Center-left politicians called on Thursday for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to step down in the wake of his indictment on breach of trust charges, with one party head threatening to turn to the court to have him removed.
Zahava Gal-On, head of the far-left Meretz party, said that if Liberman does not step down from his position immediately, she will turn to the High Court and ask it to force him to do so.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he would indict Liberman for breach of trust and fraud on Thursday while closing a case relating to more serious allegations of obstruction of justice and money laundering.
It was not immediately clear whether Liberman, a hard-liner who recently raised hackles by striking out at the European Union, would remain in office or be forced to step down.
Gal-On said that “Liberman’s recent lashing out against the European community, meant to divert attention from his indictment, proves that every day that he sits in office causes irreparable damage to the State of Israel.”
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, from the right-wing Likud party, on the other hand, congratulated Liberman over the closed case, while criticizing the state prosecution’s decision to pursue the more minor allegations. “It is unfortunate that… Liberman will be prosecuted on a relatively minor aspect of a case, the bulk of which was closed,” said Sa’ar.
Police began investigating Liberman in 2006 and in 2008 recommended an indictment following a review of evidence that dated back more than a decade.
Two weeks ago, State Attorney Moshe Lador addressed the delay in Liberman’s case, saying “in corruption cases it is often difficult to obtain evidence and gather witnesses.” He said in retrospect that it was unacceptable for proceedings to have taken so long.
Liberman denies the allegations, claiming they constitute a political witch hunt, and points to the extended period of the investigation as proof that there is no real evidence against him. He had said he would resign from the Knesset if indicted on the major allegations.
MK Uri Ariel, from the far-right National Union party, also blasted the attorney general. Ariel claimed that Weinstein systematically “drew out the case against a high ranking public official for years,” and criticized the fact that Weinstein did not “publish his decision in the case two years ago as he had promised to do,” especially in light of the fact that after all this time, he dropped the primary charges.
A statement released on Thursday by the Labor Party said that Liberman should immediately resign his position. “The crimes attributed to him are very serious,” according to the statement. “His actions, from a political and moral point of view… endanger Israeli democracy and the rule of law.”
Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid also called on Liberman to resign. “A person who, according to Attorney General Weinstein, has caused material damage to the public and acted in a complete conflict of interests vis a vis his public responsibilities cannot continue to serve in the government and represent Israel to the world,” Lapid said in a statement.
Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua (The Movement) party also said Liberman needed to step down as foreign minister.
Liberman’s lawyers said they believed the foreign minister could stay in office, citing a Supreme Court legal precedent which indicated that a senior minister facing such charges was not obligated to step down.
They added that they respect the attorney general’s decision and that they are currently evaluating it.
Liberman was to hold a press conference at 8 p.m. Thursday evening to address the case.
Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.