Lieberman 1, Israel 0

Starting today, Lieberman is a legitimate political player with whom any argument must be conducted in the political sphere.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Many years ago a large Israeli newspaper conducted a comprehensive investigation of Avigdor Lieberman. This large newspaper had lots of resources. It used every possible means of probing and monitoring to try to ensnare this nationalist politician who was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-hand man. But after several long months, the newspaper threw in the towel. It came to the conclusion that if Lieberman was misbehaving, he left no trail. Yvet (his Russian name) was too sophisticated and too professional. Yvet may live on the edge of the law and act as if he fears the law, but Yvet knows how to circumvent the law without leaving any incriminating evidence.

After many long years of police investigations and legal proceedings, this is also the final result of the encounter between citizen Lieberman and the police and prosecution. Lieberman triumphed, not because he’s clean, but because he’s smart. Lieberman won not because he’s a law-abiding citizen but because the legal system failed. Lieberman came out on top because he is stronger than those responsible for law and ethics in this country. The deciding contest between Avigdor Lieberman and the State of Israel ended with a decisive result: Lieberman 1, Israel 0.

The story here is not the lesser story about which the court on Wednesday reached a perfectly reasonable verdict. It’s not proper to distance a public official from the public arena based on a minor, flimsy case like the one involving the ambassadorial appointment. The story here is a larger one, in which the attorney general made a series of totally unreasonable decisions. Despite all the incriminating material the police had accumulated and all the serious issues in which Lieberman entangled himself, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to go soft and easy on the foreign minister.

The former youth boxing champion from Herzliya Pituah may not have meant to, but with his questionable actions he consistently served the interests of the dealer in Cypriot wood and wine. The lawyer from Salah-a-Din Street in Jerusalem probably did not plan to, but his serious blunders have brought the rule of law in Israel to an unprecedented nadir. Both the decision to drop the charges in the far more serious case and to pursue the much lesser case empowered Lieberman and the values he represents, while diminishing the legal system and the values it is meant to represent.

The facts speak for themselves. During the period when Menachem Mazuz was attorney general and David Cohen was police commissioner, there was a powerful struggle launched against public sector corruption and organized crime. Mazuz and Cohen didn’t hesitate to act aggressively against a president, prime minister and finance minister, even as they fought the Abergils, the Shirazis and the Molners. There were mistakes, and there were failures, but within a few years the stables had been cleaned. Deterrence had been achieved against both the corrupt and the mafiosi.

By contrast, under Weinstein and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, the rule of law has turned listless. It doesn’t dare confront those with real power or the true centers of power. It has no moral backbone or the iron fist required to impose law, order and norms in this country.

Avigdor Lieberman has been acquitted. Every law-abiding and law-respecting person must bow his head before the law and accept its verdict. From here on in, there will be no debate about the foreign minister’s possible crimes. From today, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party is a legitimate political player, with whom any argument must be a businesslike political one. But the attorney general’s disgraceful failure in the Lieberman case casts a huge pall over Israeli democracy. Today we know that Israel has no serious system of laws, norms, or values. The path to turning Israel into a Putinesque state is open. There are those who would like to follow that path, and those who will follow it. It has a leader.

Lieberman with Sofa Landver at a Likkud-Yisrael-Beitenu Knesset meeting. November 4, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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