Lieberman Blasts Netanyahu, Says He Won't Join His 'Jewish Law' Government

With two days left for Netanyahu to form a coalition, ex-defense minister calls for a new election, says PM caved in to Hamas

Avigdor Lieberman speaks at a Yisrael Beiteinu party meeting, Jerusalem, April 30, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday afternoon that his Yisrael Beiteinu party will not join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which he called a "halakah [Jewish law] government."

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"We will support the dissolution of the Knesset and we will not recommend any other alternative candidate [to the president for the formation of the coalition]," he said at a press conference. 

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Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox parties have been stuck over the military conscription bill, which passed the first of three required parliamentary votes in July and which would obligate ultra-Orthodox men studying the Torah, who are currently exempt from service, to join the military. 

After Lieberman spoke, various parties, including his, put forth a request to bring a Knesset dissolution bill to a plenum vote. If passed, it would mean a new election would be called in Israel. 

Speaking at the Knesset Monday, Lieberman went after the premier, blasting him for caving in to Hamas and failing to deter the terror group ruling the Gaza Strip: "We gave them $30 million for 700 rockets."

The former defense minister said he won’t join a government ruled by Jewish law but that he’s not waging a personal struggle against the prime minister, even though he has been accused of dragging out the coalition negotiations as a form of revenge. He reiterated that he supports Netanyahu as prime minister, insisting that his position over the military draft bill is ideological, not personal.

"We have made our position clear since 2018: We will not agree to any change in the draft bill," Lieberman said, repeating a position he has laid out many times before.

U.S. President Donald Trump expressed support for a coalition formation by Netanyahu, tweeting on Monday: "Hoping things will work out with Israel's coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever."

Meanwhile, Likud said that all the political factions have announced that if Lieberman signs a coalition agreement, all the other parties will sign such agreements based on understandings that have been reached with them. "We invite Lieberman to join us today and not contribute to the toppling of a right-wing government," a statement by Likud read. 

Speaking before him, Kahol Lavan co-chair Benny Gantz said Monday that since Netanyahu has failed to form a government, President Reuven Rivlin should give his party a chance to establish a governing coalition.

Gantz said that Kahol Lavan "would oppose the dissolving of the Knesset" amid concerns that Israel could go to elections again shortly after the April 9 ballot.

"Netanyahu prefers elections that will silence the Israeli nation for many months, waste a lot of money, and all this for a single principle: Netanyahu above all," Gantz added. "The silence of the lambs in the Likud is embarrassing, and their fear is paralyzing. I want to remind all the members of the Likud and all of us as well, that we are witnessing dark days under the Likud."

Echoing his statements, co-chairman of Kahol Lavan Yair Lapid, said that "if anyone else stood at the helm of Likud, we could establish a unity government," reiterating his party's firm opposition to join forces with Netanyahu.

"Bibi has not won the election if he cannot manage to build a government," he said. "Now it's our turn. Give us a chance to create the national unity government that the public wants. Netanyahu is the barrier to a unity government."

Even though Netanyahu has until midnight on Wednesday to finalize coalition negotiations, Likud is weighing bringing the matter of dissolving the Knesset to a preliminary vote on Monday if it does not manage to broker a deal between Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties over the military draft bill that has caused a deadlock in attempts to form a government.

Labor Party chief Avi Gabbay also spoke Monday afternoon, saying that "if Netanyahu fails to form a government, the mandate returns to the president. We will oppose a new election, it serves only Netanyahu and not the state." 

Itzik Shmuli of the Labor party also said that the opposition won't vote for dissolving the government. "It's a vote that affirms nothing but the importance of extending Netanyahu's political life," he said.