August 20, 2019

The Epic Battle of Netanyahu and Lieberman

“The Angel of Death, the story goes, was sent to collect Avigdor Lieberman. Answering the door, Lieberman saw the spectre before him, pulled him in by the collar, pummeled him, spat on him, and threw him out. When Death returned to Heaven, he went straight to God. “Lieberman?” God asked, sizing up the bruises. “You didn’t tell him who sent you, did you?”

I heard the joke some years ago, from a veteran journalist who was hardly a fan of Lieberman, the former Israeli defense minister and the head of the secular-right Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”) Party. But Lieberman—who, just at the Wednesday-night deadline, refused to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, prompting a second national election in four months, set for September 17th—would no doubt find the story flattering. This is the persona that Lieberman has always projected: Sly, feared, and indomitable. A man who, as his campaign posters put it, “lo dofeq heshbon,” or, roughly (and cleaned-up some), doesn’t give a damn for his enemies—be they Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, Hamas, or ultra-Orthodox communities. The leader without illusions, or “ashlayot.”

This past month, as talks to form a new governing coalition proceeded, it was the ultra-Orthodox who seemed most beneath his contempt. Their two parties, the Mizrahi Shas and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism (U.T.J.), won sixteen seats in April, and their announced price for joining Netanyahu’s coalition was the rescission of a draft law—formulated by his last government, when Lieberman was the minister of defense—that required military service for a steadily increasing number of students in ultra-Orthodox schools. (The draft law’s conscription mandates were reinforced by Supreme Court rulings, in 2017, which held that exempting ultra-Orthodox youth was a violation of the implied equality required by the Basic Law of Human Dignity.) By the end of the talks, the U.T.J. leader, Moshe Gafni, said on Thursday morning, both religious parties had capitulated, asking only that, if the draft law was retained by the coalition, there would be no other demands to upset the religious status quo—reductions in funding for Orthodox schools, say. By then, however, Lieberman seemed unappeasable.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat with an outboard motor seven miles off the coast of England into the North Sea. He had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night, inspired..."

"The book that changed lecturer, activist, and current presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s life, A Course in Miracles, is not available for free online, but its workbook is. You can find it on the website for the Foundation for..."

"Here are two sets of statements from far-distant opposites in the climate change debate. The first is from Naomi Klein, who in her book This Changes Everything paints a bleak picture of a global socioeconomic system gone wrong: “There is a..."

"Voters who trust their government — and each other — are more supportive of ambitious welfare states than those who do not. Across nations, high levels of social trust correlate with high levels of social spending. The relationship between these..."

"With the presidential campaign under way, expect to hear a lot more about a shiny new toy of progressive economic thinking, “modern monetary theory.” It seems to be the only intellectual contortion that might allow candidates to promise..."

"“We don’t want to fight y’all. We’re not trying to go to jail.” That’s what A$AP Rocky, the 30-year-old New York City rapper, can be heard saying in a video of an encounter with strangers in Sweden that has ballooned into an international crisis."

"Israel’s top officials are considering denying Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib entry to their country due to their outspoken, controversial criticism of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, not to mention their slurs against American Jews as..."

"For most of our lives, we have been conditioned to share a piece of personal information without a moment’s hesitation: our phone number. We punch in our digits at the grocery store to get a member discount or at the pharmacy to pick up..."