Deputy minister Kirshenbaum quits Knesset amid scandal

Yisrael Beytenu member says she will use right as private citizen to remain silent, accuses investigators of leaks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Then deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum attends a conference of Yisrael Beytenu activists in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on December 30, 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Then deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum attends a conference of Yisrael Beytenu activists in the West Bank settlement of Ariel on December 30, 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Faina Kirshenbaum stepped down as a member of Knesset Monday in light of a corruption scandal that has rocked her Yisrael Beytenu party in the past few weeks.

Kirshenbaum, who had served as deputy interior minister, said in a press release that she decided to leave public life in order to avoid having to testify in the massive graft probe.

“Since I understand that as a public figure the choice to use the right to remain silent has great significance and many ramifications,” she said, “I have decided not to run in the next elections, to drop out of public life and to invest my time in defending my innocence and in rebuilding my family.”

The past few weeks have seen dozens of Yisrael Beytenu members and those close to them arrested and questioned in regards to allegations of corruption and bribery.

Kirshenbaum, considered a powerful member of the party, was the highest-level arrest in the case, though she was released after being investigated.

Kirshenbaum’s daughter Ranit, former tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov, former Israel Basketball Association chairman Avner Kopel and Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council, were among those detained in this investigation.

Police said a year-long covert investigation revealed a large system by which politicians funneled money and favors to local bodies and other groups, as well as their members, in exchange for kickbacks.

Suspects “conspired in a calculated manner to advance their personal and public interests and to receive money for personal use, while committing various crimes in a manner that significantly impeded the administration of their areas of governance,” police said in a statement.

In her announcement Monday, Kirshenbaum bemoaned her current predicament, calling it a “war of attrition” and “character assassination” against her and those close to her.

She also accused officials involved in the case of “making a point of leaking, on a daily and hourly basis, details of the investigations.”

The former MK complained she was no longer able to pay for necessities from the supermarket as the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit have frozen her bank accounts.

The corruption scandal grew Monday as Lahav 433 anti-corruption officers questioned several Afula city officials and searched their offices and homes in the Lower Galilee city.

Afula City Hall had not before been named as a target for questioning in the corruption investigation.

Ynet news also reported that the aide of an unnamed Likud minister and the chief of staff of Yisrael Beytenu David Godovsky have also been brought in for questioning.

In quitting, Kirshenbaum joins Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman, David Rotem, all of whom have stepped down from political life since news of the scandal broke on December 25.

Haviv Rettig Gur and Times of Israel staff contributed to this story.

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