Hot water for Yisrael Beytenu’s head honcho
Hebrew media review

Hot water for Yisrael Beytenu’s head honcho

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman gets served an indictment, but that doesn't put his election prospects on ice

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to party members in Tel Aviv on Thursday, December 13. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to party members in Tel Aviv on Thursday, December 13. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman graces the front pages of the Friday papers after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein dropped charges of money laundering and bribery in one major case, and served him with an indictment for breach of trust and fraud in another.

The big headlines all relate to Liberman’s statements to the press and his suggestion that he would not step down in the face of prosecution. Maariv quotes him directly: “I do not intend to resign at the moment.” Israel Hayom writes “After the charge, the attorney general will determine if Liberman must resign.” Haaretz‘s very busy front page layout includes Liberman’s statement that he will “wait for a legal opinion” before deciding whether or not to step down.

Yedioth Ahronoth breaks down the case against Liberman for the layman reader: former Israeli ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh allegedly gave Liberman classified Justice Ministry information about the investigations against him in 2008. A year later, Ben Aryeh was appointed to Liberman’s staff when the latter was made foreign minister, and Liberman then appointed him ambassador to Latvia without going through the proper channels.

The paper quotes Weinstein’s decision to charge Liberman saying, “in his capacity as an elected public servant, Liberman performed acts of fraud and breach of trust whilst performing his duties which significantly harm the public.”

Boaz Okon writes in the paper that Liberman would be doing the right thing by stepping down, adding that legal precedents from the 1990s state that a minister must resign if charged over a “serious incident,” and if not, the prime minister must dismiss the minister. He says that although the charges in the impending indictment are light compared to those that were dropped against the foreign minister, they are nonetheless serious in their own right and warrant his resignation.

Haaretz’s editorial lambastes Liberman and calls for his immediate resignation: “The place for a minister charged with such an offense, which occurred in circumstances directly related to his position, is not the cabinet. He must resign not only due to custom, but because common sense and proper conduct demand it.”

“If a civil servant had been charged with fraud and breach of trust, he would have been sent packing. This rule must apply to elected officials as well,” Haaretz writes. The paper calls the failure of the justice system to charge Liberman with more significant crimes amounts to “badly shooting itself in the foot.”

Dr. Aviad HaCohen writes in Israel Hayom that although the crimes Liberman is charged with are “relatively low on the ladder of criminal offenses,” he should nonetheless step down.

“Liberman is not obligated to resign. But for the sake of public integrity and the public’s faith in elected officials, it would be appropriate for him to do so of his own accord, and not forcefully,” he contends. “Staying in office after a criminal indictment will not dignify the government and a trial will affect Liberman’s ability to perform his duties. This is not just a legal question. It is also, and perhaps mainly, a moral and ethical question.”

Shalom Yerushalmi writes in Maariv that the charge against Liberman doesn’t end the man’s career, and that the foreign minister has already launched “a calculated campaign in order to dwarf” the charges against him even further. Even if the state prosecutor insists he step down, “it will not prevent Liberman from running for the Knesset” in the January elections.”

Regarding the elections, the major papers release new polls ahead of next month’s battle for public opinion and Knesset seats. A survey published in Maariv predicts that Likud-Beytenu will win 38 seats, the Labor Party 20, the Shas party 12, religious nationalist parties 11, Arab parties 10, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party nine, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party eight, the United Torah Judaism party six and the Meretz party three.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s poll yielded similar results. The survey gives Likud-Beytenu 35 seats, Labor 19, Shas 11, religious nationalist parties 11, Arab parties 11, Hatnua 11, Yesh Atid eight, United Torah Judaism six, Meretz four.

The surprise outcome of the Yedioth poll is that two new parties receive seats: MK Michael Ben Ari’s ultra-nationalist “Otzma L’Yisrael” party, which clears the threshold and earns two seats, and The Israelis party, which also wins two seats. The paper writes The Israelis, virtually unheard of in the Hebrew language press, “steals seats from Likud-Beytenu” by presenting an alternative for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who believe Liberman sold out to Likud.

Haaretz does not publish an elections poll, but it features a political cartoon sketching out the paper’s projected outcomes with Hanukkah doughnuts. A greedy-looking Benjamin Netanyahu and Liberman hold a platter filled with jelly doughnuts, Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich grins smugly while holding the next largest tray. Shas leaders Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri hold the third largest — but Yishai appears reluctant while Deri sports a devilish grin. Dismayed Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz is expected, according to the cartoon, to at least get the minimum two percent of overall votes to pass the threshold for entry into the Knesset.

Photograph of a political cartoon in Haaretz on December 14.
Photograph of a political cartoon in Haaretz on December 14.
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