Controversial Israeli minister resigns after charges laid
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: MARY CALVERT
Maintaining his innocence and vowing to clear his name, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has resigned just 38 days before the country’s national elections after it was revealed he would be indicted on breach of trust charges.
The charges related to allegations that Mr Lieberman used his influence to promote the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus because the ambassador illegally leaked information about an investigation against him.
“Though I know I did nothing wrong, after 16 years of legal proceedings, investigations and wiretaps I have decided to resign from my position as foreign minister and deputy prime minister so I can clear my name without delay,” said Mr Lieberman, who is also deputy prime minister in a statement.
The statement suggests the chairman of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beytenu will retain his number two position on the joint ticket with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party for the January 22 elections.
“I believe the citizens of Israel have the right to go to the ballots after this whole issue is put to rest, meaning after the matter is settled in court, and I can continue to serve the public and the state as part of a strong and united leadership that will meet the security, economic and diplomatic challenges facing the country,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr Netanyahu said late on Friday it was possible he would release a statement overnight on the issue, while local Israeli media reports indicated the prime minister had wished Mr Lieberman luck in proving his innocence so he could return to government.
The leader of Israel’s Labor Party, Shelly Yacimovich, told the Jerusalem Post Mr Lieberman’s indictment had "severely undermined the rule of law and the public's trust in its elected leadership and democracy", saying "he who is indicted cannot serve even one day as a public emissary."
In a damning analysis in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Mr Lieberman is described as a “harmful politician”.
“He is harmful as foreign minister and he is harmful as the leader of a party that acts to destroy the democratic regime. He also is also harmful with the norms he has adopted as a public figure, the improper methods with which he enriched his own pockets and the pockets of his family and the ruses by means of which he sabotaged the investigations against him.”
It was only in late October that the prime minister announced his right-wing Likud party would be running a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu.
It is the second time in the last year that one of Mr Netanyahu’s political deals has backfired. Back in June Mr Netanyahu and the leader of the Kadima Party Shaul Mofaz announced they had formed a mega-coalition, taking the possibility of early elections off the agenda and holding out the possibility of a resolution of the contentious issue of the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews serving in the military.
But it took just 70 days for that deal to implode, and the prime minister was forced to look elsewhere to build his coalition. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced on Thursday he would indict Mr Lieberman on breach of trust charges but that he was not confident the prosecution could secure a conviction on the more serious accusations that he established several shell companies that laundered millions of dollars, The Times of Israel reported.
Mr Lieberman is a controversial figure in Israeli politics. This week he accused EU countries that voted in favour of enhanced recognition of Palestine in the United Nations of being “willing to sacrifice Israel without batting an eyelid in order to appease Islamic radicals and ensure quiet for themselves.”
He also compared international silence on threats from Hamas leaders in Gaza as akin to the silence of Europe before the Holocaust, and urged Israeli solders to respond with lethal force against any attempts by Palestinians to harm them.
Two election polls released on Friday showed the joint ticket of Likud-Beiteinu continuing to maintain its lead over other parties – it is predicted to win between 35 to 37 seats, while the Labor Party is expected to receive 19-20 seats and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s new Movement party 9 to 11 seats.