The Liberman lesson

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court’s unqualified acquittal of Avigdor Liberman has many implications for his political career.

Liberman prays at Western Wall 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Liberman prays at Western Wall 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court’s unqualified acquittal of Avigdor Liberman has many implications for his political career. It also raises serious questions regarding our state prosecution apparatus.
For 17 years, Liberman was hounded. Police, state prosecutors and legal clerks spent thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of hours conducting legal research, gathering testimony and questioning suspects. Enormous amounts of evidence were compiled. Yet, after all this effort, the state prosecution and Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein have nothing to show for their labors. And Liberman suffered through years of agonizing investigations that cast doubts, apparently unfounded doubts, on his character. The high profile nature of the case meant that Liberman and the state prosecution were under enormous public scrutiny.
Those close to Liberman are using the state prosecution’s resounding failure to strengthen their claim that the entire case was nothing but a politically motivated witch-hunt. As a result, the public’s trust in our state prosecution system has been seriously undermined.
Dragging out a case for so long is itself a transgression.
In Jewish legal sources it is referred to in Hebrew as “inu’i hadin,” or “legal torture.” When the suspect whose case is delayed for so long happens to be a public figure and political leader, the damage caused is not just to the individual but to the wider public. Voters had a right to a speedy legal process so that Liberman’s innocence, or guilt, could be determined and an educated decision could be made on whether to vote for him. Instead, Liberman was forced to remain under a constant state of suspicion, including during election campaigns. The timing of some of the state prosecution’s decisions was particularly problematic.
Last December, one month before the national election, Weinstein decided to indict Liberman for breach of public trust and fraud while dropping the much larger multi-million-dollar money-laundering case that accounted for most of the 17 years of investigations.
In the wake of the state prosecution’s embarrassing defeat in court, some have called on Weinstein to resign. The Legal Forum for Israel and Ometz – The Movement for Quality Government have said as much.
The Right sees the acquittal as a vindication of the claims Liberman’s supporters made all along, that he was being hounded because of his political views.
On the Left, meanwhile, Weinstein and the state prosecution have been attacked for deciding to drop the “big case” against Liberman, effectively allowing a politician so widely bashed by the Left to return to politics.
These attacks, while extreme and unseemly, demonstrate how utterly the state prosecution and the attorney- general have been discredited in the eyes of many.
Former Supreme Court justices Jacob Turkel and Eliahu Mazza, who were both critical of the tremendous amount of time Liberman was under investigation without being indicted, called on the state prosecution to review its methods. Undoubtedly the state attorney and the attorney-general must make an effort to rehabilitate its standing in the eyes of the public.
One step in this process will be to complete the process of establishing an external body that will supervise the state attorney, the attorney-general and the police prosecution unit. In July, Weinstein and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni notified the Knesset Ethics Committee that they had reached agreements regarding the establishment of such a body.
Similar to an ombudsman, this body will be empowered to receive complaints from the public and will be independent of the state prosecution and the attorney- general. Its role will be restricted to scrutinizing procedure, not decision making. Unfortunately, these powers will not be anchored in legislation, but in a cabinet decision.
We hope that the Liberman acquittal will add impetus to create this body without delay. The public’s faith in the state prosecution and the attorney-general was shaken. It must now be rehabilitated.