Unless something completely unforeseen occurs, next Wednesday the Knesset will be dissolved for the third time this year and Israel will return to the ballot boxes. But no real change is expected even after another round of elections, as the polls show that the blocs are likely to stay more or less the same, with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party again serving as the kingmaker. Up until now Lieberman has refused to join a right-wing government that includes the chareidim, but he has also torpedoed every attempt at forming a left-wing government. The only type of government he’s willing to join is a “secular liberal unity” alliance that would include Likud and Kachol Lavan. However, both the “chasan” and the “kallah” rejected this “shidduch” suggestion, and now Lieberman is taking out his frustration on the chareidi parties.
Of course, there’s nothing really new about that, as his last two election campaigns were filled with angry rhetoric against the chareidim that often bordered on incitement. Nevertheless, most of the chareidi MKs have been tiptoeing around him, in the hope that he’ll change his mind at the last minute and withdraw some of his demands. For his part, Lieberman has continued to foster that hope, repeatedly dropping hints that if there’s no other choice he would agree to form a coalition with them. That’s what he did last week when he hinted that he might be willing to help Netanyahu. This time, however, the chareidi parties decided to reject any suggestion from Lieberman out of hand.
While the decision to ignore Lieberman is very sensible, the strategy of sticking with Netanyahu seems to be less understandable. Netanyahu is currently in a terrible situation both politically and legally. There have already been two consecutive elections without his being able to form a coalition, and it seems as if his magic has finally come to an end. There is no reason to think that Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition after a third go-round, especially now that he’s under three separate indictments as well continued internal challenges from within the Likud Party.
In an interview with Ami Magazine, Yahadut HaTorah MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler explained the thought process behind backing Netanyahu:
“I’ll give you an analogy. A person enters a restaurant late at night. He sits down to eat, but suddenly a bunch of drunken restaurant patrons starts to attack him and steal his money. The guy has no idea what to do to save himself until he gets a brilliant idea. He walks up to the biggest, burliest ruffian, throws his arms around him and announces very loudly, ‘Who wants to fight us?’ All of the drunks are terrified of the big tough guy, and one by one they sneak out the door in embarrassment. The same applies here. Right after the elections we realized that the chareidi parties have no chance of being a central part of the government. If you recall, Netanyahu was expected to form a government together with Gantz. The Likud and Kachol Lavan together have a majority of 65 seats without needing anyone else. We told Netanyahu that we wanted to join him and form a bloc of 55 seats so we could yell out, ‘Who’s going to fight us?’ Either we’re going to join together and form a government, or we’re going to fight together from the benches of the opposition.’”