Liberman calls for election for first time since October 7

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman called in an interview on Sunday morning on Army Radio for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down and for the country to head to an election. Liberman in recent months opposed an election due to what he argued would be its negative effect on the Israeli war effort, and his comments on Sunday were the first time he joined his fellow opposition parties in calling for an election.

Liberman attributed his change of opinion to public feuds over the past between Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister-without-portfolio Benny Gantz, who are all members of the war cabinet.

“When three members of the [war] cabinet act against each other, there is no chance to make any moves, and the slogan ‘together we will win’ is just a slogan,” Liberman said.

A public drama between gov’t officials

Liberman referred to public comments by Gallant on Wednesday, a response by Netanyahu on Thursday, and a spat between Gantz and Netanyahu over the weekend over the former’s trip to the US.

Gallant on Wednesday said in a statement to the media that he would not support a solution to the problem of the haredi exemption from IDF service unless the solution enjoyed the support of all members of the emergency coalition – including Gantz. Netanyahu responded in a press conference on Thursday that “total agreement only existed in North Korea,” and that Gallant was actually trying to lead to an election – which the prime minister said would be a “gift” to Hamas and would lead to Israel’s defeat in the war.

Defence Minister of Israel Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Shlomi, Israel November 9, 2023. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Then, Gantz on Friday updated Netanyahu that he was planning a trip to the US and the UK and would meet, among others, with US Vice President Kamala Harris. Netanyahu reportedly opposed the trip on the grounds that “there was only one prime minister,” and directed Israel ambassador to the US, Mike Herzog, not to attend Gantz’s meetings with US officials.

The level of distrust and political maneuvering meant that “the government has exhausted its potential,” and that it was time for an election, Liberman said. He added that an would not be a gift to Hamas, but rather a “gift to the people of Israel.”

While Netanyahu did not criticize Gantz directly, two Likud ministers who are considered close allies, Minister in the Justice Ministry, Regional Cooperation Minister, and Ministerial Liaison to the Knesset David Amsalem and Transportation Minister Miri Regev, voiced their criticism publicly.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Amsalem wrote, “Mr. Gantz, your entry into the government was in order to create unity in a time of emergency, and not to be a Trojan horse. Your trip this morning was in total violation of government protocol.” Amsalem further accused Gantz of colluding to “lead a process of a Palestinian state and stopping the fighting in Gaza.

Regev in an interview on Army Radio on Sunday criticized both Gallant and Gantz. She said that Gallant’s statement was “unnecessary” since talks were ongoing between the haredi parties and the other coalition parties on the issue of haredi IDF service. Regev added that Gantz should not have travelled to the US against Netanyahu’s wishes during such a “sensitive time” of negotiations over a hostage deal.