By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Two items in today’s news encourage me to repeat an earlier, perhaps now less idle, speculation about the future of Avigdor Lieberman: (1) the Attorney General has decided not to accept the outgoing Chief Prosecutor’s recommendation to appeal Lieberman’s not guilty verdict that enabled him to resume his post as foreign minister; (2) tonight the Likud party will be voting about possible amalgamation with Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu.
Both steps pave the way for Lieberman to become Israel’s next prime minister. Should that happen, serious consequences can be anticipated.
If Netanyahu is Israel’s “American” Prime Minister, Lieberman will be her “Russian” leader. To start with, he’ll loosen Israel’s ties with the United States and augment relations with other countries, particularly Russia. There’s much to suggest that Putin and Lieberman speak the same language in more than the obvious sense.
Second, there’ll be no peace with the Palestinians. Lieberman’s opposition, often couched in the language of disbelief about Palestinian intentions, is well known. He lives in a settlement and will support the settlement movement and what it stands for.
Next, the Arab citizens of Israel can expect further restrictions. As it is they now, often for good reason, complain of discrimination. Lieberman at the helm may make them look back on the present government as benign in comparison.
Finally, Lieberman is aggressively secular. Even though at least one of his daughters is said to be Orthodox, it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll get on with the haredim. Whereas Netanyahu and his predecessors in office were frequently photographed whispering sweet words into the ears of the leaders of ultra-Orthodoxy, that’s not likely to happen with Lieberman.
But his distance from Orthodox Judaism is no reason for Reform and Conservative Jews to raise their hopes. It seems that Lieberman is against every religious manifestation of Judaism. Therefore, like many Israeli secularists, he’s likely to support extreme Orthodoxy in its fight against moderate alternatives, because, like them, he probably associates the liberal movements with American Jews, who by all accounts haven’t made him feel at home. Also, anti-religious people usually favor religious extremism as an illustration of why all religion is bad.
A union of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will work against Netanyahu who, in order to survive as Prime Minister, often has to abandon his ideology in favor of pragmatism. He seems to prefer to stay in power to being praised for consistency. Therefore, to protect himself, he should ditch Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and take Herzog’s Labor into the coalition at least do delay Lieberman’s ambitions. And he should take in Deri’s Shas, too, to tame Lieberman’s anti-religious stance.
An added reason for these reflections is the opportunity to reflect on the success of the aliyah from the former Soviet Union: Yuli Edelstein is already the Speaker of the Knesset. Natan Scharansky is said to be a candidate to succeed Shimon Peres as President when his term expires next summer. If Lieberman becomes Prime Minister, the three most important offices in the land will be occupied by Russian immigrants, two of them Prisoners of Zion.