Two Months Before the Vote, Yisrael Beiteinu Is in Crisis

Criminal inquiry eliminated key party members from list of candidates for Knesset; polls show voter support has dropped.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman presents his party's Knesset slate, January 19, 2015.
Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman presents his party's Knesset slate, January 19, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

As the Yisrael Beiteinu party on Monday concluded its meeting to announce a slate of candidates for the March 17 Knesset election, party members took a symbolic vote on the list. Hundreds of people raised their hands in favor.

The party’s chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with a burst of irony, then asked from the stage: “Who’s against? We always have one person.”

As they say, there’s a grain of truth in every joke. And in this case, more than a grain.

With his party facing a criminal corruption investigation, eliminating key party members who were supposed to join the Knesset list, this is not how Lieberman wanted to launch his election campaign.

Two months before Israel’s scheduled election, Yisrael Beiteinu is in crisis.

Reshuffled deck

Despite studied assurances that a prominent panel interviewed 65 candidates for the slate, the resulting list was in large measure a rebroadcast.

The new slate includes one party commander and a lot of disciplined foot soldiers, most of them unknowns.

That’s because the investigation, involving party General Secretary Faina Kirschenbaum and a number of her associates, reshuffled the deck for him.

Lieberman on Monday tried to project business as usual. He displayed optimism, in the face of polls showing Yisrael Beiteinu garnering five to seven seats in the next Knesset, compared with 13 in the previous parliament.

On Monday he took time to present each candidate, from Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat (No. 4 on the new list) to the man from Ma’alot, Arkadi Pomerantz (No. 13) to Yuri Goldstein (No. 30).

Lieberman had promised a young team with new faces. He took pains to mention that the average age of the candidates on his slate is 44.3 compared with 53.8 on the Likud slate.

Broader appeal

The party chairman also understands that his traditional voter base, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, has been shrinking over the years.

So he tried to appeal to the general public: It’s not by chance that of the top 10 slots on the slate only four are Soviet immigrants. And many observers doubt that even the first 10 all have a solid chance of election.

As other parties have done, Lieberman has placed four women in the top 10. No. 2 is a current MK, Orly Levi-Abekasis, who is one of the most successful and highly regarded women in parliament.

In the past, Lieberman preferred to promote and be close to other Knesset members, such as former MK Stas Misezhnikov and Kirshenbaum. Both are now subjects of the criminal investigation.

One might wonder why Lieberman remembers Levi-Abekasis only now, when he’s in distress.

Despite his unchallenged control of the party, enabling him to hand-pick the members of his slate, not a single major public figure seemed interested in a ticket to the Knesset from him.

Instead, he’s named the mayor of a small city, who has drifted among parties; a television presenter, Sharon Gal, whom Lieberman praised primarily for his Facebook posts; and Shira Mistrial, whose anti-Arab comments on Facebook attracted attention on that social network. If she wants to get a look at the Knesset chamber, she might have to watch it on television.

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