Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son early Thursday claimed in a tweet that in 2009, his father appointed an attorney general based on the understanding that he would fudge and close criminal cases against Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman, at the latter’s request.
Yair Netanyahu’s tweet came amid a fierce battle of words between Liberman and the prime minister’s Likud party, after a standoff between Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties sank the elder Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government in the 42 days allotted him after the April 9 elections.
Following that failure, the Knesset on Wednesday night voted to dissolve a mere month after it was sworn in, triggering an unprecedented second national election this year.
After Liberman rejected compromise deals and was blamed by the premier for the calling of new elections, Yair Netanyahu continued his days-long Twitter campaign against the former close political ally of his father.
In one tweet, he shared a screenshot from a 2013 article by the Haaretz daily chronicling the disappearance and death by suicide of several witnesses in an investigation against Liberman, before the attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, closed the case without charges.
Liberman had been suspected of maintaining ties with, and illegally continuing to benefit from, private companies he had founded as a private citizen, even when he was a public official, via a series of shell companies.
In response to the younger Netanyahu’s tweet, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken replied: “Yair, the problem is probably that your father chose Yehuda Weinstein as attorney general so that he would fudge and close the cases against Liberman.”
“Here is a scoop for you,” Yair Netanyahu responded. “That was his [Liberman’s] most important coalition demand in 2009. He [Benjamin Netanyahu] didn’t have any other choice.”
The case against Liberman was handed in 2009 to attorney general Menachem Mazuz shortly before the latter’s term ended, with a police recommendation to press criminal charges.
However, once Weinstein was appointed in February 2010, the hearing process and related procedures ended up taking more than three years, until Weinstein announced in 2013 he was closing the cases without charges.
There have since been many media reports and allegations by top lawyers that Weinstein had intended from the start to close the case and that there had possibly been an illicit deal between Netanyahu and Liberman, but those suspicions have never been publicly confirmed.
The prime minister is currently facing charges, pending a hearing, of fraud and breach of trust in the three cases, and bribery in one of them. He has denied any wrongdoing and claims the corruption accusations are a political witch hunt aimed at forcing him from office.
On Thursday morning, commentators speculated that Yair Netanyahu’s apparent admission could trigger yet another probe involving his father.
Weinstein rejected the allegation, saying in a statement that he hadn’t known Liberman or been in any contact with him until he was appointed attorney general.
Calling Yair Netanyahu’s claim “nonsense,” Weinstein told Kan public radio that he had closed the case on its merit and would do the same today.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party also vehemently rejected the claim.
“From 1999 to the present we have not leveled any demand in coalition negotiations regarding the selection of an attorney general,” the party said in a statement. “The claim is a new record in the lies and paranoia by the Prime Minister’s Office and his associates.”
“We suggest that the Likud campaign urgently hire a top psychiatrist with proven experience,” it added.
Yair Netanyahu also reacted, saying that in 2009 he had been “a high school student who wasn’t involved at all in political matters. The response to Amos Schocken is based on claims made in public discourse in 2015.”
After entering politics in 1999, Liberman, a former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu, was for a time a close political ally of his one-time boss. His Yisrael Beytenu party and Netanyahu’s Likud joined forces in the 2013 elections and formed a merged party, before splitting back in 2015.
However, in recent years the two men have become rivals, with Liberman leaving the coalition in November 2018, accusing Netanyahu of capitulating to terrorism and Gaza and calling him a liar, a crook and a cheat.
It wasn’t the first time Netanyahu was claimed to have selected an attorney general to protect a political ally from prosecution. In 1997, during his first term as prime minister, he selected Roni Bar-On, only to be met with a tide of criticism claiming it was part of a corruption deal. Bar-On resigned within 48 hours.
The case, known as “Bar-On Hebron,” involved the ultra-Orthodox Shas allegedly agreeing to back an IDF withdrawal from the West Bank city of Hebron — which was being negotiated at the time with the Palestinian Authority — in exchange for the appointment of Bar-On to exonerate Shas leader Aryeh Deri in the corruption cases that eventually landed him in jail.
No one was charged in the so-called Bar-On Hebron affair.