Editorial

Probe Manafort Allegations

The new revelations surrounding Paul Manafort's plea deal have raised worrisome suspicions regarding the involvement of foreign interests in Israel’s Foreign Service

FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs from U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., February 28, 2018.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The plea agreement in the United States with Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, who is expected to be a key witness against the president over the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, also raised worrisome suspicions regarding the involvement of foreign interests in Israel’s Foreign Service.

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The amended indictment to which Manafort pleaded guilty, mentions a lobbying effort Manafort made for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian candidate in that country’s presidential race in 2012. According to the document, Manafort worked to discredit Yanukovych’s rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, to undermine the Obama administration’s support of her candidacy. To this end, he allegedly coordinated “privately” with a senior Israeli official to issue a statement that would link Tymoshenko to anti-Semitic elements, and allegedly made sure the information got published in the U.S. media.

The indictment does not name the “senior Israeli official.” An examination of the condemnations of Tymoshenko by Israeli officials during that time shows that in October 2012 the Foreign Ministry, headed then by Avigdor Lieberman, issued a statement in Russian that criticized the coalition agreement between Tymoshenko’s party and the Freedom Party, whose top members were known for their anti-Semitic remarks. This condemnation was quoted in Lieberman’s name by the New York Times and the right-wing Breitbart website.

Lieberman denies any connection to Manafort, saying, “The condemnation issued by the Foreign Ministry was the right statement at the right time against an anti-Semitic party that was disseminating its satanic agenda.” Among the professionals and the politicians there was indeed a broad agreement that the Ukrainian Freedom Party was infected with anti-Semitism. But the Foreign Ministry isn’t providing information on what led specifically to the condemnation of Tymoshenko’s understandings with the Freedom Party, as described in the Manafort indictment. Danny Ayalon, who was deputy foreign minister at the time, says the condemnation indeed seemed unusual and that the matter should be investigated.

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay and former Meretz chairman Zahava Gal-On have asked Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, the Shin Bet security service and the Foreign Ministry to investigate the matter. Lieberman even asked Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to work with U.S. authorities to expose the Israeli official’s identity and dispel the fog.

It would behoove Shaked, Netanyahu and Mendelblit to do this. If Manafort was just bragging or if there was no connection, the suspicions should be cleared up. Only a comprehensive examination of the decision-making process by Israeli authorities, along with an official request for information from the American authorities, can clarify this.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.