Former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon took the stand on Thursday as a key witness for the prosecution in the graft trial against his ex-boss, Avigdor Lieberman, reiterating his testimony to police that the former foreign minister had taken an active role in the appointment of Zeev Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia.
Lieberman's attorneys will try to undercut the credibility of Ayalon's testimony, which Lieberman strongly denies. Ayalon opened his testimony on Thursday by saying that after Lieberman asked him to appoint Ben Aryeh, he "didn't think too much about it. It was a surprise, since I didn't know he was a candidate, but it didn't knock me off my feet."
14:20 P.M. The defense's cross examination concludes. The prosecution is given a chance for a redirect examination but decides against it.
"I have worked with three prime ministers, four foreign ministers, and never had any disputes," Ayalon tells the court. He proceeds to read out words of praise written about him by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
14:13 P.M. Ayalon reminds the court: "This isn't Danny Ayalon versus Lieberman. This is the State of Israel versus Lieberman. I am willing to shake his hand."
Lieberman replies: "God forbid. I don't shake hands with cheaters and liars. Don't you dare."
13:56 P.M. Lieberman's attorney, Jacob Weinroth, accuses Ayalon of leaking materials to Yedioth Ahronoth reporters Nahum Barnea and Itamar Eichner. He says that Ayalon had told the police that the two reporters' e-mail accounts had been hacked, and as result, his own account was hacked as well. He denies e-mailing the reporters material on Lieberman.
13:36 P.M. In a new line of questioning, Weinroth tries to establish that Ayalon had also managed to enter a dispute with former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The court intervenes and strikes down the attempt to draw a link between the two cases.
13:13 P.M. After two hours of cross-examination by Lieberman's attorneys, the court decides to take a recess.
12:55 P.M. Weinroth exposes a defense witness, Channel 10 journalist Baruch Kra, and reads aloud part of statements he made in the report that broke the affair. The report had claimed that members of the Foreign Ministry appointment committee were surprised they were not questioned in connection with the probe.
Weinroth says that Ayalon was Kra's source for the report. Ayalon confirms.
"Kra called me of his own accord," Ayalon says. "I never called him. He asked whether I was questioned."
Weinroth lambasts: "Before your dismissal, you sang songs of praise for Lieberman. Afterwards, the world turned upside down." He claims that Ayalon spoke to Kra because he wanted to get a police investigation going "without making it look that you went to the police."
12:46 P.M. Asked why he had defended Ben Aryeh's appointment in a television interview with Channel 1's Geula Even, Ayalon says: "I wouldn't incriminate a foreign minister in a live broadcast." He reiterates that he had only agreed to be interviewed about diplomatic matters. "I told her that I couldn't recall because I was angry about the violation of the agreement," he says.
Weinroth emphasizes the Even had denied agreeing to such terms. He asks Ayalon why he had insisted not to address the appointment during the interview.
"I didn't want to embarrass the minister," Ayalon responds.
12:20 P.M. Weinroth tries to establish Ayalon was hurt when he was dismissed from the Likud-Beiteinu Knesset list ahead of the election. "You were angry," he charges at Ayalon.
Ayalon confirms that he had asked Lieberman to reconsider his dismissal, and said he would be satisfied with heading a Knesset committee.
11:53 A.M. Weinroth, demands Ayalon to reveal from whom he had heard that senior Foreign Ministry official Shimon Roded had advised a contender for the ambassadorial position to withdraw his candidacy because "the minister has made his choice." The candidate in question – Opher Aviran, Israel's consul general in Atlanta – had denied receiving such instructions from Roded, noting that he had thought Ben Aryeh was more likely to be picked because he had served as Lieberman's aide and because he speaks the language.
Ayalon hands the name of the source to the judge in a note in order to protect the official.
Weinroth charges back: "I say it never happened he was never told anything of that sort." Ayalon says he would submit to a lie-detector test, even though such evidence is inadmissible in court.
11:44 A.M. Ayalon appears unshaken by the defense's attempt to undermine his credibility. "You're doing your job," he tells Weinroth. "I was in your position for four years, and protected the same defendant."
Ayalon further stresses that he had cooperated with the law enforcement the same way any law-abiding citizen would. "As an elected official, I consider it imperative to set an example, which is why it's important stand up for these matters in the most transparent manner," he says.
Weinroth replies: "In the Kafkaesque sense."
11:30 A.M. Attorney Weinroth asks Ayalon about his failure to mention before the police that Lieberman had discussed with him Ben Aryeh's appointment in two separate meetings, and not just one. Earlier in the trial, Ayalon had told the prosecution that in a second meeting, "the subject of Ben Aryeh was raised as a matter of fact, when I was on my way out."
Ayalon says in response that "The police had the records. They could see the meeting took place."
11:08 A.M. Lieberman's attorneys begin cross-examining Ayalon.
Weinroth presses Ayalon on his claim that three people attended a meeting on Ben Aryeh's selection ahead of the appointment committee's approval – while a record of that meeting indicates that only two people were present. He asks Ayalon why he did not inform the police of his own accord that he had discovered from his own records that only two people were present at the meeting. Ayalon says he saw no need because he had submitted the records to the police.
10:47 A.M. Ayalon concludes his testimony before the prosecution. Lieberman's attorneys ask for a recess, after which the cross-examination is set to begin.
10:40 A.M. Responding to the prosecutors' question, Ayalon says that his dismissal from the Yisrael-Beiteinu Knesset ticket ahead of the election had no effect on his testimony. "I don't seek revenge or hold grudges," he says. "It has no significance for me with regard to the trial. A trial means justice, it means truth. It has nothing to do with my future in politics."
10:34 A.M. The prosecution asks Ayalon to address the interview he had given to Geula Even, when he had said that Ben Aryeh's appointment was valid and was approved unanimously, and that he doesn't recall Lieberman speaking to him about it. Ayalon says that this statement was meant to be a diplomatic way to signal the interviewer that the subject was inappropriate. He notes that the interview focused on the Palestinian bid to be recognized by the UN as a non-member state.
"The policy stipulated that we shouldn't give interviews about Lieberman and his different trials," he says.
10:22 A.M. Lieberman interrupts Ayalon's testimony and asks that he raise his voice, noting he cannot hear well at his "advanced age." Ayalon replies: "It isn't that advanced."
Ayalon says that "after Ben Aryeh's selection was approved by the appointments committee, I called Lieberman and he said 'thank you very much.'"
10:11 A.M. Ayalon begins his testimony. "Lieberman asked me to enter his office," he says. "We spoke about other issues as well, and he asked me to appoint Ben Aryeh because he is the best candidate." He adds the request came as surprise but not as a shock.
9:51 A.M. Ayalon's bureau chief, Klarina Shpitz-Aviram, is asked to leave the courtroom after Lieberman's attorney, Jacob Weinroth, announces he will seek to cross-examine her later in the trial. Her father, also present, remains in the courtroom.
9:42 A.M. Ayalon arrives first at court, accompanied by a large entourage. Lieberman arrives shortly after, accompanied by several aides as well. He jokes about Barcelona's loss at last night's game. The courtroom is filled from end to end, primarily with reporters, including two journalists from Germany's Der Spiegel.
The court will have to determine whether Ayalon, who was dropped from the Yisrael Beiteinu roster in the January Knesset elections, is using his testimony as revenge, as Lieberman's attorneys will try to show, or whether he spoke frankly to the police when the opportunity was given to him. That opportunity came after the prosecution's embarrassing failure to question any of the members of the Foreign Ministry's appointments committee until it decided to indict Lieberman.
On Tuesday the court received a taste of what is expected on Thursday when Lieberman's lawyer, Giora Adereth, presented Ayalon's police testimony: "There is a preliminary meeting in my office with the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Yossi Gal, and the head of human resources Shimon Roded. You can check what I say in my diary. ... At that meeting we coordinated our three positions in the committee and agreed among ourselves who we were going to vote for in the committee."
Police checked Ayalon's diary and found that no three-way meeting was held, but rather a meeting between Ayalon and Gal - which could provide Lieberman's lawyers with ammunition to undermine Ayalon's credibility.
Ayalon also told police that Gal had told him Lieberman "had spoken to him and asked him to see to Ben Aryeh's appointment." Gal, however, denied this in court.