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Embattled but Undeterred

Binyamin Rose

Pending the outcome of his present legal entanglement, Avigdor Lieberman will spend next year either in the Knesset or in court defending himself. In this exclusive interview with Mishpacha’s news editor, Binyamin Rose, Lieberman, one of the “tough guys” of Israeli politics, says that while he doesn’t seek conflicts, he won’t shy away from them either.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The stub of a well-smoked and thoroughly chewed cigar is plunked lit-side down in an ashtray on Avigdor Lieberman’s desk, with a breath inhaler close at hand. A faint odor of tobacco still scents his Knesset office. The dark-blue drapes are pulled behind him. A television screen bolted to the wall is on without the sound, as two Spanish League soccer teams battle to a scoreless deadlock late in the second half.

Lieberman tries not to act like a man living under a cloud, even as he fights for his political life — and perhaps even for his freedom. In customary fashion, he punctuates his answers with humorous stories from his personal experiences even as the clock winds down on an investigation that has lasted more than a decade. That probe may soon end in his indictment by an Israeli justice system that smells the sweet savor of victory. It is a battle that will not end in a draw, but with a clear victor, leaving a lasting impact on both Lieberman and, perhaps,Israel’s January 22 election.

“I’ve been under investigation for 16 years now. Life is good and I’ve gotten used to it, like acclimating to changes in the weather,” says Lieberman, who still occupies Room 254 in the Knesset’s third-floor office suites reserved for cabinet officers, even though the pending indictment forced him to resign asIsrael’s foreign minister.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein was ready to charge Lieberman in mid-December with breach of trust and fraud. He delayed the indictment following a report onIsrael’s Channel 10 that the justice ministry had failed to interview some material witnesses in the case. Lieberman himself was called back to testify the day following our interview and the delay may result in an even more serious indictment.

Lieberman is accused of allegedly using his power as minister of foreign affairs to promote an Israeli diplomat as a reward for tipping Lieberman off that he was under investigation. The diplomat, Zev Ben-Aryeh, was sentenced to four months of community service for allegedly handing Lieberman a document detailing the investigation. Lieberman denies he made use of the document and contends that Ben-Aryeh’s promotion was purely merit-based.

Even though he had to relinquish his cabinet post, Lieberman is legally entitled to run for Knesset again. He still holds down the number-two spot behind Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the joint Likud-Beiteinu list that is expected to dominate the next Knesset.

At press time, there is no word on whether an indictment, if forthcoming, will be rendered before or after the election. Lieberman says he will not take any cabinet post “as long as my situation is not clear.” The foreign ministry is a position he loves, but even if he has to forfeit it for keeps, he still expects to be a force in the next Knesset session.

“I’m certain that I can find a spot on the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, at the least,” says Lieberman. “Israelhas no lack of challenges, whether from Hamas,Hizbullah,Syria, or threats fromIran. After the election, we must form a new government as soon as possible to deal with these challenges.” 

 

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