor Liberman. Many of his statements and policy positions have been deplorable and his criminal record and those of many of his associates does not increase my confidence in him.

Avigdor Liberman is either a liar or a failure because almost none of what he says is ever actually implemented. He has backedpopulated area exchange” and “regional peaceparadigms, a death penalty for convicted terrorists, incentivizing the emigration of Arab-Israelis and requiring those that remain to take oaths of loyalty to the country, he threatend 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. Despite 20 years in the Knesset and appointments to positions such as Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Strategic Affairs Minister, Transportation Minister and National Infrastructures Minister, Liberman has not advanced a single one of these positions in any tangible way. 

I have never voted for Liberman before, but despite the fact that this election comes only months after the previous one, the issues at stake have changed. 

Religio-political policy has long been among the most contentious topics in Israel but while parties across the spectrum including the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and their predecessor parties on the right have been contrasts to the Haredim, few parties have ever taken tangible measures to counter Haredi religio-political policies. 

Despite the fact that parties across the political spectrum have joined with Haredi parties in governing coalitions and ceded control over religious affairs to them, a dynamic has emerged where opposition to Haredi control over religious life has come to be seen by some as a cause of the left. Until now.

Though Liberman too has sat in coalitions with the Haredim and has yet to affect Haredi conscription or employment or religio-political policy in general and though his political record makes it hard to expect him to follow through with his policy positions after the election, recent events have left him with religious reform as his newly rediscovered flagship. 

His poll numbers have doubled since the spring and the reason is obvious. The stronger his showing in the election the clearer the message that voters will send, even to Liberman himself, that religious reform is not just a matter for the left, it is a consensus issue across the political spectrum. Right-wing voters are also unwilling to tolerate Haredi coercion.

Many voters may also credit other parties for taking stands against the Haredim. By virtue of Liberman’s being to the right, though, strengthening him makes religious reform a national consensus issue in a way that strengthening other parties that have prioritized it does not. The importance of this is illustrated by the example of the 19th Knesset when Yesh Atid advanced religious reforms only to have them discarded by the 20th Knesset before they could even be implemented. For those who are really interested in seeing religious reforms not only enacted but maintained in future coalitions, support for Liberman in this election is critical in order to solidify religio-political reform as a consensus issue.

Even voters on the left should ask themselves what issues are actually at play in this election. The prospect of a left-wing governing coalition is dim. Even if that happens, the prospect of an agreement with the Palestinians is even dimmer. 

Religious reform is the only major issue on left-wing agendas that is really at play and while I do not expect the religious status quo to be instantly and completely upended, some level of reform is certainly within reach. Though it will not be left-wing parties that accomplish it, if they truly want to see some sort of religious reform advance in the next Knesset term, the prospect of that happening depends on Liberman’s ability to continue blocking the formation of a rightist-Haredi coalition as he has for the last several months and it needs to be obvious both to him and to everyone else that voters are rewarding him for doing so.

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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