Senior Netanyahu aide resigns as premier confronts rebellion

JERUSALEM, Nov. 23 (JTA) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man, Avigdor Lieberman, has resigned as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office. A statement from the office said Netanyahu was saddened by Lieberman’s decision to hand in his letter of resignation Sunday, adding that the premier regretted the departure of the person who had stood by him for many years. But some senior Likud ministers welcomed the move, blaming Lieberman for recent upheavals in the party. Commentators said Lieberman’s departure could be viewed as further confirmation of Netanyahu’s eroding control over his own party. They noted that while Netanyahu and Lieberman were parting over some differences of opinion, it was widely believed that Lieberman was leaving his post to bolster support for Netanyahu within Likud, an activity he was officially prevented from doing because of his position as a civil servant. Lieberman’s departure is believed to have been precipitated by Netanyahu’s announcement last week that he had decided to put a referendum before all of the Likud’s rank-and-file members on whether or not party primaries should be held to determine the slate of Knesset candidates in the next election. Lieberman is widely believed to have been behind a Likud Party convention decision earlier this month to cancel the primaries, returning selection of Likud legislative candidates to the party’s Central Committee – which is stacked with Netanyahu supporters. The controversial decision was described as undemocratic by several Likud ministers, Knesset members and party officials. It also sparked moves by party rebels to take control of the party and perhaps support a no-confidence vote in the government. Netanyahu’s announcement of a referendum, presumably a bid to appease those critics, apparently angered Lieberman, who was not consulted on the matter. Lieberman, a controversial figure in the prime minister’s office, has been caught up in some of the scandals that developed during Netanyahu’s tenure. Earlier this year, the attorney general and state attorney, citing a lack of sufficient evidence, closed an investigation into Lieberman’s alleged role in connection with improprieties surrounding the short-lived January appointment of Jerusalem lawyer Roni Bar-On as attorney general. Lieberman also went head-to-head with the Israel Broadcasting Authority when he presented inaccurate revenue figures for Israel Television before a Knesset committee. Critics have accused Lieberman, a long-time Likud Party activist and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, of using Bolshevist techniques to control the recent Likud convention. This month, for example, senior Likud officials said Lieberman had been behind the videotaping at the convention of activists opposed to the initiative to cancel party primaries. Science Minister Michael Eitan welcomed Lieberman’s resignation. “This is the person who was responsible for perpetrating the awful crisis in the party,” Eitan said. However, some party activists criticized the move, complaining that Lieberman was being made a scapegoat.

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