Avigdor Liberman
Avigdor LibermanYonatan Sindel/Flash90

Following media reports last week that the Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, and the Finance Minister, Avigdor Liberman, have not been attending meetings of the government’s Coronavirus Cabinet, both Lapid and Liberman appeared to repent their “misdeeds,” promising – in face of sharp public criticism of their serial absences – to behave better in the future. However, in an interview on Radio 103FM on Tuesday, Liberman doubled down on his refusal to attend the meetings, providing what he clearly felt were good reasons to do so.

“I do not attend the meetings, and I have no intention of doing so,” Liberman clarified, rebuffing the suggestion that this demonstrated a lack of responsibility. “I never run away from responsibility,” Liberman said. “In any case, participating in one or another committee doesn’t absolve anyone of taking responsibility. And I am not a greater expert on the issues being discussed than the other committee members.”

Liberman added that, “It’s not enough to attend meetings – what we need to do is get down to work. That’s why, during my first week in office, I divided attendance of the various committee meetings between myself and Hamad Amar, the other minister in the Finance Ministry, and we agreed that I would be representing the Ministry on the Political-Security Committee, and he would sit on the Coronavirus Committee. Amar is perfectly capable of representing the Ministry and dealing with the associated responsibilities, and obviously I can’t sit on every single committee,” he stressed.

During his first few months in office, Liberman does seem to be managing the position adequately, with the state budget now having been approved by the government. He is optimistic that when the budget reaches the Knesset, there too it will be approved – which would make it the first budget in the last three years to be passed. However, he stressed that, “Budget provisions are always altered as they go through the legislative process. The reforms I am promoting are designed to decrease the cost of living, simplify things in general, and at the end of the day, to bring money in rather than cost us money.”

Liberman rejected the accusation that he is seeking to impose new taxes. “That’s total and utter falsehood,” he said. “There are no new taxes. What there is, is an attempt to change behavior patterns, and the money that will be raised on [taxes on] sugary drinks will be directed toward protecting the environment – it isn’t part of the state budget.”

When asked about his future plans for the coalition, Liberman insisted that he has no desire to bring the haredi parties into the government, at any stage of the game. “Shas and UTJ are not part of the current coalition and I don’t see any reason to change the composition of the coalition,” he said. “The coalition is functioning well, as we have seen with regard to the budget, and with the passage of other laws too, and with the selection of committee representatives and so forth. I don’t see any need to bring Shas and UTJ into the coalition at this point in time – neither before nor after the budget passes.” When asked if his party would veto the inclusion of the haredi parties in the coalition, in the event that other coalition members desired to bring them in, Liberman replied that, “The difference between this government and the previous one is the prevailing atmosphere. We don’t need to impose any vetoes. We have dialogue, and mutual respect. We are not talking about vetoes, but I do believe that our positions are quite clear.”

Liberman was also asked to comment on his fellow party member Eli Avidar, who was recently appointed as a minister without portfolio, and subsequently toned down his rhetoric against the government’s vaccination program, which he had previously been sharply critical of.

“No one forced me to agree to Avidar’s appointment as minister,” Liberman insisted. “If I hadn’t wanted him appointed, he wouldn’t have been appointed. Avidar is a member of the coalition and that’s what’s important – and he has now been vaccinated, which is even more important.”

Liberman was less forgiving of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling his behavior “pathetic.”

“Netanyahu belongs to the past,” Liberman said. “He’s yesterday’s man. I can even feel a bit sorry for him, as he is so obviously pining after what he’s lost. He’s still trying to present himself as the Prime Minister, but his time is up. Unlike previous leaders, however, he hasn’t come to terms with that and is still trying to stay relevant. But if he had really cared about the right-wing bloc, he would have vacated his position and let someone else from the Likud party take his place at the helm. Instead, he focused on his own interests, which meant that the Likud party did not succeed in establishing a right-wing government which is what should have happened – and that’s a shame.”