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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Avigdor Liberman’

Israeli Democracy Dealt Blow with ‘Governance Act’

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Last night the Knesset voted to raise the threshold vote from 2 to 4 percent. This means that a political party must win 4.8 seats before it can receive its first seat in the Knesset. It was presented by the Likud-Beiteinu faction as a necessary measure to enable Israel’s government to govern without the constant fear of being toppled by a walkout of one of its minor coalition members.

The new threshold would effectively eliminate the small parties in Israel, forcing them to align in large power blocks or disappear. Meanwhile, their votes should be siphoned off to four or five major parties.

There’s an inherent problem in Israel’s parliamentary system, which has made it difficult for coalition governments over the past 65 years: the executive, meaning the prime minister, is also a member of the legislative body. In order to stay in power, he or she must juggle the Knesset membership around to maintain a majority of at least 61 out of 120 members. If they go below 60, their government is likely to lose a vote of no confidence (of which it endures about 10 a week), and the nation must go to new elections.

Under the U.S. constitution, it is perfectly fine for the president to govern while both houses of Congress are in the hands of a party other than his own. He will serve out his term of four years (unless he is impeached), and would simply have to haggle with the opposition party to get his legislation through.

An attempt in the recent past to let the voter pick the prime minister in a separate vote ended up with a disappointment to anyone who thought they would attain executive stability this way – and the separate PM vote was scrapped. It appears that the only real solution would be for Israel to switch to a presidential system, with an executive who governs outside the Knesset.

But such a change would be rejected by the smaller parties, who get their life’s blood—i.e. patronage jobs—from their leaders’ stints as government ministers. A cabinet run by an executive who isn’t himself an MK would be staffed by technocrats rather than by politicians, and the smaller parties would be left out to dry, unable to suckle on the government’s teat.

The new “Governance Act” that was passed last night would presumably have the same effect on the smaller parties: they would become history. This means the elimination of all the parties that currently boast fewer than 5 MKs: Hadash (Arabs) has 4, Ra’am Ta’al-Mada (Arabs) has 4, National Democratic Assembly (Arabs) has 3, and Kadima has 2.

You may have noticed a recurring ethnic group among the Knesset factions which would be eliminated by the Governance Act. Those 11 “Arab” seats would be eliminated, unless, of course, these three factions, with vastly different platforms (one is Communist, the other two not at all). are able to unite around their single common denominator, namely that they’re not Jews.

The political thinker behind this power grab is MK Avigdor Liberman, who’s been dreaming about a Knesset where his faction, Likud-Beiteinu, could win a decisive majority, once and for all. His henchman, MK David Rotem, was the bill’s sponsor. But the law of unintended consequences and double-edged swords is strong in Israel, and the new bill could just as easily be just what the Left needed to stage a resounding comeback.

Labor (15 MKs) and Meretz (6 MKs) are really the old Mapai, Achdut Ha’avoda and Mapam, the three Zionist workers parties. Hadash is really a remnant of Maki and Rakach, the two Communist parties which split off Mapam. If the leftist establishment got it together—as it did in 1992—it could cobble Labor, Meretz, the Arabs, Kadima and Livni to create a juggernaut of more than 35, possibly 40 seats.

This kind of unity could only be forged by a common feeling of a great betrayal by the right-wing government – and, what do you know, judging by last night’s drama over the threshold vote, such a sense of betrayal is permeating the smaller parties.

One after another, opposition MKs came up to the podium and used up their time to keep silent. MK Jamal Zahalka strapped duct tape over his mouth. MK Ahmad Tibi stood with his back to the plenum. Merets chair zehava Gal-on wept, her hands over her face.

Liberman: Israel Must Stop Listening to Hypocritical EU

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avigdor Liberman said on Monday, June 10, that Israel should stop allowing the European Union to meddle in its diplomatic affairs.  He called an EU decision not to add Hezbollah to its list of terrorist organizations “hypocrisy incarnate,” which would “make the EU irrelevant, as far as we’re concerned, when it comes to dealing with the region,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

Liberman was irate at what seemed to be indications that the EU planned, yet again, to refrain from placing the Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah on the EU’s official list of terrorist organizations.

In a letter Liberman sent to Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Liberman recounted many terrorist acts committed by Hezbollah, including the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and its support for the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The current exclusion of an organization, which incites to and is actively involved in murder and hatred, on the list of terrorist organizations is hypocrisy which cries out to the heavens. It begs the question as to what other requirements, beyond the facts that are well known, are necessary for Hezbollah’s inclusion,” Liberman’s letter reads.

Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) is the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.  Last week Casey reiterated his call to the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Casey pointed out that Hezbollah is closely allied with Iran and urged the EU to join the U.S. in cutting Hezbollah off from international financial and support networks.

In February, Thomas E. Donilon, who was at the time President Obama’s director of the National Security Administration, penned an op-ed in the New York Times making clear this U.S. administration is not taken in by Hezbollah’s charade of being merely a political entity.

Over the last decade, Hezbollah has worked assiduously to obscure its terrorist pedigree and convince the world that it is interested only in politics, providing social welfare services, and defending Lebanon. But it is an illusion to speak of Hezbollah as a responsible political actor. Hezbollah remains a terrorist organization and a destabilizing force across the Middle East.

In a press conference after the Knesset committee meeting on Monday, Liberman asked questions many Israel supporters frequently ask, but few politicians do: “How does Europe contribute to Israeli security? I keep saying we need to cut them off. There are problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. Why focus on the Palestinians? They need to broaden their diplomatic horizons,” Liberman said.

Liberman stated that the EU made the decision not to place Hezbollah on the terrorism list at a meeting on June 4.  According to the Jerusalem Post report, however, EU representatives said that the June 4 meeting was only a preliminary one, and that the matter would be discussed again at another meeting next month.

Liberman Bribe Trial Opens with Prime Witness Turning the Tables

Friday, April 26th, 2013

The trial of Avigdor Liberman, until recently Foreign Minister, recorded its first day of questioning Thursday on charges against him of bribery and breach of public trust.

After more than a decade of hounding by the police on various alleged crimes, the police and government prosecutors finally nailed down an indictment last year on charges that he unfairly tried to advance the career of diplomat Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, who was said to have provided him with inside information on one of the police investigations against Liberman in 2008, at the time he was a Knesset Member.

Liberman has followed in the footsteps of more than two handfuls of politicians charged with various crimes the past few years, and shouted to the hilltops, “Not guilty.”

He won some public sympathy because of the years of the fruitless investigations against him. Liberman is a Russian immigrant and former nightclub bouncer who has scared the establishment with his growing popularity as a shoot-from-the-hip nationalist.

When an indictment was finally handed down late last year, it just happened to coincide with the elections, forcing him to leave his position as Foreign Minister.

However, Liberman secured a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he can return to his post in the event that the three-justice Jerusalem court declares he is innocent. Liberman needs to be acquitted to continue his political career. In the meantime, the Prime Minister also is Foreign Minister.

The prosecution was depending on Ben Aryeh, who was the ambassador to Belarus and had contacts there that enabled him to tell Liberman that the police were on his trail concerning other criminal charges. Liberman allegedly then tried to reward him with a similar position in Latvia, although Ben Aryeh eventually was not appointed.

A lot depends on Ben Aryeh, who the prosecution trotted out in court on Thursday, but he promptly turned the tables, claiming he never even asked for the job as ambassador to Latvia.

Ben Aryeh previously was convicted of failing to disclose information concerning Liberman’s alleged favoritism, and the government prosecutors rewarded him for cooperating in the investigation by sentencing him to four months of community service, without any jail sentence.

On Thursday, he suddenly suffered from a lapse of memory.

The government prosecuting lawyer reminded Ben Aryeh that he told police in 2010 that he asked Liberman’s help for a position.

Ben Aryeh then startled the lawyer and said, “I don’t recall that I asked for help from Liberman. You ask why I asked for help, but I say I didn’t ask for help.”

Another “only in Israel’ incident on Wednesday, the eve of the first day of questioning, was a report on Channel 10 television of a police transcript of testimony it obtained. It quoted then Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as saying that Liberman ordered him to appoint Ben Aryeh.

Liberman’s attorneys were furious and charged that the police leaked the information to influence the trial against Liberman.

Further hearings are bound to show no less interesting remarks.

Ayalon will be called as a witness for the prosecution, and that is the same Ayalon who was summarily dropped by Liberman as a candidate for the Israel Beiteinu party that Liberman.

His memory will be much better than Ben Aryeh’s

Bibi Kissed the Ring, Erdoğan: Apology ‘Exactly the Way We Wanted’

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday addressed the agreement on the renewal of his country’s diplomatic relations with Israel, complete with reinstating each country’s ambassadors. Erdogan said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology was “the way we wanted it.”

The rapprochement between the two leaders had been organized by visiting U.S. President Barack Obama, minutes before he departed to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Obama insisted that Netanyahu end the feud with Erdoğan, particularly in light of the deteriorating situation in Syria. Both countries stand to benefit from cooperation in the political, military and intelligence aspects of the Syrian civil war, a cooperation that had been severed following the Gaza flotilla affair.

The wording of Netanyahu’s apology was a tad elusive, and different from the original Turkish demand for an apology for the killing of its citizens. Instead, the wording the two sides finally agreed to include “an apology to the Turkish people for a mistake that could lead to loss of human life.”

The alteration was based on the Israeli investigation of the incident, which indicated a number of operational errors during the takeover of the Turkish boat Mavi Marmara.

During the conversation, Netanyahu clarified that the tragic consequences of the flotilla were not intentional. He expressed regret in the name of the State of Israel over the loss of human life. The two leaders also agreed that Israel will transfer reparations to a humanitarian fund established specifically for the families of the victims, instead of paying reparations directly to the families, as the Turks originally demanded.

Erdogan, who took back some of the things said against Zionism, agreed to stop the existing legal proceedings against IDF soldiers, including any proceedings which were to be opened in the future.

The Turkish prime minister rescinded his unequivocal demand to remove Israel’s blockade on Gaza. At the same time, Netanyahu noted during the conversation the easing of the closure which has already taken place. The two leaders agreed to continue working together to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Former (and future) Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who currently heads the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, criticized the apology, calling it “a serious error that affects the motivation of IDF soldiers.”

Except, that, considering the fact that IDF soldiers were lowered from a chopper onto the Mavi Marmara’s deck to be beaten mercilessly like Jewish pinatas, just knowing that stupid, callused decisions like that won’t be made again could go a long way to improve IDF morale.

Knowing that Ehud Barack, the architect of that victory, is no longer at the helm at the Defense Ministry, is also a big relief.

Indeed, the new Minister of Defense Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon was very much in favor of restoring relations with the Turks, even at the cost of his boss eating a few slices of humble pie.

Netanyahu to Remain Foreign Minister until July

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will remain acting Foreign Minister at least until July, when a trial is scheduled for a criminal charge against Avigdor Liberman, who held the post until his recent indictment for alleged breach of public trust.

The Prime Minister has promised Liberman he can return to his post if he is acquitted. If he is found guilty, Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to find a replacement. Assuming the post remains in the hands of Likud Beiteinu, veteran Likud Knesset Member and former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is a good bet to replace Liberman.

Liberman is accused of having appointed former Belarus ambassador Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as the envoy to Latvia in return for Ben Aryeh’s having turned over to his boss information concerning another criminal investigation against Liberman.

 

Following Lapid-Bennett Deal, Likud Facing Civil War

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

At 12:55 PM Wednesday, the prime minister’s office leaked a message so subversive and so clever, it insisted the editor of the 1 PM news edition at Kol Israel attribute it to anonymous “Likud circles.” That’s one notch below “senior Likud officials” and well below “circles close to the prime minister,” which is, basically, the prime minister. I heard it in my car, driving up to Jerusalem, but didn’t pay attention to the special wording. Maariv’s Shalom Yerushalmi paid attention, and realized the PM people were using the Atomic option.

The Likud circles, according to the leak, threatened that if there won’t be a breakthrough in the coalition negotiations within hours, the Likud would initiate an accelerated negotiations with the Haredi parties for a right-leaning new government without Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

In addition, a higher level source inside the PM’s circles, told Haaretz that Netanyahu believes the reason Lapid has upped the ante of his demands was his buyer’s remorse. Somehow he ended up agreeing to the Finance portfolio, and now, seeing the mess he would have to deal with, he wants to back out, so he’s making it impossible to come to an agreement.

That’s not such an outlandish surmise. Lapid, ever the glitzy charmer, had had his heart set on the Foreign Minister’s job. And he would have made a great FM, kissing hands and raising champagne glasses and all the other fun stuff FMs get to do in Paris, London, Rome, DC, and, of course, Moscow.

Except Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu’s faction partner, already had dibs on the Foreign Ministry. Liberman couldn’t serve in the government for now, not until the silly corruption suit against him is resolved in court. But Bibi had promised Ivet to hold on to the seat for him, and breaking that promise would have been a deal killer all around.

So Lapid backed off and agreed to take another of the top three portfolios—Finance.

Customarily, the Foreign, Defense and Finance ministries belong to the party of the Prime Minister. It is a rare occurrence, usually driven by a national crisis (such as when Moshe Dayan was invited, from the opposition benches, to become Defense Minister in 1967). So, giving Lapid this high honor was a big thing.

But the job of Finance Minister is not going to make Lapid many friends this time around. No hand kissing and champagne here for the teen idol. The Netanyahu government has accrued a 40 billion shekel (just under $11 billion) deficit which has to be cut from the next budget. Unlike the U.S. government, which can run deficits in the trillion, Israeli governments are prohibited by law from running a deficit that’s higher than 3 percent of the budget. The new deficit constitutes 5.10 percent, and so some cutting has to take place.

And lover boy Yair Lapid will have the dubious honor of deciding what gets cut:

Should it be the new raises to hospital nurses? Low-cost education? Environmental improvements? Social Security benefit increases for the elderly? Highway construction? Train service?

There’s no two ways about it – in the end, someone is going to hate Yair Lapid for whatever cut he’ll make. And since he’s an avowed free market and anti-tax type, he won’t be able to fix things by taking more money from business (although Teva, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical conglomerate, received close to a billion dollars in tax break from the outgoing Finance Minister – that should pay for a few hot lunches).

The leak was a lie, of course, Lapid seems just as eager as before to embrace the, arguably, second most important job in government. But the first anonymous threat, about a coalition with Shas, UTJ and Bennett – especially when, reportedly, backed by Bennett himself, who assured Lapid he intended to stay in government, with or without him – that convinced Lapid it was time to call the game and put the cards on the table.

There’s an old Jewish joke about a shadchan who tries to convince a yeshiva bocher to marry Princess Margaret. He answers every one of the poor man’s questions – she would make a great wife, she has money, she will convert for the right man – until the yeshiva bocher breaks down and agrees to the deal. At which point the shadchan sighs deeply and says: Now starts the hard part.

New Government in Place, Lapid Gave Up Foreign Office

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid has agreed to drop his demand for the Foreign Office portfolio, and will decide this weekend whether he wants the Finance or the Interior ministries – and it is estimated that he is going for Finance, Reshet Bet reported Saturday evening. On Friday, Lapid met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence.

With Lapid’s demand out of the way, the PM will be holding the Foreign Office portfolio for his election partner Avigdor Liberman, until the latter concludes his business with the legal authorities. The case against him opens in mid-April. It has been noted that knowing that Liberman is coming back could intimidate Foreign Office employees and might change their minds about testifying against their boss—but that belongs in a different article.

Lapid also consulted with Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett. Should Lapid opt for Finance, Bennett would be appointed Minister of Trade and Industry, with extensive powers.

Political circles are estimating that the next government will include only 24 ministers, in addition to the prime minister, which is more than the figure Lapid was pushing for, but a lot less than the previous government headed by Netanyahu, which at one point featured 30 ministers and 9 deputy ministers.

One of the key areas of conflict between Lapid and Netanyahu has been the number of government portfolios. Lapid was arguing that Israel cannot afford the expense of so many needless positions, each of which comes with office suites, staff, cars and security details.

The portfolios are expected to be divided as follows: 8 Likud ministers, 6 Yesh Atid, 4 Jewish Home, 3 Yisrael Beiteinu, 2 Tzipi’s Movement and 1 to Kadima.

Outgoing Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz confirmed in an interview on Israel’s Channel 1 News that Lapid is his likely successor. Steinitz, who holds a doctorate in Philosophy from Tel Aviv University, said: “I remember that when I was chosen there were doubts initially – a philosopher as finance minister? But, in the end, Israel’s economic results are the best in the West over the past 34 years.” He added: “I am convinced Lapid will position.”

Lapid, it should be noted, has not graduated high school.

The number two in the Jewish Home party, Uri Ariel, will get the post of Minister of Housing and Construction, according to the Army Radio, a post Netanyahu previously promised would remain in Likud hands. Yael German from Yesh Atid will serve as Minister of the Interior and Rabbi Shai Piron will be Minister of Social Welfare, although Shaul Mofaz from Kadima is also being mentioned as a candidate for that job.

Likud’s ministries will include Transport to Israel Katz, and Education to Gideon Sa’ar, both of whom held those same portfolios in the outgoing government.

Sa’ar said last week that he wanted to stay in the same office.

It is estimated that coalition talks will be completed by Sunday, and the next government will be presented by mid-week.

Today: Avigdor Liberman on Trial, Key Witness—his Deputy

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

The case of the State of Israel vs. Avigdor Liberman is bound to divert attention on Sunday from the coalition negotiations and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s three-week long and counting attempts to form a government, to the Magistrate Court in Jerusalem, where former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s trial is opening.

After years of cat and mouse play between the burly politician of Russian extraction whose capacity to make enemies among Israel’s political class is only matched by his ability—until recently—to exact blind loyalty from his minions, we’re finally going to be treated to a showdown, complete with all the elements of a good political drama: hatred, betrayal, fear, and specks of corruption.

Liberman, the unquestioned leader of Israel Beitenu, a party made up and supported mostly by Russian immigrants (except for the man in the number two spot, Yair Shamir, who stands to gain a lot from his leader’s downfall, should one take place) is being charged with fraud and a breach of trust concerning the nomination of Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as Israel’s ambassador to Latvia.

According to Ma’ariv, sources inside the legal system are talking about marathon discussions and a quick decision—within just a few months—but there is no guarantee that it would be a quick trial. Which means that Liberman will have to stay out of government, while his rightful possession—in his eyes, at least—the Foreign Office, is deposited with either the prime minister or with a coalition partner who would be willing to give it up, should Liberman be acquitted, or is found guilty of minor charges that won’t stand between him and a return to government.

The trial will open at two o’clock Israel time (7 AM in New York). Liberman will sit down on the defendant’s seat and, after the indictment is read, the court is expected to determine the dates on which he would have to reappear at the same courtroom.

Liberman is accused of fraud and breach of trust during the appointment of the former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia. The indictment states that Ben Aryeh was advanced in the Foreign Ministry after handing Liberman confidential information about the investigation that was being conducted against the minister in the major case against him, known as the “straw companies.”

The Attorney General eventually decided not to prosecute Liberman on that case (no one would talk to the investigators), but to limit the indictment to the simpler “ambassador” case, which is why it is estimated that the trial would end quickly. Especially since the defendant is just as eager to be done with it as the prosecution. On the other hand, if a plea bargain that would have permitted Liberman to proceed with his interrupted political career were on the table—it would have been signed by now. So no one can be certain just how long this thing will last. And remember the cardinal rule about lengthy trials – they tend to bring up new information that often spawns new trials.

The indictment states that Liberman promoted Ben Aryeh at the Foreign Ministry in two major roles: one as staff political advisor to the Foreign Minister, and the other as Ambassador to Latvia. Although it is a relatively light case, compared to the straw companies case—which has been closed without trial—should the judges decide to include a shame-inducing element (kalon) to Liberman’s sentence, it could be a mortal blow to his political future, with serious implications on the future of the Israel Beiteinu party.

A kalon sentence prevents the accused of returning to elected office for seven years.

The key witness is expected to be a member of the appointments committee that decided to designate Ben Aryeh as the ambassador to Latvia, Liberman’s former deputy Danny Ayalon. Originally, while things with his boss appeared good as good can be, and no clouds were hovering in the blue sky of their friendship, Ayalon could not for the life of him recall any attempt on Liberman’s part to influence the appointments process. But after his boss chose the moment of their ride in a car together to inform Ayalon he was off the list of viable candidates for the Knesset—on their way to the event where Liberman was to read the list to the press—Ayalon experienced a miraculous memory recovery, complete with all the details of how Liberman actually did influence the process, and how.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/today-avigdor-liberman-on-trial-key-witness-his-deputy/2013/02/17/

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