Clash of the titans: Ayalon vs Liberman in court

"I was ready to shake his hand. Didn’t Rabin and Arafat shake hands?" former deputy FM tells ‘Post’; Yisrael Beytenu leader: I don’t shake hands with cheaters and liars.

Liberman in court 370 (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool)
Liberman in court 370
(photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool)
Israel has seen some great political rivalries between titans who have alternated between allies and archenemies.
Ben-Gurion vs Begin. Rabin and Peres. Netanyahu and Barak.
Neither Avigdor Liberman nor Danny Ayalon has been prime minister (yet), but between going from being the two top officials in Israel’s foreign affairs to facing off in a dramatic battle at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that will determine not only Liberman and the Foreign Ministry’s future but also the shape of Israeli politics, we can now add Ayalon and Liberman to the list.
On Thursday, Ayalon took the stand against his former boss and benefactor as the state’s star witness on charges of fraud and breach of public trust.
They had been a dynamic duo that controlled Israel’s foreign affairs and fought off international criticism of 2009’s Operation Cast Lead and Turkey’s wrath after the May 2010 flotilla raid.
Ayalon, as far as we saw in public, executed Liberman’s will, however controversial, with precision, even placing the Turkish ambassador on a lower sofa during a photo-op in January 2010, reportedly at Liberman’s orders, to show Israeli anger with an anti- Semitic Turkish TV series.
On Liberman’s criminal case, while still deputy foreign minister, Ayalon went out on a limb, telling Channel 1 in an interview that Liberman did nothing improper regarding Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh becoming ambassador to Latvia.
Ayalon also had only praise and admiration for Liberman as a leader and foreign minister.
All of that changed the day that Liberman unceremoniously tossed him out of the Foreign Ministry and out of politics.
Suddenly, Liberman was unqualified to be foreign minister.
Suddenly, Ayalon remembered not one, but three conversations with Liberman in which the latter was involved in Ben-Aryeh’s appointment.
Liberman has counterattacked Ayalon for allegedly changing his story once he was booted off his team.
So one would have expected tension that could be cut with a knife in the courtroom on Thursday from the start.
There was a clash of the titans. But it was mostly between Ayalon and Liberman’s surrogate, famous top lawyer Jacob Weinroth. At one point, as they tried to talk over each other, Weinroth even warned Ayalon, “Be careful, be careful.”
When Liberman entered the courtroom to join Ayalon, Ayalon smiled and started to walk toward him, as though to shake his hand. Liberman, making brief eye contact, nodded, kept a strict poker face and then turned away.
Noticing the body language, The Jerusalem Post asked Ayalon if he was going to shake Liberman’s hand.
He replied, “Yes, I was ready to shake Liberman’s hand. Didn’t Rabin and Arafat shake hands?” Later, Liberman did weigh in on his feelings toward Ayalon, when Ayalon repeated to the court his readiness to shake Liberman’s hand – to which Liberman replied, “I don’t shake hands with cheaters and liars.”
But mostly Liberman kept silent.
It was also striking how calm Ayalon was throughout his testimony.
Even when Weinroth bated him, quoting him telling the police of his initial reaction to Liberman giving him the boot as being “shock and disappointment, and disappointment for the whole Israeli nation,” Ayalon firmly, but mostly without emoting, emphasized that he had not been and was “not angry” at Liberman.
Why would he be angry for Liberman torpedoing his career? Perish the thought.
It is unclear whether Ayalon really is as cerebral and as able to compartmentalize emotions as he appears, or whether he is pursuing this as a strategy: The more he acts as if none of this is personal, the more likely the court will view his testimony as objective, the better he can achieve the real goal of paying Liberman back by wrecking his career.
There were several other dramatic points. Weinroth kicked Ayalon’s adviser out of the courtroom, saying he plans to call her as a witness and so she shouldn’t get to hear what Ayalon says.
Weinroth attacked Ayalon about his “secret” conversations with Channel 10 News correspondent Baruch Kra, who broke the lid off of the police having missed half the investigation, leading police to reopen the case.
Ayalon retorted multiple times that Kra was in the courtroom (wearing jeans and a Tshirt) and that they could call him to testify, with Kra looking on with a wide smile of amusement (or feigned amusement).
There was Liberman, who has generally said little at the hearings, complaining he could not hear Ayalon’s responses, so the court moved him to sitting directly (inches away) behind where Ayalon was standing and testifying.
But all of the side issues could not cover up the fact that one of the formerly most powerful duos in politics was having the dirty laundry of its dramatic breakup aired in court and before the public.
Whether it will be Liberman or Ayalon who has the last laugh in this breakup still remains to be seen, but Thursday was unquestionably Ayalon’s day.