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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 18, 2013 PAGE 11A Meet Yair Shamir, the political scion who could replace Avigdor Liberman By Ben Sales TEL AVIV (JTA)--Yair Shamir says he doesn't dis- cuss hypotheticals. For the Israeli Air Force commander turned techno- crat turned politician, these topics include how to respond to settlement evacuations or achieve Palestinian state- hood, a fracture in the U.S.- Israel relationship or Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Liberman's departure from politics. Shamir, the 67-year-old scion of the late Prime Min- ister Yitzhak Shamir, is the hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu's No. 2. With Liberman, the former foreign minister, under indictment for fraud and breach of trust, he is the de facto heir apparent to one of Israel's largest political parties. Assuming that mantle would be quite a shift for Shamir, who entered politics only last year. He served 25 years as a pilot and officer in the IAF before moving on to private business. Until 2011 he served as chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries, the country's leading aircraft manufacturer. Before that he was an executive at El Al Israel Airlines, a large telecommu- nications firm, a venture capital fund and a computer equipment company. Entering politics was a "na- tionalist decision," Shamir told JTA, a choice "to give my coming years to strengthen Israel on the national level and not on the private level." Last year he was appointed deputy to Liberman in Yis- rael Beiteinu, a party that originally focused on Russian immigrant concerns but since has attracted Israelis with nationalist views from other backgrounds. Shamir tries to avoid talking about the party without Liberman. "The press is trying to create a rivalry between us," Shamir said. "I'm almost convinced that he'll come out innocent. A public figure who is found guilty in court shouldn't be a public figure, but everyone needs to follow his own conscience." That attitude fits into Shamir's overall political philosophy. He professes deep respect for pluralism and democracy while also op- posing a Palestinian state--a position that puts him at odds with Liberman. Liberman has called for redrawing the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state in the West Bank to include more Jews and exclude as many Arabs as possible. Shamir follows in the ideo- logical footsteps of his father, who served as prime minister from 1986 to 1992 and died last July. As leader of the Likud party, the elder Shamir opposed any compromise with the Palestinians--even after the outbreak of the first ntifada--and strongly sup- ported West Bank settlement expansion. "I see him as my light- house," Shamir said of his father. "A lighthouse isn't the nicest building. It's a simple building but it stands on a cliff and always shines its light, in bad and good weather. It's not shaken by a storm or a calm sea." Like his father, Shamir wants Israel to hang tough in the constantly unstable Middle East. His top priority as a politician, he says, will be to contribute his business experience to government by strengthening the country's infrastructure and economy. "The only way to maintain the land and the people is to be strong economically and militarily," he said. "When you look at who Israeli politi- cians are, there isn't enough representation of industry and agriculture, the people that are really doing any- thing." When it comes to op- posing a Palestinian state or settlement evacuations, Shamir says the State of Israel deserves the entire Land of Israel and sees no reason to be conciliatory as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains intractable. That's why he treats a scenario of settlement evacuations and Palestinian statehood as a hypothetical. "Right now there's no ho- cus-pocus solution," Shamir said. "The Arabs there who call themselves Palestinian, they'll stay or go, but we'll definitely stay. We need to keep building in the land." Shamir seems like a throw- back to the Likud of his father's time--a party com- mitted to Greater Israel. And while he isn't traditionally observant, Shamir calls him- selfa "believing Jew." He sup- ports the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and keeps a copy of the Tanya, its principal philosophical tract, on his desk, along with a Bible. Yisrael Beiteinu has merged lists with Likud for the upcoming elections, but Shamir says the present-day Likud has lost sight of what's important to Israel's growth: immigration and settlement. As a party founded by Russian immigrants, Yisrael Beiteinu was attractive to Shamir, he said. He runs an organization called Gvahim that special- izes in helping academics immigrate to Israel. "There's no future without immigration, if the major- ity of the Jewish people aren't here," Shamir said. He stopped short of calling for mass immigration from the United States, which has the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora by far, though he said he would be happy "if millions came here." One possible reason Shamir may be on Yisrael Beiteinu's list rather than Likud's is that Likud holds primaries for its Knesset list, while Yisrael Beiteinu candidates are handpicked by Liberman aided by a committee. "The biggest advantage Yisrael Beiteinu has over anyone is that you have to talk to one person instead of 150,000," said pollster Mitch- ell Barak, a former adviser under Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "There are a lot of backroom deals when it comes to being elected to Knesset" in primaries. Shamir feels that Yisrael Beiteinu is no less democratic than any other faction, and that its emphasis on leader- ship lets it stay true to its principles--the principles, he says, that have always made Israel strong. "Everyone attacks Liber- man, that he's the party, but why don't they attack Yair La- pid or Tzipi Livni, who weren't elected?" he said, referring to the founders of the centrist parties YeshAtid and Hatnua, respectively. "Yisrael Beiteinu is still young, still hungry. It sets clear lines." In Israeli campaign, Netanyahu gets hit from right and left By Ben Sales further to the right--to the still is expected to be the larg- being championed by Labor With a comfortable lead in and goes to hang out in Tel TEL AVIV (JTA)--"Ooh, aah, look who's coming!" the crowd of young people chants. "It's the next prime minister!" Hundreds of voices rise from a packed dance floor Sunday as Benjamin Netan- yahu, Israel's prime minister, enters the room grinning, singing alongwith the pound- ing music overhead and lean- ing over the stage--somewhat uncomfortably, it seems--to shake hands with supporters. It's a rally for Young Likud, the youth wing of Netan- yahu's faction. His picture illuminates a screen behind the disc jockey, and huge banners hang above the dance floor emblazoned with the word "Machal"--the name for Likud that will appear on the ballot in Israel's Jan. 22 elections. "For whoever wants to defend and expand the state, there's only one vote: Machal, Machal, Machal[" Netanyahu exhorts the crowd. "Bring everyone to the ballot box!" For the prime minister, the message becomes more urgent by the day. While pundits and polls for months have all but guaran- teed him another term, Netan- yahu's path to victory in the past three weeks has hit two major obstacles: an ascendant challenge from the right and a center-left that threatens to unite against him. The result has been a dramatic drop in Netanyahu's poll numbers. In October, when Likud merged listswith the national- ist Yisrael Beiteinu party, polls had the joint list maintaining its current 42 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Now most polls peg the joint list at 34 or 35 seats, with some going as low as 32--still making it the Knesset's largest party, but with a much smaller margin. Instead of moving across the political map, most of those votes have shifted even hard-line Jewish Home party. Led by Naftali Bennett, 40, a charismatic former army officer and high-tech entrepreneur whose parents immigrated to Israel from San Francisco, Jewish Home has staked out some progressive social positions on housing and budget reform. On secu- rity issues, however, Bennett has taken a hard line. He favors annexing large swaths of the West Bank, firmly opposes Palestinian statehood and has tried to portray Netanyahu as inconsistent on security policy. Jewish Home traditionally has been the party of Israel's religious nationalist sector. But Bennett, with his clean- shaven face and barely notice- able yarmulke, has tried to appeal to all sectors of Israeli society. Fifth on his faction's list is Ayelet Shaked, a secular woman from the traditionally leftist northern Tel Aviv. "I want to make it possible for anyone to live in Israel, especiallyyoung people," Ben- nett told a crowd of English speakers in Tel Aviv last month. "We're opening the party for the religious, secular, for haredim, for everyone." Bennett's hawkishness at times has gotten him into trouble. He suggested that he would disobey an army order to evacuate settlements, and last week Bennett said he would oppose drafting haredi yeshiva students in Israel's universal conscrip- tion. Even so, polls have put Jewish Home at 14 or 15 seats, which would make it the Knes- set's third-largest party after Likud-Beiteinu and Labor. In the current Knesset, Jewish Home has just three seats. Votes moving from Likud- Beiteinu to Jewish Home, both rightist parties, won't hurt Netanyahu's reelection chances because the right- wing bloc will remain the same size, and Likud-Beiteinu est party. What could unseat the prime minister, though, is a center-left majority in the next Knesset. The center-left is split into three major parties: Labor, led by former journal- st Shelly Yachimovich; esh Atid, which was founded last year by media personality Yair Lapid, whose father was a Knesset member; and Hatnua, the party founded last year by former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni that emphasizes Israeli- Palestinian peace. The latest polls have Labor winning 18 to 20 seats, with Yesh Atid and Hatnua at nine to 11 apiece. Twoweeks ago, Livni called on the three parties to unite ahead of the election. Instead of joining a Likud-led coali- tion, Livni wants the parties to form a "blocking bloc" in the Knesset to stop Netanyahu from leading the government. But the center-left has been plagued by infighting throughout the campaign. Following an unsuccessful meeting on Jan. 7 with the leaders of the three parties, Yachimovich and Lapid ac- cused Livni of using them for "political spin." Livni is still pushing for unity. 'TI! obviously be happy if you vote for Hatnua, led by me," Livni said Jan. 8 in a video message. "But more importantly, vote for one of the centrist parties. You know what? In these elections there are only two ballots: an extremist ballot and a moder- ate ballot." Even with a fragmented center, recent polls show a tightening race. A poll con- ducted recently by the Times of Israel noted that 31 percent of voters have yet to choose a party and that most unde- cided voters are likely to break toward the center-left. And throughout the campaign, majorities of voters have said they care most about socio- economic issues, which are and Yesh Atid. Likud has responded to at- tacks from the right and left by calling in its campaign for "a strong prime minister, a strong Israel." the polls, Netanyahu's chal- lenge is to draw voters even as most Israelis expect a Likud- Beiteinu victory. "It's not every day that a prime minister puts on jeans Aviv," Netanyahu quipped to reporters as he headed into the Young Likud rally. Then he straightened up and said, "A leftist bloc necessitates a strong Likud-Beiteinu."