Israel's AG Ducks Legality Issue Over PM Holding Foreign Ministry for Lieberman

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein says decision on reappointing Likud-Beiteinu No. 2 depends on outcome of upcoming graft trial.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein declined to intervene in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to hold the Foreign Ministry in trust for Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday, saying he would consider whether Lieberman could be reappointed as foreign minister only after Lieberman’s trial ended.

Weinstein was replying to requests by MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) and by Ometz, a good-government association, both of whom had urged him to order Netanyahu not to reserve the post for Lieberman.

In a letter to Michaeli on Weinstein’s behalf, his aide, attorney Oren Fono, wrote: “With regard to the question of MK Lieberman’s entry into the cabinet, once it is established, in general, and into the job of foreign minister in particular, given previous court rulings, the time for [deciding] this will arrive only after the legal proceeding against him has ended, and it will be decided in accordance with the outcome of this proceeding.”

Therefore, the letter continued, Weinstein sees no reason to intervene in the issue now.

In response to Weinstein's statement, Michaeli said she was "disappointed."

In her letter, Michaeli had voiced concern that if Foreign Ministry employees knew Lieberman would be returning to the ministry, they would be afraid to testify against him at his trial, which revolves around the charge that he improperly promoted an ambassador who gave him confidential information about a police investigation against him.

In his response, Fono wrote, “This fear also exists in principle in any other case in which civil servants are asked to testify against someone who had authority over them in the course of doing their jobs. Nevertheless, as a rule, the law at most allows such a person in authority to be suspended from his job until the end of the trial. There is no law that allows us to determine in advance that the person in authority will not return to his job after the trial, regardless of the outcome of the trial.”

In this particular case, Fono continued, “the above mentioned fear is small, and in our view, no concern arises over the fairness of the criminal process because of [these employees’] expected testimony in Mr. Lieberman’s trial.” He was apparently referring to the fact that the key witness against Lieberman is Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who will be leaving the ministry once a new government is formed in any case because he wasn’t reelected to the Knesset.

In a separate response to Ometz, which had also complained that Netanyahu and Lieberman haven’t yet submitted their agreement to the Knesset as required by law, Fono noted that coalition negotiations are still underway, so any agreements thus far are mere political promises that can still change. By law, he noted, the only requirement is that any written agreements must be submitted to the Knesset within three days after being signed, and no later than 24 hours before the new government is sworn in. Given this, he said, Weinstein sees no reason to intervene in the matter at this point.

Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrives for his day in court in Jerusalem, Feb. 17, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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