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Yisrael Beiteinu (Hebrew: יִשְׂרָאֵל בֵּיתֵנוּ, lit. Israel Our Home) is a right-wing nationalist political party in Israel. The party's base was originally secular Russian-speaking Israelis, although support from this demographic is in decline.[16] The party describes itself as "a national movement with the clear vision to follow in the bold path of Zev Jabotinsky",[7] the founder of Revisionist Zionism. It has primarily represented immigrants from the former Soviet Union, although it has attempted to expand its appeal to more established Israelis.[17] It takes a hard line towards the peace process and the integration of Israeli Arabs, characterized by its 2009 election slogan "No loyalty, no citizenship".[18] Its main platform includes a recognition of the two-state solution, the creation of a Palestinian state that would include an exchange of some largely Arab-inhabited parts of Israel for largely Jewish-inhabited parts of the West Bank.[19] Yisrael Beiteinu maintains an anti-clerical mantle, supports drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military,[20] and encourages socio-economic opportunities for new immigrants, in conjunction with efforts to increase Jewish immigration. The party won 15 seats in the 2009 election, its most to date, making it the third-largest party in the 18th Knesset.[21] In the 2019 election, the party won five seats.

Yisrael Beiteinu

ישראל ביתנו
LeaderAvigdor Lieberman
Founded1999
Split fromLikud
HeadquartersJerusalem, Israel
IdeologyNationalism[1]
Lieberman Plan
Zionism
Economic liberalism[2][3]
Secularism
Anti-clericalism[4]
Russian speakers' interests[5]
Right-wing populism[6]
Historical:
Revisionist Zionism[7][8][9]

Ultranationalism[10]
Political positionCentre-right[11]
to
Right-wing[3][12][13][14][15]
Knesset
5 / 120
Most MKs15 (2009)
Election symbol
ל
Website
www.beytenu.org

Contents

HistoryEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu has its origins in the Israel of the late 90s, when former Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office, Avigdor Lieberman was greatly disappointed by his former boss Benjamin Netanyahu and his negotiation with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu signed the Wye River Memorandum which featured the division of the city of Hebron, this move was viewed by many right wing Israelis, including many of Lieberman's own Russian-speaking community, as a betrayal of their values by Netanyahu. At the time of the Wye River Memorandum, the Russian-speaking community in Israel was mainly represented by the centre-right Yisrael BaAliyah, led by Natan Sharansky who decided not to pull his party out of Netanyahu's coalition despite the division of Hebron, which further disappointed Lieberman and other right wing Russian-speakers. This disappointment led to two Yisrael BaAliyah Knesset members, Michael Nudelman and Yuri Stern to break away from the party to form their own party Aliyah.

For the 1999 elections, Lieberman, Nudelman and Stern formed Yisrael Beiteinu, a party whose goal was to represent the right wing of the Russian-speaking community in Israel. The new party won four seats. Due to Ehud Barak's victory in the 1999 elections, the new party sat in the opposition in the new Knesset. On 1 February 2000, while sitting in the opposition, the party joined an alliance with the National Union,[22] itself an alliance of mainly Religious Zionist right-wing parties led by Binyamin Elon, both parties remained fairly independent. The joint-list joined Ariel Sharon's new unity government formed after the 2001 Israeli prime ministerial election, however, it attempted to quit the government just a few months later after Sharon's government gave another neighborhood of Hebron to the Palestinian authority, this move was delayed by Rehavam Ze'evi's assassination, but the joint-list, now led by Lieberman, left the coalition in 2002 anyway.

In the 2003 elections, the Lieberman-led joint list won seven seats, with his Yisrael Beiteinu being given four of them. The alliance joined Ariel Sharon's government and Lieberman was made Minister of Transport. However, the party left the government on 6 June 2004,[23] in response to the disengagement plan. On 1 February 2006, shortly before the elections that year, the party split from National Union in order to run alone in the elections.[22] The two parties believed that they would each increase their power if they ran alone, because Yisrael Beiteinu mainly targeted Israel's right wing Secular Russian-speaking community, while the National Union mainly targeted Israel's national-religious community.

During the election campaign, Yisrael Beiteinu split from mainstream right wing policy by offering a new peace plan based upon land and population transfers, it became known as the Lieberman plan. The party's new outlook on security was bolstered by the recent addition to the party, former Shin Bet deputy-director Yisrael Hasson, who was notably not a member of the Russian speaking community, and represented an attempt to reach out to new demographics. The 2006 elections were a great success for Yisrael Beiteinu, which increased its power to 11 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu joined Ehud Olmert's governing coalition in October 2006. The party entered a controversy in January 2007 when it entered a dispute with its coalition partner the Labor Party over Labor nominating Raleb Majadele for the position of Minister of Science and Technology, thereby making him Israel's first Muslim Arab minister.[24] Lieberman condemned the nomination, and called for the Labor party's head, Amir Peretz's resignation, accusing him of harming Israel's security by ceding to "internal rivalries" within the Labor party, while Peretz accused Yisrael Beiteinu of being a racist party.[25] Yisrael Beiteinu's member of Knesset (MK) Esterina Tartman referred to Peretz's decision as a "lethal blow to Zionism", adding that Majadale's presence in the cabinet would damage "Israel's character as a Jewish state"[24] and that "We need to destroy this affliction from within ourselves. God willing, God will come to our help." Tartman's comments were immediately condemned as racist by other MKs.[26]

In January 2008 the party left the government in protest against talks with the Palestinian National Authority, saying certain issues negotiated were not to be tolerated.[27] Lieberman pulled out of the government and left his position as Minister of Strategic Affairs,[27] and almost immediately afterwards, Arutz Sheva reported that an investigation against Lieberman and his daughter that had been "ongoing for years, suddenly became active again once he left the government last week".[28]

On 22 December 2008, Lieberman approved the party's list for the 2009 elections. In these elections, Yisreal Beiteinu continued to try and reach out to new demographics. As part of this attempt, the party added Orly Levy (daughter of former Likud MK David Levy, a figure highly respected by Israel's Mizrachi community) and Likud minister Uzi Landau to its list. Yisraeli Beiteinu ran a highly controversial election campaign, featuring the slogans: "No citizenship without loyalty" and "Only Lieberman understands Arabic", these slogans were considered racist by many Israelis.[29] These moves were a great success for Yisraeli Beiteinu, and polling showed that the party could win as many as 21 seats in the Knesset. In the end, Yisrael Beiteinu won 15 seats in the Knesset, making it the third largest after Kadima (28) and Likud (27), this was the party's best election result in its history. In March 2009, Yisrael Beiteinu joined Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, and party leader Avigdor Lieberman became Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, while the party received four other ministerial portfolios, and one deputy minister post.[30]

On 25 October 2012, Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud would run together on a single ballot in Israel's 22 January 2013 general elections known as Likud Yisrael Beiteinu. "In view of the challenges we're facing, we need responsibility on a national level ... We're providing a true alternative, and an opportunity for the citizens to stabilize leadership and government", Lieberman said.[31]

The joint list was not very successful in the 2013 elections, as the combined power of the two parties went down from 42 seats to 31 seats. Despite the fall in strength, the joint list was still able to lead Israel's new government, and Yisrael Beiteinu retained most of its strength by holding 13 seats in the joint list. Lieberman was reappointed as Netanyahu's foreign minister. The alliance was officially dissolved on 9 July 2014, and the two parties did not run together in the next elections. On 24 December, Yisrael Beiteinu was hit by a major corruption scandal, which greatly hurt the party's image in the public eye and its standing in the polls.[32]

The 2015 elections were a disaster for Yisraeli Beitenu, as the party went down to just 6 Knesset Members, losing over half its strength in the Knesset. Many of the party's former Knesset Members, such as Faina Kirschenbaum were implicated in the corruption scandal that hit the party, and therefore Lieberman had to reshuffle his list and bring forth many new people, such as the journalist Sharon Gal. Despite supporting the formation of a government by Netanyahu, Lieberman chose to keep his party in the opposition, due to personal disputes with Netanyahu and ideological disputes with the Ultra-Orthodox parties such as Shas and United Torah Judaism.[33] On the 26th of May 2016, Yisrael Beiteinu joined Netanyahu's coalition, Lieberman himself was appointed as Minister of Defense . The party's Knesset Member, Orly Levy left the party over the entry into the coalition and sat as an independent Knesset Member until the next elections, where she went on to found the Gesher party.

On 14 November 2018, Lieberman announced his resignation from the Israeli government, in protest to a new Gaza ceasefire,[34][35][36]. On November 16, 2018, Netanyahu stated that he would name himself the new Defense Minister.[37] As a result of Lieberman's departure, Yisrael Beiteinu also quit Netanyahu's coalition government.[38] Lieberman's resignation was completed on November 18, 2018.[39] The narrow government that followed Yisrael Beiteinu's departure led to Netanyahu calling a new election.

In the resulting 2019 elections, Yisrael Beiteinu ran a campaign focused on branding itself as a party for the "Secular Right", and focused on the issue of conscripting Ultra-Orthodox Jews while simultaneously supporting aggresive security policy against Palestinian terrorism. During the election period, polling showed that Yisrael Beiteinu was at risk of falling below the electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset for the first time in its history, however, despite these polls, the party managed to get 5 seats in the new Knesset, giving it the ability to decide if Netanyahu formed a right wing government. The government formation in 2019 was somewhat of a repeat of the situation in the previous elections, Yisrael Beiteinu supported Netanyahu to form a government, but refused to join it, citing an ideological dispute with the Ultra-Orthodox parties over the Ultra-Orthodox draft law as the reason for remaining in the opposition. Lieberman's refusal to join Netanyahu's coalition led to new elections being called. [40]

On the 15th of June 2019, ahead of the September 2019 elections, Lieberman announced that Yisrael Beiteinu would only support a national-unity government composed of Likud and the centrist Blue and White and devoid of Ultra-Orthodox parties. In an interview with Israel's Channel 13, Lieberman said: "We will aim for a government with Likud and with Kahol Lavan, and that will be an emergency government, a national-liberal government...We will do everything to limit the Haredim, so that they won't enter the government"[41]

OrganizationEdit

The supreme body in the party is the party conference, which convenes every four years. The party members elect party office-holders including the members of the party arbitration panel, the permanent commission, the municipal commission, and the comptroller.

Yisrael Beiteinu runs for local elections under the name of the city that they run in, e.g. Petah Tikva Beiteinu ("Petah Tikva Our Home").

Platform and PoliciesEdit

Founding principlesEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu's platform begins with a description of its 10 main principles which it calls its "ten commandments":[42]

  1. Security policy based on initiative and preemptive action.
  2. Solution of the conflict through a comprehensive regional agreement and the exchange of territories and populations.
  3. Without loyalty there is no citizenship - Military or National Service for everyone who reaches the age of 18.
  4. Death Penalty for terrorists.
  5. Adopting the Shamgar Report (which restricts the things the Israeli government can offer as part of a prisoner exchange) as the sole basis for all future prisoner exchange.
  6. In the case of a dilemma between the unity of the land and the unity of the people, the unity of the people comes first.
  7. Yes to Judaism - no to religious coercion.
  8. Support for Jewish settlement as part of the Zionist ideal and concept of security.
  9. Immigration of Diaspora Jews as a central national goal.
  10. A socio-economic ideal in line with Ze'ev Jabotinsky's five basic needs that should be guaranteed by the government: Food, Housing, Clothing, Education and Healthcare.

Relations with Israeli Arabs and PalestiniansEdit

One of the party's main policies is that of drawing the borders in such a way that areas with large Arab populations, such as the Triangle area and the Wadi Ara, both gained by Israel as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, would be transferred to Arab sovereignty. Known as the Lieberman Plan, such an arrangement would mean that the majority of Jews would live in Israel and the majority of Arabs would live in a future Palestinian state. In most cases, there is no physical population transfer or demolition of houses, but creating a new border where none existed before, according to demographics.[43]

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 55/153, written in 2001, explicitly states: "When part of the territory of a state is transferred by that state to another state, the successor state shall attribute its nationality to the persons concerned who have their habitual residence in the transferred territory and the predecessor state shall withdraw its nationality from such persons", and Lieberman claims that this means Israel can legally transfer territory and citizens as a means of peace and ultimate conflict resolution.[43]

Avigdor Lieberman argues that the Arab residents see themselves not as Israelis, but as Palestinians, and should, therefore, be encouraged to join the Palestinian Authority. Lieberman has presented this proposal as part of a potential peace deal aimed at establishing two separate national entities, one for Jews in Israel and the other for Arabs in Palestine. However, he is known to have an affinity for, and is popular among, the Druze population (the only non-Jewish, Arabic-speaking male population to be fully drafted into the IDF), and has attracted a number of Druze voters, including some in the Golan Heights who voted for the party in protest.[44] Druze candidate Hamad Amar was elected to the Knesset on the party's list in 2009.[45][not in citation given]

Regarding Palestinian statehood, Lieberman has said that he supports the creation of "a viable Palestinian state".[46]

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch proposed to use "administrative detention against those carrying out so-called 'price tag' attacks". This was in reference to Jewish extremists perpetrating hate crimes against Arabs.[47]

Nakba Day reformEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu was instrumental in passing a law that would fine bodies that receive state funding being spent in recognition of Nakba Day, and events that call for the end of Israel as a Jewish State.[48][not in citation given][49][not in citation given]

Security PolicyEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu supports an aggressive security policy, emphasizing preemptive strikes against Hamas and other opponents of Israel. Yisrael Beiteinu's security policy, as layed out in the party's platform is as follows[42]:

  1. Renewing the discontinued policy of the targeted killing of terror leaders.
  2. Reducing the amount of tax money collected by Israel given to the Palestinian Authority in proportion to the amount of money given to terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons and their families.
  3. Ending the transfer of Qatari funds to Hamas by the Israeli government.
  4. Death penalty for terrorists.
  5. Ending the policy of returning terrorist corpses to their families.
  6. Demolishing the houses of all terrorists, not only terrorists who have committed murder.
  7. Revocation of residency from citizens of East Jerusalem who were convicted of terrorism.
  8. Deportation of those who systematically incite terrorism from Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

Religion and stateEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu strongly opposes the separation of religion and state. Its platform says that in a country where religion and nationality are two parts of the same whole, religion and state can not be separated. However, the party believes that religion should be separated from political activity, it believes that religion should not be a source of income and instead should be preserved as a source of "inspiration and belief" for every Jew. [42]

Yisrael Beiteinu's policies on Religion and State, as stated by their platform are as follows[42]:

  • Compulsory national or military service for all Ultra Orthodox Jews.
  • Allowing for city Rabbis to perform a conversion, currently this right is reserved to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
  • The opening of the registration areas for marriage, so that couples can marry in any city and with any Rabbi that they desire.
  • The operation of public transportation on Shabbat, in neighborhoods with demand for it and without significant religious population.
  • Opposition to the "Supermarket law" which prohibits the operation of businesses on Shabbat.
  • The party opposes DNA tests for Jewish converts or for Jews of Russian descent.

Economic policiesEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu supports a broadly economically liberal vision of the economy. Its platform expresses opposition to an increase in taxes and supports a decrease in regulations and an increase in support to small businesses[42]. Despite this broadly liberal view of the economy, the party supports an increase in spending for healthcare and its flagship economic policy is increasing the minimum pension given to pensioners to 70% of the minimum wage.[50]

Yisrael Beiteinu's solution for Israel's housing crisis is cancelling the tax on the usage of pension funds of young couples who want to buy a home with the money.[51]

PerceptionEdit

A number of mainstream media sources, within and outside of Israel, have labelled the party, and Lieberman, as right-wing, and even far-right or ultra-nationalist, including Fox News,[52][53] BBC News,[54] The Telegraph,[55][56][not in citation given] The Guardian,[57][58][59] Haaretz,[60] The Jerusalem Post,[61] The New York Times,[62] The Times (London),[63] France 24,[64] Newsweek,[65] NPR,[66] and Xinhua News Agency.[67] At the same time, however, the party does recognize a two-state solution, and it is a secular party, with some of its particular policies described as "ultra-liberal".[68] These positions are contradictory to the tradition of both nationalistic and religious right wing politics in Israel. Some have called the party and its leader a "hard-line" or "self-styled" populist, including Newsweek,[65] The Telegraph,[69] The Guardian,[70] Reuters,[71] and Time magazine.[72]

While various Arab and world media and politicians accused the party and its leader of being a fascist and racist,[73][74][75][76][77] a number of Israeli media and politicians tend to disagree,[78][not in citation given][79][80] and some even offered praise on occasion. For example, Kadima's Minister of Finance Roni Bar-On said: "It's a Jewish party, Zionist, and serious."[81] The party phenomenon was explained by Gershom Gorenberg:[82]

Lieberman is not a right-winger, because he's talking about giving up land. In fact, he's even willing to give up land from sovereign Israel. [..] I think one of the reasons people say Lieberman is in the center is that they don't realize he has, in effect, redefined the terms.

In a February 2009 opinion piece[83] considered to be directed at the Obama administration, Avigdor Lieberman stated that Yisrael Beiteinu was neither far-right, nor ultra-nationalist.[84]

Yehuda Ben-Meir wrote in the Haaretz that he did not, and would not ever, vote for Lieberman. He also criticized the delegitimizing and demonizing of both the right and the left:

Lieberman is neither a racist nor a fascist, and depicting him as such does an injustice to his voters and harm to Israel.

What's racist is denying the Jewish people a state of their own. Certain Arab Knesset members talk incessantly about the Palestinian people's rights, including their own state. But in the same breath they refuse to acknowledge Israel as the state of the Jewish people and deny the very existence of a Jewish people as a nation with national rights...

Just as we must condemn right wingers' attempts to cast doubt over the patriotism of Yossi Beilin and his fellow subscribers to the Geneva Initiative – provocative as this plan might be to most Israelis – we must condemn the left's lamentable habit of denigrating Lieberman. The idea to change the state's borders in a peace agreement may not be practical or implementable in our circumstances, but we cannot deny its legitimacy and sense. And in any case, it has nothing to do with racism. Lieberman has said publicly that he supports the principle of establishing a Palestinian state.[85]

According to Time magazine, many Russian immigrants are attracted to the ideas of Lieberman's party. It also notes that analysts say that at this time "the dreary prospects for peace, and recent terrorist attacks inflicted by Israeli Arabs" have contributed to Lieberman's popularity among other segments of Israeli society.[86]

Along with Likud and other right wing parties, Yisrael Beiteinu is considered to be part of the national camp in Israeli politics.[87]

CriticismEdit

Yisrael Beiteinu and its plan have many vehement critics from the left and the right in Israel.

Despite its support for increased Jewish immigration (aliyah) and settlement expansion, Yisrael Beiteinu's platform is based in part on the creation of a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, and thus has alienated much of the religious right-wing settlement movement, which refuses to acknowledge Palestinian claims to any of the Land of Israel.

Yisrael Beiteinu has drawn equally strong criticism from the Left, in large part due to the Lieberman Plan's proposed land and population transfers along ethnic lines. This focus on ethnicity and religion has drawn comparisons with the now defunct Kach party.[88][89]

The Lieberman Plan caused a stir among Arab citizens of Israel, which explicitly treats them as a "fifth column" and as an enemy within. With few exceptions, Arabs in Israel argue that they have lived in the region for centuries, and should not have to renounce the villages and cities in which they, their parents, and their grandparents were born (although the plan calls for a transfer of sovereignty, rather than population, making this concern a non-issue). Others insist that, as Israeli citizens, they deserve equal rights within the State, and should not be singled out according to their ethnic or religious background. Various polls show that Arabs in Israel, in general, do not wish to move to the West Bank or Gaza if a Palestinian state were created there, although at the same time refusing to identify as Israeli and referring themselves as Palestinians.[90]

In the past, the party has been accused of being racist towards Arabs, and exhibiting Anti-Arabism. Two Israeli Arab journalists were excluded from a campaign gathering held by Yisrael Beiteinu in Haifa. Haifa Deputy Mayor Yulia Shtraim, a member of the party's municipal faction, said she would not allow the journalists to enter the hall "because of the Arabs' demonstration and what [the demonstrators] say about [Avigdor] Lieberman". The Israeli Arab journalists were denied access, despite possessing press cards, being told that they were uninvited. However, uninvited Jewish and foreign media were allowed in.[91]

Knesset membersEdit

 
YB party ballot 2009

Yisrael Beiteinu currently has five Knesset members:

Year Members Total
2019 Avigdor Lieberman, Sofa Landver, Hamad Amar, Robert Ilatov, Oded Forer 5

Knesset election resultsEdit

Election year Party Leader Votes % Seats won +/- Notes Gov?
1999 Avigdor Lieberman 86,153 2.6 (#13)
4 / 120
  4 Opposition
2003 Avigdor Lieberman 173,973 5.52 (#5)
3 / 120
  1 Joint-list with National Union Coalition
2006 Avigdor Lieberman 281,880 8.99 (#5)
11 / 120
  8 Coalition
2009 Avigdor Lieberman 394,577 11.70 (#3)
15 / 120
  4 Coalition
2013 Avigdor Lieberman 885,054 23.34 (#1)
13 / 120
  2 Joint-list with Likud Coalition
2015 Avigdor Lieberman 214,906 5.11 (#8)
6 / 120
  7 Opposition
2019 Avigdor Lieberman 173,004 4.01 (#2)
5 / 120
  1 TBD

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