Reporter's Notebook: Uncharacteristically quiet

Will Liberman project the image of passive bystander or the aggressive powerhouse the nation is used to.

Avigdor Liberman 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Avigdor Liberman 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
From the trials of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and ex-president Moshe Katsav and from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s past pronouncements, the expectation for Sunday’s trial was a thunderous and forceful denial of all charges by Liberman.
The charges were denied in their entirety. But Liberman did not say a word during the proceedings, although he did briefly make a few wisecracks at the media’s expense when entering the room before the proceeding started. The denial, though, was left to his lead attorneys Yaa’cov Weinrot and Giora Aderet.
They quickly said he understood the charges and denied them, just as attorneys do for minors who are too bashful to speak for themselves.
Not that defendants always make their own denial, but it is not rare and with someone like Liberman, it is a surprise that he stayed seated and passive.
Although Sunday’s trial was all business for Liberman, there was hope of post-hearing press conference but this was not to be the case.
The closest there was to a press conference was when the despairing hordes of cameramen literally encircled and blocked Aderet four times from trying to leave, until he offered that they “hoped for a fast trial,” and then finally succeeded in escaping.
Liberman briefly had a smile when entering the court room, but for the most part was uncharacteristically understated and poker-faced.
Part of it might have been that the courtroom was objectively uncomfortable.
The press is always jampacked in for these events and there is barely ever any room for anyone, including the former foreign minister, to move their arms or breath, but this might have been the smallest courtroom in history for such a massively important event.
Because Liberman’s alleged crimes, compared to others, are relatively minor, his case takes place in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, a smaller building and the most minor of the courts. Olmert’s two cases, in contrast, have been held in district courts.
What does this mean on the ground? No more than 12 benches and about fifty people at a maximum fit into the Liberman court room, compared to two or three times that many benches and people in the Olmert cases.
This reporter was two feet from Liberman, whereas Olmert always had some space.
But Liberman also just looked uncomfortable with the format.
Unlike Olmert, he is not a lawyer and, until now, has managed to stay out of court.
Even the loudest individuals can get quieter in a newer context.
Some of it might have just been that he wants this all to move as fast as possible, which his lawyers projected several times, telling the prosecution after it made certain statements to cover formalities that the statements were unnecessary.
The lawyers themselves seemed a bit perturbed, possibly by the fact that the trial is only starting now and will only hear witnesses in April, when originally they had hoped to wrap the case up possibly before elections.
But this was only the opening day. Presumably, Liberman will take the stand and his powerful personality will come out stronger then, as he tees off with his former deputy Danny Ayalon.
The “courtroom personality” is a new one for Liberman and it remains to be seen what image he will project overall during this case: Sunday’s passive bystander or the aggressive powerhouse the nation is used to.