Avigdor Liberman, the eternal suspect, is once again making top headlines today after the State Attorney’s Office announced yesterday it would be calling him in for another round of questioning over his breach of trust indictment.
The Hebrew press, it seems, is having as hard a time letting go of the Liberman saga as his prosecutors, who having charged him and caused him to resign from his foreign minister post, may now seek to beef up his indictment with a bribery charge based on new evidence that has surfaced in the past few days.
The Justice Ministry’s announcement that the investigation into the so-called “Ambassador Affair” was re-opened and that Liberman has been summoned for further questioning makes front page news in all four major dailies today.
The new evidence suggests that Liberman may have lied to his investigators when testifying about his role in the attempted appointment of Ze’ev Ben Aryeh to an ambassadorship in Latvia. After interviewing members of the ministerial appointment committee who debated Ben Aryeh’s appointment — which investigators failed to do until the media drew their attention to possible misconduct — it apparently emerged that Liberman not only failed to report Ben Aryeh for giving him secret Justice Ministry documents, as his current indictment charges, but that he actively tried to use his influence to reward Ben Aryeh for his loyalty by setting up his next diplomatic posting. If it emerges that Liberman did so, Ben Aryeh’s delivery of the documents related to a different investigation into Liberman (one that was later dropped due to lack of evidence) could be construed as a bribe and Liberman could be charged with accepting a bribe.
The fact that a news story prompted the re-opening of the investigation just makes it even more attractive to journalists who get a chance to slam two birds with one story — Liberman himself for his alleged use of clout, and the inept investigators, who nearly missed a chance at a meatier indictment, one that in theory could lead to the Yisrael Beytenu chairman being forced out of politics for a long time.
What’s far less clear is how the theory will turn into a reality. So far, no one has come out and said that Liberman directly influenced the appointment committee. All we’ve heard is that, as Yedioth Ahronoth‘s Page 3 headline reports: “Liberman’s spirit was present in the deliberations.” Unless the prosecutors have a committee member testifying that Liberman himself used his weight to directly influence the committee’s selection process, or an expert medium testifying on body-spirit relations, it’s hard to see how the prosecutors plan to get a conviction.
Maariv columnist Kalman Libeskind notes that regardless of what happens to Liberman, the new developments cast the State Attorney’s Office in a bad light. “If this is the way they manage the investigation of the foreign minister, in which they invested millions of shekels, the finest investigators and the most senior lawyers, we don’t want to guess at how they deal with everyday anonymous cases,” he writes.
A second major stories making headlines this morning is the careless dumping of unexamined earth and stones excavated from the Temple Mount at a Jerusalem municipal dump. Both Maariv and Israel Hayom feature front page stories on the incident, in which the Israel Antiquities Authority apparently dropped the ball and allowed for mounds of earth containing historic relics to be carted off before archaeologists could investigate them, despite a High Court ruling that forbids it.
Like any story that involves the Temple Mount, which both Jews and Muslims consider holy, this incident immediately prompted accusations and calls for investigation.
Israel Hayom reports on Page 7 of growing animosity between the Likud and Shas as Israel advances closer to election day. The two political parties, always considered “natural partners” in any future coalition, have been feuding in recent days, mostly over mutual accusations over who’s to blame for the high cost of housing. Shas, which has held the Housing and Construction portfolio for the last four years, blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the Likud accused Shas of holding back necessary reforms.
At the heart of the matter, it emerges from the report, lies the Likud’s mistrust of returning party leader Aryeh Deri. “With [current party chairman] Eli Yishai, everything was clear and predictable,” says a Likud source. “But Aryeh Deri is still a riddle.”
Haaretz features on its front page a curious Christmas story. According to the report, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is set to convene today and determine whether Christmas trees and other Christian holiday symbols constitute a form of idol worship. If the council determines that they are, kashrut supervisors would be halachically barred from entering businesses that display them, making it impossible to grant them kosher certificates even if the food itself is kosher.