A three-judge panel of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is set to decide the
legal and political fate of Yisrael Beytenu Party leader Avigdor Liberman on
Wednesday morning in a long-awaited decision that could send shockwaves through
the entire political system.
Since Liberman was indicted on charges of
fraud and breach of public trust in December 2012, Israeli politics have been on
pause (the post of foreign minister has been held in trust for him) to learn the
fate of one of the most dominant forces of the last decade.
If he is
found innocent by judges Hagit Mack-Kalmanovitz, Yitzhak Shimoni and Eitan
Kornhauser, many are predicting that his popularity would be further boosted, he
would immediately return to the post of foreign minister, and he would be among
the first in line to succeed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as leader of the
country’s right wing.
If he is convicted with a finding of moral
turpitude, his resignation as foreign minister
would be made permanent, he would
be forced to resign from the Knesset, and he would be banned from political life
for seven years.
In addition, predictions have been rampant that if he is
convicted, his Yisrael Beytenu Party, built largely around his personality,
and a complete realignment of the political field would occur,
with a line-up of parties competing to gain the loyalties of his
Whether he is found innocent or convicted would
significantly impact to what extent the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu maintain their
The prosecution’s main allegations are as follows:
First, in October 2008, Ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh gave Liberman a
note with information about a state investigation into money-laundering
allegations against him, discussing the case with him for three to five minutes.
Next, the prosecution says,
Liberman destroyed the note, failed to report Ben-Aryeh and then helped him
procure promotions in the Foreign Ministry.
After that, Ben-Aryeh joined
Liberman’s bureau in April 2009.
The prosecution says that Liberman both
failed to report Ben-Aryeh to the Foreign Ministry’s appointments committee and
actively campaigned in fall 2009 for Ben-Aryeh to be appointed as Latvian
According to the prosecution, the campaign included Liberman
giving instructions to then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon
Ben-Aryeh was his preferred candidate (all of this based on what Ayalon told
police). Liberman and his lawyer Jacob Weinroth denied any campaign whatsoever
to assist Ben-Aryeh with the Latvian position, and played down the post in
Liberman’s bureau as a temporary journeyman position for personnel waiting for
their next real job.
They said that at most, he had committed an ethical
infraction by not reporting Ben-Aryeh – but that he had certainly not done
Liberman’s narrative is that Ben-Aryeh did not
communicate anything verbally about the note, that Liberman did not fully read
it, that he thought it came from the Belarusian authorities or the media, and
that he destroyed it as soon as he saw the words “investigation into Avigdor
This could nullify any proof that he had a criminal mental
state regarding the note.
In his narrative, Ben-Aryeh not only initiated
the issue, but completely caught him by surprise.
reaction to destroy the note and not report him was at worst a misplaced worry
about ruining Ben-Aryeh’s distinguished, decades-long career over a momentary
lapse, which hurt no one.
Part of the drama surrounding the proceedings
was the sensationalized conflict between Liberman and Ayalon
, a former dynamic
duo who ran the Foreign Ministry and Yisrael Beytenu, turned arch-enemies –
leading to public fights about who was willing to shake who’s hand
accused Ayalon of lying about his helping Ben-Aryeh because he was angry the
Yisrael Beytenu leader booted him from the party
In reaction to the
conflicting statements, the state said that Liberman’s story had evolved
unbelievably to claiming that not only did he not meet privately with Ayalon
about the Ben-Aryeh appointment, but he had never met privately with Ayalon
about any appointments.
Liberman may have had a questionable narrative
about how much guidance he gave Ben-Aryeh for seeking the
Ayalon, in contrast, was confronted with having to explain why
he had told Channel 1 in an interview
that Liberman was not involved in
Ben-Aryeh’s appointment, while saying the opposite in court.
of the coverage focused on Liberman vs Ayalon, the outcome could come down to
whether the court accepts Ben-Aryeh’s statements to police or in court. (In
fact, the court all but told the sides that the Ayalon-Liberman wars would not
be relevant to the verdict.) Ben-Aryeh himself was convicted in October 2012
illegally passing Liberman the note. He told police he had elaborated upon the
note and the investigation to Liberman, who took time to fully read the note
before destroying it.
But in court, Ben-Aryeh turned hostile to the
, slamming the witness stand and telling the court he did not say a
word to Liberman about the note, claiming that he had misspoken under pressure
from the police. He tried to say he corrected these statements at a later point
while speaking to police, though the court did not accept this.
prosecution must therefore contend with a core problem: That perhaps Liberman
did not do something actively criminal – at most he failed to do something –
Dr. Shmuel Saadia, a lawyer and author of an
encyclopedic work on public corruption cases, said, “breach of public trust [and
the minor fraud charge linked to it] is highly amorphous and controversial, and
some have even argued for eliminating it as a crime.”
In a key decision
by the Supreme Court in the case of Yehoshua Vita, a tax official accused of
corruption, the court indicated that actions that could comprise a criminal
level of conflict of interest may require a pattern of active conduct. The
pattern would include the defendant initiating and placing themselves in a
conflict of interest situation, and very close juxtaposition in the time of the
events in question.
The court’s application of this case to Liberman’s
case, especially since it questioned the lawyers about its implications, could
heavily impact the verdict.
With all of the suspense surrounding
Wednesday’s verdict, it is still unlikely to be the end to the story.
Liberman is convicted without a finding of moral turpitude, he could remain in
politics if he ignores his self-proclaimed and unenforceable commitment to
resign upon any conviction
Also, the case was assigned to the lowest
court level, the magistrate’s court, meaning there is likely to be not one round
of appeals, but two – one round to the district court and a second to the
If Liberman is found guilty with moral turpitude, he would
be outside public service, but could keep his hopes alive with an
If he is found innocent, he can return as foreign minister,
though with some cloud of uncertainty as long as a prosecution appeal is