A top political scientist tells World Israel News that Netanyahu can weather the current coalition crisis surrounding the mini-market law and may lead his government to a full term.
By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had little time to relax when he returned home from a six-day trip to India. Not only did he have to prepare for the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence, but he also had to manage an apparent full- blown coalition crisis with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman slugging it out in a verbal brawl over the mini-market law.
Political Scientist Prof. Avrum Diskin of the Hebrew University told World Israel News (WIN), “Early elections are not in the interest of any of the coalition parties. Liberman clearly needed to appease his voters, but if we listen carefully to his words, he is more extreme than usual in his pronouncements, and it’s the kind of language that could ignite a real crisis. Liberman has made mistakes in the past and this could be another. But I believe he is just trying to make a statement to his base by saying his Yisrael Beiteinu party is the real secular-right party, and not Netanyahu’s Likud, which allows the ultra-orthodox to get its way.”
Netanyahu ‘quite talented at holding coalitions together’
According to Diskin, “Netanyahu must try to calm things down and get beyond this. Netanyahu has become quite talented at holding his coalitions together. I expect that he can weather this storm and could head the first full-term government since 1998.”
Sensing a need for action, Netanyahu quickly jumped in as referee and arbiter, telling his cabinet, “This is the time to calm down, to lower the heat. The people and the state need it.” Netanyahu said he would be speaking to each of the political opponents in the coming days, and his message is, “If we want this government to keep working for the benefit of the Israeli public, we need to lower the flames and continue working together.”
Liberman sparked the latest controversy by visiting the mostly secular city of Ashdod on Shabbat, where he visited an open shopping center in a show of defiance of the new law that he and his party voted against in the Knesset. The Liberman visit preceded a protest by thousands of Ashdod residents against the law, which they consider to be religious coercion.
As soon as Shabbat was over, ultra-Orthodox politicians, led by Deri, slammed Liberman as a provocateur and declared that cooperation with his party was over. The coalition was thrust into crisis. According to Deri, “Liberman trampled on the Sabbath and crossed every line. There are things that are beyond any personal friendship.”
The incident occurred only a week after the Knesset passed the ‘mini-market’ law, giving the interior minister the power to veto city bylaws that allow some convenience stops to open on the Jewish day of rest. The ultra-orthodox parties in the coalition pushed for the law to be passed, insisting that it was necessary in order to maintain the status quo on businesses operating on Sabbath.
Liberman: Mini-market law will divide the nation
Liberman’s party draws a large percentage of its voters from secular Israelis who immigrated to Israel from the Former Soviet Union. Liberman told the Hadashot newspaper, “Those who say the mini-market law won’t change anything are wrong and misleading. This [law] will create an even bigger divide in the nation, and just as I respect those who go to synagogue on Shabbat, I expect them to respect those who go to buy coffee.”
Political pundit Mitchell Barak from Keevoon Strategies described the Liberman move and Deri’s comments as “pure electioneering.” Barak told WIN, “Liberman’s supporters are quite angry over the mini-market bill. He had to show his base that he is fighting for their interests, just like Deri did by pushing the bill in the first place. It’s what the ultra-orthodox voters want.”
Barak says that Netanyahu needs to restore calm to his 67-member coalition and cannot continue to rule without either Deri’s Shas party or Yisrael Beiteinu. “Liberman lost several battles in the coalition, including his failure to pass a civil marriage law like he wanted. He cannot sit by as though he approves of the mini-market law,” he said.
According to Barak, “Many Likud members oppose the mini-market bill and they think the issue could cost them voters who will chose to support the right-wing secular party Yisrael Beiteinu over Likud. Likud leaders, including Netanyahu, understand that, but keeping the coalition together is the prime minister’s top priority.”