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From the Desk of Dr Ron Weiser AM, ZFA Public Affairs Chairman

Game of Thrones (GoT) is looking more and more like a straightforward yarn compared to the changing alliances inside Israeli politics.

And some of those who considered Lieberman’s re-entry to government a potential disaster just a few weeks ago, now GoT like look to him as the potential fixer.

Prime Minister Netanyahu faces increasingly strident criticism from an ever growing number of some of the most senior people and leaders in Israel and especially from those who served under or with him at the highest levels.

Till now, whatever the situation, the people of Israel have continually stuck with Netanyahu. And even if the main reason for many was simply that there is no-one else with his stature and experience, that itself is good reason enough.

It is clear however, that the search for an alternate leader, and the public calls for this swelling from even within traditional Likud quarters, are increasingly ominous for his leadership long term.

The general public’s impatience comes in two policy areas.

On the matter of Israel and the neighbourhood, it is not so much what Netanyahu is or is not doing and not too many who can convincingly offer something else given the intransigence of the Palestinian leadership. It is not even Netanyahu himself.

It is more the perception that the government he has formed will not allow him to take the steps he might want to in order to respond to the ever increasingly interesting steps and pronouncements emanating from president El Sisi in Egypt and the Saudis.

And the second area is the inability to deal with the many internal social and status issues that his coalition, to emphasise again not so much Netanyahu himself, is not built to deal with.

And in neither policy area is the entry of Lieberman seen as the stumbling block.

On the contrary.

I am surprised that so many so called experts say they in turn are surprised by Lieberman.

A good example is a column by J.J. Goldberg writing in the Forward on June the 13th

He writes:
“It could turn out to be the biggest surprise of the year in Middle East diplomacy: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s blustering, ultra-nationalist new defense minister, just might be the key to reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Lieberman’s significance lies in the fact that despite his fearsome reputation as an anti-Arab provocateur and bigot, he’s not opposed in principle to Israel yielding significant parts of the West Bank and allowing a Palestinian state.”

None of the above should really surprise anyone. Lieberman is not ideological about land, only about demography – about the size of the Jewish majority required to keep Israel a Jewish State.

And for that he has always been about relinquishing territory.

One thing you can say about Lieberman is that he is consistent, at least when he is in government.

Goldberg agrees:
“Lieberman, is almost frighteningly consistent. He does what he says he will, for good or ill.”

That’s an unusual trait in a politician. Most would say it is a good one.

The other thing is that Lieberman is also a believer in the separation of religion and state, reforming the Chief Rabbinate to deal with matters of conversion and personal status as well as an advocate of electoral reform.

Many of his positions therefore on both the external and internal questions resonate with the general public.

And he will be a force for progress on these two fronts from inside government, but a spoiler from outside.

By the time this is published, all being well, I should find myself in Paris for the Board of Governors (BOG) meeting of the Jewish Agency (the Sochnut).

The BOG meets in Israel 3 times per year, but every few years one of these meetings takes place instead in a community in distress or under stress – ergo the forthcoming meeting in France.
Such meetings serve a dual purpose – to show solidarity and to support those communities both by programmes and budget as well as to demonstrate to their governments that they are not alone.

It is also usually very enlightening for us, the participants.

The Jewish Agency has prepared some background on the French community and like all statistics, they have a margin of error and generate discussion, but they also present a pretty good general picture.

Here follows some of that information:

  • Before the NAZIS occupied France in 1940, the Jewish population was about 320,000
  • Approximately 90,000 French Jews were murdered during WW2 by the NAZIS aided by the Vichy French deportation of its own Jewish citizens
  • After WW2 many French Jews returned, as well as Jews from elsewhere and rebuilt the community
  • In the 1950’s and 60’s there was a great influx of Jews from Nth Africa with a doubling in the size of French Jewry
  • By 1990 the Jewish population of France was about 530,000 which has shrunk by some 30,000 Jews today
  • Approximately 40% of French Jews self-identify as Sephardi and just under 30% as Ashkenazi, as to the rest,????
  • About 13% of French Jewish families have at least 1 child enrolled in Jewish Day School
  • Intermarriage in France is around 45%.
  • From 2013 to 2015 there has been a 97% increase in the number of acts or attempts at anti-Jewish terror, murder, physical attacks, arson and vandalism
  • French Jewry is less than 1% of the general French population but is the target of 49% of violent racist attacks
  • Aliyah has gone from just under 2,000 olim in 2012 to just over 7,500 in 2015.

As part of the meetings, the Israeli delegation will include some government ministers and opinion makers.

One of those will be Sofa Landver from Lieberman’s party – Yisrael Beiteinu, who has re-joined the government and regained her old ministry.

Should be interesting.