Israeli politics in the wake of Lieberman’s preliminary indictment

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 By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM — Avigdor Lieberman says that he has been investigated by the authorities on and off since some 15 years ago WHEN he became the head of the Prime Minister’s Office during Netanyahu’s first tenure. But to date he has only been found guilty of beating up a little boy in the settlement in the West Bank where he lives. The boy and his son had been in a fight. After a plea bargain Lieberman had to pay a fine and compensation to the lad.

A cartoon at the time showed Lieberman in front of the judge pointing to the little boy and saying, “He started it!”

The investigation got more serious about a decade ago after he formed his party Yisrael Beiteinu that now has 15 seats in the Knesset and is third in size after Kadima and Likud. Over the years he has held various ministerial positions in the Sharon, Olmert and now Netanyahu governments. At present he’s the country’s foreign minister.

Over the years Lieberman hasn’t spoken kindly about the police. He has called them racist and anti-Semitic and suggested that they all go to prison – as inmates.

Finally after years of questioning and probing, Lieberman has just been indicted as a suspect in serious cases that include influence peddling, money laundering and intimidating a witness. If convicted he could face up to ten years in jail where he would join such luminaries as former Finance Minister Abraham Hirschson and, soon, immediate past President Moshe Katsav.

But that’s by no means the end of Lieberman. If, in response to the indictment, he appears at a hearing he can continue as a government minister if and until he’s convicted. But if he goes to a hearing now, he’s bound to reveal his line of defense ahead of a trial. Therefore, he may exercise his option not to respond. In that case he’d be required to leave the government but could stay in the Knesset until the verdict. If found guilty, he’d have to leave public office, even if, say in another plea bargain, he doesn’t go to prison.

The indictment came just when he was about to make a major speech at his party’s convention. He referred to it and assured us that he’s innocent and, therefore, welcomes the indictment because he’ll now be able to prove that he’s clean.

In his ostensibly patriotic speech at the convention he once again raved against the political Left and the Arab minority urging the former to show contrition the way Goldstone did for his report and the latter to publicly affirm its loyalty to the Jewish state.

As the indictment has been expected for some time, a poll was conducted in anticipation. About a quarter of respondents expressed no opinion and the rest was evenly divided between those who assumed that he was guilty and those who suspected an establishment vendetta against this charismatic immigrant-parvenu-politician.

Had I been asked, I’d probably have been among those who wish him to be guilty because I loathe his politics. However, it’s also possible, alas, that the old establishment has it in for him and wants to get him. We’ll hear more about it in months to come.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed the hope that Lieberman will be able to prove his innocence, presumably because he wants to keep his coalition intact. Kadima, the opposition party, is relatively silent in the hope that if the current coalition breaks up and there’re new elections, it will be able to form the next government – with Lieberman and his party as partners. Welcome to Israeli politics.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his year between Canada and Israel.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

 

 

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