Supreme Court hears Kirschenbaum appeal from bribery conviction

The ex-Yisrael Beytenu deputy minister says 10 years in jail is unduly harsh.

Faina Kirschenbaum (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Faina Kirschenbaum
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Former deputy minister Faina Kirschenbaum on Sunday argued before the Supreme Court that her bribery conviction by the Tel Aviv District Court in the “Yisrael Beytenu Affair” should be reversed.

In addition, Kirschenbaum’s lawyers, led by Giora Aderet, argued that the saga was not one of the worst public corruption cases in history, that the state had exaggerated its severity and that the judge had been swayed by the prosecution’s extreme interpretation, leading to an unfairly harsh 10-year jail sentence.

"The indictment…is practically like none which an Israeli court has even seen."

Prosecutor Meor Even Chen 

One challenge the defense has before the Supreme Court is that the case led to more than a dozen convictions besides Kirschenbaum, including multiple former allies of hers turning state’s witness and incriminating her as running the scheme.

The hearing, day one of two and which was aired live to the public, comes after her March 2021 conviction and July 2021 sentencing.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman.  (credit: ISRAEL DEMOCRACY INSTITUTE)Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman. (credit: ISRAEL DEMOCRACY INSTITUTE)

It was among the first appeals ever to be televised. The court’s pilot program of televising hearings to increase transparency had been limited to constitutional hearings before the High Court of Justice or a small number of high-profile verdicts.

Quid pro quo

Besides skimming funds off the state budgets that Kirschenbaum granted to various public bodies, she was convicted of a scheme, with her family members and members of Yisrael Beytenu, of receiving free hotel rooms, expensive electronics, paid jobs and a range of other illegal quid pro quo benefits.

Trial court Judge Yaron Levy had said that, “From 2009 and until the criminal probe went public, the defendant held tremendous power to allocate between NIS 80-200 million per year,” adding that she skillfully circumvented a variety of laws designed to prevent corrupt use of public funds.

Kirschenbaum was the Yisrael Beytenu Party chairwoman and the right hand of Avigdor Liberman from 2003-2014, and deputy minister from 2009-2014.