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Netanyahu Ally's New Political Party Engenders Controversy

January 04, 1999|From Reuters

TEL AVIV — Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu's longtime ally Avigdor Lieberman launched a new party, aiming to rally the support of Russian-speaking Israelis around the prime minister ahead of May elections.

But political analysts differed on whether his Yisrael Baitainu party--Hebrew for "Israel Is Our Home"--would help or hurt Netanyahu.

Michael Eitan, a loyalist in Netanyahu's Likud Party, predicted that Lieberman, who was instrumental in solidifying Netanyahu's control over Likud, would hurt the party by taking votes away in the May 17 elections.

Promising a social revolution, Lieberman, who immigrated to Israel 20 years ago, told a news conference: "I intend to act with all of my power so that Benjamin Netanyahu is elected prime minister."

But Lieberman, formerly Netanyahu's chief of staff and a fellow survivor of a corruption scandal that ensnared them both, immediately ignited a public row by vowing to topple the "police state" he said Israel had become.

His opening salvo--an attack on police, state prosecutors and Israel's Supreme Court--prompted an outpouring of criticism across the political spectrum.

Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying Lieberman spoke for himself alone.

Lieberman helped to chart Netanyahu's meteoric rise to power but failed as chief of staff to stop the Israeli leader from lurching from crisis to crisis.

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