Israel Beitenu fumes over arrests, charges foul play

Party official: We're expecting a backlash against the police.

Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Lieberman makes point 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Israel Beitenu 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 Beitenu 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 Beitenu 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 for them to bring the endless investigating to an end, either indicting or dropping it," she said. Lieberman has been under on-and-off investigation on various suspicions since 2001. The former minister 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 on Sunday evening. State Attorney Moshe Lador denied the allegations of a political witch-hunt, arguing during a press conference held Monday that "reasons such as upcoming elections should not have any influence on the pace of an investigation." "This investigation is justified," Lador said. "These allegations simply have no basis. Dozens of people are working on this case, and it is inconceivable that they would spin up such an endeavor without it blowing up in their faces." Lador said that for the past 18 months, Lieberman's representatives have been using the Supreme Court to try to prevent prosecutors and police from viewing key documents held by the Israel Beiteinu head and his associates. Only recently did the court approve investigators' request to review thousands of documents that Lieberman had deposited with his attorney. It was the access to those documents, argued Lador, and not the fact that elections are fast approaching, that gave investigators the push that led to the detention of Lieberman's daughter and close associates. The state attorney argued that he would have faced similar criticism had police and prosecutors waited until after the elections to detain the suspects in the case. "The only thing that is a bigger mistake than carrying out the investigation today would be carrying it out immediately after the elections. If we had decided to hold back on the investigation now, they would attack us on the other side." The outcome of the investigation carries weighty implications for Israel Beiteinu. Lieberman is said to wield total control over the party's operations, including the ability to singlehandedly 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 is convicted or even indicted on corruption charges. According to one party official, there is 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,' he said, "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." Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.