AMID ISRAELI POLITICAL SHAKE-UP, LIEBERMAN REPLACES YA’ALON, & BIBI WANTS COALITION TO INCLUDE HERZOG Posted on May 31, 2016 Spot the Difference: US Slams Liberman, Silent on Iran’s America-Hating Power Broker: David Horovitz, Times of Israel, May 29, 2016— According to unnamed senior politicians referenced by Israel’s Channel 10 news on Friday night… Actually, Avigdor Lieberman Is Just What Israel Needs Right Now: Gregg Roman, Forward, May 25, 2016— Peaceniks may be up in arms about the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s next minister of defense, but the country’s enemies are worried — and rightly so. Herzog's Dilemma: Dan Margalit, Israel Hayom, May 31, 2016— Even before the ink on the Yisrael Beytenu-Likud coalition agreement could dry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Labor leader Isaac Herzog to join. A Morally and Politically Dysfunctional Government: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2016— The recent shenanigans that preceded the expansion of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that, since the Menahem Begin era, there exists a total lack of ethics in the Israeli political arena. On Topic Links We Need to Put the Yizkor Back into Memorial Day: Jerry Silverman, Arutz Sheva, May 27, 2016 Israeli Watchdog Critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Past Travel Expenses: Rory Jones & Orr Hirschauge, Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2016 Leiberman’s First Challenge: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2016 Netanyahu Against the Generals: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2016 SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: US SLAMS LIBERMAN, SILENT ON IRAN’S AMERICA-HATING POWER BROKER David Horovitz Times of Israel, May 29, 2016 According to unnamed senior politicians referenced by Israel’s Channel 10 news on Friday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to stabilize his coalition by bringing in Yisrael Beytenu, with Avigdor Liberman taking over the Defense Ministry, is likely to have the opposite effect. The government may well collapse, and we could be heading to “new elections in the next six months,” these anonymous top polls predicted. This is Israeli politics, where every new hour can make a mockery of what you thought you knew the hour before, so it would be wise not to get carried away by such anonymous predictions. But, it’s easy to understand the assessment. The brutal ousting of capable, temperate and loyal Moshe Ya’alon, in favor of the inexpert, intemperate and disloyal Liberman, has caused dismay across the spectrum, and not only in opposition circles. The Jewish Home coalition party has manufactured a crisis over it, demanding an overhaul of the process by which the key security cabinet is provided with information in times of war and conflict, vowing otherwise to block Liberman’s appointment. Kulanu’s Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay has followed Ya’alon’s lead in resigning from government in protest at one cynical political maneuver too many; like Ya’alon a week before, Gabbay on Friday slammed the door on his way out with a warning that, under this increasingly extremist coalition, Israel is heading down the path to destruction. Kulanu, a party crucial to Netanyahu’s Knesset majority, is plainly discomfited by the unfolding events, and is trying to persuade Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog to enter the government — ludicrously, since Herzog was so badly burned by his last effort to negotiate terms for a unity deal with Netanyahu that his party leadership is under unprecedented threat. In Netanyahu’s own Likud ranks, the wave of criticism rolls on. MK Benny Begin immediately pronounced himself horrified by the Ya’alon-for-Liberman trade. On Saturday, deputy minister Ayoub Kara declared that ex-corporal Liberman, who never served in an IDF combat role, is simply not fit to succeed ex-chief of staff Ya’alon. Herzog has claimed that he held talks with Netanyahu, at great risk to his own political career, because Israel currently has a rare opportunity to make headway toward regional peace, but that the prime minister, in jilting him for blunt, bleak, settler Liberman, “ran away” from the compromises and domestic political battles seizing such an opportunity would have entailed. And even the United States has weighed in, with the State Department articulating concerns over Israel’s direction. Asked about incoming defense minister Liberman hours after the new coalition deal was signed on Wednesday, spokesman Mark Toner stressed that the administration would, of course, “work with this government as we have with every Israeli government that preceded it, with the goal of strengthening our cooperation.” But he allowed himself a little foray into what might be considered internal Israeli politics. Said Toner: “We’ve also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. And we also know that many of its ministers have said they opposed a two-state solution. This raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in, and what kind of policies it may adopt, but ultimately we’re going to judge this government based on its actions.” I have written two columns in recent days criticizing the ouster of Ya’alon and his imminent replacement by Liberman, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Netanyahu gambit does come to be regarded as a turning point when it comes to the electorate’s opinion of the prime minister. But I’m struck, nonetheless, by the criticism from Washington — issued even though Liberman pledged at the coalition signing ceremony that he was “committed to a balanced policy that will bring stability to the region and to our country”; he even switched to English to pledge his commitment to “peace and to a final status agreement, and to understanding between us and our neighbors.” What’s perhaps most telling about the response from Washington is that it was so very different to the administration’s response, one day earlier, to dramatic political developments in Iran — where, coincidentally, a hard-liner was being elevated in somewhat different circumstances to a yet more powerful position. On Tuesday, a day before Netanyahu and Liberman signed their deal, Iran’s Assembly of Experts chose Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as its new chairman. The Assembly oversees the actions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and come the day, will select Khamenei’s successor. That makes Jannati one of the most powerful figures in Iran, arguably the most powerful. Ahmad Jannati, widely described as the most radical of Iran’s senior clerics, is not a nice man. He opposes any notion of Iranian political reform. He backs the execution of political dissidents. He insists that Iran’s women cover up beneath the hijab. Needless to say, he loathes Israel. And he loathes the United States. Here’s Jannati in 2007: “At the end of the day, we are an anti-American regime. America is our enemy, and we are the enemies of America. The hostility between us is not a personal matter. It is a matter of principle.” In 2008: “You cried: ‘Death to the Shah,’ and indeed, he died. You cried: ‘Death to Israel,’ and it is now on its deathbed. You cry: ‘Death to America,’ and before long, Allah willing, the prayer for the dead will be recited over it.” And in 2014: “‘Death to America’ [is] the first option on our table… This is the slogan of our entire people without exception. This is our number one slogan.” Given that the United States last year led the diplomatic process that culminated in an agreement to rein in (but not dismantle) Iran’s rogue nuclear program; given that President Barack Obama has been urging Iran to “move toward a more constructive relationship with the world community”; given that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and a regional troublemaker; given that Iran continues to develop its ballistic missile program… you might be forgiven for thinking that the selection of the radically hostile Jannati would raise “legitimate questions about the direction” in which Iran may be headed, “and what kind of policies it may adopt.” And indeed, a day before he was asked about Liberman, the State Department’s Mark Toner was questioned at his daily press briefing about Jannati. Did he express his dismay at the selection of an official viciously hostile to the US and Israel to so prestigious a role? Did he communicate America’s concern about the grim message that the choice of Jannati represented? He did not. Contents ACTUALLY, AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN IS JUST WHAT ISRAEL NEEDS RIGHT NOW Gregg Roman Forward, May 25, 2016 Peaceniks may be up in arms about the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s next minister of defense, but the country’s enemies are worried — and rightly so. Yes, as the inevitable flurry of articles accompanying his appointment are sure to point out, Lieberman once said that Israel could bomb the Aswan dam in the event of war with Egypt and he also said that captured Palestinian terrorists should be “drowned in the Dead Sea.” But Lieberman, arguably the biggest loudmouth in Israel (he recently called Netanyahu — the man he’s been angling to work for — “a liar, cheater and crook”), is also a reasonable politician. Lieberman’s core beliefs are squarely rooted in principles that most Israelis accept and that make good sense. He has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a final settlement, but he also maintains , as he put it at the Saban Forum in 2006, that the negotiating process is based on three fundamentally erroneous assumptions: “that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main fact of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.” Although willing to trade land (including the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, where he lives) under certain conditions, Lieberman resents the Obama administration’s relentless pressure for upfront Israeli concessions, noting that two decades and more of concessions to the Palestinians “brought neither results nor solutions.” He is correct that finding more things for Israel to give up, even as the cycle of Palestinian incitement and violence continues, is not the answer. Having experienced poverty first-hand while growing up in the Soviet Union, Lieberman has spoken eloquently about the need to address the deplorable socioeconomic conditions among Palestinians. This is partly why he has long called for toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza, which Netanyahu, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and the rest of Israel’s political and military establishment have come to accept as a manageable problem. Not everything Lieberman believes is nestled firmly within Israeli public consensus, but even his more extreme ideas are rooted in hard-nosed realism, not ideology or ethnic particularism. His long-standing advocacy of the death penalty for convicted terrorists, for example, is premised on the simple recognition that Palestinian terrorists are today free to murder based on the correct expectation that they will later be released in prisoner exchanges. Lieberman is also cognizant of the fact that the U.S.-Israel relationship is of the utmost importance. When Israeli minister Naftali Bennett attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to rekindle the peace process, Lieberman quickly fired back, stating , “There can be disagreements among friends, but one [Israel] doesn’t have to attack someone [the U.S]. When the supply of ammunition ran out during Operation Protective Edge, it was the United States that supplied it. The Americans were the ones who gave the money for Iron Dome. The United States was the one that helped us at the United Nations Human Rights Council and they prevent a lot of trouble in the Security Council with vetoes.” Of course, Obama administration officials hoped that Netanyahu would stabilize his coalition by drawing in the center-left, not someone like Lieberman. Just days before the announcement, it was widely expected that Netanyahu would form a coalition with Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, which advocates greater accommodation of Palestinian demands. But the Zionist Union has been paralyzed by internal divisions, with numerous members of this bloc openly opposing Herzog’s coalition talks with Netanyahu, while Lieberman’s MKs are expected to remain loyal. A stable, right-leaning government may have more credibility with the Israeli public than a fragile “national unity” government when it comes to making compromises for peace. After all, it was the “hard-line” Likud leader Menachem Begin who signed the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978. My esteemed colleague David Makovsky worries that Netanyahu is “closing the door” on policies that “could have blunted a string of international initiatives” targeting Israel in the months ahead. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lieberman accepts the Middle East Quartet’s conditions for a two-state solution. Most important, he stated, “When there is a dispute between the integrity of the nation and the integrity of the land, then integrity of the nation is more important. I support a [peace] agreement…when we insist on security arrangements, this is just to avoid the crazy reality we are in.” The doom-and-gloomers are right that Lieberman’s appointment to the defense ministry will almost certainly be consequential. Word has it that he demanded and received assurances regarding the latitude he will have in office. But Lieberman may just be the man of consequence Israel needs right now. Contents HERZOG'S DILEMMA Dan Margalit Israel Hayom, May 31, 2016 Even before the ink on the Yisrael Beytenu-Likud coalition agreement could dry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Labor leader Isaac Herzog to join. Netanyahu did it again on Monday, despite (or because of) Herzog's call for Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon to take his party out of the coalition. Kahlon has also been actively trying to bring Herzog into the fold. The Kulanu leader is becoming increasingly isolated since Moshe Ya'alon was kicked out of the Defense Ministry and Avi Gabai left the Environmental Protection Ministry. Herzog's dilemma revolves around his political future. The first part of the dilemma is a paradox: On the one hand, some say he has no choice but to join the coalition, because otherwise he will be deposed as party chairman; on the other hand, others insist that he will be deposed if he doesn't stay in the opposition. The second part of the dilemma is just as important. It’s the opposition-oriented view: Is it right to have the opposition join the new coalition in order to make it better? Or should it just work from the opposition benches to shorten the government's lifespan? This dilemma should be resolved by the Labor Convention. But you cannot turn back the clock to the day when Herzog realized that Likud preferred Yisrael Beytenu over his party. Herzog was offended by Netanyahu's decision not to put their verbal understanding into writing. Should Herzog sign a deal now? Is this even possible with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman serving as the groomsmen? Herzog still has a lot to add if he agrees to the nuptials. He has the ability to breathe new life into the prospects of an international peace conference, which could give Netanyahu the time he needs to make sure U.S. President Barack Obama does not support a Palestinian statehood bid at the U.N. Security Council in the remainder of his term. Herzog is a valued commodity on the world stage. Ostensibly, everything is up in the air. Trust in politicians is at a low point, in light of everything that's happened over the past week between Netanyahu, Herzog, Lieberman and, most recently, with Bennett — who used lofty rhetoric to insist on appointing a special military advisor to the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet but ultimately agreed to a compromise that involves having some low-level official brief ministers. In that sense, they can feel free to do whatever they want, even if it is divorced from their previous rhetoric. But if Herzog is to resume the coalition talks with Netanyahu, he would have to be in a better position than when they were called off, when he was humiliated. Perhaps he may not be able to join the coalition. What's certain is that this prospect has no chance of happening unless Netanyahu announces, up front, that Labor would get the justice portfolio. But I don't see how this happens either. Contents A MORALLY AND POLITICALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL GOVERNMENT Isi Leibler Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2016 The recent shenanigans that preceded the expansion of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that, since the Menahem Begin era, there exists a total lack of ethics in the Israeli political arena. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in consolidating his government and may have ensured that it will survive its full term of office – making him the longest presiding Prime Minister of Israel. In this case, Netanyahu was not being Machiavellian. Like any politician, understandably his principal objective was to increase his paper thin parliamentary majority in order to retain power. But there is little doubt that his objective was also to create a government that reflected the unity of the nation in terms of security issues and which our adversaries and allies alike could not dismiss as extreme right wing. I believe that he genuinely desired to incorporate Zionist Union or the bulk of its parliamentarians into his government. But ultimately he realized – as Herzog himself subsequently conceded – that he was unable to gain the support of the Labour party. Even if Herzog delivered a number of Labour MKs, the coalition would be highly unstable and likely to break up at any time. Avigdor Lieberman, realizing that his political future was at risk if he remained in an opposition headed by the Joint Arab List, signaled his arch political enemy that he was willing to join the government and in less than 24 hours, the deal was cobbled together. Netanyahu saved his government by this volte farce. But it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory. As the global community prepares to exert more pressure – including UN Security Council Resolutions designed to coerce us into accepting indefensible borders – we will be perceived as having an even more extreme right wing government. This will undoubtedly be exploited by President Obama as justification for not employing the US veto to anti-Israeli Security Council resolutions. On the domestic level, Netanyahu’s cavalier treatment of his former political allies in order to further his own ends by increasing the government – at any cost – leaves a very bitter taste. The manner in which Moshe Ya’alon was displaced as Defense Minister by Lieberman was almost surrealistic. When Lieberman served as Foreign Minister he abused his position and misrepresented Israel. To appoint him as Defense Minister, possessing no military experience whatsoever, is grossly unsuitable and reminiscent of the disasters associated with Amir Perez. In contrast, Moshe Ya’alon was an exemplary Defense Minister of Israel. He was considered a man of exceptional integrity, one of the few who was renowned for promoting the national interest rather than his personal ambitions. His absence from the next Security Cabinet is a great loss for our national security. Over the past month, Ya’alon was justly criticized for making a number of ill-considered statements, creating tension when encouraging IDF personnel to speak out against political decisions they considered inappropriate. However, Ya’alon’s controversial remarks had no bearing on Netanyahu’s subsequent acquiescence to Liebermann’s demand for the Defense Ministry. What is clear is that Ya’alon – one of Netanyahu’s loyal allies over many years – was not treated as a loyal partner or adequately consulted. The result was that he exploded and, despite the belated offer of Foreign Minister, resigned from the government and Knesset announcing he would return to politics at a later date and become a contestant for the leadership. How has this impacted on domestic politics? The country’s biggest loss is Ya’alon whose wise advice and military knowledge is irreplaceable. The other loser is Bugie Herzog who genuinely sought to bring Zionism back into the Labour Party and marginalize the delusionary leftists who have hijacked his party. To this end, he fought his own party colleagues but failed in his effort to create a national unity government. His party will now be in shambles until it sorts itself out and elects a new leader. The big winner in this new government, aside from Lieberman, will be Yair Lapid who will benefit immensely at the polls and is likely to represent an alternative leadership at the next elections. The haredim are also delighted because Lieberman, in his thirst for power, had no problem in suspending his passionate commitment to introduce reforms in the religious arena and break the stranglehold of the ultra-orthodox in relation to conversion, marriage and the draft. Many Israelis are angered with their prime minister. But had he not acted as he did, his government would be on the verge of collapse. What is inexcusable is his humiliation of Ya’alon, who was not even adequately informed to the point where he refused to even remain in the current government – a great loss for the nation. There are several questions being asked. What price will Netanyahu pay for consolidating his leadership? Internationally, he may face the toughest diplomatic pressures Israel has ever encountered with a retiring US president reputed to be seeking to isolate Israel as his farewell legacy. How will he cooperate with Lieberman who, until only a few days, ago displayed outright personal animus towards him? It was serious enough when Lieberman went on his independent rampages as Foreign Minister. How will this work whilst he is Defense Minister?… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents On Topic Links We Need to Put the Yizkor Back into Memorial Day: Jerry Silverman, Arutz Sheva, May 27, 2016—In Israel, when the two-minute siren sounds at 11 a.m. on Yom Hazikaron, the Jewish state’s Memorial Day, the nation comes to a halt. Israeli Watchdog Critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Past Travel Expenses: Rory Jones & Orr Hirschauge, Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2016—An Israeli government watchdog on Tuesday released a highly critical report into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s travel expenses while he was finance minister more than a decade ago, and raised the possibility of a criminal investigation. Leiberman’s First Challenge: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2016—Last week, a mob of 300 Muslim men in southern Egypt stripped a 70-year-old Christian woman naked and paraded her through the streets. This Islamist atrocity came a few days before an EgyptAir flight from Paris exploded in the skies near Alexandria. It was the second passenger jet bombed by jihadists in Egypt in recent months. Netanyahu Against the Generals: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2016—In 2012 a former New York Times reporter named Patrick Tyler published an invidious book called “Fortress Israel,” the point of which was that the Jewish state is a modern-day Sparta whose “sabra military elite” is addicted to war.