Avigdor Lieberman: Controversial regulator of Israel’s parliamentary elections

Defence-point.com is presenting for readers a series of observations by noted researcher Gabriel Haritos broadly entitled “The Israeli Parliamentary Elections of September 17, 2019, and the Greek Regional Factor.” These studies will be featured, over the days leading up to the election.

Gabriel Haritos, Ph.D., Researcher, The Ben Gurion Reserach Institute, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.







Avigdor Lieberman: Controversial regulator of Israel’s parliamentary elections

Avigdor Lieberman’s and his right-wing party “Yisrael Beiteinu” (Israel, Our Home) not to accept, even a more restricted ‘religious’ political agenda of the coalition government that would have been formed after the April 2019 elections under Netanyahu appears to be turning a profit on the eve of the September 17, 2019 elections. Current polls put him in the role of regulator between Likud and the “Blue and White”, gaining 10-12 seats in the upcoming election, doubling his voters vis-a-vis the lections of April 9, 2019. At that time, he had received 173,004 votes (4% and 5 seats). Meanwhile, Likud, its cadres, and Benjamin Netanyahu himself continue to lay personal responsibility on Lieberman for going to elections again. Curiously, the right-wing Lieberman’s criticism coming from the ‘right’, reinforces him.

The wager that Lieberman will have to win in the forthcoming elections is not just about being able to rally right and non-religious Jewish voters from Likud’s electoral pool. The biggest challenge he faces is to be able to re-attract the numerous Israeli Russian-Jewish community on the back of its strong anti-religious political agenda. The degree of devotion of the Russian Jews to religious orders is, admittedly, extremely low, and the first political steps of the “Israel, Our Home” party under Avigdor Lieberman were based primarily and almost exclusively on the Jews migrating from the former USSR. On the other hand, however, from the mid-1990s until now, the ethnological and linguistic composition of his party’s electoral base has changed and Israeli voters of Russian descent, now incorporated into society, do not – as in the past – feel the need to coalesce in a party because of their linguistic ties

At the same time, because of his troubled personal relationship with Netanyahu, Lieberman poses as a desirable solution to form a national unity government with partners Likud and the “Blue and White”, and without the presence of ultra-Orthodox religious parties or other religious parties. But if that is not possible, Lieberman says he is ready to join a center-left government under the “Blue and White”, provided that religious parties of any color remain outside the coalition.

Between the Right and the Center Left

Proof of Lieberman’s clear intention to participate in a center-left coalition government is the agreement reached on 19 August 2019 with the “Blue and White”, by which the parliamentary non-countable votes will be counted in favor of the “Blue and White”. This practically means that if the non-countable votes in favor of Avigdor Lieberman’s party are enough, they will give the “Blue and White” an additional parliamentary seat. Taking into account the results of the current polls, the difference between Likud and “Blue and White” is projected to be very small (just as it was in the elections of 9 April 2019) and probably one more seat for “Blue and White” from the votes of “Yisrael Beiteinu” could give Benny Gantz a government mandate.

On the other hand, the ultra-Orthodox right-wing Shas party says it is ready to co-operate with Lieberman in a government to be formed under Netanyahu. Although Likud is silent on the subject, Netanyahu is trying to reduce Lieberman’s influence as far as the non-religious Right is concerned in the following simple ways: On the one hand he makes strategic alliances with the other non-religious – Rightist parties (such as Moshe Feiglin’s “Zehut” party, which promotes, among other things, legalization of therapeutic cannabis and the decriminalization of the use and marketing of soft drugs, and with Moshe Kahlon’s “Kulanu” party; Kahlon had served as Finance Minister on several occasions). Likud, on the other hand, is stepping up its pre-election campaign in Russian, with the main aim of removing as many votes as possible from Lieberman’s “natural” electoral base, which is made up mainly of Jews of Russian-Jewish descent. Whether this peculiar ‘communications trench warfare’ will ultimately work in favor of Netanyahu or Lieberman – we will only know with the announcement of the election results. Evidence suggests, however, that Avigdor Lieberman will once again prove worthy of the title “the key” to post-election developments.