Opinion

Lieberman the Kingslayer Wants Payback

Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset on June 24, 2019.
Emil Salman

You can criticize him until the cows come home, but there’s one thing on which everybody agrees: He’s unconventional. He’s unpredictable. He doesn’t follow the crowd. He’s the only politician who’s willing to pay the full price, even if that means political suicide, to take revenge on and destroy a rival. That’s why Benjamin Netanyahu is so anxious about Avigdor Lieberman. The prime minister knows him well.

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Lieberman wants retribution, and not just for recent events. He wants payback for the years during which Netanyahu fed him a line: He didn’t keep his promises to Lieberman, undermined him, isolated him and badly damaged Yisrael Beiteinu. As a result, Lieberman wasn’t part of the coalition government Netanyahu formed in 2015.

In April, Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a government. It’s a case of personal revenge that could end in prison for Netanyahu. In the event that Netanyahu is deprived of power, immunity and the protections of office, even Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who excels at cowardice and procrastination, will pull himself together and issue an indictment. That would earn Lieberman the sobriquet “Kingslayer,” ripped from “Game of Thrones.”

To accomplish this, Lieberman would like to take the place of the ultra-Orthodox parties in holding the balance of power. As a result, he has been speaking about a national unity government consisting of Kahol Lavan, Likud and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party, without the ultra-Orthodox or hard-line religious Zionists. It’s the dream of anyone who understands how together they can bring the country grief.

And because Lieberman knows that (as its leaders have stated) Kahol Lavan will not join a government led by Netanyahu, he expects that after the September 17 election, Netanyahu’s Likud will anoint a new leader so as not to lose power. And no one but the Kingslayer will anoint the new king.

To constitute a real balance of power, Lieberman is trying to appeal to center-right secular voters, that same large group of middle-class Israelis who are fed up with religious coercion and the Haredi dream of a state governed in accordance with Jewish religious law. Lieberman has taken up the mantle of the late Yosef “Tommy” Lapid and his son, Kahol Lavan’s Yair Lapid.

There is also no disputing that Lieberman’s gamble is succeeding. Recent voter polls give Yisrael Beiteinu eight or nine Knesset seats, and Netanyahu is incapable of forming a coalition without him. The ultra-Orthodox brought Lieberman’s success upon themselves. It happens every few years when they become drunk with power. It goes to their head.

When that happens, Haredi party leaders Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni and Arye Dery trample on secular values, interfering in people’s lives, prohibiting the operation of public transportation and 24-hour convenience stores on Shabbat. They have shot down civil marriage. They humiliate women, continue to advocate evasion of army service and brazenly stand in the way of teaching a core curriculum in their schools. And now secular Israelis are rebelling. They are simply not prepared to live in a backward state governed by religious law that would be incapable of surviving economically for even a minute.

It is also no longer possible to tolerate the extortion of public funds by the non-Zionist Haredim, many of whom don’t work and don’t serve in the military — the height of parasitism. Their voracious appetite must be curbed. And this time, it is Lieberman who is doing it with great skill.

Lieberman recently expanded his line of attack to include the right flank of religious Zionism and their pre-army academies, making reference to the Lebanese political scene in labeling them the Phalange and religious militias. Those remarks were also well-taken.

After all, at the moment of truth, when it comes to sensitive issues, the graduates of these academies will listen to their rabbis and not to their army commanders. These are extremist, messianic rabbis whose values are in opposition to those of the Israeli military and the state.

One of these rabbis, Giora Redler of the pre-army academy in Eli, actually provided justification for Nazism and Hitler, saying Hitler “was the most correct person there was ... other than the fact that he was on the wrong side.” Rabbi Shlomo Aviner doesn’t want women to serve in the army, and also said that “the complicated whirlwind of politics is not for women.” In short, women should sit quietly at home and cook. Just as the ultra-Orthodox think.

The time has come for us to stop being the followers of the Gur rebbe and the pawns of Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties. It would be very helpful if they sit in the Knesset opposition ranks after September 17.