Dan Meridor- Moti Kimche
Dan Meridor Photo by Moti Kimche
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Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor rejected yesterday in an interview with Haaretz the verbal slam directed at him by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The foreign minister dismissed those who oppose the establishment of a committee to investigate human rights groups, including Meridor, as "ideologically defiled" and "dandies."

Meridor told Haaretz: "As far as I am concerned, this idea that MKs will investigate groups that have different views is a very dangerous thing."

Meridor said that MKs should not be part of political committees of inquiry. "It reminds us of phenomena in other places which we do not wish to imitate," Meridor said. "When the freedom of expression and the freedom to express a view are threatened, Israeli democracy is also threatened."

Meridor said that "the organizations working for human rights are normally doing important and difficult work."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Lieberman yesterday and chastised him over the storm stirred by his statements against members of the right and leftist groups.

Netanyahu had himself been criticized for failing to curtail Lieberman in his blatant assault on human rights organizations.

The prime minister spoke with Lieberman on the phone last night, hours after a press conference the foreign minister held in which he ridiculed the rule of Netanyahu and senior members of Likud who opposed a bill to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate human rights groups. The idea was initiated by Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.

Lieberman was referring to ministers Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

Benny Begin said in response: "I hope that until the next deliberation on establishing the committee, most of the MKs will recognize the crucial difference between the rule of the majority and the dictatorship of the majority."

Netanyahu apparently realized that if he let this matter slide without responding, it would only bolster his image as a man who is scared of the foreign minister, and therefore he went out of his way to show he could put Lieberman in his place.

Early yesterday morning the Prime Minister's Bureau issued a statement describing the conversation in which the prime minister made it clear to Lieberman "that he entirely rejects his statements about senior Likud members."

Netanyahu, said his bureau, stressed that "Likud is united in the belief that there is a need to take action against groups working illegally against the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, but that there are many different views about how best to carry out this policy."

The prime minister said: "Likud is a democratic and pluralist party, and not a dictatorship of a single view." Netanyahu added: "All the Likud ministers care and are worried about the safety of the state and its residents and they need no acknowledgment of this by anyone." This is the first time that Netanyahu has openly gone against Lieberman and targeted his "one man rule" style of governing Yisrael Beiteinu.

Netanyahu recognizes that despite efforts to retain his coalition, he will have to face Lieberman at the polls and compete with him for the vote of the right, which the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu has been doing for some time.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, attacked the Netanyahu issued on his meeting with Lieberman. She said: "The Foreign minister is harming the country. But the main culprit in this is the prime minister. He is the one who decides. He decided on this coalition. This morning, I heard that he called Lieberman. He did not call him after Lieberman attacked minorities, or after Lieberman explained to [Israeli] ambassadors that we will undertake no diplomatic moves. He did this in order to protect his minister. This is a prime minister who stands behind his body guards, facing bereaved families who assail his minister. He did not tell Lieberman anything of substance and did take a stance on [Lieberman's] actions."

Livni said that "Israel is deteriorating. "It is becoming isolated in the world, and society is full of hostility and hatred."

She charged that Israel is in the corner and its government is undermining the values of the state. "It is transforming Israel into a country where people are silenced and foreigners are hated, and that undermines the ability of the IDF to act no less than the groups who are trying to harm the IDF," Livni said.

"Israel has a sense of being under international siege. Politicians are becoming extremists - only for votes," she said. In a democracy it is not possible to cover things up with propaganda, Livni said, if every day democracy is being undermined through legislation and committees of inquiry.

Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor ) said Netanyahu's response to Lieberman "was motivated by politics and does not deal with the damage to the country."

Herzog criticized Netanyahu for an excess of caution and said his response to Lieberman "mostly serves internal political needs" in a struggle for right-wing voters.

Herzog asked: "Where is the country in this story?" In the middle of a term the prime minister has a wonderful opportunity to reexamine the qualities of his ministers and to replace them if that is necessary, as is the case with the foreign minister."