Liberman. Liberman. And more Liberman. The acquittal of former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman of fraud and breach of trust charges on Wednesday morning absolutely and totally dominates Hebrew newspapers Thursday. It’s enough to make readers forget that someone poisoned Yasser Arafat.
Liberman was widely seen as the clear winner in the case, while his rivals limped away with their tails between their legs, licking their wounds. His former deputy, Danny Ayalon, and Yehuda Weinstein, the state prosecutor, suffered biting criticism in the Hebrew press.
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.
Liberman’s acquittal was widely seen as 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 charges against him.
“The Liberman case turned yesterday into the Weinstein case,” says a Maariv headline.
Sources in the Justice Ministry told Yedioth Ahronoth that the damage to Weinstein’s image was “severe.” “He fell in love with the wrong case,” they said.
“Weinstein closed the substantive case, the case against the front companies and tax evasion, after an cross-continental investigation that stretched on for years, against the wishes of senior politicians…Weinstein put all his chips on the Ben Aryeh case, but the three judges unanimously acquitted Liberman, and one could say they also tossed Weinstein down the stairs.”
“The arrows are coming at Weinstein from every direction,” opines Baruch Kra in Maariv. “On the one hand he is seen as indecisive, hesitant and weak after the incomprehensible delay in the major case — a delay that resulted in closing the file. On the other hand, the decision to indict Liberman on the smaller case is seen as a petty prosecution.”
Haaretz’s editorial called for Weinstein’s head. “The Liberman case was his big test, and he failed… If this is the result, [Weinstein] has no choice but to resign.”
Yedioth’s Tova Tzimuki called the decision a knockout victory for Liberman. Weinstein not only declined to pursue a more substantive case against Liberman, “he also turned the weak case into the flagship one — and in so doing, drastically increased the magnitude of the knockout he suffered. The acquittal comes at an especially bad time for Weinstein. In February, he will complete two-thirds of his term. He has two years left. It seemed lately that his position had been strengthened, but the court damaged the trust in his judgment and his position as the general prosecutor.”
“The series of acquittals is a testament to the inherent failure of the prosecution in recent years. Its staff adopted and internalized the faulty view that the burden of proof falls on the defendant,” writes Yedioth’s Sever Plotzker. “The State Prosecutor reflects the zeitgeist of the militant segments of Israeli public opinion. Its spokespeople see every senior official – political or economic – as corrupt from the very fact of the position they fill, unless they are able to prove their complete innocence, beyond a reasonable doubt. ‘We are all guilty until proven innocent.’”
Liberman’s former number two Danny Ayalon, who tried to mount a political challenge to him, also suffered serious damage to his career — another boon for Liberman.
“And Ayalon?” asks Maariv’s Shimon Schiffer. “He admitted in public that he worked for the appointment of Ben Aryeh as ambassador because he thought that this is what the boss wants, but that it was against his gentle conscience. If it’s a lie, it’s a crime. If he truly felt this way, and he still appointed him, doesn’t that mean that he betrayed the public in addition to betraying Liberman?”
Liberman received a bonus with the court’s harsh treatment of Ayalon, writes Sima Kadmon in Maariv. “Overt criticism, without mercy, of Danny Ayalon, who was his lieutenant. Ayalon’s testimony, the judges found, contained contradictory testimony and disputable facts.”
Not surprisingly, Haaretz still criticized Liberman roundly. “Liberman won because today he is more powerful than those in charge of case and the values of the country,” argued Ari Shavit.
His colleague Gideon Levy was even more pointed in his criticism. “The Israeli Alfred Dreyfus was acquitted; the Israeli Jorge Haider returns to power strengthened. Now he is also the victim. Avigdor Liberman the First was a strong leader. Avigdor Liberman the Second will be even stronger. The conclusion… he might, God forbid, be the next prime minister.”
“The acquittal,” he continued, “reveals the corruption that has spread over Israeli society… A society that accepts Liberman, even if he is acquitted, is a corrupt society.”
Maariv also examined the political fallout from Ayalon’s acquittal. “The first to suffer, and soon, will be the Haredim. Now that he is free from the chains of the case, Liberman can once again deal with the Haredi draft, which he focused on in his previous term. If in the end criminal penalties will be given to Haredi draft-dodgers, Liberman and his party will be among those applying the political pressure to make it happen.”