Reactions to the unanimous acquittal of former foreign minister MK Avigdor Liberman on corruption charges were split across party lines Wednesday morning, though much ire was directed against the state prosecutor after the second high-profile loss in as many years.
Coalition officials congratulated Liberman on beating the charges, while opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) called for an appeal of the verdict.
“Public corruption is no less severe than criminal corruption. I call on the attorney general to instruct the prosecution to appeal,” she said, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.
Politicians from the right welcomed Liberman, a hard-liner who may complicate ongoing peace efforts, back into the fold with open arms and criticized the judicial process.
“I congratulate Avigdor Liberman on his unanimous acquittal, which came after a delay of justice years too long,” Economics Minister Naftali Bennet (Jewish Home) said. “I am glad that Liberman will return to the Foreign Ministry, so that we can cooperate and he can return to using his abilities for the people of Israel.”
“The Foreign Ministry is waiting for Lieberman,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said. “I’m sure it will happen soon. If the attorney general wants to hold onto what remains of the [public's] trust, he should humbly accept the judges’ decision and not appeal.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is managing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, a role normally reserved for the foreign minister, congratulated Liberman “on a personal level” but tellingly did not welcome him back to the cabinet.
For many, Liberman’s acquittal was a black eye for the State Prosecutor’s Office, which came under fire last year after former prime minister Ehud Olmert was also cleared of almost all the charges against him.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar called out the state prosecutors specifically.
“The fact that Liberman was charged with such a marginal offense after the main investigation file had been closed requires some soul-searching on the part of the state prosecution,” he said.
MK Zahava Gal-on (Meretz) also criticized Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, who she said had ignored the larger case against Liberman to prosecute him on a minor breach of trust issue related to the appointment of a confidant as ambassador.
“We respect the court’s decision, but at the same time, are checking the conduct of [Weinstein],” she said.
Liberman was indicted in December 2012 for illegally using his clout as foreign minister to promote former ambassador to Latvia Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, allegedly as a reward for Ben Aryeh leaking to Liberman details of a separate, more serious corruption investigation against him. Liberman has been under constant investigation for the last 17 years stemming from a multitude of allegations, including a high-profile inquiry into suspicions that he accepted bribes while serving as an MK.
“In opposition to the state attorney and other senior lawyers, Weinstein filed an indictment against Liberman on a relatively marginal charge, while closing the more serious case against him,” Gal-on said.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a watchdog group, called the attorney general’s handling of the case an overall failure.
“The prolonged proceedings of the case against Liberman, which hung over the political system for over a decade is a long-standing failure of the prosecution and the attorney-general,” the group said in a statement. “There is no doubt that there is a structural and ongoing problem in the relationship between the [justice system] and public officials.”