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Profile Berman Fights to Retain Liberal Image

December 10, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

If the Liberal Party expresses, and is identified with, views similar to that held by Herut, it shall eventually lose its identity and uniqueness, says Energy Minister Yitzhak Berman (Likud-Liberal). Berman is one of the new Ministers in Premier Menachem Begin’s second Cabinet, and one of the six Liberal Party Ministers in the 17-member Cabinet team.

The Liberals’ alliance with Begin’s Herut (first as Gahal, now as the Likud) goes back to the mid-sixties. Periodically, and increasingly of late, the Liberals have come under criticism for kowtowing to the hardline Herut on foreign and defense policy issues and thereby betraying their tradition as moderate rightwingers.

Berman says he is very aware of this widespread sentiment — and he seems to agree with it. He warns Herut to respect the different style and approach of the Liberal Party, and not seek to blur or overshadow it. Otherwise, he says, the Likud will lose the electoral support of an important sector of its constituency.


Berman, who at 68 still sticks doggedly to his bachelorhood, became a public figure only in 1977. Until then, he confined himself to his well-established law practice in Tel Aviv — and confined his political activities to marginal work in the Liberal Party.

In 1977 his name appeared on the Likud Knesset slate — and the “May earthquake” swept him into Parliament. He quickly made his name as a solid and serious legislator.

In March, 1980 he was elected Speaker of the Knesset — a post that suddenly elevated him to the top rank of public life. (Constitutionally, the Speaker comes second only to the President of the State in protocolar hierarchy.)

During the recent election campaign Berman made it clear that he had had enough of the pomp and ceremony of the Speakership — and his party elected him as one of its representatives in the Cabinet.


In an interview with this reporter Berman said the Liberal Party must strive to fulfill the classical tenets of liberalism that have always been the core of its platform. In that way it will continue to respond, he said, to the desires and expectations of Israel’s middle class, which has traditionally been the backbone of its support. (The Liberals were the General Zionists in their earlier incarnation — representing a liberal-bourgeois opposition to Ben Gurion’s all-powerful socialist alliance.)

In order to preserve the Liberals’ special identity and separate image, Berman is ready, if necessary, for head-on confrontation with Herut leaders. In fact, he himself was recently involved in something of a confrontation with Begin when he publicly differed with the Premier over Saudi Arabia’s plan for the Israel-Arab conflict.

Begin rejected the Saudi proposals outright, describing them as dangerous to Israel’s longterm survival. But Berman insisted that the plan had a significantly positive element to it, because it expressed Saudi readiness to recognize Israel. In another demonstration of liberalism and independence, Berman published a statement of sharp criticism against Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren over the City of David excavation controversy.


Berman says he is convinced that large segments of Israeli society today endorse liberal principles and would back a more forthright and energetic application of those principles by the Liberals in Likud. Most people agree with the Liberals’ long-held demand for a reduction of government interference in everyday life of individual citizens, for less economic controls and for less red tape.

Asked how the Likud Liberals square their principles with the present coalition agreement — in which Likud made far-reaching concessions to the Orthodox parties — Berman maintained that most of the coalition clauses that had aroused criticism in secular circles represented in fact the fulfillment of previous promises given to the religious parties by Labor-led Administrations.

Indeed, Berman adds, Labor would have paid precisely the same price to the religious parties as the Likud paid — if Labor could in that way have set up a coalition after the elections last June. At any rate, he adds, the Liberals in the Cabinet and in the Knesset will stand firm on their right — enshrined in the Likud agreement with Herut — to express their independent views on such issues as annexation of Judaea and Samaria.

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