Analysis: Is Liberman Being Blackmailed?

In his speech to activists Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused Yisrael Beytenu head, MK Avigdor Liberman, of betraying his voters. "I don't think a single one of the voters who voted for Yisrael Beytenu would have voted for them if he had known that they plan to join the leftist parties to topple the Likud government,” he said.

"For 42 days and nights, we had to work hard to put together a government, and it wasn't easy, especially because it was clear from a pretty early stage that we do not have Yisrael Beytenu,” Netanyahu accused. “It was clear to our partners as well. Six mandates that were meant to be part of the national camp's coalition, moved to the other side.”

This was not the first time Netanyahu and Likud have levelled this grave accusation at Liberman, since the March 17 elections. Liberman's replies have been feeble and unconvincing. He accused Netanyahu of selling out to the Left by not vowing to topple Hamas or issue death sentences to terrorists, and of caving in to haredi demands, but Liberman himself has sat in several governments that did – or failed to do – the very same things.

It is highly unlikely that Liberman's voters are buying this line, and should this government fall anytime soon, most of them will almost certainly pay him back for betraying their political will and plunging Israel into instability by forcing early elections so soon after the last ones.

As the months pass, Liberman's criticisms of Netanyahu will sound more and more hollow, and even if the left-leaning media plays them up to repay him for doing the Left's bidding, it is unlikely that many of his voters will be duped. Ten weeks after the elections, his decision to stay out of the coalition looks like it was, indeed, a “suicide terror attack” against the coalition, as one pundit called it.

Why is he doing this?

What made him do it and why is he not showing signs of seeking to return to the Coalition? The most obvious suspicion, for seasoned veterans of Israel's corrupt political system, is that he is being blackmailed by the State Attorney's Office, or Prosecution, which is notoriously leftist. Liberman himself has said repeatedly that you can tell elections are near when two things happen: a war is launched in Gaza, and an investigation is launched against Yisrael Beytenu. He was dogged by a corruption investigation for an amazing 17 years before he was cleared – and the accusations had a strange way of surfacing whenever elections were in the offing, sometimes a day or two before the polls.

The latest election was no different. Coincidentally or not, the ongoing, huge corruption investigation often known as the Yisrael Beytenu case also exploded in the weeks before the election. Liberman's confidant, ex-MK Faina Kirshenbaum, is the prime suspect. Liberman himself has not been named as a suspect, despite the huge sums allegedly involved, the large number of alleged players, and the fact that he wields autocratic control of his party. Would it be far fetched to assume that Liberman realized that it would be very easy to drag him into the interrogation rooms, if the Prosecution wanted to?

Bad blood

This is not the only possible explanation for Liberman's behavior. Analysts noted that Kirshenbaum herself confirmed, on hidden camera videotape taken at a party branch meeting, that while he sat in the previous government, Liberman had been plotting to unseat Netanyahu and take his place in a parliamentary coup – a charge Liberman denies. Liberman was also a leading figure in the infamous attempt to legislate a bill against Israel Hayom – a newspaper that Netanyahu regards as political oxygen preventing Likud's suffocation by the rabidly leftist Israeli press.

It could be that there was simply too much bad blood between the two politicians, who started their political roads as a partnership, decades ago. But Liberman himself would be the first to tell us that in politics, emotions count for little, and all that matters are interests. At the moment, Liberman appears to be behaving like a person with a loaded gun to his head, whose only interest is to live another day.

Should early elections be called, there is no doubt that Likud will use its campaign shekels to blame him for the demise of the nationalist government, and it would be right to do so. His supporters may well wind up voting for Likud instead of his party, and the party will be likely to fail to pass the threshold, a failure it was not far from in the last elections. 

Netanyahu may have been thinking about this when he told Likud activists at his home Sunday that his goal is to garner 40 MKs for Likud in the next elections.


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