'Liberman told me he wanted Ben-Aryeh as envoy'

Former deputy FM Ayalon testifies at Liberman fraud trial; tells 'Post' was ready to shake Liberman's hand.

Danny Ayalon 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Danny Ayalon 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman told his then-deputy, Danny Ayalon, that he wanted Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Latvia, Ayalon said on Thursday while testifying during the trial against Liberman.
Ayalon also told the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that Yossi Gal, then director-general of the Foreign Ministry, informed him that Sharon Shalom, then Liberman’s chief of staff, had asked the director-general to appoint Ben-Aryeh as ambassador.
Liberman is accused of fraud and breach of public trust in the case, referred to as the Belarusan Ambassador Affair, but denies all of the charges.
The two main aspects alleged in the case are that Liberman failed to report Ben-Aryeh, who illegally showed him classified material in an investigation against him, and that subsequently he actively promoted Ben-Aryeh getting the Latvia position as “payment.”
Describing his main meeting with Liberman about Ben- Aryeh (he testified that there were actually three conversations), Ayalon said that most of the meeting was devoted to foreign policy issues.
But at the end of the meeting, as Ayalon was preparing to leave, Liberman told him he wanted Ben-Aryeh appointed ambassador to Latvia.
Ayalon maintained that it was Liberman’s right as foreign minister to be involved in the appointment, as all foreign ministers are.
He added that he saw his job as Liberman’s deputy to carry out Liberman’s will, including appointments, while qualifying that he resisted in a few cases if he thought the appointment was problematic.
Ayalon said he never asked Liberman why he wanted to appoint Ben-Aryeh and had never seen the negative report about Ben-Aryeh by former Foreign Ministry head inspector Victor Harel, but assumed at the time it was because of his appropriate experience and language skills for the job.
He also said that he thought it unnecessary to question Liberman about the appointment, as he considered Liberman “an expert in the former USSR” countries and assumed Liberman’s support came based on that professional judgment.
Ayalon was also confronted with a number of potential issues with his testimony.
An interview he gave on Channel 1 while still deputy foreign minister was played for him in which he said Liberman had nothing to do with Ben-Aryeh’s appointment.
Confronted with his statements in the interview, Ayalon said that he could not possibly “incriminate the sitting foreign minister of Israel” in a public interview, with all of the consequences that would have, including for the state itself.
Ayalon clarified that essentially, while still a high-ranking government officer, he felt obligated to cover for Liberman, while making it clear that in court and before police he was “in a legal forum” and was “obligated to tell the truth.”
Accused of testifying against Liberman in retaliation for the Yisrael Beytenu chairman throwing him out of his job and the party, the former deputy minister said his firing had no impact on his testimony against his former boss.
When Liberman told him he was off the Yisrael Beytenu party list, Ayalon said he was “shocked, disappointed, and that it was bad for the nation of Israel, but I was not angry.”
He added that the accusations of retaliation “were not correct and hurt me.”
Next, Ayalon was questioned about why he told police that he had a meeting with both Gal and then-head of human resources for the Foreign Ministry, Shimon Roded, to agree between the three of them on appointing Ben-Aryeh as Liberman’s choice, when his journal said that he only met with Gal and not Roded.
Ayalon said that he was first questioned by police almost by surprise while he was in the Knesset dealing with complex budgetary issues and that his memory had been imperfect about Roded.
He said that he initially assumed that Roded had been present, because usually Roded – as head of human resources – was present for such regular meetings, but that after consulting his journal, he realized he must have spoken to Roded separately about Liberman’s support for Ben-Aryeh.
Jacob Weinroth, Liberman’s lawyer, thundered back at Ayalon that really what had happened was that he had “created a conversation” with Liberman about Ben-Aryeh “which never happened” to help cover up the fact that his initial story to police had inconsistencies, including with what was in his own journal.
In one exchange between Weinroth and Ayalon, Ayalon said he was a “law-abiding citizen” and that “I understand your job. I also had to try to defend the same accused [Liberman] for four years” – to which Weinroth replied, “I have no doubt that you are a ‘law-abiding citizen,’ at least in the Kafkaesque understanding of those words.”
Ayalon was questioned about why Gal and Roded denied telling Ayalon that they had been told that Liberman wanted Ben-Aryeh to get the Latvia ambassadorship, with implications that he was lying out of his anger at Liberman for being tossed out of politics.
Ayalon said he knew what was said and did not need to explain their answers.
He went further in confronting Weinroth’s implications of lying, saying, “How do you know? I was there.
You weren’t. How can you tell me how I felt? What am I, a little child? Are you a psychologist?” Danny Ayalon is the state’s star witness in the case against Liberman. Harel has also supported parts of the prosecution’s argument, but Ben-Aryeh, Gal and Roded all contradicted the state’s case, leaving Ayalon to carry most of the burden of proving the case.
Next in the legal proceedings is the defense’s case, starting with Liberman himself.