Could corruption trial stop the rise of the black sheep of Israeli politics?



Described once by an American magazine editor as a "neo-fascist" and a "certified gangster", Israel's firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is no stranger to controversy. It has not stopped him from building up a devoted following that has propelled his party to the forefront of Israeli politics.

But as a more than decade-long corruption probe nears its conclusion, even this canny political survivor may find that this is one controversy he cannot so easily dodge.

Mr Lieberman's lawyers will today attend the start of a two-day hearing to defend their client against charges of money-laundering, fraud, breach of trust, and witness tampering, following which the Attorney General will decide whether to launch formal criminal proceedings, a decision expected to take several weeks. If indicted, as Israeli analysts anticipate, the Foreign Minister, who founded and heads the ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home), is expected to quit his post in government, leaving some wondering if it will mark the beginning of his exile in the political wilderness.

But to write off the Moldovan-born politician would be to underestimate him. A derided figure abroad, he is a politician of some stature in Israel, where he commands a strong following from Russian immigrants, as well as drawing support from right-wing secularists who view the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party as too centrist.

The charges centre on the alleged funnelling of millions of shekels to shell companies controlled by Mr Lieberman during his time as a politician between 2001-2008 in apparent contravention of rules barring lawmakers from engaging in business activities or receiving funds outside of their salaries.

Publicly, Mr Lieberman has appeared typically unfazed by the charges, maintaining that he "always acted in accordance with the law". His supporters say it is no coincidence that the case against him was revived shortly before the 2009 elections, where his party won 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, making him kingmaker in the new government.

A former nightclub bouncer with a conviction for assaulting a child, Mr Lieberman began his career with Likud before forming his own party in 1999. Over the next decade, he held a series of government posts, but never for very long because of his fiery temper.

In the 2009 elections, he tapped into a growing nationalist fervour, campaigning on a platform that all Israelis should swear an oath of loyalty to the state, arguing that the Jewish State faced dangers not just from outside but also from its Israeli Arab minority, some 20 per cent of the population. While favouring a two-state solution, he went one step further, suggesting that Israeli Arab communities be transferred to a Palestinian state, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank, regarded as illegal under international law, become part of Israel.

For some, his anti-Arab rhetoric is part of the appeal. He once called for the execution of Israel's Arab politicians for meeting with members of the Islamist party Hamas and said he would gladly see Palestinian prisoners drowned in the Dead Sea.

Under Mr Lieberman, Israel's relations with erstwhile ally Turkey deteriorated to the extent that Ankara called for his dismissal, while European and US officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly refuse to meet with him.

But predictions that Mr Lieberman will depart the stage may yet be premature. Even if he faces trial for corruption, few believe he will go to jail. Meanwhile, he will remain leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, and analysts say he will continue to pull the strings so long as his party remains a part of the coalition.

The Israeli electorate has shown forgiveness towards politicians convicted of corruption in the past, says Nadav Peri, a political commentator with Channel 10, noting the example of Aryeh Deri, a former interior minister convicted of bribe-taking, who is planning to return to politics. "Nothing can bury your political career in Israel," he said.

In his words: Avigdor Lieberman

"We must continue to fight Hamas like the United States did with Japan in World War II"

"Israel is under a dual terrorist attack, from within and from without. And terrorism from within is always more dangerous than terrorism from without"

"I think the biggest problem of the 21st century is how to deal with minorities... Every country where you have two languages, two religions and two races, you have conflict"

"Negotiations on the basis for land for peace are a mistake... and will destroy us"

"The dividing line does not run between Jew and Arab. The dividing line is between those who support terror and those who oppose it"

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the Jurassic World trailer

Video: The official full-length trailer for the Jurassic Park sequel has dropped – two days early

The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environmentNepenthes zygon had been growing for almost a decade and helping to keep down cockroaches
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Search Account Manager

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an acknowledged...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Central London, Bank

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Systems Developer (C/C++, Ruby/ Perl) - £40k

£40000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Systems Developer (C/C+...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital