5/25/2016 The Week That Most Isrelis Certainly Liberal Ones would Like to Forget


It has not been an easy week for liberal Tel Aviv. This morning a final agreement was reached between the Likud (the party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and Yisrael Beiteinu (the party of MK Avigdor Lieberman). Now, something that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago – the replacement of the right-wing, but very experienced Defense Minister, with an extreme right-wing totally inexperienced Lieberman – is our new reality. Lieberman, who has called for the imposition of the death penalty on terrorists, has long coveted the Defense Minister post. However, most observers did not believe that Netanyahu – who has always been very cautious in his appointment of Defense Ministers and has always chosen experienced individuals for the job could have possibly conceded to Lieberman’s demands and agreed to appoint him Israel’s Minister of Defense.

Ya’alon has been wholeheartedly loyal to Netanyahu in the past. Though in the past few weeks Ya’alon has found himself increasing at odds with Netanyahu. Ya’alon felt Netanyahu had been unsupportive of the army, choosing (for narrow political reasons) to align himself with far-right army critics, whose support for the solider who killed a wounded attacker in Hebron was popular. Despite their differences, Ya’alon could never imagine that Netanyahu would possibly decide to replace him with Lieberman.

When it became clear to Ya’alon that that was exactly what Netanyahu was planning, Ya’alon resigned. In an impassioned speech Ya’alon stated: “I fought with all my might against the manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and also trickling into the IDF, already hurting.” Ya’alon went on to say, "But to my great sorrow, extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud Party and are shaking the country’s foundations and threatening to wound its residents."

The likely impending firing of Ya’alon and his ultimate resignation shook most Israelis, including many who had supported Netanyahu in the past. Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens (a lifetime member of Likud) wrote an editorial in which he said giving the Defense Ministry to Lieberman has shown the Israeli public that Netanyahu does not really care about the Defense of Israel, and that this last action would be the beginning of the end of Likud’s hold on power. Former Minister of Defense and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, (who served as Defense Minister immediately before Ya’alon) appeared on Israeli TV warning that the Israeli government was showing signs of fascism. In addition, on Friday night Ron Daniel, one of the most respected military commentators, known for his unwavering support for the actions of the army, shocked fellow commentators when he said that after the events of the last week he was not sure he wanted his children to live in this country.

Supporters of the Prime Minister were hard put to offer any explanation for removing Ya’alon, other than to say, “It’s only politics” and “Ya’alon could have stayed in the government and become Foreign Minister – if had wanted.” Netanyahu responded by stating: "I believe that if Bogie Ya'alon had not been asked to leave the Defense Ministry and enter the Foreign Ministry, what he calls ‘a crisis of faith between us’ would not have developed and he would not have resigned.”

On Sunday, in the middle of Tel Aviv, opposite Rabin Square – against the backdrop of these political machinations – an Arab-Israeli employee at a local supermarket was beaten up by undercover members of the Border Police who were searching for illegal Palestinian workers. The battered employee, who questioned the identity of the Border Police required hospitalization to treat his wounds – and of course, was seized for resisting arrest. This deplorable event might not have caused much controversy, had it not taken place in the middle of the day, where dozens of witnesses tried to intervene and were threatened by the police – all of which was caught on video. While the police announced they were opening an investigation into the incident, police top-brass defended the actions of the officers. In the meantime, 60,000 shekel ($15,000) in donations has been collected to pay for the college education of the Arab-Israeli who had been attacked.

Finally, yesterday the long awaited State Comptroller’s report on the affair known as “Bibi Tours” was released. The State Comptroller’s report harshly criticized the behavior of Prime Minister Netanyahu during the period he served as Finance Minister, stating that Netanyahu violated norms of behavior by having various outside individuals, (including people who did business with the government) pay for his personal travel.

The State Comptroller said that some of Netanyahu’s behavior might have risen to the level of criminality, but he would not report on those matters. Instead, the State Comptroller chose to turn those matters over to the Attorney General to determine. There was nothing truly new in the Comptroller’s report. Israel’s channel 10 News first reported on the “Bibi Tours” affair in 2011. However, it was the reaction of the Prime Minister and his representatives that was even more disheartening than the report itself. Netanyahu issued a statement attacking Channel 10 and its main political reporter Raviv Drucker for their biased reporting.

This morning, the main headline on the most widely read Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (subsidized by Sheldon Adelson) stated: “Disappointment in the Left that the State Comptroller’s Report Will not Make the Government Fall.” Suddenly, the report by the State Comptroller, who was appointed by Netanyahu, was portrayed as a ploy by “the Left” to stage a coupe against Netanyahu.

It has been one week since Avigdor Lieberman first stated in a press conference that he would join the government – if he were to be appointed Defense Minister. This has been a week that most residents of Tel Aviv would like to forget.