Yesterday, the State prosecutor announced he would indict Avigdor Lieberman for the relatively minor crime of “breach of trust” for seeking to obtain information about the status of legal proceedings against him from an Israeli diplomat. The prosecutor refused to indict Lieberman on the far more serious charges of bribery which involved his solicitation and acceptance of millions of dollars in funding from Jewish businessmen. In fact, he closed this twelve-year old case entirely freeing Lieberman of the weightiest albatross around his neck.
As a result, Lieberman has resigned his position as foreign minister in the Israeli government. That seems like big news. But it’s far less than it appears at first glance. Take the example of Haim Ramon. He was accused of sexual harrassment while justice minister. He resigned, went through a four month trial, received a light sentence, served it. As a result, he could’ve returned to Knesset and resumed his role as a minister (he didn’t because his party, Kadima, didn’t return to power).
I believe that Lieberman resigned in order to expedite the judicial process. If he gets a speedy trial and light sentence, he could be back in government again in six months or less. Or better yet for him, if he cops a plea, does little or no jail time, he could return in a matter of months. His followers and voters won’t hold any conviction against him. In fact, they’ll likely lionize him for being persecuted by the liberal elite. With the larger crimes of bribery off the table, he can go on to even greater political heights; perhaps even run for prime minister after Netanyahu retires.
So what looks at first glance like a severe rebuke to Lieberman and his political career may in reality be a clearing of obstacles that allow him to rise to even greater heights. If this happens, it will be an even stronger indication of the absolute corruption rife within the Israeli political system. Here you have someone who accepted millions in illegal funds who escapes Scott-free, accepts a slap on the wrist, and with a wink and a nod goes on to even greater glory.
The question is whether he could return as foreign minister since it’s possible that foreign governments could use his conviction as an excuse to treat him as persona non grata. It might be inconvenient for the EU to do business with an Israeli minister who has a conviction on his criminal record.
Lieberman remains as number 2 on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beitenu list for next month’s election. That means that he’s preserving his options and could return to Knesset and government if the plea bargain offers him the expected light sentence.
Kudos to Jodi Rudoren for referring to Lieberman’s home in the Israeli settlement of Nokdim in this fashion:
He lives in a West Bank settlement considered illegal under international law…
It’s been a long time since any NY Times reporter referred to any Israeli official in this fashion. Ethan Bronner and Steven Erlanger certainly never did.