JERUSALEM (Jan. 4)
Vowing to dethrone Israel’s “elitist establishment,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former right-hand man launched a new political party this week.
The new immigrant-rights party launched Monday by Avigdor Lieberman is the latest of a flurry of new parties to emerge since the Knesset voted last month to call elections for May.
But political observers believe this party, unlike the others, is aimed at rallying support for the beleaguered premier.
The controversial director general of the Prime Minister’s Office until his resignation in November 1997 launched the new Israel, Our Home Party with pledges to limit the power of the Supreme Court and cut back the police force.
Observers described Lieberman’s populist rhetoric as dangerous, and Netanyahu distanced himself from the former Soviet emigre’s attack on the Supreme Court.
A former bouncer known for his brusque manner, Lieberman railed against what he said was abuse of power in government, singling out the Supreme Court, attorney general and police.
“There is no doubt that the Supreme Court has more power than the prime minister,” Lieberman said. “And the head of the Supreme Court was not even elected.”
Lieberman, who has been the subject of police inquiries, lashed out at what he called an “administrative dictatorship” and vowed to strengthen the separation of powers among the legislative, judicial and executive branches to ensure that the government is “not dependent upon this kind of coalition or that.”
An emigre from the former Soviet Union in 1979, Lieberman said his new party could draw voters who previously supported the Yisrael Ba’Aliyah immigrant- rights party, which won seven Knesset seats in its first political bid in the 1996 elections.
The head of that party, Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, has yet to take an official stand for or against Netanyahu in the upcoming elections.
In the past, some Likud members alleged that Lieberman used strong-arm tactics, including the use of potentially damaging videotapes, against Netanyahu rivals.
Some Likud officials used strong language to denounce him this week.
“Lieberman poses a danger to Israeli democracy,” said Michael Eitan, a deputy minister. “He moves in the company of criminals and is aided by them to attain his political goals.”
Opposition legislators suggested that Lieberman’s announcement was intended to serve as a front for Netanyahu, with Lieberman laying out a tough line that the premier himself could not afford to enunciate.
Yossi Sarid, leader of the left-wing Meretz Party, speculated that Lieberman might land a Cabinet position as a reward for his efforts on behalf of Netanyahu. He added that if a “destructive and violent person” like Lieberman could become justice minister or police minister, “we might as well turn off the lights and close the business.”