(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel Beiteinu officials expressed bitterness and
frustration Monday at what they called "very suspicious" timing on the part of the police.
On Sunday, seven associates of party chief Avigdor Lieberman, including his daughter Michal and his attorney Yoav Mani, were detained for
questioning. The move comes just 16 days ahead of a national election in which Israel Beiteinu is expected to win as many as 16 Knesset seats.
"Nobody wants to say it outright because no one wants to sound like a conspiracy theorist," said one senior official in the party, "but as I think Menachem Begin said, 'just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everyone isn't out to get you.'"
Several party officials spoke to The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation and instructions from the party not to speak on the matter to the press.
"It's so odd, not just because it came right before the elections, but during the week when every major newspaper was running a story that Israel Beiteinu was gaining in popularity," said the official.
Another party official noted that the latest round of detentions concerned documents police had already been permitted to see in August.
"I say the police had enough time to investigate, to bring evidence," said a member of the party's Knesset list. "Lieberman has been begging that they bring the endless investigating to an end, either indicting or dropping it," she said.
Lieberman himself has filed High Court of Justice petitions and sent requests to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz calling on law enforcement bodies to expedite their investigations in order to allow him to return to normalcy. The party chairman and former minister has been under on-and-off investigation on various suspicions since 2001.
Lieberman himself has been openly antagonistic to the police decision to detain his associates so close to election day. "I am glad that the
tradition is continuing: an interrogation for every election campaign," he quipped at a campaign stop in Nazareth Illit Sunday evening.
According to outside observers, Lieberman wields total control over the party's operations, including the ability to single-handedly decide
the party's Knesset list and agenda. There is no obvious power center that could challenge his authority within the party. But that could change if he was convicted or even indicted on corruption charges.
According to one party official, there was some concern over the future of the party should the investigations against Lieberman turn out to be genuine and result in a conviction.
"There isn't much talk of that right now," he said, "but it is in the back of people's minds."
Even so, the official said he does not expect the suspicions to "undermine" the position of the party head internally.
Asked if they expected the development to harm their chances at the polls, some party officials were decidedly optimistic.
"The timing is so suspicious that it may actually do us more good than harm," said someone involved in the party's campaign. "It's still too early to tell what the net result will be, but we're definitely expecting some backlash against the police."
The party has been working hard to make inroads into the English-speaking demographic. This group, said one party official, would likely be most affected by the sudden focus on the party head's morality.
"It's going to be problematic in the Anglo crowd," he said. "They're already very upset about Olmert and corruption. They wanted a clean,
straightforward government. Still, we feel it's something we can explain. These charges have been swirling around for almost a decade and nothing has come of it. No material has been handed to the prosecution; there hasn't been an official recommendation to indict. I think people will understand that there's something else happening, especially immediately before the election."
Meanwhile, State Attorney Moshe Lador dismissed claims of a political witch-hunt against Lieberman.
"The upcoming elections shouldn't influence the timing of the investigation," Lador told reporters. "If we had decided to delay the investigation, we would have been slammed from the other side."
The state attorney said he expected the public and media to have faith in the law enforcement authorities and their decision to press ahead with the probe.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report
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