Liberman trial starts 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Where does Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman stand after the first
roller coaster day of his trial on Thursday? It is hard to say, but his
situation is definitely better than it was a day earlier.
In a one
sentence recap: Former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben- Aryeh contradicted
everything the state wanted to prove, including on crucial issues, and
meticulously laid out explanations which supported Liberman’s story across the
No one knew exactly what to expect from Ben-Aryeh in the Jerusalem
Magistrate’s Court. If you believe the darkest scenario of the state’s case, he
has always been and will always be a hard-core supporter of Liberman and of the
Russian-Israeli power he embodies – and therefore is in the party leader’s
In that scenario, Ben-Aryeh taking Liberman’s side was a foregone
conclusion. If he was willing to wreck his own Foreign Ministry career by
illegally sharing classified information with the politician, he would not sell
him out in court.
Anyone focused on the news in the days before the
hearing and on Ben-Aryeh’s plea bargain, might have thought the former
ambassador would be ready to take shots at Liberman because of reports that the
latter had told police the witness was “an idiot” and
Ben-Aryeh’s plea bargain deal, however indirectly, may also
have tied him into testifying against Liberman.
Now that we know he took
Liberman’s side in court, the big question is whether the court will believe
Ben-Aryeh’s testimony (and a small portion of his statements to the police), or
the lion’s share of his police statements? When Ben-Aryeh illegally showed
then-foreign minister Liberman classified investigative material, to what extent
did the latter understand what he was seeing? In the debate over whether
Liberman fully understood what he was being showed, will the court believe
Ben-Aryeh’s testimony to the police that he discussed the information with
Liberman for three to five minutes, or his testimony in court that he did not
utter a word? All of this is critical. Liberman’s story has been that he had no
real idea what Ben-Aryeh showed him, and, therefore, his failure to report it to
the authorities is an insignificant omission.
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If the court accepts
Ben-Aryeh’s in-court testimony, then the only witness to that part of the trial
has confirmed Liberman’s story.
If, however, the court prefers
Ben-Aryeh’s police testimony, then it will have decided that Liberman is lying,
or at least remembering inaccurately. In that case it is much more likely to
decide that the politician was not only fully aware of what he saw, but
committed a serious omission and breach of trust by not reporting it.
evaluating Ben-Aryeh’s testimony versus his police statements, the first thing
that must be noted is that his testimony was a mess.
He gave varying
explanations of why he was changing his story, some of them appearing to be
Were this a civil case, the court would likely accept the
majority of his statements to the police and reject his testimony as false and
based on loyalty-without-fear-of consequences, since he had already been
convicted and sentenced to four months of community service.
On the other
hand, in one of his statements to the police, he apparently attempted to retract
the assertion that he had conversed with Liberman.
How to read the
retraction and whether it was a full or partial retraction was hotly debated in
court by the sides for about 10 minutes, highlighting the importance of the
The case is criminal, and while not every piece of evidence needs
to be measured by the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard (only the case as a
whole), sometimes judges impose the standard on themselves anyway, especially in
criminal cases connected to high public officials.
Thus, the court could
simply say that even if overall the police statements are more logically
consistent, there are too many inconsistencies to let the prosecution score
points in proving its case by raising the alleged conversation as an
Other noteworthy, but contradictory, hints of the judges’ leanings
were their refusal to let the prosecution question Ben-Aryeh as a hostile
witness (perhaps they do not consider him logically inconsistent), along with
their questioning him about having initialed certain changes in the police
transcript. This suggests they may prefer to believe his statements to the
police because initialing them would indicate that he had the opportunity to
make greater changes at an earlier time, as he tried to in court, but decided
Ultimately, it could be a close call, but the fact that
Ben-Aryeh has put his police statements against Liberman in doubt at is a big win for Liberman.
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