A Government Without Lieberman Is a Better One

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announcing his resignation, May 4, 2015.Credit: Em il Salman

“Today, unfortunately, we learned that we are apparently heading for a government with 61 Knesset members,” Israeli finance minister-designate Moshe Kahlon declared, clearly concerned about a coalition with a slim majority in the 120-member parliament. “I said in the past and I will say today: A government with 61 Knesset members is a bad government, especially given the challenges we face.”

Speaking on Monday night, Kahlon added, “Personally, after I have signed the [coalition] agreement, I’m a little constrained, but I will speak with the prime minister and I have no doubt he will act to expand the government, will call on additional factions – or call on Lieberman to return.”

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, suddenly quit as foreign minister on Monday, without clearly explaining why.

But Kahlon is wrong on two counts: Lieberman’s departure strengthens the government ahead of the reforms that the future treasury minister is planning. The latter’s first mistake is not to understand that just as Lieberman and his party were involved in torpedoing reforms to abolish private medicine and to subjugate the Jewish National Fund to the taxpayer – the chances are that the foreign minister would have linked up with the interest groups that Kahlon means to take on.

The second mistake is that Kahlon still doesn’t grasp the intensity of the opposition he’ll be arousing when the bankers and insiders in the world of finance grasp that he really does mean to break down the Hapoalim-Leumi duopoly that controls Israeli banking, and to lower real-estate prices.

Implementing painful and difficult reforms such as these will demand support from the broadest coalition ever forged in this country, a coalition of people who believe that Israeli social capital can be rehabilitated: It will require engendering a degree of faith both within the public, and between the public and government.

Lieberman never did explain how millions of dollars appeared in his daughter’s and Igor-the-chauffeur’s bank accounts in Cyprus. As long as he remains in government, the ability of that government to send a message that it truly cares about the public, not only about itself and interest groups, is undermined.

Lieberman’s departure is an important first step. The next step is for Kahlon to extend a hand to Knesset members in the opposition, people like Zehava Galon, Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit, to help dismantle the oligarchy and lower housing prices.

This is a test for the former finance minister, Yair Lapid, too. Will he support Kahlon’s reforms?

This isn’t about left and right, or big or small government. It's about ideas which, in theory, all factions in the Knesset should support, among them dismantling the oligarchy and defusing the ticking time bomb of the insane housing prices.

We don’t need a big coalition in power to achieve that. We need a broad public coalition in the Knesset, in academia, the media and civil society that will set aside differences of opinion on diplomatic and political subjects, and work together to tear down the financial oligarchy, the dominance of interest groups and corruption in politics.

There is no room for Avigdor Lieberman in a coalition like that.

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