By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
My sense of panic has been building up from the moment I first heard (which I alluded to in a previous comment) that what I had feared was about to become reality: Avigdor Lieberman, as Israel’s next minister of defense, was one step closer to becoming prime minister.
A headline in last Thursday’s business section of Ha’aretz reads: “There’s no shortage of points of concern in the biography of the man whom the prime minister has offered the defense portfolio – but the most frightening thing about Avigdor Lieberman is what we still don’t know about him.”
The reason behind this observation is probably the continued criminal investigation of several members of Lieberman’s party with the unspoken assumption that, in view of his tight grip on things, it’s difficult to imagine that he himself isn’t implicated.
If that wouldn’t be a cogent enough reason for the prime minister to want to keep Lieberman far away from high office, the fact that in the time that he was in opposition his criticism of Netanyahu was extremely sharp, at times vicious. That they’d once again be colleagues seemed most unlikely. But Lieberman’s craving for power and Netanyahu’s determination to stay prime minister at all cost seem to have been stronger than the hostility between them let alone integrity.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to panic. Benny Begin (the son of the late prime minister) and a Knesset member of Netanyahu’s Likud party said something to the effect that he was horrified at the prospect of Lieberman becoming minister of defense. And the current incumbent Moshe Ya’alon whose public disagreement with the prime minister will cost him his office, can’t be very happy about his successor either.
Strong opposition was also expressed by some ultra-Orthodox Knesset members because of Lieberman’s very hostile views on a number of issues dear to haredim.
But like so often in cases of panic, once it reaches its peak, those stricken begin to adjust. By Thursday afternoon comments began to emerge to the effect that, for all his rhetoric, Lieberman is a pragmatist. Though the defense minister is the Number Two in the cabinet hierarchy, he cannot make decisions without the approval of the prime minister and the cooperation of the General Staff, at least some of the members of which seem to hold centrist/liberal views.
Yet with the entry of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party for the first time in Israel’s history all of its right-wing parties are in the government coalition. Some say that it bodes ill for the Jewish state.
But most of the damage to the current state of Israeli politics has probably been done by the Leader of the Opposition Isaac Herzog. By blaming at least one of his party rivals for having torpedoed the deal that would bring Herzog’s Zionist Union into the government and make Netanyahu veer to the centre, even sue for peace, a state of internal party war has now been declared. It’ll no doubt cost Herzog his leadership. Whether his successor will know how to rebuild the party remains to be seen.
While Israelis will keep an eye on that, they’ll be much more fascinated to monitor Lieberman’s climb to the top. Anybody who has followed his career can’t be in doubt that he wants to be Number One. In his new job he’ll only be one step away from becoming prime minister.