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Liberman: Corruption probes will topple government within months

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman also defends IDF soldier facing manslaughter charges: ‘He may not be a hero, but he’s not a murderer’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Knesset member Avigdor Liberman arrives at a military court to show support for a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)
Knesset member Avigdor Liberman arrives at a military court to show support for a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman said Saturday the recently announced corruption investigations into two senior lawmakers will destabilize the political system and bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition before the end of 2016.

A once staunch ally of the prime minister, Liberman asserted during a cultural event in Modi’in that the graft probe into Interior Minister Aryeh Deri would unseat Netanyahu’s coalition, which has only a narrow Knesset majority. The investigation into opposition leader Isaac Herzog would also contribute to destabilizing the Knesset, he added.

The hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party chairman said he had no intention of joining Netanyahu’s government to prevent its collapse, and predicted new general elections would be called in the coming months.

In recent years Liberman himself has been at the center of several corruption allegations, though he was acquitted of criminal activity in a 2013 trial. In 2014 several of his party members were hit with a raft of criminal charges in a massive police investigation into alleged systemic, pervasive corruption.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that a criminal investigation would be launched against Deri for allegedly failing to properly report real estate property to authorities. Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister, and returned to politics earlier this decade to lead the ultra-Orthodox party in the Knesset.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog (L) talks to Shas party leader Aryeh Deri in the Knesset plenum on May 4, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A day later, it was announced that Herzog, who heads the opposition Zionist Union list, was under investigation for financial irregularities during his 2013 campaign to take over the Labor Party.

Both lawmakers flatly denied the allegations, and have vowed to fully cooperate with police in the respective investigations.

Liberman also spoke Saturday of the highly contentious shooting of a disarmed Palestinian assailant by an IDF solider, saying the defense establishment should stand by the solider even if he made an error in judgement.

“In the current situation, its impossible to expect that a solider will always make the right decisions. He must be supported, even if was wrong,” he said.

The soldier, whose name is being withheld from publication, is being investigated by the Military Police and is set to face manslaughter charges, but has been vociferously defended by some sectors of Israeli society.

“I don’t know if he is a hero, but he certainly is no murderer,” Liberman said of the infantryman.

Last Thursday, the Kfir Brigade soldier was filmed shooting a wounded and nearly motionless Palestinian assailant in the head some ten minutes after the attacker had already been shot and incapacitated.

An IDF soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head attends a hearing in his case at a military court near Kiryat Malachi on March 29, 2016 (POOL/Flash90)
An IDF soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head attends a hearing in his case at a military court near Kiryat Malachi on March 29, 2016 (POOL/Flash90)

He was arraigned a day later on suspicion of murder, drawing anger from his family, right-wing politicians and others who claimed the army was passing judgment before fully probing the incident.

The IDF launched an investigation into the shooting immediately, and a day later the army prosecutor said he was considering murder charges against the soldier. Army prosecutors have since indicated that the soldier may only face charges of manslaughter, not murder.

In Israel, the incident quickly escalated into a national debate about the IDF’s rules of engagement and its use of force in regards to Palestinians.

Throughout the week, thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country in defense of the soldier, demanding his release from custody. The soldier was on Friday ordered detained at an IDF base.

Liberman, who attended a Tuesday rally outside the Qastina military court, claimed there was no basis for the accusations against the soldier, saying he was “sure” the solider would be acquitted of the charges against him.

He went on to attack Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who earlier in the week leveled harsh criticism against lawmakers who had expressed support for the soldier.

Ya’alon, senior IDF officials as well as Netanyahu, have defended the decision to probe the soldier and insisted that his actions may have violated the army’s ethical code.

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