Ahead of Liberman trial verdict: Will heaven forbid?

Each investigation seemed to strengthen Liberman politically, especially among constituencies that believe he has been pursued obsessively and unfairly.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
November 6, 2013 01:09
2 minute read.
FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER Avigdor Liberman stands in court, April 30, 2013

Liberman in court 370. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool)

In 1997, when the first investigation against Avigdor Liberman was announced, Bill Clinton began his second term, Princess Diana’s fatal car crash occurred in Paris and the movie Titanic was released.

Since then, much has changed around the world. But Liberman is still under investigation.

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The investigations against Liberman have come and gone and overlapped. Before his current trial, when Liberman wanted to escape the eye of the Israeli media, he would take vacations in Belarus, the country that is now the centerpiece of the case that could ultimately bring him down.

While under the cloud of investigations, Liberman has risen from relative obscurity as a top aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to one of the most well-known Israelis internationally. Each investigation seemed to strengthen him politically, especially among constituencies that believe he has been pursued obsessively and unfairly.

The state prosecution fed that notion by announcing key decisions in cases against Liberman at politically sensitive times. During one election, the head of Liberman’s campaign was arrested.

During another campaign an indictment was announced during an annual Yisrael Beytenu convention.

No matter what was happening in his legal cases, whenever Liberman was asked about his state of mind, he would say that life was heaven, that for him everything was the Garden of Eden.

How much such replies were intended as a facade to hide his angst and frustration, no one has ever really revealed. Invoking heaven was never intended as a religious statement, though if he has been innocent all along he obviously would have preferred the true justice that only divine judgment could provide.

If he is found innocent, Liberman could soon return to his perch in the Foreign Ministry, pending an appeal by the prosecution.

The outspoken and blunt politician would return to the eye of the storm on issues like Iran and the Palestinians at an extremely sensitive time. He could be emboldened by the verdict and threaten Netanyahu’s coalition ahead of Knesset votes on key issues.

If convicted, even if he appeals, succession battles will begin in both the Foreign Ministry that was saved for him when portfolios were distributed and in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he currently heads. Liberman would be replaced in the Knesset by recently defeated Ramat Gan mayoral candidate Carmel Shama-Hacohen, but he would still maintain a considerable amount of power via the 10 MKs elected to the Knesset on his coattails.

Netanyahu will have to decide whether to wage war on Liberman by giving the Foreign Ministry to a Likud minister, or appease him by letting the portfolio go to a minister in Yisrael Beytenu. Either way, Wednesday’s verdict will provide political hot potatoes to Netanyahu that he would have preferred to avoid.

While other world leaders have come and gone, Netanyahu was at the top when Liberman’s legal saga began, and he is there when it is finally set to end. No matter what happens with Liberman, the political turmoil for the prime minister that will follow the verdict will be anything but heavenly.


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