The Martyrdom of Avigdor Lieberman
By Steven Plaut
In 1999, Benjamin Netanyahu lost the Israeli election to leftist Ehud Barak to the squealing delight of Israel's conscripted media and of many in its judicial system. At the time, a criminal investigation was launched against Netanyahu for supposedly misappropriating property from the Prime Minister's residency. He had to leave it in a hurry to turn it over to his successor, and supposedly had absconded with some trinkets and gifts that had been given to him as Prime Minister but really belonged to the residency, not to him personally. Nothing much came of the "investigation," other than it serving as an illustration of how the judicial Left in Israel and the chronically politicized Prosecutor's Office file politically-motivated indictments and open politically-motivated criminal investigations.
In Israel there is a long tradition of the Left using prosecution to get its way, especially when the Israeli voter refuses to endorse what the Left wants. In the investigation of Netanyahu, it was naked lawfare payback for Netanyahu's having dared to beat the Left in the previous election.
All of which brings us to the political persecution of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The Left has always had a problem with Lieberman, and it is not just political ideology. Avigdor started a political career from nothing and turned his party into the second strongest in Israel. He recently merged it into the Likud and the merger is expected to capture a third of Knesset (parliament) seats according to polls. Lieberman, with his chunky demeanor and very heavy Russian accent, basically took the entire Russian-Israeli vote away from the better known Natan Sharansky and channeled it into his own powerhouse. And he is increasingly attracting non-Russian Israeli voters who like what he represents. One of his senior party co-leaders is the intelligent native-sabra professor Uzi Landau. (For the sake of full disclosure, I should reveal that my wife was Landau's student.)
Lieberman is blunt spoken and has no qualms about denouncing anti-Israel Israeli Arabs. That makes the Left hysterical, and there have been attempts by the Left to get him barred from running on grounds that he is a "racist." This same Left, by the way, just managed to prohibit the election slogan of a different party as "racist," when that party put up posters that read: "Without duties and obligations there can be no rights." The same Left, which insists that the terrorist and anti-Semitic fascist Haneen Zoabi should be free to run for the Knesset of the very same country she insists has no right to exist at all, has been insisting that this previous slogan is anti-Arab and so must be prohibited as "racism." You need to understand that in the conscripted Israeli media, the word racism can ONLY refer to Jewish resentment regarding the behavior of Arabs and it can never refer to Arab mass murders, Arab plans for genocide, nor Arab hatred towards Jews.
Fifteen years ago, the politicized Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation against Lieberman, supposedly for corruption. It dragged its feet for over a decade. It regularly attempted to prevent Lieberman and his party from succeeding in the elections by releasing statements a few weeks before every single election in those ten years, saying criminal charges were about to be filed against him. But none ever were.
The upcoming elections and the current campaign season in Israel have been no different. For months the Prosecutors were playing Whispering Down the Land with the media, and leaking that they had found horrific dirt about Lieberman and were about to file criminal charges against him, making it sound as if he were dirtier than a Moscow oligarch gangster.
And just when the election season was reaching its climax, this past week the Prosecutor made a startling announcement. It was dropping 95% of the prospective charges it had been investigating against Lieberman for lack of evidence, while hinting clearly they thought he was guilty of them, citing things like witnesses having died over the decade and misplaced evidence. Many of these involved "suspicions" that Lieberman had continued to draw salary and income from various businesses he ran even while sitting as a Knesset Member, which he is not supposed to do, some nominally managed by his daughter. The companies themselves were all legitimate though.
Aside from the 95% dismissal, the Prosecutors retained basically one single charge against Lieberman, claiming he was guilty of corruption and accepting a bribe in what the media are calling the "Ambassador Affair," and demanding that he resign. Let us bear in mind that Lieberman was not CONVICTED of any crime, just that the Prosecution announced plans to indict him for one! At first Lieberman dismissed the charges as silly, but then late Friday afternoon he announced he was resigning as Foreign Minister. It is not clear yet if he will nevertheless run for the next parliament as part of his joint slate with the Likud.
So just what was that single charge against Lieberman? The only one the prosecution believes that it can make stick? Ironically, I doubt that one Israeli in 100 knows or can answer that question, and I only found one story in the entire weekend press that answered the question. I will let you in on the answer in a minute.
Before spilling the beans, let us note the long list of cases of out-and-out corruption that the Prosecutor's Offices in Israel have NOT pursued in indictments, or the indictments results in acquitals. The most notorious is Israeli ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose sleaze and criminality would be remarkable even in the worst Third World countries. Olmert openly demanded and accepted envelops stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in order to assist developers in bypassing Israeli zoning laws and getting other corrupt favors. (Like with Tony Soprano, the cash was always inside envelops!) Olmert is walking around free and has yet to be indicted. Does that have anything to do with the fact that he abandoned his "hawkish" political ideology and served the agenda of the Far Left while in office?
Leftists Ehud Barak and Amram Mitzna, who spent most of their public careers in the Labor Party, are only marginally less dirty than Olmert and neither was ever indicted for anything. The election financings for both of these were masterpieces in bypassing or defying Israeli campaign finance laws. And they are not the only ones never indicted for such violations. The leftist founder of Peace Now, Hebrew University professor Amiram Goldblum, was also (by his own admission) involved in breaking those same campaign finance laws on behalf of Barak, but the Prosecutor decided to "postpone" prosecution of Goldblum. Forever.
Other examples of the dual judicial and prosecutorial system that operates in Israel, one for the Far Left and the other for everyone else, could fill an encyclopedia.
But back to Lieberman. I cannot tell you that I consider him to be a squeaky clean politician nor one with the personal ethical standards of, say, Menachem Begin or George Washington. And frankly I suspect he is involved in some corner cutting and rule bending. But any misbehavior on his part is peanuts compared with the blatant criminality of Ehud Olmert and some other politicians from the Left.
So just what was Avigdor's horrid crime? The one the Prosecution plans to move forward with to trial?
It turns out that a few years back the Prosecution's Office was trying to solicit evidence against Lieberman from the Belarus government, including about a bank account supposedly under Lieberman's control in some local Belarus bank. The Israeli ambassador to Belarus at the time, one Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, learned about the formal request for the information that the Israeli prosecutor had sent to the Belarus government. Ben Aryeh then tipped off Lieberman about it, and even gave him the number of the bank account whose information the Israeli prosecutors had requested.
Now I am no lawyer, Thanks be to the Creator, and I am not even sure that passing on that information to Lieberman was a crime at all. And if it were one, then it was a crime committed by Ben Aryeh, not Lieberman. Lieberman by the way says he never even looked in the envelop with the bank number. I cannot say that I believe him but I must also say that I would have peeked myself if it were me. Note how upset the Prosecutor is over this envelop, but not over any of those envelops stuffed with dollar cash handed over to the don Ehud Olmert!!
The end of the saga though is that, a couple of years later, Lieberman was made Israeli Foreign Minister. As such, he had the power to appoint diplomats and he appointed the very same Ben Aryeh as Ambassador to Latvia. Now Belarus is a much bigger country than Latvia, and I am not even sure this counts as a promotion. The Prosecution "suspects" that it was a payback reward for Ben Aryeh helping Lieberman out by having passed on the information about the criminal investigation against him. Lieberman says he appointed him because he was competent, experienced, and speaks fluent Russian.
Lots of luck to the Israeli Attorney General in proving otherwise. Lots of luck to Israeli democracy in surviving when the Prosecutor's Office functions as a partisan wing of the Left!