‘Kingmaker’ Lieberman’s little chance of being PM

ELECTION TALK: Manchester Jewish Representative Council chairman Jacky Buschbaum, Zionist Central Council life president Joy Wolfe, James Sorene, Anshel Pfeffer, Dr Dahlia Scheindlin, North West Friends of Israel co-chairman Bernie Yaffe and ZCC director Karen Solomon

A FORMER confidant of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aiming to become the country’s kingmaker ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer told an audience at Heathlands Village, Manchester, that former deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman may be the man “who takes Bibi down”.

He said: “The real challenge will be from Lieberman, even though the chance of him becoming prime minister is very small.

“He knows everything there is to know about Netanyahu.”

At April’s initial election, Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government — the first time that had happened in the country’s history.

The major contender to Netanyahu’s rightist Likud is the Blue and White liberal and central political alliance, led by Benny Gantz, a former Israel Defence Forces’ chief of staff.

It currently had 35 seats in the Knesset, compared with Likud’s 38.

Manchester-raised Mr Pfeffer, whose book Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu was published last year, explained: “The right-wing has been traumatised twice before — once in 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin came to power, and then in 2006, which was a major loss to Likud.

“Today, they are petrified of losing power to a government which may take Israel out of the West Bank and give up the settlements.

“Likud wants to team up with Shas and United Torah Judaism, as they are thinking they may want a different kind of Israel where the charedim has a proportionate level of representation.

“Lieberman, on the other hand, is appealing to the majority of right-wingers and centrists who are not in favour of a more rabbinical influence in public life.

“He has called for a coalition based on Likud, Blue and White, and his Yisrael Beiteinu party.

“It would mean that the charedi parties will no longer have power to bring down the government.

“It is a form of nationalism which does not want clericalism.”

Mr Pfeffer added that, despite Lieberman, who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and has formerly served numerous positions, including Minister of Foreign Affairs, many Israelis still view him as a “big, Russian thug” and an “outsider”.

“Lieberman is pragmatic and does not ever expect to be prime minister,” he said.

“His aim is to be the kingmaker, the closest to power — that is his aspiration

“Bibi has reached a point in his political trajectory where there is no room for a number two around him.

“He has reached a position of omnipotence.

“Lieberman may have held various titles, but he can no longer have the level of influence he desires

“That is the main reason he is doing everything he can to end the Bibi era.”

Also on the panel at the talk, which was organised by North West Friends of Israel and the Zionist Central Council, was Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre chief executive James Sorene and pollster and political analyst Dr Dahlia Scheindlin.

Dr Scheindlin, who has covered Israeli elections since 1999, said that half of the Israeli electorate consider themselves to be firmly right-wing or moderately right-wing, one-quarter to be centrist and 20 per cent to be left-wing, while the remainder “don’t want to choose an opinion”.

“That number has hardly changed in 12 years,” she explained.

“The big changes happened in the first few years of the 21st century, when support for the left dropped, the centre grew and the right grew slowly and incrementally.

“One of the issue which divides them is the role of religion in public life, as in the separation of synagogue and state.

“The question of whether there should more of a role for Jewish life in the public domain or a more cultural Judaism is very divisive.”

Mr Sorene explained that Likud and Blue and White had “sucked up support from the smaller parties”.

“The current narrative is ‘vote for us if you don’t want Bibi’,” he said.

“Current polls suggest that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz will have enough seats and allies to form a 61-seat majority.

“Gantz said he would consider forming a national unity government with Likud, but only if Netanyahu were no longer leader because he refuses to serve with him if he is facing a corruption trial.

“Netanyahu has rejected the idea outright, likely knowing that he — and not the Likud at large — is the main stumbling bloc.

“The smaller satellite parties are treading water, with Yamina (on the right) and Democratic Union and Labour-Gesher (on the left) holding relatively stable.”

Mr Pfeffer stated that, despite Gantz, being Bibi’s main challenger and the leader of one of Israel’s two biggest parties, barely anybody in the country is talking about him.

“Gantz is an imposing ex-general, a tall man with piercing blue eyes,” he said.

“He had an impressive military career, but that is it — people do not know what he thinks because he is a private person.

“Nobody even knows what he likes to do at the weekend, yet his party is still polling well.

“Contrast that with Bibi — we know so much about him, his wife, his previous wife, his children. Israelis cannot get enough.

“Every night on the television there are new revelations regarding the corruption allegations against him.”

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