Talk of Lieberman's Successor Is Taboo, but Names Keep Emerging

Yisrael Beiteinu activists have begun broaching the question of the party's next chairman.

Behind a thick veil of secrecy, Yisrael Beiteinu activists have begun broaching the question of the party's next chairman should Avigdor Lieberman be forced to renounce the party leadership.

In private, hush-hush conversations, two names keep coming up. One is Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, number three on the party's Knesset list, an obvious candidate. The second is new MK Fania Kirshenbaum, number 10 on the list. Before running for the Knesset, Kirshenbaum served as party CEO and is familiar with its inner workings and key activists.

Both candidates are close to Lieberman. Lieberman promoted Misezhnikov to chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee after MK Yuri Stern's death in the previous term, while Kirshenbaum is one of his confidants.

But Misezhnikov's seniority could prove his undoing in internal party maneuvering. Were Lieberman to name him leader, even as an interim measure, this could erode his reputation for independence. If Kirshenbaum were chosen, this would be seen as placing the leadership in loyal hands, even if temporarily.

Despite the differences between them, both potential candidates come from Yisrael Beiteinu's Russian-speaking core. Hence the assumption that the "temporary" leadership would go to one of them, rather than, for instance, to MK Uzi Landau, number two on the list. At this stage, Lieberman is expected to seek to preserve the party's sectorial character, as the Russian community is still its largest, most natural vote reserve.

Despite the atmosphere of uncertainty, local party branches have been expanding their activity. Municipal activists say the party's continued existence is assured by its wide network of activists at the local level.

Nobody in Yisrael Beiteinu dares to mention "the day after" openly. The subject is taboo, despite the assumption that Lieberman will retire long before he is forced to do so by law.

"The issue is hypothetical," Misezhnikov told Haaretz Thursday. "Lieberman was and will remain Yisrael Beiteinu's leader."

Kirshenbaum also refused to discuss the subject. "Not only won't I comment, but the way I understand it, there will be no indictment," she said.

But the party's conspiracy of silence has been broken by articles posted on web sites in Russia. These articles name Misezhnikov as the new party leader should Lieberman be forced to leave this post.