Avigdor Lieberman’s Acquittal Stirs Doubts About Israel’s Anti-Corruption Fight

Fallout From Crumbling of Misconduct Case of the Century

Charges Dismissed: Avigdor Lieberman had faced allegations that he had illicitly received millions of dollars from businessmen laundered through straw companies.
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Charges Dismissed: Avigdor Lieberman had faced allegations that he had illicitly received millions of dollars from businessmen laundered through straw companies.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published November 17, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
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The contrast between Weinstein and his predecessor as attorney general, Menachem Mazuz has further fueled the criticism against Weinstein. Mazuz famously initiated cases related to two serving prime ministers. In 2005, Mazuz indicted the son of then prime minister Ariel Sharon on corruption charges related to a political campaign that his father ran six years earlier. That case ended with Omri Sharon’s conviction one year later. In late 2008, Mazuz indicted then prime minister Ehud Olmert in a case that ended last year with Olmert’s acquittal on the major charges but his conviction for breach of trust.

The anger toward the current attorney general reverberates at both ends of the political spectrum. The dovish Meretz party wants him investigated for closing the main Lieberman case, and the hawkish Legal Forum for the Land of Israel has demanded his resignation for dragging out a bad case for so long.

Lieberman’s hero’s welcome back to the government has rung alarm bells for some ethicists. Numerous politicians congratulated him, including President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with no mention of the fact that while the court didn’t convict him, it did say that he acted improperly by failing to report to the Foreign Ministry’s appointments committee. There have been no significant public protests against his return as foreign minister.

“I would expect the public not to want him, but the public actually thinks that unethical politicians have some advantages,” said Yotam Lurie, an academic at Ben-Gurion University who specializes in Israeli ethics. The results of October’s local elections in Israel appear to support this theory. Voters in three municipalities elected mayors who have been indicted on corruption charges and will now be allowed to serve even though prior to the election, the high court had removed two of them from their posts.

“Machiavellian leaders are seen here as good leaders — they are not wimps,” Lurie said.

The Lieberman case, many commentators say, is but the latest blow in a series of defeats for the rule of law. Some point to the government’s continuing reluctance or inability to enforce the law against settlers who build illegal outposts and attack Palestinian residents in the West Bank. Others cite a recent plague of gangland killings that has exposed the growing strength of organized crime in some cities and the helplessness of police to deal with it. In Ashkelon on October 24, a car was blown up, killing a man; a week later, a man was injured in the same city as another car was blown up. Both men were reportedly apparatchiks in organized crime rings. Then, on November 7, the empty car of a prosecutor who had dealt with organized crime cases was bombed in Tel Aviv.

Among lawyers, the major concern is that the Lieberman judgment has exposed just how blunt the law’s teeth are, specifically those of the main law intended to prevent corruption among Israeli public figures.

Breach of trust is the general offense for which public figures can be indicted if they don’t act in accordance with prosecutors’ expectations — with “general” being the key word. The statute was inherited from the British authorities who ruled Mandatory Palestine prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948. But the term “general offense,” on which it turns, has hardly been defined by subsequent Israeli law, despite attempts to do so. To a large extent, judges are left to subjectively decide when it applies and when it doesn’t.


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