Lieberman to be Defence Minister in Israeli coalition shake-up

May 20, 2016

Lieberman to be Defence Minister in Israeli coalition shake-up

Update from AIJAC

May 20, 2015

Update 05/16 #05

Yesterday saw a major political development in Israeli politics, with PM Netanyahu apparently reaching agreement with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for the latter’s Israel Beitenu party to enter the government, and for Lieberman to become Defence Minister, replacing current Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. The move was a surprise following previous reports that Netanyahu had been about to reach an agreement with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog for his Zionist Camp party to enter the coalition – a deal which now seems to be off the table. This Update looks at what happened and what it means. 

First is a good report on where things currently stand and what some key political players are saying about it from Gill Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post. While the coalition agreement is not yet finalised, it appears that an announcement is expected soon which will allow Netanyahu to add Israel Beitenu’s six seats to his existing ultra-narrow majority of 61 seats in the 120 seat Knesset. Furthermore, Hoffman discusses the fate of Yaalon, who has been in a dispute with Netanyahu about public statements by some IDF officers – but was nonetheless expected to be offered the Foreign Ministry portfolio (however, subsequent to the publication of the Hoffman piece, Yaalon announced he was resigning from the Knesset and leaving public life.) For the rest of the details of what is occurring, CLICK HERE

Next up, some astute analysis of the implications of the Netanyahu-Lieberman deal from various points of view comes from top Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner. Rosner stresses that appointing Lieberman, who has both a tradition of saying highly controversial things and little military experience, as Defence Minister will be highly controversial – but that Netanyahu choose this path to broaden his coalition because in the end it became apparent that Herzog was not able to guarantee he could bring his own party with him into the government. He also notes that Herzog seems angriest at the critics in his own party who did their best to scuttle any plans to join the government. For Rosner’s look at all the players and where this deal leaves them, CLICK HERE

Finally, Lahav Harkon, the Knesset reporter for the Jerusalem Post, has a closer look at where this deal leave Herzog – analogising the opposition leader to Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip, who always tries to kick a football, but has it pulled away at the last minute by another character, the crabby, sadistic Lucy. She notes Herzog has been left bereft at the last minute in Israeli politics before – such as during the election campaign last year, when Netanyahu came from behind to win handily.  Harkon reports that Netanyahu was apparently negotiating in good faith with Herzog, but when the Israel Beitenu offer arrived as an alternative, it naturally seemed safer than Herzog’s divided Labor/National Union party, and left Herzog, like Charlie Brown, no alternative but to curse the universe and his tormentors. For this cleverly written piece of analysis in full, CLICK HERE. More on the ructions in the Labor/National Union party is here. 

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Article 1

Netanyahu expected to offer Ya’alon Foreign Ministry as talks with Liberman progress


Jerusalem Post, 05/19/2016

Ya’alon laments “loss of moral direction”; Bayit Yehudi says that they will not ask for the Foreign Ministry; Kahlon urges critics to give Liberman a chance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to offer Moshe Ya’alon the role of foreign minister Thursday as negotiations to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition and officially make Avigdor Liberman defense minister in place of Ya’alon continued, with both sides confident that the deal would be done soon.

Liberman confirmed Wednesday that he had accepted Netanyahu’s offer to bring the party’s six seats into the coalition, expanding it from 61 to 67 seats, in exchange for the defense portfolio and support for certain legislation backed by the party.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, leading the negotiations for Likud, said at the opening of Thursday’s meeting that talks were being renewed after the two sides had met on Wednesday night.

The Likud minister said that the talks were positive, calling Yisrael Beytenu’s entry into the coalition “a natural move that will strengthen Israel.”

Both Levin and Liberman agreed that every effort would be made to finish the talks as quickly as possible, hopefully on Thursday.

(Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) and MK Avigdor Liberman meet to discuss Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition. 

With Liberman slated to become defense minster, Netanyahu was expected to call current Defense Minister Ya’alon to offer him the vacant post of foreign minister, which the prime minister has not filled since the forming of his coalition 14 months ago.

In his first comments since his ouster from the Defense Ministry, Ya’alon said on Thursday that there has been “a loss of moral direction on basic ethical questions.”

At a speech given at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Ya’alon made a thinly-veiled jab at Netanyahu.

Coalition partner Bayit Yehudi said that they would not ask for the Foreign Ministry and are content to remain with the portfolios they already have.

Netanyahu’s decision to bring Liberman into the coalition ended talks he had been having in recent weeks with Isaac Herzog to bring his Zionist Union party into a unity government.

Levin told Army Radio on Thursday morning that there had been two negotiation tracks the whole time.

Coalition partner Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) welcomed the pending addition of Yisrael Beytenu to the  coalition on Thursday, calling on critics to judge Liberman by his actions.

“Expanding the government was essential,” Kahlon said, adding that the government had been working to widen the narrow 61 seat coalition since its inception.

He said that he was sorry efforts to bring the Zionist Union into the coalition had not worked out, but that from his conversations with Liberman and Netanyahu he was certain that Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition was set to be finalized.

Addressing criticism of Liberman’s pending appointment to serve as defense minister, Kahlon said, “I reject disqualifying people personally and believe thay have to be judged on their actions.”

Kahlon added, however, that the government had been formed on the basis of adherence to the rule of law, and he would insist that this principle is maintained with the addition of Liberman to the coalition.

Also on Thursday,  MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) criticized Netanyahu for tapping Liberman to serve in the coalition over her co-party leader, Herzog.

“History will not forgive Netanyahu for what he has done to Israel,” Livni wrote on Facebook.

“When Netanyahu needed to chose between moderate and extreme, democracy and nationalism, between peace and isolation and security deterioration- he choose what was comfortable for him politically, the extreme Right,” Livni stated. 


Article 2

The most controversial appointment of a minister in Israel’s history?

by Shmuel Rosner

Jewish Journal, May 18, 2016


Much is still in flux in Israel, as the political system is going through an earthquake.  After several days in which Israel was waiting to see if the Labor Party, headed by Isaac Herzog, is serious about joining the right wing coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu – the tables were turned. Netanyahu offered the Defense Ministry portfolio to Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Israel Beiteinu party and a fierce critic of the government from the right. Lieberman apparently accepted. His appointment is probably the most controversial appointment of a minister in Israel’s history.


There were controversial appointments of ministers in the past. Ariel Sharon became the Defense Minister in the Menachem Begin government of the early 1980s. He was controversial – but he was also a military hero, the victorious general of the 1973 war. A natural choice. A choice that could be explained quite easily.

Yitzhak Rabin appointed Shulamit Aloni as his Education Minister. She was controversial – her whole career was built on being controversial, on challenging the status quo, on pushing the envelope leftward. Unsurprisingly, she did not survive very long as Education Minister. And the damage – if there was any – was manageable. The Education Ministry, as important as it might be when thinking about the long term, is not a place in which a wrong decision today can cause a great damage tomorrow.

That is to say: The Defense Ministry is the one ministry that really counts. Appointing a controversial figure, with a long history of ridiculously radical statements, with no experience in military affairs, with little political support (Lieberman is the head of a small party), who has rocky relations with the Prime Minister, to be Israel’s Defense Minister is, well, not an easy move to explain. Likud MK Benny Begin, son of the Prime Minister who appointed Sharon, called Netanyahu’s decision “delusional.”  So maybe it is not yet a done deal.


Why did Netanyahu decide to expand his coalition? Because too many MK’s were using the 61 majority to pressure him and force him into making decisions with which he was not happy. A notable example: the decision to bring to Israel a new group of immigrants from Ethiopia whom most Israelis do not consider to be Jewish.


Why did Netanyahu choose Lieberman over Herzog?

Herzog was not able to deliver. In recent days it became clear that of the 24 MK’s he nominally has in the Knesset only eight or nine intend to join the coalition. The other MK’s were in a rebellious mood. If all Netanyahu can get from Labor are eight MK’s – he might as well take Lieberman’s six, a much more submissive bunch.

Likud members were unhappy, and the right wing was worried about Herzog. Netanyahu learned many years ago that for a politician like him the most important political skill is to keep his base. Taking Lieberman in is more in line with such strategy.


If Lieberman becomes Defense Minister, what happens to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon? Netanyahu does not much care. Ya’alon has little political power within Likud, and not much with which to threaten Netanyahu. He is not as astute a politician as Lieberman. He might get the Foreign Ministry, or might not. He might decide to be a spoiler in Netanyahu’s coalition, or might not. Ya’alon’s honorable defense of the IDF during recent turmoil, and his insistence on positions that some right-wingers considered too dovish, made him the negligible political casualty of a game that he does not know how to play.


What happens with Herzog? The head of Labor held two press conferences today, the second of which was the angriest such event of any politician in a very long time.

Yes – Herzog was angry with Netanyahu. But he seemed much angrier with his fellow Laborites – especially Shelly Yacimovich – who kept attacking him in recent days because of his decision to explore the possibility of joining Netanyahu. No – he has no regrets. He had to explore this possibility. No – he has no intention to quit. He is going to fight back against his detractors, and have zero tolerance for those people who drag the Labor Party leftward. No – he no longer thinks that a coalition with Netanyahu is likely. Netanyahu had made his choice and all Herzog is left with is this internal political battle against Yacimovitz and most other Labor MK’s. It is a battle that few observers expect him to win.


Channel 2 News broadcasted a short clip tonight in which Lieberman is viewed, just a few weeks ago, making a promise that he can now fulfil. Immediately following his appointment as Defense Minister he will present the PM of Hamas in Gaza with a choice: either return the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers to Israel within 48 hours – or die.

Very soon, Lieberman could be Israel’s Defense Minister, and one has to wonder how the people of Gaza understand this new appointment.


Last but not least: it is now Wednesday evening in Israel. Everything can still change. It changed in the last 24 hours, it can change again in the next 24 hours. For better – or worse.


Article 3

Analysis: Charlie ‘Buji’ Brown misses the football again


Jerusalem Post, 05/19/2016

Netanyahu pulled the football away from Herzog again this week, with coalition negotiations.

One of the most famous tropes of Charles M. Schulz’s classic comic strip “Peanuts” is when hapless protagonist Charlie Brown runs toward a football, and his frenemy Lucy pulls it away as he tries to kick it. Charlie Brown goes flying, screams “AAUGH!” and falls on the ground. Almost every autumn over 50 years of “Peanuts” comics and TV cartoons, Charlie Brown tells himself he knows better than to try again and he won’t be fooled by Lucy this time, but she always manages to pull him back in, and Charlie Brown lands flat on his back.

Israeli Opposition Leader MK Isaac “Buji” Herzog (Zionist Union) – left in the wings again

MK Isaac “Buji” Herzog (Zionist Union), still opposition leader, is the Knesset’s very own Charlie Brown, the mild-manered guy who just can’t get a break, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is his Lucy-esque tormentor, who’s always one step ahead of everyone else.

Think back to the last election campaign.

The Zionist Union and the Likud seemed to be neck-and-neck. Herzog was already imagining himself moving to Balfour Street in Jerusalem. He could feel himself sitting in the prime minister’s chair. He was sure he could put together a governing coalition.

Then came the last weekend of the campaign, when polls couldn’t be published.

Netanyahu went on a media blitz with interviews in dozens of outlets, and the Likud spammed Israelis with SMS ads.

And Herzog found himself flat on his back, with a victorious Netanyahu clutching the ball.

Netanyahu pulled the football away from Herzog again this week, with coalition negotiations.

Talks were kicked into high gear several weeks ago following reports that the corruption probe against Herzog would be closed.

On Tuesday, the negotiating teams seemed close to wrapping things up. They had major differences and points of dispute, but somehow found ways to work many of them out. Herzog was about to become foreign minister and was ready to reignite peace talks, with encouragement from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Unlike Lucy, however, Netanyahu was negotiating in good faith; he truly wanted to bring Herzog in and wasn’t just trying to manipulate him, a source close to the prime minister said on Thursday.

All Netanyahu wanted was to broaden the coalition so Likud MKs couldn’t blackmail him over their every whim; it didn’t matter who his new partner was.

Once Avigdor Liberman expressed willingness, however, it became clear that he was the easier option as there would be less strife within the coalition with right-wing Yisrael Beytenu than with Zionist Union. In Yisrael Beytenu, what Liberman says, goes, so there would be no internal party drama, unlike in the train wreck the Labor Party has become, with lawmakers bickering over whether to join the government or not, undermining Herzog at every turn, and MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit plotting his political demise.

So Netanyahu whisked away the football and tossed it to Liberman, winning politics and some schadenfreude, and Herzog screamed “AAUGH!” in the form of a speech slamming Yacimovich as a left-wing extremist and threatening to tear Netanyahu down.

“In every program, Charlie Brown, there are always a few last minute changes,” Lucy told Charlie Brown in 1974, in the “Peanuts” version of “the best-laid schemes of mice and men.”

(If you’re wondering where Liberman fits in the “Peanuts”-meets-politics world, he’s Snoopy; Snoopy always has an angle, he’s Joe Cool whether in the coalition or not, and he’s a World War I flying ace, a military expert – in his mind, at least.)




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