Avigdor Lieberman Boosted By Pro-Pork Backlash


One of the oddities of Israeli politics is that Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu party is also a staunch upholder of secularism, since its primary source of support is immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who tend to be secular and many of whom like eating pork. And soon before the last election, the ultra-orthodox Shas party stepped up its anti-pork rhetoric. This, according to Jeffrey Yoskowitz, likely helped drive some secular voters away from Likud and toward Lieberman, in order to save their pork:

In lambasting the sausages and pork chops of Russian culture right before the election, Yosef aroused widespread fear among the Russian population of what Shas would do if it won enough votes to enter a governing coalition. “I wasn’t going to vote this year but now my husband says we have to vote for [Lieberman], otherwise [Shas] will shut us down,” Haaretz quoted one Russian shop-owner as saying. “It’s true we don’t sell pork here, but I’m from Russia and that might be enough [to close us.]” Lieberman himself credited Yosef for his bump in support, saying that of all the forces working in his favor, “No doubt, the rabbi deserves first prize.”

Netanyahu was also damaged by the rising Russian tide against Shas. His Likud party had turned to religious parties such as Shas and Agudat Israel to build coalitions in the past, which has facilitated their attempts to ban pork, make selling leavened bread on Passover illegal, and perpetuate many policies that singularly serve the interests of the ultra-Orthodox community. Therefore, while many Russian voters cared about Netanyahu’s security position, Lieberman’s core platform promised both the security of their borders as well as their culture–meats, cheeses, and all. It is not surprising, then, that Lieberman’s gains in support coincided in a drop in support for Likud–which, according to the last published poll before the election (released the day before Yosef’s speech), was slated to win a slim lead over the Kadima party.

He also observes that Israel’s pork community is quite embattled:

Escalating tensions have led to clashes between Russian immigrants and their religious neighbors in a number of cities across the country. In August 2007, for example, a Russian-owned deli was attacked in the northern beach town of Netanya–an occurrence that had become so commonplace that is was a theme canonized in the 2005 Israeli film, The Schwartz Dynasty. A month later, a similar non-kosher shop in Tzfat was attacked, just 24 hours after the Jewish Day of Atonement. The owner of a pork processing factory in Haifa, Dadi Marom, complained to me that every Friday afternoon his weekly sausage and beer tasting is interrupted by ultra-Orthodox protests.

In the United States, of course, Jews are a small numerical minority and the observant and un-observant alike tend to appreciate the dangers of intolerance and the virtues of a state that doesn’t seek to enforce religious taboos.