Key officials challenge case against Liberman

Two Foreign Ministry officials give testimony contrasting state's allegations in the Belarusian Ambassador Affair case against Liberman.

Liberman in court 370 (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool)
Liberman in court 370
(photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool)
The testimony of two top Foreign Ministry officials on Tuesday stood in stark contrast to the state’s allegations in the Belarusian Ambassador Affair case against former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman.
He is charged with fraud and breach of public trust, but has denied the charges.
Yossi Gal, the current ambassador to France and a former Foreign Ministry director-general, testified that there was nothing exceptional in appointing Ze’ev Ben- Aryeh as the ambassador to Latvia and that Ben-Aryeh was “selected for his experience and qualifications.”
In contrast to Gal’s testimony, the state’s narrative is that Liberman actively advocated for Ben-Aryeh’s appointment as “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s having illegally revealed to him classified information about another case against Liberman.
Although the state hoped Gal would strengthen his statements to police regarding Liberman’s active involvement, he did the opposite.
Gal denied that Liberman had any involvement.
While in his police statements, he went as far as to say that Liberman had sometimes sent unofficial “messages” or hints regarding which candidates he wanted to get which jobs, in court he specifically denied that this had happened in Ben-Aryeh’s case.
He even qualified his earlier statements to police as possibly having been misinterpreted, saying that “it is perfectly legitimate for any foreign minister to express his professional opinions” about any appointment, and that while officials took such opinions “under consideration, sometimes officials did not follow the foreign minister’s opinion.”
Whereas former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon specifically told police that he and Gal had received messages or hints from Liberman to appoint Ben-Aryeh, Gal contradicted Ayalon’s police statements by denying the receiving of any directives.
Asked if Ayalon might remember what happened better than him, Gal answered that he was unmoved, would stick with his answer and was in no position to address Ayalon’s memory of what occurred.
Gal added that when he supported Ben-Aryeh’s appointment, he “did not know anything or half of anything” about any connection between Ben-Aryeh and Liberman.
On cross-examination, asked if anyone “expressed opposition” to appointing Ben-Aryeh when he was chosen as ambassador to Latvia by the appointments panel, Gal said he “had no memory of any specifics.”
Gal also confirmed that he told another top Foreign Ministry official, Yoav Sogolovich, that there was nothing unusual about the process to appoint Ben-Aryeh.
The testimony of Shimon Roded, the current ambassador to Thailand and formerly the head of human resource for the Foreign Ministry also did no favors for the state’s case against Liberman.
Roded said that while he could not 100 percent deny that Liberman’s chief of staff had discussed Ben-Aryeh’s appointment with him, he could not recall that he did.
He dismissed as unworthy “rumors” the allegedly “well-known” criticism of Ben- Aryeh as unfit for future ambassadorial appointments that former Foreign Ministry head inspector Victor Harel presented as the “word on the street” in the Foreign Ministry about Ben-Aryeh.
He said that he recognized and thought it was prudent to disregard such unsubstantiated and “unfounded rumors.” Regarding a negative review of Ben-Aryeh submitted by Harel, Roded and Gal both undermined its significance.
Gal said that he did not remember ever seeing such a document and noted that it was not submitted to him, but to his predecessor in the post of director-general.
Roded said that he recognized the document, but chose not to submit it to the appointments committee as it “did not mention Ben- Aryeh by name,” “was not an official document” and “Ben- Aryeh was not showed the document to give him a chance to respond.”
With that in mind, Roded said that the document had virtually no significance and that if he had submitted such a “non-standard” document to the committee, “I might be brought to court today to stand trial” for trying to improperly influence the process.
Both witnesses also made light of allegations that Ben- Aryeh was appointed to be the ambassador to Latvia against standards that generally require a longer period in Israel between foreign positions and a longer amount of time until retirement.
While both witnesses admitted that Ben-Aryeh spent less time than usual in Israel between appointments and had less time than usual left until retirement, they said such appointments were not unheard of, even if they were not the rule.
Roded also dismissed what was presented as statements made by Ayalon to police that Roded had told a candidate to withdraw who was competing for the same post as Ben- Aryeh, since, allegedly, Liberman had decided he wanted Ben-Aryeh to get the post.
He admitted to speaking to the candidate, but said that he did not give him any order to withdraw, only friendly advice and mostly due to other unspecified factors making the candidate less worthy for the position.
The trial continues on Thursday with the longawaited testimony of Ayalon against Liberman.