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Israel’s ‘Kingmaker’ Calls Arab Israelis a ‘Fifth Column’

Former Israeli defense minister Avigdor Liberman, a political hawk who emerged as a “kingmaker” as he sought to press incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White Bloc, to form a unity government that excludes Jewish religious parties, caused a furor Thursday when he told a radio audience that the minority Arab Israeli parties constitute a “fifth column.” As the Netanyahu/Gantz face-off remains exceedingly close and every seat is a crucial link to forming a coalition of 61 or more out of 120 seats in parliament in order to become prime minister, the support of Liberman’s 8-seat party is viewed as a “must” in order for Gantz or Netanyahu to grab the brass ring. But controversial statements like Thursday’s comment effectively remove the speaker from the pool of possible coalition partners. One of the scenarios to break the deadlock and give challenger Gantz the edge, is for the Joint List (as the bloc of four Arab Israeli parties is known) to vote with Gantz’s Blue and White bloc but to maintain plausible deniability by staying outside the government. Liberman’s comments came hours before Gantz and Joint List head Odeh are scheduled to meet.